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       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 desired destination. 

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 of nature.

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.

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.'

The Art of Personality, by Hazrat Inayat Khan

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 master. 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.

Beyond 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?

Rabi'a al-'Adawiyya

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.

Paramahansa Yogananda

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.

Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,


posted October 25, 2006... updated 6-Nov-2006