Beliefnet
Augie Turak describes The Self-Knowledge Symposium as "a non-denominational non-profit organization dedicated to turning students on to the wonderful adventure that spiritual exploration is." The SKS has chapters at Duke University, UNC, and NC State. They are holding a 3-day conference for students in October called Inward Bound... Mr. Turak spoke with Beliefnet about why he started the SKS and what drives his own spiritual quest

The SKS is neither "anything goes" New Age spirituality nor religion, but something in between.

It's an attempt at an optimization, I like to say. A couple of years ago Forbes magazine did a special issue for 2000 about what religion was going to look like in the 21st century and one writer said that all of the great world traditions are boiling down to two fundamental principles: the urge to self-transcendence and love your neighbor as yourself. And I would throw in a third: know yourself--every religion has that.

So are you talking about creating something new altogether?

I'm not trying to start a new religion. The basic idea is to turn people on. And if they end up, which a lot of times happens--for example, one of the kids here this weekend is going to be a minister in his own faith when he graduates from Carolina, I think a Methodist minister, and I'm very very pleased with that, that's fine.

On the other hand, the SKS is not necessarily just a referral service. It's not a clearing house to help the doubting Thomases get back on their tradition. So what I always say that what we're doing at the SKS is take it or leave it, you know, there's no pressure if you don't buy it.

Take the analogy of science. There's two ways of looking at science: most people look at science as content. How many elements are there? I don't even know--110 or whatever. What is water? you know, it's hydrogen and oxygen--that's what they think science is.

Science is also -- and I emphasize also -- the scientific method. When you talk about science being dogmatic or open-minded, science is very open-minded about how many elements there are in the table of elements, it could change at any time. It could go to a 115 or a 120 or a hundred million. And they can revise their theory of dinosaurs which I understand they're doing right now and decide that asteroids didn't knock out the dinosaurs. So they're very open-minded that way.

When it comes to the scientific method, they're very very doctrinaire. The experiment must -- and I emphasize must -- be repeatable. If it's not, it's not science.

So what is the method for spirituality?

The method for spirituality is long for transcendence, long for something bigger, long for something more. Feed that longing, don't be afraid of it, don't mislabel it as just "I'm an unhappy person."

Number two: Love your neighbor as yourself. Give it a chance. Live for others rather than yourself. Do whatever you can to diminish your own selfishness, your own ego. I tell students all the time, you're going to have to go through a transformation to really understand it but it takes effort and work.

Most people start out like this one young man, 24 years old, whose wife wants to have a baby and he is terrified. Oh my god, no more sex on the kitchen floor, no more runaway weekends, no more sports car, SUV here I come... So he's fighting and fighting and fighting and of course women always win those battles--and so eventually he has this baby and they hand him his kid and rather than him being kept up all night with his child he finds himself keeping the child awake because he checks on the kid every 5 minutes. Because he's had a transformation in love.

So there's a transformation. It can be an instantaneous transformation when you hand a father his kid. But if he doesn't take the chance if he doesn't stick his neck out and have that child he'll never know. So if you don't take a chance and live -- like Hamlet told his mother to -- to live for other people, until that transformation can click, you'll never know. You can't understand from this side of the mountain.

The third one is to know thyself. There's an incredible gap--it's kind of like what I read in the WSJ that 98% of Americans are now environmentalists. There's a tremendous gap between who we like to think we are and who we really are. And so all of Zen and so much of what goes on at the monastery and what they call formation and all these different traditions is closing that gap. Zen would call it a koan. Our modern psychologists in the West would call it cognitive dissonance.

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