FROM EXTERNALS TO INTERNALS: Replacing religion with primal spirituality

Self looking into self

David Karchere, the director of the Sunrise Ranch spiritual community where I live, recently posed this question in a talk he gave to the community: “Why do people create religion, particularly religion that distorts the nature of Being?” He went on to answer his question this way: “Behind a convoluted religion is a person or a people that have lost their innocence. They have lost their primal spirituality and have turned to sophisticated manipulation of the world to try to achieve happiness.”

This manipulation implies that they have focused on something external to themselves to give them a sense of meaning and fulfillment.  The fixation on externals takes a variety of forms: a system of doctrines and beliefs, an assortment of sacred objects and relics, a set of rituals and practices, charismatic religious figures, sacred spaces, etc. The religious devotee in effect says, “These things make me holy; they give me salvation; they guarantee my eternal security in heaven. I don’t have to do anything; all I have to do is believe in the efficacy of these things.”

In other words, by believing that something external does it for them, human beings have a convenient excuse for neglecting to do the essential internal work in consciousness that activates primal spirituality—the innate, intuitive knowing of the truth of love and of Being with which we are born. They have in essence divorced themselves from their own reality and created a world of illusion where it becomes necessary to posit some external means of personal and collective salvation. The long history of conflict, corruption and unfathomable misery on this planet provides conclusive proof that such an approach doesn’t work and is fundamentally alien to life.

Religion is not the only form this fixation on externals takes. Human beings have also sought personal and collective salvation in such things as politics, science, money, military force and, more recently, social networking. In fact it could be said that religions have been made out of these things—people and organizations absolutely obsessed with bending the external world to their personal and collective will.

In the talk referenced above, David went on to suggest that it’s time to replace the distortions of religion with “primal spirituality.” Many in the world, particularly young people, are awakening to this necessity. As is quite clear from observing their exodus from mainline church denominations, they’re quite ready to jettison religious orthodoxy in the quest for something genuine. But unfortunately the spiritual path they subsequently embark on in many cases involves more external manipulation or, as David puts it, “more convoluted beliefs, more religious fabrication.” Once again a failure to do the internal work required for authentic spiritual fulfillment.

Donna Visocky, publisher of BellaSpark Magazine, describes something of what is required in these words: “An energetic transformation has and is taking place on the planet, and though it has not exactly manifested in our physical world the way we imagined, it is showing up in us. We can feel it; something has definitely shifted in our core, for the energies are calling us to change. We are all being nudged, guided and sometimes literally pushed into becoming who we were meant to be. The change happening on the planet is an internal one and just as Mother Earth is going through her own rebirth so too are we being born again.”

This new birth is a movement back to primal spirituality, from externals to internals. I can no longer look to something external to impart sacredness and provide salvation. I am called to be my own saviour and the saviour of my world. How? By simply being who I am, by returning to my own innate, intuitive knowing of the truth. This is accomplished by expressing in everyday living the qualities of true or divine character with which I was endowed simply by virtue of incarnating on Earth. Qualities such as integrity, dignity, nobility, honour, courage, patience, stability, generosity, tranquility and many more. This endowment of true values needs to be activated; I won’t know that these qualities are my very nature until I give them expression. Their full expression restores primal spirituality and the awareness of oneness with the divine.

People who come to Sunrise Ranch to participate in our Full Self Emergence program or any of our other classes are essentially invited to do just one thing: come home. Come home, not to some external system of beliefs or teachings, not to some charismatic leader or extraordinary organization, not to some spiritual practice or technique that is guaranteed to put you in touch with God and transform your life. No, just come home to your primal spirit, to your inner core, to the bedrock truth of who you are, and experience this beautiful character by simply revealing it in the supportive spiritual context of the Sunrise community.

So surely it is time to break with the fatal habit of fingering something external that we imagine will do for us what only we can do. Religion and all of its paraphernalia must be replaced by primal spirituality if the world is ever to know anything approximating transformation. And it is all accomplished by simply coming home to and relaxing into the truth of unconditional love at our core and embodying that truth in living.

Read more about primal spirituality from David Karchere>>

Jerry Kvasnicka, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, has had a varied career as a youth minister, a radio news reporter, a writer and editor for several magazines and journals and a custodian with the Loveland, Colorado school district. Jerry currently edits and writes for the mind-spirit section of the online magazine The Mindful Word. He has lived at the Sunrise Ranch spiritual community in Loveland for twenty-five years. He can be reached at
image: AlicePopkorn via Compfight cc
Posted by × July 7, 2014 at 6:23 AM


  1. I can appreciate the basis of your opinion and primal spirituality in general, but some of the conclusions you came to were a bit of a stretch.

    Sacred objects, rituals, spaces, etc. hold meaning for people in a lot of different ways. For example, a statue could be used as a symbol for someone to show devotion to in their gradual wearing away of the ego… what could start as an external practice leads to the internal, and this could happen without them actually aiming for that endpoint. A sacred space could provide the much needed refuge from the cacophony of daily life. A ritual can take someone to a higher place, etc.

    Everyone is different. People have different needs, require different tools, have different cultural and social backgrounds. What works for one isn’t going to work for someone else. Most importantly, everyone is in a different place. Where one person could be ready to discard anything external to themselves, someone else is not. Most people need something to hook on to in the beginning. Without any physical grounding it becomes very easy to skid around and get lost.

    And it becomes very easy to think anything external is useless, when in reality it is not. I agree with you that focusing on the external could be used as a convenient excuse to avoid doing the internal work, but not everyone who makes use of external things uses them as an excuse. It’s hard to comment on what constitutes a religious experience for someone else.

    Here’s something to ponder. The Roman Catholic Church commissioned tons of artwork during the counter-reformation as propaganda to fight the reformers… manipulation, indeed. The world is now blessed with this beautiful artwork that can invoke a sense of awe and rapture in the viewer. Yes, all experiences are temporary, but these experiences serve as helpful tools to keep people “on the path” because if people aren’t getting those experiences at all, the chances of them ever going inward are very slim with the busyness of modern life.

    • Jerry Kvasnicka says:

      I appreciate your perceptive comment, UB Hawthorn. Yes sacred objects, rituals and places can provide an entry point on the spiritual journey. They can mediate a sense of the sacred and provide a symbol of the divine, a doorway to a deeper spiritual experience. The problem with this is that individuals stop at the doorway and, in effect, begin to worship the doorway instead of going through it to what is beyond. They mistake the symbol for the reality and attribute sacredness to the object, ritual or place rather then to their own divine nature.

      People become addicted to their symbols; religions are built on this basis, and the world’s dismal history of religious wars is simply a matter of one set of symbols in conflict with another. Isn’t it about time human beings grew up, put aside childish things, walked through the doorway and connected directly with the sacred source of universal love at the core of every person’s being? Frankly, I don’t know how else our precious Earth can continue to play a vital role in the cosmic whole.

      • I agree and figure we might as well all go through the door once opening it. The point I’m making is that it’s not just an entry point. For some it’s an integral part of the spiritual practice. Take for instance those practitioners who concentrate on, whether through visual observation or visualization, a deity or symbol which is a power greater than they are. That deity represents a specific quality or qualities that the practitioner wants to manifest in themselves and in doing so they can wear away their own ego, which can take a very long time to do and can form the core of their practice.

        You write, “[connect] directly with the sacred source of universal love at the core of every person’s being,” which all sounds great, but the question then becomes how do you foster that thought into someone’s being? What you write is more knowledge oriented than experiential. It’s too vague for people to really make anything out of without some practice to back it up and transform it into an ongoing part of themselves.

        I find balancing between the knowledge and experiential can be quite difficult. It’s easy to fall to one side or the other, not having enough knowledge to make sense of the experiences (and to make them last) or not having enough experience to make anything of the knowledge.

        Also, I’d like to say it’s important to not confuse the conflict with symbols with the value of symbols. Sure they have created conflict, leading to wars and so on, but they have a very valuable role to everyone really, as reminders. The way I look at it we need more reminders in this world that have some sort of positive meaning, because if we start dropping these religious symbols entirely, then the Nike, Apple and McDonalds of the world will be more than happy to fill up our consciousness with their own symbols, as if they haven’t enough already.

        • Jerry Kvasnicka says:

          It shouldn’t really take a lot of time and effort for a person to move through a door, especially when you consider that the core reality of each person really wants to come forth; it is the natural mode of function for each of us. It takes real effort for the ego to stifle the expression of life. When, as you put it, the door or symbol is made “an integral part of the spiritual practice” I believe a dependency tends to develop such that a person can’t access the divine without the symbol. The symbol becomes in effect a crutch. I believe we were created to walk, spiritually speaking, without crutches, i.e. to express the divine without leaning on symbols.

          The truth is succinctly expressed in this popular bumper sticker: WE ARE SPIRITUAL BEINGS HAVING A HUMAN EXPERIENCE. You write of “practitioners who concentrate on, whether through visual observation or visualization, a deity or symbol which is a power greater than they are.” This, it seems to me, presupposes separation from deity or the divine. It posits a mere human being trying by various symbols (rites, rituals, sacred spaces, beliefs, etc.) to have a spiritual experience. Then human beings cling to whatever symbols they have developed in this regard, believing their symbols superior to other symbols; disagreement and conflict result, and this is a major factor in bringing the world to the edge of disaster.

          Why not avoid all this by starting with the truth: that the core of every person’s being is divine? You ask, “how do you foster that thought into someone’s being?” I don’t have to foster it, it’s already there! And the person will begin to realize it’s there as the qualities associated with deity or the divine are expressed in living. I enumerate these qualities in one of the concluding paragraphs of the article. They include integrity, nobility, dignity, thanksgiving, blessing and many others. Sure the idea that I am divine may seem theoretical at first, but as I consistently express divine character in my daily living, I’m constrained to realize “why, yes, this is what I am!”

          This is anything but “vague” or “knowledge oriented.” It’s the most practical and experiential thing on earth. It is all based on a great principle: you only know what you express. Express God and you know God. Nothing could be simpler and easier. It’s the only “spiritual practice” you’ll ever need. I’ve proven this out in my own living, and I live in a spiritual community (Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado) where hundreds of people have proven it out over the sixty-nine year history of the community. Yes, we make use of symbols here; we have a sanctuary and other spaces considered sacred. Some engage in meditation and we have a healing practice called “attunement.” The difference is that all of these symbols and reminders are not approached from “below” in an effort to somehow find and connect with deity; they are approached from “above” as a natural expression of the divine center of each person’s being.

          • I would like to think people don’t need crutches. In some cases people don’t, but when I think about the diversity of the world’s population and the crazy times that we’re in, I think about all the challenges people face from consistently expressing God and I start to think about the benefit that a prescribed path like a religion provides. It sets up an easy structure that works for a lot of people… if it didn’t, world religions wouldn’t have as many adherents as they have. Living in a spiritual community and focusing regularly on expressing God is a situation that works for you and a number of others. Most people are in a far different situation though. I like what you said about knowing God by expressing qualities such as, integrity, nobility, dignity, thanksgiving, blessing. Most people would agree that those are wonderful qualities, but some people are more focused on connecting to the divine (or whatever they want to call it), via something like emptiness, which is not an easy thing to express.

          • Jerry Kvasnicka says:

            People simply don’t need the crutch of religion. Sure we’re living in “crazy times,” and the primary reason for this is that the majority of human beings still cling to the religious crutch. Religion terribly distorts reality and forces people at best to take life through a filter rather than from directly from Source. Sure religion seems to set up “an easy structure,” a convenient crutch to lean on. But it doesn’t really work for people in the long run; it imprisons them in a structure that closes off a major part of their creative output and their natural expression of unconditional love. Moreover, it doesn’t work at all for the world. Shouldn’t the deplorable state of humanity on earth convince anyone of this?

            Do you seriously think that because the world’s religions have large numbers of adherents they therefore have some kind of viability and a hold on truth that works for people? Oh how people love to swallow illusions and hold fast to them for millennia! For centuries the people of the world believed the world to be flat. Did that make it so? Certainly not! Similarly just because billions believe they are separate from God and have to grasp at some external symbol to sustain connection with the divine doesn’t make this the truth. It just illustrates how duped human beings have been and continue to be.

            There is a great truth that is finally beginning to emerge in human consciousness in these days and that is the truth of Oneness; all human beings are of the same divine essence; we are one in Universal Being. This theme has even appeared in some of the writings in The Mindful Word. I guess this is why I have difficulty understanding why you as the leading voice of this online magazine are intent on defending the increasingly outmoded concept of separation. Human beings will never come together on the basis of their separate beliefs, prophets, saviors, holy books, temples, rites, rituals and relics. The only basis for Oneness is oneness with God; we are all Creator Beings and have incarnated to be God in action on earth.

            The writer of the opening chapters of Genesis recognized this in acknowledging that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and are present on earth to “dress and keep the Garden” (the earth). In other words, we’re here to do something, to create, not to sit around passively contemplating emptiness. The latter may be occasionally useful in clearing the mind and emotions of some of the clutter that has accumulated there and providing a momentary vision of the Light and a connection with God. But why would we be given a mind capable of thought, a voice capable of speech and a body capable of action if we were not here to creatively and visibly express the divine reality on earth? And this doesn’t require a special spiritual community such as Sunrise Ranch. It can be done anywhere, anytime, by anyone.

          • If we lived in a world where people had no knowledge of religion and just practiced Oneness, I definitely think the world and all its inhabitants would be much better off. But that’s not the case, so I just like to think about working with what we have. And I’m not expressing my thoughts personally here, I’m just thinking in the broader sense of people in general because there are a broad range of readers here.

            I am not advocating on behalf of separation. The main point I’m making is that realizing Oneness, actually… not theoretically… is something that takes practice to embody along with a sufficient amount of knowledge to understand. If it were so easy, people would read an article or two and just become enlightened. But that’s not the case, which is why there’s been so much effort at establishing practices and books of knowledge to realize this. And people approach Oneness in countless different ways, which usually have a starting point in duality. To throw the duality away and just start with non-duality is great, but the point I’m making is that this way is not for everyone, which is exactly why most people who take the yogic path choose the bhakti or karma yoga path rather than the jnana yoga path (though these divisions are simplistic, I’m just using them as an example).

            I wrote that “world religions wouldn’t have as many adherents as they have.” I didn’t write that the large numbers prove that religion is viable and has a hold on truth. I’ve met religious people whose religion works for them. Of course, it’s a fraction, since most don’t really practice but are religious in name only. I can’t remember who said this, but it rings true for me: “There are only two religions in the world. Those who practice and those who don’t.” The Dalai Lama says his religion is kindness. We can take a shred of teaching, say Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemy and go far with just that. You could say that religion hides the real meaning of Jesus’ teaching and hurts the adherent, which it largely does. But people use religion in all different kinds of ways. Like in your last paragraph you quoted Genesis to disprove the importance of emptiness, which comes from another religion: Buddhism. Realizing emptiness is an action in itself the same way nonaction is an action, so I disagree with you on that one. But in making that point you’re proving my point. Different religions have different approaches to come to the same realization. Further, different people practicing these religions each have their own approach.

            You wrote, “But why would we be given a mind capable of thought, a voice capable of speech and a body capable of action if we were not here to creatively and visibly express the divine reality on earth?” When you think about how much violence comes from speech alone, I can appreciate the decision people make to go silent. I can think of someone I’ve met who has chosen to go silent for over 50 years, and he’s quite an incredible person living a life of nonviolence and divinity, which he expresses daily through his act of silence. Would you agree that there are different ways of interpreting things based on everyone’s unique background and temperament?

  2. Interesting article, and comment as well. I like seeing the dialogue!

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