During the last one hundred years there has arisen a longing to understand the nature of reality, genuine humanity, and the true nature of the Divine, often referred to as God. Spiritual seekers have arisen across cultural, ethnic, and educational backgrounds searching for an answer to the “Great Matter of Life and Death.”
For thousands of years humans had mostly been content accepting definitions and understandings of the Great Matter through organized religions. A spiritual seeker investigated Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, or maybe Shinto religious texts and teachings discovering which faith group seemed to resonate within their soul and became a member of one of the various sects associated with that belief system.
But, as people lost confidence in organized religion there arose a movement toward a new understanding of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. There developed a demand for innovative and even firsthand experiences of the Divine. The most important questions a spiritual seeker asks has to do with our relationship with the Divine Spirit within. We ask and answer many, many times, discovering greater depths with each exploration.
Who am I and what is my purpose for being?
What does it mean to be awake?
What legacy will I leave?
Am I connected to Mother Nature and all life?
What and who inspires me?
How can I serve life and spirit?
How might I find peace and live it?
Who benefits from my life?
How can I cultivate compassion, generosity, and a loving heart?
Unfortunately, with modernistic thinking, spirituality has gotten mixed up with emotional needs, and self-fulfillment. So, people decide to judge a sangha or spiritual circle on the basis of how good one feels belonging to the group. So the questions tend to take this form:
Are these people welcoming and non-judgmental?
Are my opinions valued and implemented?
Am I feeling happy and uplifted?
Am I loved unconditionally?
Am I being healed from my childhood traumas?
Can I trust these people in an intimate relationship?
Do I feel respected?
All of these are excellent questions, and yet…is getting our personal needs met the responsibility of a spiritual teacher or a sangha? The members of a spiritual learning circle are unlikely to be perfectly loving, kind, welcoming, and totally focused on us and our needs at all times.
When we say we don’t want to be judged- does that mean we can’t accept correction, suggestions, or teachings that don’t make us feel good?
When we say we want our opinions to be heard and implemented- does it mean we expect others to do what we want regardless of whether we know what we’re talking about or if our judgment is helpful or in line with the vision held by that group?
Isn’t it a personal responsibility to learn how to be happy and uplifted regardless of how others treat us or what is said in a dharma talk?
If we are loved unconditionally- does that translate to “don’t tell me how my behavior affects you, because it will make me feel bad about myself?”
Trust happens when we share a vision, a dream, a work, a life. Trust isn’t something people have to earn from us, it’s a gift of accepting diversity of thought and focusing beyond our childlike emotional neediness. And respect comes from self-acceptance. It’s not a permission given by someone outside of ourselves.
When we find a true teacher or spiritual circle we will discover that the things we thought should be provided for us are the very energies we need to make available for self and others. Opening the door to our Divine Nature will shatter our delusions of desire, need, and self-indulgence. We will stand before the mirror of Truth and begin to understand that we are born to contribute. We will discover that we have been given a precious human life to imagine and create a world without war, hunger, and greed. Ego-naked before Divine Source we are challenged to be greater than we ever thought possible, to forget the little self, and become a burning light in the darkness of hell.