A Path from Darkness

Path Out of Darkness

Path from Darkness

…and Spirit told me: Do not be consumed with fear and regret for past sins. Neither should your transgressions be dismissed nor forgotten. Repent, but recognize them as lessons to be learned and do not repeat them. Use them to move forward and fuel your resolve to rise to higher levels of spiritual understanding and virtue.

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Spirit’s Answer to My Prayer

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What is Spiritual Awareness?

So You Say You Are Spiritual…

Destination Ahead Copyright 2016 by Blair Atherton

Destination Ahead
Copyright 2016 by Blair Atherton

If you have chosen to move away from organized religion or you were not brought up in a home where religion was a part of life, you are not a spiritual person simply by default. When asked about your religious affiliation, replying that you are “spiritual” does not make it so. Neither does thinking of yourself as such.

In order to truly be spiritual, a few things are needed from you. First, you need to be aware that you have a spirit; that your spirit is what gives you life. It is behind your life force and it can guide and influence your thoughts and actions if you let it.

Having made this realization, then one is usually compelled to explore and understand the fundamental nature of spirituality. This is essential because being spiritual is a way of living and a way of viewing the universe, the world, our place in them, and the meaning of life. Spirituality can arise and thrive within or without structured religion.

Once you come to truly understand that you are a spiritual being, everything changes. One of the changes is that you move away from the material aspects of life to the nonmaterial qualities of existence. Your focus shifts away from things and self-serving behaviors and thoughts to unselfish concern for the wellbeing of all living things. This is a major paradigm shift in world view for most people, especially in the years leading up to midlife.

Once one acknowledges the presence of their spirit-self, the journey to discover what it means to be spiritual and to live the life of spirit begins. My hope and prayer is that it will come early in life for as many as possible so that the joy, happiness, and fulfillment it brings can be enjoyed for many years ahead.

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What is spiritual awareness?

I am Spirit

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How is My Divine Self Revealed?

With permission. Copyright 2012 by www.phatpuppyart.com

With permission. Copyright 2012 by http://www.phatpuppyart.com

If I am a child of God, then what is the essence of my divine nature? How is my divine self revealed?

I believe that the divine self is manifested by the spirit and that love and compassion are spiritual attributes. Therefore, one way in which we reveal our divinity is by expression of love and compassion for all things.

Compassion is not an attribute exclusive to people of religious faith. In fact, it did not originate in religion; rather, it is an aspect of our in-born divine nature. It is an attribute of humanity. Everyone has it, but we often get lost from time to time on our life path and stray from our inherent loving and generous nature. What is important is that we recognize that the spiritual gifts of love and compassion are at the core of our being; that when we express these qualities, we are revealing our divinity to ourselves and to those whose lives we touch.

Nothing is more rewarding or more important in life than sharing these spiritual gifts with others. What is important in the pursuit of meaning in our lives is that we all aspire and strive to express our divinity in various ways on a daily basis. It is through these actions that our divine self is revealed.

You might also like to see the following related articles:

The Quintessence of Life

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Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 2

Path to Enlightenment Photo credit sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

Path to Enlightenment
Photo credit sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

In my first article on Buddhism, we examined the Four Immeasurable Minds. These may be best described as highly elevated spiritual states of mind or ways of being. The Noble Eightfold Path discussed here can be thought of as a practical guide for living a noble and virtuous life.

The two are interrelated and interactive. Progress toward one fosters progress in the other. When both are present in an individual, the person is not only truly enlightened, but they serve as a role model for those wishing to achieve the highest levels of spirituality.

Some may worry that the Four Immeasurables may be too much of a paradigm shift to achieve or consistently sustain in a world culture that seems to be diametrically opposed to them. Such a shift in one’s state of mind is indeed challenging, but it is a goal well worth pursuing.

The Noble Eightfold Path gives us practical goals for how we should strive to live our everyday lives in a manner that leads to spiritual awakening and liberation from a mind-set of greed, hatred, violence, duplicity, and self-aggrandizement. It is a path that can transform us spiritually and prepare us for progression to the divine state of the Four Immeasurable Minds.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The word “right” in this context means “in the right and most beneficial or positive way.”

1. Right View or Understanding.

Right view is seeing and understanding things clearly as they truly are. It is also the ability to distinguish between thoughts and actions that are wholesome or unwholesome. Right view requires a flexible, open mind. It leads to an understanding of the law of cause and effect or moral law of karma; namely, that any action will produce results or effects that have the same nature as the action.

2. Right Thinking, Thought, or Intention.

We need to free our minds from bias, prejudice, wrong perceptions, making assumptions, and judging. Through right thought one makes an effort to rid one’s self from what they know to be wrong or immoral. In so doing, we are making a commitment to follow a spiritual path. Right thinking leads to right speech and right action.

3. Right Speech.

Do not lie, bear false witness, use harsh, hateful, or divisive language, gossip, be rude, engage in useless chatter, etc. Always speak truthfully and lovingly in a manner that brings joy, hope, and understanding to others. Our speech should be guided by right view and right thinking.

4. Right Action or Conduct.

Engage in moral, ethical, honorable, and peaceful action. Practice nonviolence and be committed to protecting all life on earth.

5. Right Livelihood.

Choose a profession that is honorable, ethical, and helps and sustains living things rather than one that supports war, killing, disharmony, or harms, cheats, or exploits them. Five types of livelihoods to be avoided are specifically mentioned:

Trade in any kind of weapons.
Any form of trade in human beings.
Breeding and selling of animals for slaughter.
Manufacture or sale of addictive drugs or intoxicating drinks.
Production or trade of any kind of toxic substance or poison designed to harm living things.

6. Right Effort or Diligence. (Paraphrased from Rahula referenced below)

Right diligence is a concerted effort (1) to prevent evil and unwholesome states of mind from arising, (2) to rid one’s self from such thoughts that have already arisen (3) to produce good and wholesome states of mind that have not yet arisen, and (4) to develop and bring to perfection the good and wholesome states of mind already present.

7. Right Mindfulness.

Right mindfulness is being diligently aware of activities of the body, our sensations and feelings, and our thoughts (and their nature). It is being mindful of and living in the present moment free from all thoughts or concern about the past or the future. In mindfulness we refrain from judgement or interpretation of what we are experiencing in the moment. When we are mindful, right thinking, right speech, right action, etc. will be expressed.

8. Right Concentration.

Buddha said that when we have a singleness of mind supported by the other seven factors of the Noble Eightfold Path we have achieved right concentration. It is an essential component of effective meditation.

Right concentration is described as a one-pointed mind. That is, the ability to focus or concentrate on one thing. Right concentration encompasses and is facilitated and supported by the other seven elements of the Noble Path. The practice of right concentration allows us to cultivate insight and develop wisdom by examination of the true nature of things through meditation.

It is by striving to follow the Noble Eightfold Path in our everyday life that we develop the basic principles of ethical conduct, mental discipline, and wisdom which are central to Buddhist practice. Buddha gave many discourses on each element of the Path to explain their meaning in great depth. Consequently, my brief explanations are sorely incomplete and do not give a full appreciation of the scope and quality of each element of the Path.

While many components of the Eightfold Path are things for which most people seeking a spiritual way of life would strive, the Path codifies a stepwise process to achieve them. The Noble Eightfold Path encompasses universal elements of a spiritual way of life. Many of them resonate with the teachings of Christianity and other religions.

I would place persons who engage in spiritual practices and thought akin to those of Buddhists among the exalted meek who are said to one day inherit the earth. In a world seemingly filled with murky shadows and darkness, they are a beacon of light and hope.

References

Hanh, Thich Nhat, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. New York: Harmony Books. 2010. First published 1999.

Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. 2nd ed. enlarg. New York: Grove Press. 1974. First published 1959.

You might like to see the following related articles:

Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 1

The Law of Cause and Effect

The Four Immeasurable Minds: Spirituality for Everyone Part 1

Immeasurable Photo credit: sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

    • Immeasurable
    Photo credit: sathyasaibaba.wordpress.com

I have been curious about Buddhism ever since years ago reading Siddhartha, the story of the life of Buddha. As a spiritual practice, Buddhism seemed somewhat mysterious, esoteric, and complex. All this talk about oneness, meditation, and remaining unattached perplexed and confused me. At the same time, there was something about it that was very intriguing.

Now having done some reading about the teachings of Buddhism I would like to share with you what I took away as some of its central teachings that have informed my quest for a deeper and expanded understanding of how to live a spiritual life.

In my view, Buddhism is in many ways spiritual practice in its purest, most highly developed form. I say this in part because it is not a religion. Buddha is not a deity. Buddhism is a spiritual way of living, and of conceiving the world and existence. It does not exclude or renounce a higher being; rather, practice of the concepts of Buddhism can serve as an adjunct or complement to any religion or for the nonreligious. For example, Buddhist belief and practice centers around universal love and compassion for all living things.

Buddhism is a very deep and challenging practice with many elements and layers that takes many years of study to comprehend and master. What I share in this and the next article to follow are but two areas of Buddhist teaching that I found interesting and especially informative to living a spiritual life.

The Four Immeasurable Minds

The Four Immeasurable Minds also are called the Four Divine States of Mind or the Four Perfect Virtues. They are said to be purifying states of mind that can transform the world. This is an area of Buddhist teaching that immediately captured my interest because these four virtues embody what I believe to be key attributes of spirituality. The Immeasurables are:

1. Love
2. Compassion
3. Joy
4. Equanimity

These four states of mind and being are said to be at the core of an enlightened person. They guide and empower everything that an enlightened one does and their interplay and application create conditions for progression to the highest levels of spirituality. To practice these effectively one must go beyond self and extinguish the ego.

These divine virtues are meant to be applied not only locally in everyday life, but also to be radiated in all directions throughout the world in meditation and/or prayer. In doing so, one is in communion with God.

Love or Loving-Kindness

One must live in a way that radiates immeasurable love throughout the world to all living things, unconditionally without attachment or preference for one over another.

Compassion

Similarly, one’s compassion for all living things should be boundless and pervasive without discrimination or favor of one over another. It is a sincere desire that the suffering of all living things will diminish or end.

Joy or Empathetic Joy

This is selfless, measureless joy in the happiness and good fortune of all living things.

Equanimity

Equanimity is a clear, tranquil, unselfish state of mind that is free from discrimination and prejudice and holds no enmity for any living thing. It is this state of mind that fosters, facilitates, and supports love, compassion, and sympathetic joy that are all pervasive.

In a world filled with selfishness, greed, self-aggrandizement, and racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination, the Four Immeasurables represent a major paradigm shift. Nevertheless, instilling in one’s self the Four Immeasurable Minds should be the goal of anyone who wishes to be an authentic spiritual person in communion with God. What a wonderful world it would be if everyone (or at least a majority) patterned their thinking and actions according to these four states of mind!

References

Brahmavihara. Wikipedia.org. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Hanh, Thich Nhat, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. New York: Harmony Books. 2010. First published 1999.

The Four Immeasurables: Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity. Viewonbuddhism.org. Accessed February 6, 2016.

Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. 2nd ed. enlarg. New York: Grove Press. 1974. First published 1959.

You might like to see the following related articles:

Buddhism – Spirituality for Everyone Part 2

The Quintessence of Life

Spirituality as a State of Being

The Qur’an Through the Eyes of a Non-Muslim

Religious Trilogy

As part of my study of other religions and what each has to offer concerning an expanded spirituality, I recently finished reading the Qur’an. There are many books about the Qur’an and some seek to distill it down or interpret it for the reader. I wanted to read the full text myself and form my own impressions about its meaning and significance. The following discussion reflects my personal understanding of the main thrust of the Qur’an through the eyes of a non-Muslim.

I think reading the original and forming one’s own opinions about it is especially important in today’s environment of fear and distrust of Muslims stemming from the horrific actions of so-called Islamic extremists. This is in many ways a misnomer because the actions of these extremists are neither called for nor condoned by the Qur’an. Therefore, their self-described devotion to Islam is belied by their actions.

So what are the main teachings of the Qur’an as seen through the eyes of this non-Muslim? First, it is made clear that the Qur’an was sent to reaffirm the earlier teachings of the Torah and New Testament concerning how to live a spiritual life. The Qur’an places Muslims among the descendents of Abraham and frequently cites stories from the Old Testament about Abraham, Noah, and others to illustrate points of teaching.

I found the Qur’an to be very repetitive with regard to its main messages. In my view, the primary message is that there is only one God who made heaven and earth, who is all-knowing, all powerful, merciful, and has dominion over all things. Other recurring precepts are that there will be a resurrection of souls, and a final Day of Judgement. Those who lived a life of goodness will receive rewards in the hereafter, and those who refused to believe the above will find nothing but torment in the fires of hell. The foregoing doctrines are found in virtually every sura of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an describes itself as good news for the believers, and a strong warning for the disbelievers. It makes it clear that it is not our place to punish the disbelievers; that is God’s right alone. Further, the reference to disbelievers does not refer to non-Muslims; it refers to all who do not believe in the one true God, resurrection, and the Day of Judgement. The Qur’an originated at a time in history when much of the Arabic population followed polytheist beliefs.

From the point of view of a Muslim, what I have derived from the Qur’an may be seen as an over simplification. I hope nothing I have said will be in any way be offensive to anyone. It is just one man’s condensed view of a religion rich in tradition and devotion.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews share common roots and in fact have a spiritual kinship. I think the main teachings of Islam shared by these religions of Abrahamic origin, will always remain salient, timeless, and universal. I do not believe that there is only one true/correct religion; rather, I believe there is only one true God who wishes to guide us all to the path of goodness, virtue, and everlasting life.

Reference

Haleem, M.A.S. Abdel., trans., The Qur’an. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. First published 2004.

You might like to see the following related article:

One Religion or No Religion?

The Aura of Pope Francis

Photo by Reuters

Photo by Reuters

Whenever I see or hear Pope Francis a big smile comes to my face and I am filled with joy, love, and hope. Previous Popes or other prominent religious leaders that I have seen and heard did not have such an affect on me.

I have no idea why he makes me feel this way and I wonder if others have a similar experience. He seems to have an aura about him projecting love and compassion that fills the hearts of those around him, Catholic or otherwise. He inspires hope and points the way to a better world and a better humanity.

When I see the huge crowds that gather to see him, I am encouraged that we are on the verge of a quantum change in the level, pervasiveness, and expression of genuine spirituality in humankind. I see a hunger by the masses for goodness, compassion, equality, and respect among people around the world.

I hope and pray that when the TV news moves on to another story or the Pope retreats to his quarters that the change and noble aspirations he embodies and inspires will remain in the forefront of people’s minds and compel them to emulate this holy man.

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Grateful Awe

Wonderment by Jennifer Alder

Wonderment by Jennifer Alder

I believe that we should always express thanks and gratitude to God for all that we have, whether considered meager, grand, or something in between. Sometimes what may seem meager can be a greater blessing than that which seems grand.

In addition to giving thanks, I think it is important to demonstrate how much we value and appreciate the gifts we receive by taking adequate care of them and not take them for granted. Material things should be scrupulously maintained. Non-material gifts should be nurtured, developed, and used only for good.

If we have a house or a car and we let them get run down due to neglect, then clearly we send a message of arrogance and presumption. If we take our friends and family for granted, then we dishonor them, ourselves, and God. If we are aware that we have special talents and do not use and develop them, or become arrogant and self aggrandized, then we show disdain rather than grateful awe.

We like to take credit for our accomplishments and success. Of course, these require determination and hard work, but it is God who makes our success possible. After all, it is He who imbues us with our special talents, and who opens the doors of opportunity. We should always acknowledge his blessings and gifts with humility.

Let us not forget one of our greatest gifts—our body. A healthy body is one of the essential components for achieving harmony between spirit, mind, and body. It too should never be taken for granted. Neglect of the body is a sign of a disheveled spirit, a lack of respect for one’s self, and ingratitude to God for the life He gave us.

I believe we have an obligation to maintain and care for our bodies. We need to keep our bodies clean, well groomed, and fit, not for the sake of vanity, but to demonstrate our gratitude to God for the body He gave us. We should do everything we can to keep our bodies healthy and free of disease, including following a healthy diet, and not overeating.

Finally, we need to show love, respect, and appreciation for the earth and all of its inhabitants. The metaphor of the earth as our mother is very appropriate since she provides sanctuary and nurture for all living things. She provides everything we need and shelters us from the unforgiving vacuum and death rays of space.

But we need to care for her just as she does us and not take her bounty and protection for granted. Just like our human mothers, she needs our love, help, and support. Her bounty has limits that we must understand and respect. She is not here to only serve humanity, but rather to promote harmony among all living things through their mutual interdependence upon one another.

We have an obligation to conserve her resources, and protect all of her “offspring.” She is perhaps the most wondrous of all gifts from God since it is she who sustains us in this life.

Our gratitude for the things that God gives us, both large and small, should be ongoing through daily expression of thanks and humility, and by treasuring all the gifts and blessings we receive. That is, we should be in a constant state of grateful awe. When we are truly grateful to God and make it a point to let Him know, then we give Him the reverence He so greatly deserves.

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One Religion or No Religion?

Many Religions, One God Source: vjindigo-wordpress-com.

Many Religions, One God
Source: vjindigo-wordpress-com.

Below is a contemporary view of the essentials of Judaism, at least as seen by the religious body indicated. I found it interesting to note much overlap with some Christian and other religious beliefs as well as those of some persons (myself included) with no religious affiliation who describe themselves as spiritual. It is an excerpt from a public domain book titled Judaism by Israel Abrahams. The book seeks to track changes in Judaism and their origins since the early centuries of Christianity.

A tract, entitled ‘Essentials of Judaism,’ has been issued in London by the Jewish Religious Union. The author, N. S. Joseph, is careful to explain that he is not putting forth these principles as ‘dogmatic Articles of Faith,’ and that they are solely ‘suggestive outlines of belief which may be gradually imparted to children, the outlines being afterwards filled up by the teacher. But the eight paragraphs of these Essentials are at once so ably compiled and so informing as to the modern trend of Jewish belief that they will be here cited without comment.

According then to this presentation, the Essentials of Judaism are: ‘(i) There is One Eternal God, who is the sole Origin of all things and forces, and the Source of all living souls. He rules the universe with justice, righteousness, mercy, and love.

(ii) Our souls, emanating from God, are immortal, and will return to Him when our life on earth ceases. While we are here, our souls can hold direct communion with God in prayer and praise, and in silent contemplation and admiration of His works.

(iii) Our souls are directly responsible to God for the work of our life on earth. God, being All-merciful, will judge us with loving-kindness, and being All-just, will allow for our imperfections; and we, therefore, need no mediator and no vicarious atonement to ensure the future welfare of our souls.

(iv) God is the One and only God. He is Eternal and Omnipresent. He not only pervades the entire world, but is also within us; and His Spirit helps and leads us towards goodness and truth.

(v) Duty should be the moving force of our life; and the thought that God is always in us and about us should incite us to lead good and beneficent lives, showing our love of God by loving our fellow-creatures, and working for their happiness and betterment with all our might.

(vi) In various bygone times God has revealed, and even in our own days continues to reveal to us, something of His nature and will, by inspiring the best and wisest minds with noble thoughts and new ideas, to be conveyed to us in words, so that this world may constantly improve and grow happier and better.

(vii) Long ago some of our forefathers were thus inspired, and they handed down to us—and through us to the world at large—some of God’s choicest gifts, the principles of Religion and Morality, now recorded in our Bible; and these spiritual gifts of God have gradually spread among our fellow-men, so that much of our religion and of its morality has been adopted by them.

(viii) Till the main religious and moral principles of Judaism have been accepted by the world at large, the maintenance by the Jews of a separate corporate existence is a religious duty incumbent upon them. They are the “witnesses” of God, and they must adhere to their religion, showing forth its truth and excellence to all mankind. This has been and is and will continue to be their mission. Their public worship and private virtues must be the outward manifestation of the fulfillment of that mission.’

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Reading this buoys my belief that a gradual convergence of spiritual thought among the people of the world is occurring. Humanity’s spiritual growth, progression, and awareness going forward through the ages may well result, not so much in a single religion, as in a single set of spiritual beliefs that have outgrown the need for the doctrines and rituals associated with organized religion. While this may give the clergy reason for pause, I believe it is good news for humanity because it hearkens toward a common moral code and understanding of the nature and purpose of our existence.

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One Man’s Sabbath

Water by Rosalyn Stock Source: mrwallpaper.com

Water by Rosalyn Stock
Source: mrwallpaper.com

This man’s Sabbath begins looking out my kitchen windows at the beautiful golden early morning light shining through the trees. I think about how beautiful it is and wonder how much more beautiful God’s light would be in heaven.

I watch the swirls, ripples, and reflection of light in the lovely blue water and imagine that the quality of spirit may be likened to that of water—free flowing and yielding; yet, its flow cannot be stopped by anything in its path as any impediments will eventually yield to its power.

I get in touch with my body and its internal energy as I do my daily tai chi practice. At the same time, I listen to the birds songs heralding the new day and God’s glory.

Before breakfast I say my morning prayers which begin with the Lord’s Prayer. This is followed by prayers for world harmony, and  prayers for the delivery of the people of the world from evil. Lastly, I pray for mercy for all those who have, are, and will be directly affected by the many disasters and tragedies that have been happening around the world. I also ask for healing for the survivors and for those who lost loved ones.

I usually listen to popular music in the background during the day when I am home. However, on this day, if I listen to music, it is soft instrumental music that does not demand my attention and ideally gives a somewhat ethereal ambiance.

I do not surf the web, look at Facebook, or watch TV. I refrain from doing errands and work. Instead, I try to free my mind from worldly concerns or desires and focus on spiritual matters. I have no plans for the day and just embrace the quiet and solitude. I may read from a diversity of religious books and writings to mine for spiritual truths and expand my spiritual vision.

As evening approaches, I do my qigong practice and meditate to further enhance harmony between spirit, mind, and body. The evening meal marks the end of this man’s Sabbath that I leave with a conscious desire and intent to continue this day’s devotions throughout the coming week.

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