Passing By the Issue

I’m on a tangent today with a concept that I was exposed to some time ago called spiritual bypassing. While the general definition given is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks“, I don’t want to dig into the psychological aspect of this concept. I’m more concerned with the functional level that is implied, notwithstanding the potential psychological causes or foundations. In other words, I want to look at the face value of the concept, in the world of interaction, and I leave it to the reader to dive “below the hood” into the causes that may lie in store as they may deem appropriate or necessary.

In order to get to the point, I’d like to expand on a few concepts that will serve to support my case. Among these concepts are the Buddhist viewpoint of the world of “karma” and the realm of “no karma” or “Nirvana”, human integrity, a touch of “dysfunctional behavior”, and spiritual practice.

Spiritual Practice

The realm of Buddhist endeavor makes a distinction between the world of “karma” and the source of the “world of karma”. The world of karma is anything that is physical, mental, psychological, emotional, tangible, visible, etc. In other words, the world of karma is the stuff of our daily lives. It’s the place where we interact with others, where we eat, sleep, drive, breathe, and so on. In the world of karma, anything that begins will have an end. Anything that comes will go, anything that can be seen as “same or different”, anything that is born or dies, these all are within the realm of karma. However, this entire world manifests from a source, or dimension, that is not affected in the least by any of the comings or goings, birth or death, or any other duality we can observe. Indeed, it appears that the ultimate source of all this karma is inexhaustible. This “other realm” is called “Nirvana”.

The central practice of an aspiring Buddhist is to come into touch with the source, or Nirvana. Indeed, along the path of development of one who is committed to this practice, one comes to see past the limitations of all this coming and going, arising and depleting, and all other forms of manifesting and un-manifesting. Typically this will bring about a sense of serenity and compassion within the practitioner, an overwhelming and visible sense of equanimity. Indeed, it’s inevitable for one who commits and is dedicated to the practice, that they will eventually see into and come into touch with Nirvana. This does not mean that they are free of karma. It only means that they are not bound by the delusion that the world of karma is ultimate or permanent. Indeed, the world of karma has the hallmark of being impermanent. This is not difficult to observe, even from a logical and analytic approach.

Fortunately, or unfortunately – as you may choose to place your viewpoint – we are all born into the imperfect world of karma. This means we all manifest at birth into a set of causes and conditions that are beyond our individual control, at least at that moment in time. We are then nurtured and further conditioned by those who have lived and known that world of karma, both physical and psychological, for quite some time. The inevitable outcome of this process, for each of us as individuals, is that we inherit a certain degree of “psychological baggage”, or more. In other words, we come into this world as products of all that has gone before us as well as all that exists when we are born. For most of us, this inherited baggage comes with a degree of dysfunction, or lack of healthy functionality, in a psychological sense.

Developmental Psychology

There has been a large movement in the last few years of developmental psychology that has been applied to the ubiquitous world of material wealth that we currently see unfold before us. This development approaches the individual limitations that we often impose upon ourselves, helps break them down, and encourages us to move out into the world to attain or acquire things that we desire. This approach is process oriented, and helps us move beyond self limitation, personal doubt, and self sabotage. However, there is one approach that has come to the forefront that runs a parallel but distinctly different course. It is a principle based approach exemplified in a book called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Ultimately, this approach focuses on the development of personal integrity, and places the results of growth as secondary to intrinsic character development.


Personal integrity is technically defined as “the state of being whole and undivided“. More specifically, and personally, it is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness“.  In short, integrity is a personal quality of fairness that we all aspire to. Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It’s a personality trait that we admire, since it means a person has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. We can trust and predict a person of integrity. In a functional sense, a person of integrity has a characteristic blend of honesty and compassion. It is
a person who “does what they say” & “says what they do” with fairness, patience, and kindness. It is a person whose “outsides” match their “insides”, and who does the right thing, even when no one is looking. At the very core, it is an uncompromising balance of honesty and compassion. This is the inevitable outcome of the 7 Habits.

Spiritual Bypassing

There are points along the spiritual path where, developmentally, each person “sees into” and touches upon the Nirvana realm. By virtue of this insight, enlightenment, perhaps awakening, it comes with no guarantee that the person is free of, or unbound by, the world of karma. Indeed, as stated by Suzuki Roshi, “Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, only enlightened action.” As I’ve forged my way through the often barren and dismal spiritual path, digging and groping for a leadership example that can be trusted, I’ve come to look with close scrutiny at the person who puts forth teaching of various caliber. Do their actions match their words? Do they attempt to “hold a copyright” on Truth, as if they are the ones who “know”, and others don’t? Does the person “do what they say”, and “say what they do”? Do they seem to be immune to the mundane limitations of honesty, commitment, patience and kindness? If there is a mismatch among the above, it’s possible that you’re experiencing a functional spiritual bypass. In this instance, I have found it fruitless to attempt to “go under the hood” for a look, or – worse yet – an attempt to fix, the underlying psychological causes. When all else fails, don’t overlook the obvious. The situation is what it is, and it is not what it is not. Attempts to make it into anything else are bound to be painful.

Crucial Questions

One thing that the spiritual path should produce as a matter of consequence is a developed conscience. Here are a few questions that I’ve come to ask myself when interactions are difficult or testy:

  • Am I being honest with everyone involved?
  • Am I being compassionate and fair to everyone involved?
  • Do I think that I’m immune from being honest or compassionate or fair because I’m spiritually immune or superior?
  • Am I cutting corners or ignoring any of the above?

True Spirituality is remarkably simple and clear, and excludes no one regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or any other discrimination.  There is a distinct ring of authenticity to a spiritual person who is acting with integrity. The degree to which one acts with means that are of diminished integrity also portrays a spirituality of less illumination.

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