the foundation of spiritual practices
Practice, practice, practice... meditation, prayers, koans, sacred
phrases....it's all too easy to become so involved in striving to
perform one's spiritual practices that one loses sight of the very
ideals upon which the success of the practices depends. Without ideals,
one is much like a ship without any rudder, tossed to and fro, with no
real direction, and with no reliable means for steering toward the
One's ideals are the rudder by which one steers the ship of spiritual
practices on a course toward the desired destination -- awakening.
Ideals are the very foundation of our spiritual practices, yet our
ideals and spiritual practices are not the destination, they are merely
the means by which we make progress.
An ideal is something to hope for and to hold on to, and in the
absence of an ideal hope has nothing to look forward to. It is the
lack of idealism which accounts for the present degeneration of
humanity in spite of all the progress it has made in other
directions. There are many kinds of ideals: principles, virtues,
objects of devotion; but the greatest and highest of all ideals is
the God-ideal. And when this God-ideal upon which all other ideals
are based is lost, then the very notion of ideal is ignored. Man
needs many things in life, but his greatest need is an ideal.
The Unity of Religious Ideals, by Hazrat Inayat Khan
Although one may encounter many who are eager to tout the benefits
of their own ideals, and many who will say that their own ideals are the
only worthy ideals, the life experiences of each person are the creator of his/her own ideals.
In order to create worthy ideals, one
must constantly strive to expand the range of one's own experience and
embrace ever-higher ideals by
associating with, and studying the lives of, those who have demonstrated
high ideals in their own lives.
Ideals are as five stepping-stones to the shrine of God. The
greatest ideal, the highest ideal is the ideal of God. It is not
necessary – and yet it is most necessary – that there should be a
stepping-stone to go to the altar of God. Without this
stepping-stone many are lost. It is often a very rigid soul who will
say, 'God is my ideal. I do not care for any other ideal'. It comes
from his rigidness, for it only means that he does not wish for the
ladder; he wishes to jump from the ground to the next floor. The
ideal of God is the perfect ideal, and in order to reach it there
must be a footstool, there must be a ladder, there must be a
steppingstone which leads to it – be it a principle, be it a belief,
be it an action, be it a position, be it a person.
The Smiling Forehead, by Hazrat Inayat Khan
One's highest imaginable ideal might be called Buddha-nature, Tao, God or Allah,
but the name is not very important; what is most important is that one's
ship has a truly worthy rudder by which to steer toward the destination
of awakening. When one's ideal incorporates virtues such as calmness,
peacefulness, honesty, patience, and loving-kindness, then gradually
those same virtues will become the very foundation of one's life, and those
virtues will then be seen both in one's own actions and throughout all
We reflect our ideals,
just as a mirror reflects whatever is placed before it, and when our
ideals rise beyond our own little self, embracing all of creation in a
wholesome, compassionate and loving manner, then the mirror of the heart will begin to
reflect our true nature, our Divine-nature.
God is the ideal that raises mankind to the utmost reach of
perfection. As man considers and judges his dealings with man in his
conscience, so the real worshipper of God considers his dealings
with God. If he has helped anybody, if he has been kind to anybody,
if he has made sacrifices for anybody, he does not look for
appreciation or return for his doing so to the people to whom he has
done good; for he considers that he has done it for God, and
therefore, his account is with God, not with those with whom he has
dealt. He does not care even if instead of praising they blame him;
for in any case he has done it for God, who is the best judge and
the knower of all things.
The Art of Personality, by Hazrat Inayat Khan
There is no ideal that can raise the moral standard higher than the
God-ideal, although love is the root of all and God is the fruit of
this. Love's expansion and love's culmination and love's progress
all depend upon the God-ideal. How much a man fears his friend, his
neighbor, when he does something that might offend him whom he
loves, whom he respects; and yet how narrow is his goodness when it
is only for one person or for certain people! Imagine if he had the
same consideration for God, then he would be considerate everywhere
and in dealing with all people; as in a verse of a Sufi which says,
'Everywhere I go I find Thy sacred dwelling-place; and whichever
side I look I see Thy beautiful face, my Beloved.'
What is our destination? Where are we going on this journey?? We are
bound for a place where we see and enjoy things as they are, a place
where we allow the Divine Essence to freely manifest through our being,
thereby radiating It's infinite love, harmony and beauty to all whom we
encounter, a place where we are continually aware of the wondrous love, harmony
and beauty immanent in all of creation.
The metaphors and expressions of each spiritual tradition may seem to
be quite different, yet beyond all of the apparent differences and
distinctions, we're all bound for the same destination. The human
mind loves to make comparisons and drive the wedge of distinction
between "this" and "that", but alas, there really is no essential
difference between "this" and "that", so we must strive to rise above
our own divisive opinions.
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
Rumi -- Essential Rumi, by Coleman Barks
The great challenge for
us is to discover skillful means to control the mind in such a manner
that it becomes a calm, useful servant instead of a chattering, reckless
When the mind becomes a useful servant (caring for the basic needs of
the body) rather than a reckless master (chasing after excesses of
everything), then we are finally free to truly experience life, and it
becomes obvious that the only thing that is important is how we
ourselves express our own inherent true nature, our Divine-nature.
The whole aim of the Sufi is, by thought of God, to cover his
imperfect self even from his own eyes, and that moment when God is
before him and not his own self, is the moment of perfect bliss to
him. My Murshid, Abu Hashim Madani, once said that there is only one
virtue and one sin for a soul on the path: virtue when he is
conscious of God and sin when he is not. No explanation can fully
describe the truth of this except the experience of the
contemplative to whom, when he is conscious of God, it is as if a
window facing heaven were open, and to whom, wherein he is conscious
of the self, the experience is the opposite. For all the tragedy of
life is caused by being conscious of the self. All pain and
depression is caused by this, and anything that can take away the
thought of the self helps to a certain extent to relieve man from
pain, but God-consciousness gives perfect relief.
The Art of Being, By Hazrat Inayat Khan
That is, every breath that we breathe with awareness of our highest
ideal is a glorious virtue that guides us toward our destination, while
every breath that we breathe without awareness of our highest ideal is
simply a wasted moment.
Amusingly, we are our own worst enemy on this spiritual path. We
ourselves (our egos) are our only barrier. Other than our own noisy,
self-centered ego, there is no barrier, there is no closed door. Our
highest ideal, such as the God-ideal, must be the center around which
our life revolves, rather than allowing our life to revolve around our
own self-centered ego.
the apparent barrier of our little self, there is only Being.... that's
our destination. Three great spiritual teachers expressed this idea as:
How long will you keep pounding on an open door
Begging for someone to open it?
I do not desire suffering;
yet fool I am,
I desire the cause of suffering!
You do not have to struggle to reach God,
but you do have to struggle to tear away the self-created veil that
hides Him from you.
The chattering ego is delighted to create distracting questions and
express divisive opinions, but in the end, the ego's beguiling questions
and self-righteous opinions really don't matter. All that truly matters
is that we allow this in-dwelling Divine-nature to shine forth from us
in all of It's own glory, and that we become aware of, and appreciative
of, the wondrous ever-present outpouring of love, harmony and beauty
reflected in all of creation.
posted October 25, 2006... updated 6-Nov-2006