Information vs Experience
Traveling on vacation is probably the most recognized activity where the experience far outweighs the information. A person can read every book and study every picture about a place of interest all their life. But if fortunate enough to journey there it is totally different than what was imagined. While the information provided could have been the best available and most complete and thorough, without the actual experience to provide a point of reference, any perspective based on that information is distorted. Once experience occurs and the correct perspective is engaged everything from that point on falls into place whether it’s by book, picture, or word of mouth from someone else’s experiences. If a picture is worth a thousand words then when it comes to travel and visiting other places the experience is worth a thousand pictures.
The information versus experience argument applies to matters of spirituality as well. Most people are content to sit back in the sanctuary with the rest of the congregation and let the preacher, pastor, rabbi, priest, or whatever you may have behind the pulpit, preach the word in the name of the all mighty power or powers that be. It is true that some people will take enough responsibility for their spirituality to at least personally read or study gospel for their own sake. But in the vast majority of these particular cases study does little more than to confirm the interpretation already spoon fed into their psyche.
From a spiritual perspective a major portion of the population has been so conditioned to not think for them selves that they are convinced that they are no longer capable of taking their spiritual development into their own hands. This line of thinking runs along a pathway such as, only the teacher has the power to commune with god therefore everything they say must be the truth and nothing they do should be held against them in the court of private opinion. So many spiritual leaders have carte blanch to do as they please, say whatever they want to say.
However, there are plenty of examples of religious or spiritual leaders abusing the trust and faith people put in them. Reverend Jimmy Baker and Tammy Faye Baker pilfered millions from their supporters. The Reverend Jim Jones convinced his followers to drink cyanide laced Kool Aid to commit suicide. The less than honorable Elijah Mohammed was not above being a hypocrite. More recently the Reverend Ted Haggard convinced his followers to abhor homosexuality while the hypocrite himself participated in same sex activities with male prostitutes while using methamphetamines. Who knows how many catholic priests have abused little boys in some twisted sexual perversion. In the bulk of these situations and others there are way too many people willing to forgive and overlook these indiscretions.
But this is a prime example of the difference between information and experience. Take for example this hypothetical situation: Let’s say there’s a church, spiritual house, synagogue somewhere and someone from the congregation makes an accusation against the minister, priest, rabbi, or whatever. The person making the accusation has just given everybody some information. However, the information doesn’t supersede the experience most of the congregation may have with the accused. Most people would rally to the preacher’s defense and condemn the accusers instead of taking an impartial step back and evaluating the situation from a totally unbiased perspective. No one would ever imagine being the preacher’s victim until it actually happens to them and changes their experience.
Individuals are too wrapped up in living to bother with spirituality. So in order to console ourselves with the thought of giving control of our spiritual development to someone else we must believe that they are above reproach without any shadow of doubt. To find out that a spiritual caretaker is capable of doing wrong would result in a lot of people having to retake control. It’s easier to believe the deception than to retake the responsibility most people loathe. But if one is fortunate it will be only a matter of time before his/her experience forces them to take their spirituality far more seriously.
In the theological world of Ifa most people purchase readings in order to receive information from Orunmila through a diviner. The belief is that the readings are life instructions aimed at helping the purchaser/client to stay on the path prepared for them eons before they were born. For most people, paying to get a reading is more than enough to satisfy whatever need they may deem necessary to stay on path. And if it doesn’t require too much effort, as long as they can conveniently work it into their schedule, the person getting the reading may even follow the instructions they are told. The only problem with this particular arrangement is that the person getting the reading is making two significant assumptions. The first assumption is that the information he/she is receiving is accurately being read by someone who is in good standing with Orunmila and can actually obtain the information necessary. The second assumption is that the diviner is not embellishing or misrepresenting the information in any way, shape, or form.
Diviners perform a very important service for their community and they are to be respected just as much as anyone else. But diviners are just as human as anyone else as well. If a diviner of high integrity finds themselves in a particularly tight circumstance they can fall to the temptation to manipulate a client in order to help alleviate their own situation. Suddenly a client whose life is going well gets a forecast that trouble is on the horizon and they need to have some expensive ritual performed to remove the coming bad luck. The naive client, trusting the diviner’s integrity, will do whatever they are advised to do to keep things smooth. The diviner gets paid for extra work, the so-called bad luck is removed from the client’s future, and all is well, except for the fact that Orunmila never predicted the bad luck in the first place. Not only has the client been manipulated, but so has the Orisa.
Most readers or diviners perform their service using tools of divination such as obi, the opon tray, the opele chain, and/or any number of methods and techniques to get the information for their client by determining which one of 256 verses rooted in Yoruba mythology Orunmila is using to relay his message. Once the verse is determined the diviner and client will try to determine exactly what Orunmila is trying to reveal. This method is far from an exact science and no two diviners will follow the exact same methodology to determine Orunmila’s word. Consequently, no two readings will ever be the same or offer the same result. A practitioner of Ifa cannot go to one diviner to confirm a reading from another diviner because more than likely there is a guess involved as to what Orunmila is saying.
Imagine that you have an important, life guiding, message for your son or daughter a very long distance away. But instead of being able to talk to this person directly you have to use someone else, a middleman, on the other side of town from the person who needs to receive the message. Now to top this off you can’t actually tell the person what you want to say but you must use a series of yes and no answers to questions from the middleman to get your message across. And if this isn’t bad enough the yes and no questions don’t exactly lead to what you want to say but can only reveal one of 256 different versus that will then be interpreted into what you’re exactly trying to say. And if all this still isn’t bad enough you can only relay this message whenever the intended recipient pays the fee necessary to get the message from the middleman. This is the system most people find acceptable to receive their life guiding, spiritual directions. But honestly, would you settle for this means of communication if it was your word that needed relaying?
What’s even sillier is the fact that people will walk away from their divination session without any real authentication of what they’ve just been told but will swear it’s all true. Most are willing to use their future experiences as a way to substantiate the veracity of the information they were given. Time will tell. The only problem with this theory is that people have a tendency to subconsciously manufacturer or accept the proof necessary to support or dispel which ever they choose to believe. For example: a reading will say something like the client needs to move from where they are living. An expensive, time consuming, bothersome, and involved process when life circumstances forces relocation such as a job. But now a reading indicates bad luck will befall the client if a move doesn’t happen. An expensive ritual can be performed to protect the client until they can relocate but either way the money just isn’t in the budget for either one to happen. Time elapses. Then one day the client’s home is burglarized. When the client finds the place ransacked their first thought is my reading said this would happen, why didn’t I listen? But it would’ve been no surprise to anyone who kept abreast of the rising crime statistics within the client’s neighborhood.
Many people are so satisfied with simply getting the second hand, interpreted, and filtered information a couple of times a year through the diviner that they never think to get the experience of communicating directly with Orunmila for themselves. It’s no wonder that so many people are constantly told that they are off path when they do get a reading. On behalf of the Orisa and ancestors this essay is a challenge to all to embark on the experience of their life and for their life and take the time to learn to listen to and talk with Orunmila.
However, this is not a call for everyone to go out and purchase their own opele and opon, study the 256 verses, and learn to perform the rituals of divination. Besides, no disrespect intended but anyone can throw a set of coconut shells and pick up a book on odus to see which verse fell. It could be Orunmila talking or it could be little more than a random pattern based on the laws of gravity and physics.
Forget anything you may have learned about divination. Forget about taking lessons or buying expensive divination books and tools. Our early Ifa ancestors didn’t have the luxury of going to the local botanical to get their divination tools and divination books and take divination lessons. If one thinks about it, it stands to reason that we don’t have the need for these contraptions. The only tools you will need are the ones nature gave you, your mind and time. Sit still, calm the mind, and open the heart. It’s not something that will happen overnight. It won’t happen quickly. It will take time to develop. It will take time to practice. However, the very first time the experience occurs and the correct perspective is engaged, everything from that point on will fall into place. Orunmila, Orisas, heaven itself will open before you. If a reading is worth a few dollars then you’ll find that the experience of actually talking with Orunmila with your own mind and heart in a dialog where both of you can communicate together is priceless. Even if every reading you may have ever received throughout your entire life is accurate and perfectly relayed information the experience of talking directly with Orisa is in itself life altering.
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