Connecting to the Bigger Picture
Life is about relationship--the relationship we have with ourselves, with each other, with the world, as well as the connection to that which is beyond any of us yet immanent in each of us. When our relationships are good, we feel good; when they are bad, we feel awful. Let's accept it. We need each other. We need to feel connected; we need to feel each other's presence and love.
The most ancient scriptures of India say that we are all part of a universal web of light. Each of us is a glowing, shining, mirrorlike jewel reflecting and containing the light of the whole. All in one. One in all. We are never disconnected from the whole. This intrinsic knowledge of our place in the greater picture is part of our spiritual DNA, our original software--or "heartware."
Nonetheless, at one time or another most of us feel disconnected from this knowledge of our place in the great web of being. We lose sight of where we belong, and instead, we experience intense feelings of loneliness, alienation, and confusion. Trying to find the way back to our place in the whole is what the spiritual seeker's search is all about. It represents a journey home to who we are.
How about you? Do you ever suffer from a sense that you are lost and wandering--almost as though you have been through some kind of an emotional holocaust? Most of us here in America are very fortunate. We have little idea of what it's like to live in a war-torn country. Even so, from the safety of your own secure home, do you sometimes feel as though you have an uncanny sense of what it must feel like to be a displaced person--unsafe and at the mercy of strangers? Mother Teresa said, "The biggest problem facing the world today is not people dying in the streets of Calcutta, and not inflation, but spiritual deprivation . . . this feeling of emptiness associated with feeling separate from God, and from all our sisters and brothers on planet earth." "Loneliness," she said, "is like the leprosy of the West."
Mother Teresa was talking about the pain associated with feelings of isolation and separateness. These feelings are common to mankind. They can overtake any one of us in a heartbeat, even in the very midst of happiness and joy. Loneliness implies a lack of meaningful connection. For most people, it is a familiar travelling companion. Even when we're surrounded by people we know, we can feel separate and apart. Separate from what, we might ask? Separate from others, separate from ourselves, separate from the Divine, separate from meaning, separate from love. Separate from a sense of belonging.
The promise of spiritual life is that we will be able to heal these feelings through love and an experiential understanding of the essential interconnectedness of all beings. The Dalai Lama of Tibet, for example, often says that no matter how many new faces he sees each day, he never feels as though he is meeting anyone for the first time. That's because the Dalai Lama knows that every single one of us is on an infinite journey that began aeons ago. According to Tibetan Buddhism we have each had so many births that in all probability our paths have crossed time and time again. Wondrously connected one to the other, we have been for each other brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, children, fathers, mothers, and mates. At the heart of Tibetan Buddhism is this belief: Each person we meet has at one time been a close, caring family member and should be treated with the respect and love such a relationship deserves.
Don't we all need to feel the light and warmth that emanates from others? Don't we all want true love? Don't we all hunger for genuine communication, and deeper and more authentic connections? Don't we all recognize that the quality of our individual lives is determined by the quality of our relationships both external and internal? When our relationships are superficial, we feel as though we are leading superficial lives; when our relationships reflect our deeper commitments and aspirations, we feel as though we are walking a more meaningful and satisfying path.
Love comes through relating. That's why we must connect.
Connecting to the sacred in our relationships is a way of satisfying our spiritual hunger with love--thus nurturing ourselves, as well as nourishing the world. For just a minute, stop and think about your relationships. Think about all those with whom you interact--at home, at work, and in the community. Think about family, friends, coworkers, and even those with whom you have only a nodding acquaintance. Don't leave anybody out, not even your pets. Whenever you think about the important relationships in your life, remember that each of us also has a connection with the natural world and all the wild creatures that live on our planet--as well as with the planet itself.
Some of our relationships seem deep and meaningful; others are merely casual. But on a spiritual level, they are all important; they can all be deepened and improved. Relationships are essential for ongoing spiritual growth and development. They help us find meaning and purpose; they help us experience love--human as well as divine. Learning to love is the first lesson in Spirituality 101. The connections we make as we live our incredible lives offer us the opportunity to acknowledge and connect to the divine in ourselves as well as in others. Ask yourself: Who did you love today?
Although spiritual seekers and saints historically have often been associated with self-sacrifice and reclusive, solitary lifestyles (often monastic, and frequently cloistered), here in the modern world, other traditions and styles of spirituality are emerging. Contemporary seekers realize that we can't retreat permanently; it is not very helpful to pass negative judgments on worldly values. Instead we need to find new and better ways of walking the soulful path of awakening, by integrating the heart of love in every aspect of our lives. In this way we learn to dance gracefully with life.
It is a fundamental Buddhist tenet as well as a larger, more general fact of life that we are all interconnected and interdependent on each other. I find it very gratifying to see that so many Western seekers and students of truth and Dharma are sincerely striving to combine social activism with spiritual growth. As seekers, we want to find ways to do spiritual work within our relationships. We aspire to help improve the quality of our own lives as well as the lives of those around us. In this way we are hopeful that we will be better able to live in congruence with our most deeply held inner principles and values. We who inhabit this planet all share a common karma as well as a common ground. We already live together; we need to learn to work together. We need to learn to love others--even those we may not like. This is the greatest challenge of all.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Awakening the Buddhist Heart by Lama Surya Das. . Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.