« Wednesday, June 30, 2010: (Bethany Jane Andrews Hoey Quote: Art) | Main | Wednesday, June 23, 2010: (Henry David Thoreau Quote: Nature) »

Sunday, June 26, 2010: Changing Spiritual Goals

       I just overheard a statement about someone’s karma being so good that (shucks, darn) he was now confident of being quite close to the end of his spiritual journey. I won’t say much about the specific person who made the statement, other than to say his treatment of the people in his life puts that pet theory at serious risk.

        Nor do I want to rag on people hung up on the ultimate value of ritual. Some people firmly believe that if they attend to spiritual details -- worshiping regularly and without fail over many years, reading from their holy books with total dedication -- then little else is needed to escape the "wheel of karma" or (depending on one’s religion) the "world of suffering and hardships."

        The exact details of achieving escape remain controversial: there are centuries of debate concerning the merits of good deeds versus faith and which is more important to spiritual success. Both camps have saints and mystics who have found God. Both camps have people who somehow miss the point and get stuck in mere rituals of faith or action.

        I want to explore deeper attitudes, since the earlier statement (made by the soon-to-be-enlightened male) brings to mind a story about two spiritual aspirants. These two friends had studied long and hard, and were delighted one day to meet a holy man traveling toward them on the road. They respectfully stopped the sage to inquire about their spiritual futures.

        "How many more lifetimes must I live before becoming enlightened, Great One?" asked the first student.

         "Oh, no more than sixty lifetimes," was the sage’s answer. The student’s hopes were deflated by the holy man’s words and what he now saw as a future of continued struggle, discouraged that all his hard study had not brought him closer to liberation.

        "How many more lifetimes do I have to live before becoming enlightened, Great One?" asked the second student.

        "As many lifetimes as you see leaves on that tree," replied the holy man, pointing to an old and massive tree across the road.

         Far from being discouraged, the second aspirant was overjoyed to see a finite number of lifetimes, and he began leaping and shouting with glee. So great was his joy at knowing there was an eventual end to his karmic cycles that he instantly became enlightened.

         Seeing this, the first student became even more upset. Had the sage tricked them? How could his friend (with the prospects of so many more lifetimes) achieve enlightenment before himself?

         "Your friend was willing to accept his future and whatever it brought into his life. He embraced the inevitability of eventual liberation, no longer clinging to the pains of this world," the holy man explained.

          All right. I admit this seems a strange tale, but I like what it says about attitude. It seems like everyone starts on the spiritual path with the idea of escaping suffering and hardship. In the earliest days of my formal study, I remember people pointing to the physical world and claiming it was the garbage can of the universes. Certainly, once I’d reached into higher planes, other worlds did seem cleaner, brighter, more peaceful and pure. I became energized by those higher world experiences, determined to work off physical world karma so I’d never have to return again to this lower world. If I needed to perform good works to escape, so be it.

        Working toward that goal, I barely noticed how my attitude began changing. Love grew not just for the freedom and peacefulness of other worlds, but for the power and purpose behind the reality. To love God, to offer one’s life to Divine Will, became not a duty but a deep and satisfying desire. A fellow aspirant joked that when we finally reached a point where we could stay in the higher realms indefinitely, we would probably jump at the chance to return and help others still stuck in the physical world. We laughed because the idea sounded so plausible. I might not have liked the physical world, but I became willing to put up with never-ending challenges if that was part of the task set before me. (In retrospect, I question if my younger self was secretly hoping for an even greater reward by putting in time on "garbage detail.")

        More time passed, and it mattered less and less how or where I served a higher power. If such a power was present on all levels of creation, then on whatever level I existed I would find Its presence. I no longer fought to get out of this body, but worked to keep my heart open, confident that when this body was finally cast aside, the eternal part of me would move forward; there would be new ways, new lifetimes in which to serve the divine. I even came to enjoy the physical realms and the work I was doing, resting in the contentment and confidence that my soul endured through time and space.

          Something happened after my last major mystical experience; I quit clinging to the need for soul to recognize itself as being within God’s worlds. I’d become intimately a part of the divine – so inseparable that I no longer cared if the particular soul I knew as myself lived on or dissolved to nothingness. Let the body and soul died together. Every atom associated with this awareness, every action encountered or instigated by this body/soul, continued onward within a larger context.

         It seems strange for a mystic to not care about his or her soul, to not want to retain awareness of one’s eventual merger with some greater power, especially when I think of the traditional focus of mystics. Yet, I found the new attitude persisted.

        There is no longer the need to work my way toward the divine. Neither action nor inaction will separate me from or bring me closer to the divine. How could it? No part of creation is ever lost or destroyed; the parts shift and change within the whole, expressed in some new manner, while contained within the totality of an all-encompassing power. (Note: I use the term "divine"’ for that which is without limits and is all-encompassing; I use the term "God" when referring to a power with the potential and perhaps actualization of perfection, which interacts with elements of its creation.)

        How I live my life may not trouble the divine; it may not even trouble God. My awareness of a spiritual connection does affect how I experience this specific moment of life. If I focus on opening my heart to God, it moves me closer to goals I find immensely satisfying – an ever deepening compassion and contentment, a knowing that whenever part of the world touches me, it becomes part of who I am. 

         The difference between my current position and that of the ritualistic person first mentioned in this journal entry? I’m no longer trying to do the right action to cash in on some eventual reward. I accept life within the divine instead of thinking about the kind of spiritual life I "should" live, instead of altering my actions to fit someone’s definition of the "correct pattern."

        Forget about escaping the wheel of fate or karma. To me, that seems the attitude of a spiritual gambler, playing the odds for some ultimate thrill factor. No, what I’d rather seek now is the reward and enjoyment of simply doing the right action, of enjoying the depth of life that comes from loving the divine freely, with no strings attached. I could never have imagined such an attitude when first starting on a spiritual path. How strange that a simpler life would end up being more than enough to satisfy my deepest spiritual desires.


Posted on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 10:09PM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

Isn't it interesting how just living long enough helps you to see the futility of an imposed reward system?

Loved the story.
June 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKass

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.