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Chapter 11  -  Faith and the Spiritual Ideal

Faith is crucial for spiritual progress, yet faith needs to stand on the firm foundation of a vivid and lofty Spiritual Ideal.


Faith, or belief in something, is a sense of certitude which is far beyond the mere rational reasoning processes of the intellect. To understand faith, we need to look beyond the intellect. The Sanskrit word "shraddha" is often translated as "faith", but a more literal translation is, according to Eknath Easwaran, "that which is placed in the heart". Now we're gettin' somewhere! Faith is not something that we can reason out or acquire by intellectual means, because it is a gift, a beneficent blessing given to us, placed in the depths of the heart, by the grace of a Greater Power.

Indeed, faith is something which we inherently have, it is not something to acquire, but rather it is something which we only need to recall, something which traditionally one's spiritual teacher would help a student to "remember" and thereby allow the shimmering inner light of the Divine Presence to shine forth.

To a mystic, faith is the unique power that works through the whole of creation. He does not mean by faith a belief in a certain religion or dogma or ceremony or book or teacher; he means trust, a trust even in the absence of reason.

In an Eastern Rose Garden, Hazrat Inayat Khan

The seed of faith is already within each person, it only needs to be tended, nourished and allowed to flourish. In the Buddhist texts, faith is described as one of the seven treasures, one of the four streams of merit, and is the essence which spiritual practice and wisdom nourish:

Faith is the seed,
   practice the rain,
     and wisdom is my yoke and plough. 

Kasi Bharadvaja Sutta

Everyone is looking "out there", but the Divine Spark of Truth is already within each person, awaiting the nourishing rains of spiritual practices and the life-giving care of right action. Those are the keys to allowing the seed of faith to flourish... spiritual practices and right action.

The Spiritual-Ideal

Faith must be "faith in something", so what is it that one must have faith in? The answer is that one must have faith in an ideal which is far greater than one's own self, and a crucial aspect of such a spiritual ideal is to truly experience awe, wonder and respect for something much greater than one's own self. Some might describe their ideal with a name such as True Nature, Truth, Beauty, Grace, Sat Nam, Buddha-Nature, Ruh, Spirit of Guidance, Ruach, Atman, Holy Spirit or God, but no matter what it is called, one's highest and greatest ideal is a natural response to that Divine Spark within, a reflection of one's "inner life", and is truly a Spiritual-Ideal.

With faith, one can move mountains. So what mountain shall we move? It is the rock of our own heart which needs to be cracked open, it is the mountain of our own ego which needs to be removed from our path. The "inner life", the spiritual life, is far more precious, far more enjoyable than merely cracking open earthly rocks or moving earthly mountains, and faith, built upon the foundation of a great ideal is our greatest tool in the spiritual journey.

What is lacking today in the world is idealism. Where does idealism come from? From deep thought. Today life in general keeps man so busy in his occupation, in his profession, in his work of everyday life, that he has no time to think deeply and better; he does not find his ideal. Among a thousand persons there is perhaps one person who has an ideal and knows what ideal he has. All the others do not know it, they do not have an ideal. Besides, it is not only to have an ideal, but it is necessary to know the ideal and to attain to the ideal, to develop towards it, to unfold oneself towards the ideal. It is that in which lies life's fulfillment.

The Smiling Forehead, Hazrat Inayat Khan

Fortunately, the spiritual path has been deeply explored for millennia, and we can learn much from those who have made great progress and have left us some guidance. Jesus put it this way:" Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." So, there ya have it. Rather than striving to be anything that merely expresses your own ego, simply strive to be an instrument of God, living each day in conscious awareness of the Divine Presence which permeates all things in this world, offering loving-kindness to all, and your very presence will a healing balm for those who are ready to be healed, and an inspiration for those who are ready to awaken from their bleary slumber.

But, to seek the kingdom of God and be a willing instrument of that Higher Power requires some sense of certitude that there in fact is a Higher Power. And so we've come full circle, arriving once again at this notion of "faith". How do we proceed? In what way can we discover the kingdom which we long for? What is it that we have faith in? The answer is: we need an ideal. Faith is like a ladder upon which one can climb to the greatest heights, and one's own Spiritual-Ideal is the very foundation upon which that faith is supported. Without a Spiritual-Ideal, faith has nothing substantial to stand upon.

Full knowledge of every aspect of a Higher Power, God, is certainly far beyond our human reckoning. Try as we may, we cannot possibly understand everything about God. The ultimate Truth lies beyond our grasp, in (as one author aptly put it) a Cloud of Unknowing. In order to make spiritual progress, we need an ideal, and the greatest ideal of which the human mind can conceive is the Spiritual-Ideal, the God-Ideal. This is not to say that God is merely an ideal, but rather that our only way of understanding the unfathomable immensity and mystery of God is to create our own personal mental ideal. There is only One God, but each person must be free to have his/her own unique understanding of God.

Over time, in response to one's spiritual evolution, one's highest spiritual ideal will also change. It is not that God is changing, but as the heart opens and allows the soul to guide one's life, the spiritual ideal expands and soars to previously unimaginable heights. With each greater step of spiritual evolution, one's spiritual ideal also becomes greater.

For absolute faith the first step is the ideal. The next step brings man into the presence of God.

The Art of Being, Hazrat Inayat Khan

Based upon the firm foundation of a lofty and vivid Spiritual-Ideal, faith is the ladder upon which one can climb, step by step, toward that place of peace and understanding which is often called the "kingdom of God".

Frankly, when my spiritual teacher first said that all we really know about God is our own personal "God-ideal", I thought that such an assertion was ridiculous, and struggled against the concept. However, over the years, I have come to see that while my faith may be directed toward God, that faith is built entirely upon the foundation of my own personal God-ideal, the highest and greatest ideal.

Don't take a wooden sword into battle.
Go, find one of steel;
then march forward with joy.

Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi I-714, Rumi Collection, Helminski, p144

The simplicity and presentation style of Inayat Khan are quite inspiring, so here's a link to an article which may help to further clarify the Spiritual-Ideal, the God-ideal:

The Alchemy of Happiness, Ideal, Hazrat Inayat Khan

A Bit of Doubt Can Bring Great Blessings

 Faith is found in two forms: a rather flimsy faith based on the "head", and an enduring faith based on the "heart".

For many of us, our initial "faith" is often little more than a habit or tradition which we've inherited from our parents or our culture. Such a flimsy faith, based on mere habit or tradition, is unlikely to endure, and will often, at some point in life, turn into a state of doubt or disbelief.

Such a state of doubt or disbelief can be a great blessing if one's superficial faith based on habit or tradition can eventually be replaced by deep heartfelt conviction. That is, it is a great day when the ephemeral faith of the "head" is replaced by the enduring faith of the "heart".

Sometimes, despite a strong sense of certitude deep in the heart, the intellect of the head can still create lurking doubts, which in turn can make us feel guilty, insecure or confused. But disbelief is not necessarily a problem... all that truly matters is what happens after the disbelief.

If one remains mired in disbelief, then life often becomes hopeless and confusing. But when belief re-emerges, established on a firm foundation in the depths of the heart, then a newfound sense of optimism, security and well-being permeates all of life. Don't be afraid to ask, to cry out, for what you really want.

Till the cloud weeps, how should the garden smile?
Till the babe cries, how should the milk begin to flow?

The one-day-old babe knows the way: (its instinct says),
“I will cry, that the kind nurse may come.”

Do not you know that the Nurse of (all) nurses gives no milk gratis without (your) crying?

Mathnawi, V:134-136, Jalaluddin Rumi, tr by R.A. Nicholson

Be patient, and let the cry of the intellect be answered by grace of the heart. Let the heart lead the head toward understanding. You truly are a spark of the Divine.

Finding Balance

The spiritual journey is often sidetracked by excessive concern about "I", "me" and "mine". The challenge is to find a suitable balance wherein our physical life is guided and informed by our spiritual life. When our inner life leads, and the physical life follows that lead, then we find ourselves in a life of peace, love and understanding. But when the superficial outer life leads, then the inner life withers, and we fall into turmoil, doubt and confusion.

This body is a tent for the spirit,
    an ark for Noah.

Jalaluddin Rumi, Mathnawi III-455, Rumi Daylight, Helminski, p104

The most satisfactory manner of life is to pay much less attention to the physical life, let it be as it is, and pay much more attention to the spiritual life, striving toward your own Spiritual-Ideal. In doing so, we're not trying to escape from the physical world, but rather we are merely striving to end our excessive preoccupation with it.

Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. ... Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

St Matthew 6:25-33

Reflecting Your Spiritual Ideal

Receiving inspiration from one's highest Spiritual Ideal is a great blessing, but an even greater blessing will arise when one reflects the gifts of that Spiritual Ideal into the world... and there is no greater or more enduring gift than Love. So, strive to always remember to reflect love into the world, no matter what the situation may be. Over time, your Spiritual Ideal will help you to reflect additional qualities, but in the meantime, simply strive to reflect love.

As one awakens, it is natural to want to help those who appear to be in need, and surely we should give of our time, food and money, but those are simply the outer gifts. We must also strive to be fountains of Love, Harmony and Beauty, showering such everlasting inner gifts upon all whom we encounter. There is no greater joy in life than reflecting the splendor, strength and peace of the Spiritual Ideal.

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it , Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets

St Matthew 22:36-40

There is no greater gift than love, yet we often want to give something more, and in the process of wanting to give more, we can easily stifle the Divine flow of loving-kindness, compassion, joyfulness and equanimity which we could have been freely giving to all whom we encounter. Love opens the door to the heart, and allows further gifts to flow more easily.

Sometimes we want to change the outer world, but God has been doing exactly whatever Divine Wisdom chooses for billions of years, and is unlikely to suddenly find that our ideas are better than His. We cannot change what God has chosen as the course of life in this world, but we can strive to be Divine instruments of Love, Harmony and Beauty to all whom we encounter, and thereby fulfill the very purpose of our life.

We must learn that we can't stop the river, but we can jump in and enjoy the ride. What often appears to us as a great tragedy is merely a necessary step in the great unfolding of a Divine plan. Perhaps we can't change the outer world in the ways which we happen to prefer, but we can (and must) allow ourselves to be changed.

The spiritual journey is an inner quest to allow one's own viewpoint to change, to learn to see with new eyes and hear with new ears by allowing the loving-kindness and understanding of the soul to guide and inspire the activity of the body. That is, one must let the heart lead the head, thereby uniting the outer with the inner, the wedding of body and soul.

We often pretend that we're quite powerful, but in fact we are at the mercy of Divine Grace in every moment of this life. Without the Great Breath flowing trough us, our little breath will cease to exist. We are so utterly dependent, so fragile, so helpless, yet within us, and flowing though us, is a Divine Spark which infuses all of life with wonder and glory. That is your true identity... you are a unique and splendid ray of the Divine Light.

Everything that happens in this life is part of a grand plan which is far beyond anything we can comprehend. Yet, by becoming willing instruments of Love, Harmony and Beauty, we create an atmosphere, a "space", for grace to help us, to guide us, and thereby help all those around us, to be all that we can be.

As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, p131

On this journey through life, let the divine inner knowing of the heart (rather than the worldly turmoil of the head) be your guide.

May your Spiritual Ideal become grander, greater, more magnificent, more powerful, more inspiring, more deeply cherished and more exquisitely reflected into the world with each passing day.

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Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,

updated Jul 4, 2010