Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Three Spiritual Imperatives

We often hear about strict religions whose traditions forbid exploring other faiths and philosophies. But most of the world’s largest religions have a moderate branch which welcomes the study of other faith traditions. This includes all the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. They recognize certain universal tenets which do not threaten their dogma. Instead they echo and reinforce their most important teachings.

These maxims help us to live better and coexist more peacefully with each other. They are of equal importance and they are interrelated. But they are not laws. They are spiritual imperatives. What is the difference? A law is a rule which holds us accountable for our actions. A spiritual imperative is a calling to do better.

Be true.

Being true means being honest in word and deed. Speak what you believe to be the truth. When you give your word, do your best to live up to your promise.  Be clear about your intentions. Honor your commitments in all your relationships.

Part of being true is understanding what is false. We often accept as true things we cannot possibly confirm simply because we do not want our comfortable sense of things to be challenged. Trust and trustworthiness are two sides of being true. A reasonable skepticism can be healthy and protect us from deceit. But if we trust no one then skepticism turns into cynicism or worse paranoia. Then we cannot see truth when it is in right front of us. This causes a destructive loop in our consciousness. If we cannot recognize what is true, how can we be true ourselves?

Being accurate is not always the same as being truthful. Making an accurate statement can be misleading or cruel which is not being true. Neither is withholding the truth. To be true, we need to also understand how our worldview colors the truth we experience, and recognize that there may be truths beyond our understanding. Truth is at the heart of all spiritual imperatives. Without an awareness of truth we cannot act on any of the others.

Be kind.

It is sad that the number of ways one person can be cruel to another is probably as great as the number of grains of sand on a beach. Yet one of the beautiful balancing elements found in our universe is that for every way a person can be cruel there is an equal and opposite way we can be kind.

It is not enough to reject cruelty and violence. We must intentionally choose to be kind. We need to be aware of those around us in need. And we need to have an awareness of the impact that our words and actions have on others. Kindness is thoughtfulness.

To be thoughtful, first you have to care. Seeing someone in need must trigger a response. We are conditioned to protect ourselves from pain. Seeing someone else suffer can cause us to be afraid for our own physical and emotional safety. When we care, we overcome those fears. Life experience teaches us to recognize when it is worth it to risk being kind without expecting something in return. Each caring word or act teaches us that kindness is its own reward.

Be open.

Being true and being kind requires us to be open, to be willing to learn something. By being open to life’s experiences we welcome the chance to grow and change. When we close ourselves up, we set boundaries on the ways we interact with the world around us.

To be closed is to be afraid. And, fear is at the heart of every cruel response. Fear is an emotional defense against pain, risk, and uncertainty. To be open is to be brave. When we are open, we defy those forces beyond control and assert our own free will.

Being open means being teachable. The more we learn about the people and the world around us, the more we understand how to be true, how to be kind, how to choose joy. Suffering is a universal experience. My mother used to say that into every life a little rain must fall. But if we are open to it we can make a choice between drowning in our sorrows and being bathed by what we learn from them.

Be true. Be kind. Be open. These three spiritual imperatives are not new ideas. They have been a part of human understanding since time began. When we put all three together we are given an instruction manual for not just dealing with life as we find it, but for moving our lives in a positive direction.

Though each person finds their own way of living into them, we are all called to meet the challenges they suggest. And just when we think we have completely understood them we will find them teaching us something completely new and unexpected.

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