Just as the modern academic definition of religion has found it necessary to open its definition to include types of religious behaviour, practice, and belief that move beyond the boundaries of the Western monotheistic traditions, so too in its understanding of “worship,” modern academic definitions have had to move beyond the Western context and include the practices of Eastern traditions of religious and spiritual life.
Viewed historically and globally, the student of religion encounters a wide range of “worshipping behaviour and action.” Cosmic religious traditions of indigenous peoples tuned their worshipping activities to the cosmic rhythms of nature and the Creator. Virtually every act of the community—from hunting to planting, from birth to death—was preceded by ritual or worshipping activity. In the historical religious traditions of the West, prayer and ritual were central acts of the worshipping community. Here worship ranged from remembering Allah in five daily acts of prayer, to recalling the Covenant with Yahweh on the holy days, and elevating the “Body of Christ” in the daily masses of the Roman Catholic faith. In the traditions of the East, worship might be the act of silent meditation of a yogi in the solitude of the Himalayas or the repetitious chanting of sky-clad Jains before the image of a “realized soul” or the elaborate Shinto rituals in the presence of the “kami” that are present to every drop of water or leaf on a tree, or the week-long services of “chant and prayer” by Tibetan Buddhists who reject the notion of a Creator god. Worship, in general, came to be seen, by modern students of religion, as religious actions that facilitate communion with, or alignment to, the unseen Sacred. Viewed globally and historically, it involves a wide range of action and behaviour.
Within the Church of Scientology we find a wide range of worshipping activity, actions designed to facilitate communion with, and alignment with, the Sacred. It is to be found in their auditing activity (described above) and in their training. Auditing is the practice that moves one from “preclear” to “Clear” and beyond; it is the Scientology way of facilitating awareness of oneself as an immortal spiritual being, the thetan, that unseen dimension that is the subject of the religious life. But of equal importance in Scientology is the practice of training. In auditing, one becomes free; through training, one stays free and learns “to accomplish the purpose of improving conditions in life.”
As we already indicated, the forms of worship within a given religious tradition accord with their experience of what is sacred and/or ultimate. For Scientology, training is the activity which enables one to move through the Eight Dynamics towards the eighth Dynamic, Infinity. Training is neither random nor mere “learning” in Scientology. It is rather a moving through a precise sequence—at one’s own speed and according to a “checksheet”—in order to acquire essential knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in everyday life. There are a variety of training courses offered in Scientology, ranging from introductory to those that contain “knowledge about the ultimate capabilities of the thetan.”
More familiar forms of worshipping activity are to be found in the communal rituals that occur when Scientologists gather for rites and observances. The literature of Scientology contains rites and rituals that mark major events in the life cycle: birth, naming, marriage, and death. These rites and rituals link these life events to the sacred depths of life as seen by the Scientology community. (See L. Ron Hubbard, The Scientology Religion, London, 1974 for descriptions of some of the rites and rituals.) These life-cycle rituals of Scientology find their analogs in virtually every other religious tradition. Such rituals enact the conviction that human life is linked to unseen, spiritual dimensions that must be recognized and acknowledged if human life is to achieve its wholeness and fulfillment.
Acts of worship can be individual as well as communal. This is probably most obvious in relation to prayer, but it is also true in relation to meditational acts and spiritual disciplines. Whether it is a Sufi praying alone or joined with others in a whirling dance prayer, one is engaged in worshipping activity. Whether it is the Buddhist alone on the hillside deep in meditation or joined with others in chanting a sutra, one is encountering acts of worship.
[I]n Scientology, like the realization traditions of the East, individual effort is central. This process of realization or movement towards total spiritual freedom involves auditing and training within Scientology.
In Scientology one encounters both the individual and communal acts of worship. But in Scientology, like the realization traditions of the East, individual effort is central. This process of realization or movement towards total spiritual freedom involves auditing and training within Scientology. The analogy is the “guru-disciple” relationship within Eastern traditions. In the “guru-disciple” relationship the principal acts of worship are interior acts which facilitate, in Hinduism, movements towards the realization of atman, the soul, which is also the Ultimate. These inward movements may be linked with certain outward actions like yogic postures or breathing techniques or even certain inward actions like visualizing an image. These inward spiritual movements can unfold over shorter or longer periods of times and are part of the worshipping activity of the devotee. In many Eastern traditions, the ascetic and meditative acts of training and discipline of an individual for growth in the spiritual life may unfold over many months or years or in essential solitude once direction is given by the master. Though the practice is carried out in solitude, it is still linked to the life of a community through shared convictions, beliefs, and shared acts. In Scientology, this is the proper context for auditing and training where the relationship between the religious counselor and the individual initiate is pivotal. Again, the analog is there with the spiritual director in Christian monastic traditions, the pastor in the Protestant traditions, the guru in the Hindu traditions, the Lama in Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
In Scientology, these inward and spiritual acts associated with auditing and training to facilitate the unfolding of one’s spiritual nature are also linked with growth in religious knowledge and education. In the Scientology context this means primarily the study of the writings and recorded lectures of L. Ron Hubbard on Dianetics and Scientology. (But it also includes the courses which he constructed and films that he wrote and directed.) Again, this linkage of spiritual practice and scriptural study is found across tradition. The classical Hindu yogi simultaneously practices the austerities and reads his Vedas. The devout Muslim reads his Quran and observes the month of daylight fasting. These activities are seen to reinforce one another on the spiritual path.
Conclusion: In the light of this review of Scientology practice and activity, I conclude that Scientology does engage in worshipping activity, as worship is understood in the modern study of religion, in their places of worship. The activities of Scientologists in their places of worship fall into the range of patterns and practices found within the religious life of humankind.
M. Darrol Bryant
26 September 1994