I have heard many times people criticizing or being criticized for something called spiritual bypass. The term was coined by a contemporary psychotherapist and the wiki definition of it is :
"(A) tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks"
It seems to me to be a modern definition of a very ancient problem: it is always easier to trust something or someone else will solve our real inner problems.
In fact, the boddhisatta’s account of his own spiritual pursuits contains a lot of failed practices or attempts that would very easily fit the above definition of spiritual bypass:
- he started his journey experimenting and perfecting himself with the deepest levels of mental absorption practices available at his time (through association with both Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka the son of Rāma);
- then he went through the most extreme enduring of exposure to external elements (or lack thereof) by fasting and possibly engaging in a religious suicide practice still nowadays promoted and practiced by the Jains as a path to liberation.
Beside those extremes, things like attachment to rites and rituals or a constant pursuit for new and more exciting sensual experiences - through tasting, hearing, touching, smelling and seeing - seem to fit under the sidestepping or avoidance of facing “unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks” in oneself.
All that said, it is important to realize that the uniqueness of the Path re-discovered and taught by the Blessed One is in fact its comprehensive formulation, which if approached completely makes no room for spiritual bypass.
By proposing a closed loop approach with right view - summarized as the Four Noble truths and its respective tasks - as the forerunner and end-goal of his spiritual teaching, the Blessed One definitely had in mind making sure those after him would not have to go through the same spiritual mistakes he made himself in his quest.
Moreover, by summarizing as the gradual abandonment or eradication of ten fetters in oneself as the ultimate way of gauging / assessing one’s own progress in the Path, he covered most - if not all - problematic and liberation-inhibiting modes of spiritual bypassing.
The idea of this topic is then to get people together to discuss:
- in which ways spiritual bypassing is (or not) a concern of the Buddha-Dhamma;
- as well, it would be great to know how Buddha Dhamma may have (or not) helped people here address their own tendencies to spiritual bypass.