Shall the Meek Inherit the Earth?

Abstract Art Found in the Orion Nebula, Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScIAURA)

Abstract Art Found in the Orion Nebula, Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScIAURA)

Those of you with Christian backgrounds may recall the Beatitudes presented by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount. They are all wonderful sayings by which to live a spiritual life.

One of my favorites is “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” This beatitude has been interpreted from the original Greek in a number of slightly different ways. For example, “earth” has also been interpreted to mean the Kingdom of Heaven which gives the beatitude a decidedly spiritual meaning. Alternate translations of the word “meek” include humble, gentle, and poor.

This beatitude could be interpreted as a prophesy of things to come, or simply as a statement of the most desirable sort of spiritual (and human) disposition. I favor the latter possibility. Although, I suppose, it is possible that all of the power hungry egotists could end up wiping each other out, leaving us “meek,” but not weak, spiritual people to transform humanity and save the earth.

I see meek or humble people as having great strength, self confidence, and restraint. They have a certainty that they are on the right path regardless of what others may think. Humble people understand that any talents they may have are gifts from God, and as such, credit should be given to Him whenever they are applied with good effect.

I believe that we should add humility and gentleness to our list of characteristics that describe spiritual persons. Who would be better than the “meek” to make the Kingdom of Heaven a reality on earth?

An Insidious Intruder

A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula,  Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll  (Arizona State University)

A Giant Hubble Mosaic of the Crab Nebula, Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

Trying to eliminate ego has been kind of like a teeter-totter for me; just when I think I have it squashed, it pops up again out of nowhere. Over time, I have managed to reduce it to a weak and sickly thing that has only brief rallies of influence before it is sent back to bed.

I have been working to rid myself of ego for many years. It’s a work in progress that I find quite liberating. It requires a lot of conscious effort and determination to extinguish ego, or more accurately to keep it at bay.

By ego I mean a need for recognition, excessive pride, and a feeling of superiority to others. I believe that the prevalence of ego in today’s society is a consequence of materialistic values that appear to be the guiding principle of the majority these days.

As a young man, prior to embarking on my career, I was very humble and all about self-sacrifice and helping others. However, I remember an incident later in life that happened at a time when I was enjoying great success in my career. It illustrates how ego can unwittingly overshadow one’s spirituality and disengage one from compassion for others.

I was walking down a city street with my son when he was 12 or 13 years old. We came upon a homeless man walking toward us. The man was dirty, in rags, weak and trembling. When we met, he did not speak but put his hand out for alms. I ignored him and shuffled my boy past.

My son stopped and grabbed my arm surprised at my lack of compassion. He insisted that I give him some money for the man, and he straight away gave it to him. I had no idea how much I had changed until that moment.

It is difficult for me to admit to having had such a failure of character. I attribute it to ego as it happened during a time, I realize in retrospect, when my ego had a strong hold on me. The innocence and generosity of a child had shown me the depravity of spirit that existed in me during that period of my life. It took a while, but thankfully, I managed to crawl out of the muck of ego, put on clean clothes, and reclaim my spirituality.

This taught me that ego is insidious; it gradually invades the psyche little by little so that one does not notice that it is happening. It can slowly become a more and more prominent part of one’s personality and behavior. By the time your ego is full grown, you are not even aware of what a selfish and self-serving lump you have become.

Ego and the materialistic way of life go hand-in-hand. An inflated image of oneself is intimately intertwined with the selfishness, greed, and lack of compassion we see today.
This is because ego is one of the motivators that drives us to try to seek recognition and prestige from the things we have, where we live, and the people with whom we associate.

I may be sticking my neck out here, but I do not think that recognition or prestige are basic human needs. I believe they are created needs from very effective marketing strategies that span decades. So many advertisements we see play to, or seek to create in us, a “need” for prestige or just being noticed whether it is for white teeth, a flashy car, a big house, or expensive clothes. We must find a way to resist and reclaim our humility and dignity.

How does ego conflict with becoming a more spiritual person? The egotist’s primary concern is their needs. Consequently, ego can prevent us from seeing what those around us need. The sense of superiority that comes with ego can cause us to dismiss or overlook the adversity, suffering, and deprivation that others endure. This is one of the main ways that ego compromises expression of our spirit and militates against our becoming a spiritual person.

We are not defined or valued as individuals or human beings by what we have, how we look, or who our friends are. We are defined by the degree of humility we exhibit, how we live our lives, and how we treat other people; these are indicators of the degree to which we have become spiritual persons.

Wherefrom Comes Happiness?

Taken Under the  Wing  of the Small Magellanic Cloud Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC and the University of Potsdam, JPL-Caltech, and STScI

Taken Under the Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud
Credit: NASA, ESA, CXC and the University of Potsdam, JPL-Caltech, and STScI

In this day and age, we live in a world that focuses on, and values, material things rather than the spiritual qualities of existence. This has led to the widespread rise of the ignoble qualities of personality in many people such as pride, ego, greed, selfishness, narcissism, and self-aggrandizement. Sadly, it appears that a surprising number of people have not known any other way to live.

At the same time, many of these same people are realizing that success in their career, prestige, and the accumulation of worldly possessions do not bring the happiness they assumed would follow. This has been demonstrated to us again and again through people we know and from stories of celebrities we read about or see on TV. We shake our heads and ask why happiness has eluded such privileged people.

What I have come to know in reflecting on my life is that material things did not make me happy. Rather, loving and helping others has brought me the greatest happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

Although worldly possessions will not bring happiness, wanting for things you do not have can make you unhappy. It is the wanting itself that brings discontent, not the lack of things desired.

In my view, we should not be asking God for material things. God gives each of us the gifts and material things that he wishes us to have and that best serve his life plan for us. We should accept these with genuine gratitude and give thanks. Rather than ask for more, we should share what we have with others, especially the less fortunate.

I believe that praying should be reserved for giving thanks for what God has given to us, no matter how meager it may seem, and to ask for help for ourselves or others who are sick, in pain, or who are having difficulty with the trials and tribulations of everyday life. When we focus on others, the “need,” desire, and wanting for material things disappear, and our spirit begins to express itself.

We need to find a way to replace wanting with unselfish giving. It’s not complicated. This truly is the key to happiness and a spiritual way of life.

Spirituality: A Life of Action

There are many attributes with which one can compare people. This is a murky business because things are rarely just black and white. It is more a question of which human attributes are more prominent than others in an individual. When it comes to exhibiting spirituality, it seems there are those who primarily talk and think about it, and others who mainly do things to help others.

Both are important and contribute to our understanding of what it means to be a spiritual person. However, I believe that one’s actions are far more important in defining one’s spirituality than simply talking about it. Spirituality is a way of living rather than a way of thinking or talking.

It may seem odd to say that actions such as going to one’s place of worship regularly, or reading the scriptures may or may not be indicators of a truly spiritual person. Some of you may know people who do these things, but whose behavior otherwise militates against their being spiritual.

I believe that love and compassion for others are the foundation for living a spiritual life, or as I prefer to say, living the life of spirit. But not as a concept; rather, as an expression or outlet for our spirituality. I believe these two attributes to be at the core of our divinity. If someone is unable, for whatever reason, to express these two attributes, then the path to expression of their spirit-self probably has not yet begun.

More likely is that we do not consistently exhibit love and compassion. We may have biases or prejudices through which we filter who is “deserving” of our love and compassion. This is wherein lies the challenge in trying to fully express our spirit. As hard as it may be, we should strive to have love and compassion for everyone.

It might help to remind ourselves that we do not know what demons others face in life. We do not know what experiences have shaped their current state of existence. We do not know the nature of the karma that brought them to where they are.

But whatever these unknowns may be, we need to try our best to give them the benefit of the doubt and extend a helping hand whenever we can, even though sometimes they might slap it away.