Whatever else the sacred is, it points to this: we are members of a single human family, marvelous and terrifying in its diversity. If we want to blink a couple of times and take this even half seriously, we have to dig deep. It must be respect for all of life. Understanding this, I must regard your gift of life as precious whether or not I believe you “deserve” this. I must do you no harm and, moreover, I must wish you well whether or not I believe you “deserve” it. Like it or not, I see that our fates are linked.
This is the timeless ethical teaching at the heart of all the religions. It’s what makes sense of the Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” “See your Self in others and others in your Self.”). To a great extent, everything else is embroidery.
“However many holy words you read,” said the Buddha, more than two and half thousand years ago, “however many holy words you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on them?”
This is not to leave out the transcendent, the ineffable and the holy. I believe it is to find it. For I suspect that it is only the sacred that we seek, yearn for and desire that is clean-sweeping enough to free us from the old and make the new realisable…
And yet, just like you, I live in what we pessimistically call “the real world”. I know that as long as we are effectively conditioned into the kinds of divisive, defensive and aggressive thinking that the majority of the world’s people regard as normal, this shift in perception may seem delusional. After all, the mighty institutions of religion themselves offer profound, unequivocal teachings about interdependence, loving-kindness, forgiveness, unity and compassion, yet all have a tragic history (in unequal amounts) of seeking power rather than transformation and conformity rather than compassion. We don’t need to go further than the nightly news to see that far too often religions are cradles of violence rather than love. But what is just as true is that those same complex human institutions have also been the faithful preservers of the world’s most magnificent (and undiluted) teachings on love. More wonderfully, there have also always been brave men and women from all the religions who have determinedly lived life as sacred, sometimes under the most discouraging or dangerous circumstances.
…To tend to what is alive, healing, tender and precious in this familiar material world, we must discover and rediscover the source and vitality of our own spirituality. And we must act on what we find… Acting on our highest ideals, we embody them and give them life. They also give us life and, dare I say it, they give us a life truly worth living.
Each time I choose the more loving direction, the kinder impulse, the most encouraging word; each time I choose to silence my complaint, my criticism or to deal with conflict non-violently; each time I open more wholeheartedly to appreciate or express gratitude for what is around me; each time I offer help or comfort selflessly, or pause to reflect, give inner thanks or praise, or to align myself freshly with my finest impulses and self, I rediscover the source of my spiritual life – and I live it.
Religious, philosophical, psychological and spiritual writings offer countless theories about the sacred. But theories are rarely transformative. We need to sense as well as think our way forward. Our instincts and imagination must be engaged as well as intellect and heart. We must value and learn from our own experiences. We need to surrender willingly and often to what is quiet within us. We must know the source of our own spiritual life, however diversely we name it. We must accept the resources and strengths it offers. We must see holiness within it – and within ourselves.
Permission to use: Stephanie Dowrick