Engaged Spirituality: Radical Compassion and Selfless Service (Part One)

T2i - Infinity
T2i – Infinity (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Mick Turner

The ultimate goal of walking the spiritual path is to awaken in ourselves the desire to make a positive contribution to the world. Ideally, each of us should strive to find ways in which we can bring light, joy, and relief to others. It is no overstatement to say that the entire framework of engaged spirituality, regardless of the tradition, is to place ourselves in a state of being where we can not only be good – but good for something.

 Gautama Buddha was an example of grace and perfect love incarnate. After finding his awakening under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha went about spreading the truth that he had discovered, a truth that when astutely applied to life, could liberate beings from endless rounds of suffering. Just as with Jesus who would come later, Buddha taught through sermons, informal talks, parables, and above all, his actions.

Just as Christ would later set an example for his disciples to follow, the Buddha also would serve as the divine prototype for the essence of “metta,” or “loving-kindness.” In Metta, there is an internal manifestation and an external manifestation. Internally, increasing feelings of loving kindness give rise to a vital sense of compassion that is also based on the realization of the oneness of all things. These internal states of loving kindness and compassion result in the external manifestation, which is proactive service to the world.

 This eventually gave rise to the Mahayana Buddhist ideal of the Bodhisattva. On a theoretical level, one can accurately say that the ultimate goal of the Bodhisattva is enlightenment and to some extent this is true. However, on a highly practical level, the Bodhisattva’s highest goal is selfless service. Personal enlightenment takes a back seat to serving others, spiritually and materially.

Radical compassion is compassion with legs; radical compassion is a verb. Just as the Bible tells us in the Letter of James that faith without works is dead, also, compassion without concomitant action is a lifeless phenomenon. Many sincere aspirants have the mistaken notion that the ultimate goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment. Although a sincere desire for motivation is one of our most treasured possessions, it is actually penultimate. The real aim of the spiritual journey is simply this – Sacred Service. All that we do is dedicated to the greatest good of all beings in all the worlds. Our gain is their gain, our loss is their loss, our advancement is their advancement, and it is to this sacred reality that we offer our benedictions at the end of our times of meditation and prayer.

In order for compassion to become more than just a nice idea or a sentimental feeling, it must flow out of the internalized wisdom of the ages, particularly as related to the reality of “interconnectivity.” The idea of interconnectivity, now confirmed by the field of quantum physics, has been around for many centuries and is at the core of interspiritual mysticism, that one aspect of world religion that seems to transcend culture, time, and especially theology. It is a mystical connectedness that promotes compassion and engaged action to make the world a better place for all who dwell here. In essence, it is a deep wisdom that gives flesh to grace. The great spiritual writer Kahil Gibran spoke of this interconnected reality when he said:

Your neighbor is your other self dwelling behind a wall. In understanding, all walls shall fall down. Who knows but that your neighbor is your better self wearing another body? See that you love him as you would yourself. He too is a manifestation of the Most High.

In India, for example, we have the story of Indra’s Net, which is strung throughout the universe with a precious jewel at the places where the cords of the net intersect. These jewels, in turn, reflect all of the other jewels. Similar to the modern discovery of the hologram, the image of Indra’s Net is filled with symbolic wisdom depicting the interconnectivity of all that is. Gary Zukav, in his groundbreaking book entitled, The Dancing Wu Li Masters tell us:

…the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics is that all things in our universe (including us) that appears to exist independently are actually parts of one all-encompassing organic pattern, and that no parts of that pattern are ever really separate from it or from each other.

 In the Christian tradition, the writings of the great mystic teachers echo these same truths, often in symbolic and metaphorical ways. Julian of Norwich especially comes to mind as well as Hildegard of Bingen and Madame Guyon. The writings of Saint Theresa of Avila and the life and work of St. Francis also point to the interconnectivity of all life and the necessity of having a heart of radical compassion.

The great Romantic poets like William Wordsworth and Percy B. Shelley have voices that ring loudly with the sense of the interrelated aspects of the natural world and their American counterparts, the Transcendentalists, in the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, also echo this theme of divine connectivity. And then there is the work of that master of the arcane, William Blake who spoke of the mystic’s ability:

To see a World in a grain of sand,

And Heaven in a wild flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,

And Eternity in an hour.

The world that we interact with each day only appears to be solid. In point of fact, it is an intricate dance of sub-atomic waves and particles that obey none of the traditional or expected moves of predictable choreography. At its core level, our apparently solid, material world is less like classical music and more like jazz. Just when we think we have a handle on how things are, these very things change, morphing into something totally unexpected and often totally mysterious. Someone wise, I forget who, once said the life is not a riddle to be solved but a mystery to be lived. How true, and the sooner a person grasps this fundamental truth, the sooner frustration will disappear from his or her life.

to be continued……

(c) L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

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