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Abridged from...

Abridged from “There for the long haul a spirituality for today” by Jim Consedine

There is a story from Nepal. A bandit meets the Buddha in a forest and threatens to kill him. The Buddha says, “May I first ask you to do two things?” The bandit puffs out his chest and roars, “Of course, I am so mighty and powerful that I can do anything you ask.” The Buddha says “Please cut down the lower branches of the tree over there,” which the bandit does with one sweep of his huge sword. He is clearly pleased with his strength and power. He asks, “What is your second request?” Quietly and respectfully the Buddha says, “My second request is that you now put the branch back on the tree.” “You must be crazy”, explodes the bandit. “No,” says the Buddha, “you are the one who is crazy, because all you know is how to destroy, but the mighty and the powerful are really those who know how to build, create and heal.”


Modern society mostly rejects this message. Power is defined by the ability to destroy, to kill, to maim with pre-emptive strikes, when what is needed it pre-emptive non-violence, compassion and wisdom. Forgiveness is not given any space or media time. There is in fact no place for the spiritual dimensions of people to be addressed and recognised. Our modern consumer culture is dominated by global business conglomerates, which have acquisition, avarice, control and violence at their spiritual base and status, greed, racism and domination as their principle values. The same values apply to the world of industry, with labour need now directed globally, workers in most countries, especially the third world, are exploited. The corporate media not only reflects the interest of a handful of super wealthy owners but is dominated by “Buy more and be happy” what nonsense!


The world's people are in crisis – make no mistake about that. When 30,000 die each day in Africa from preventable disease and malnutrition, 1in 3 children in the UK and NZ, and 40% in the US and Russia live beneath the poverty line we have a crisis. How do we live a life that is holistic, positive, respects our neighbour, sustains us and fulfils us? No one person can answer this and there is a danger that a person from a particular tradition may leave the impression that their particular way has all the answers. I would hate to do that. But of one thing I am sure. We either regularly nourish ourselves spiritually or we run the risk of becoming cynical, blasé, and burnt out, it's that simple.


I am indebted to a Canadian spiritual writer, Ronald Releaser, for providing a framework for an holistic spirituality that has helped sustain many on the long haul. It is not complete and may not suit all. This framework has what I call four commandments, they are like the legs of a race horse which only races well when all four legs are being used and working together in harmony. They are: personal prayer, personal integrity, and private morality and; social justice; mellowness of spirit and generosity of heart; membership of a group which shares similar aims.


Personal prayer, personal integrity, and private morality. We are responsible for our own spiritual journey. A spirituality for the long haul understands some sort of transcendent Higher Power, larger than the individual but accessible. We all need to spend some time each day nurturing the “inner me” – it can be meditation, contemplation, verbal, silent, standing up, lying horizontal, sitting in the garden, it doesn't matter. Also, as I have grown older I can see that unless we maintain a clear and firm commitment to personal integrity and private morality we run a great risk of undermining everything else we have done or seek to do.


Social justice. Whether we like it or not we are social beings. The great spiritual traditions teach that all things are interconnected. We no longer live in a world where the needs of our neighbour are unknown to us. They appear on our TV news every night. Social justice demands that we come to understand what it is that keeps our neighbour in poverty, in a war zone, starving, dying of thirst. What affects one affects us all. Seeking justice is an integral part of the journey. It is in our neighbour that we meet the divine.


Mellowness of heart, generosity of spirit. This may sound rather odd but it is essential. It is about being inclusive – it rules out fanatics and fundamentalist, one issue people, and being purely secular; it simply says that our hearts have to be bigger, more generous, and more embracing than such narrowness allows.


Membership of a likeminded group. This is the one that many will balk at – it teaches that we cannot make this journey alone. If we try we will be like the racehorse limping. The reason to belong is that a group contains so much collective wisdom and knowledge, and also sustains us on the journey. For instance: Where does one take personal suffering? Where does one make sense of such things? Carrying the burden alone can make for a very rugged journey, we need each other, solidarity with others who suffer is part of any spiritual journey.


I would like to finish with 2 quotations

A group of Catholic sisters recently wrote “Non-violence is a way of living. It's a call. It's an action. It's a voice. It's about caring for each other. It's about education. It's a change in your heart. It's a change in your world. It's a change in the system. It's risky. It's visionary. It's about sustainable living. It's the only way to be just. It's a choice. It's peace-filled. It's prayer filled. It becomes who we are. It's what we do. It's the only true road to a meaningful spirituality in our time.” And Aung San Suu Kyi says “Freedom means choice. It is of the utmost importance to make the right choice. We can choose either to gratify narrow selfish interests or expand our hearts and minds to encompass the needs and aspirations of others. We can strive to build better lives not just for ourselves or own people, but for humanity”

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