The first beatitude of Jesus was "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." We might say, "theirs is the Pure Land of Buddha". But in the modern world, is being "poor of spirit" something that people seek? Don't we, rather, say "I was in poor spirits" when we mean that we were depressed, despairing or miserable? Why would one aim to be poor in spirit and what does it mean?

Let's start off from the matter of poverty. In religious traditions, poverty is often a holy state. Christian friars and Buddhist monks are both noted for choosing poverty, choosing a life with absolutely minimal possessions. This kind of renunciant life is a direct challenge to modern consumerist values. It demonstrates that you don't actually need all that stuff. So one thing that "poor in spirit" means is having the spirit of poverty - the spirit of renouncing material accumulation. This might, at the extreme, mean adopting the life of complete dependency of the wandering monk, but, more commo0nly, it simply means letting go of the currently popular idea that one should be endlessly giving oneself treats, that one simply has to have the latest thing, and that the answer to most of life's problems is shopping. This is quite radical as it cuts away at the indoctrination that keeps the capitalistic consumerist system expanding.

Among the popular slogans that back up the consumerist ideology are a set of assertion such as "You're worth it!" "You deserve it!" and so on that suggest that treating oneself is a form of self-vindication. This is a kind of perversion of ideas about self-justification that have their origin in religions that include the idea of a judgement day. Modern people have become their own self-judges and in between feeling guilty, they like to award themselves high marks. This is all very self-contradictory and unnecessary.

From the perspective of karma, of course, it is all nonsense. How can one equate oneself with the value of a bar of chocolate? From a karmic viewpoint we are, in any case, always in the red. We can't help consuming more than we create. The difference - our salvation - comes from grace and enlightenment, not from fruitcake.

The person who is poor in spirit, therefore, is not going round trying to assess his or her own self worth in that kind of way. He has a deep assumption that he is not of any special worth intrinsically, yet, at the same time, that he is viewed by the Buddhas as infinitely precious. In fact, it is his poverty of spirit that lets the grace in. Asserting one's own self-worth is self-power. Realising that one has no intrinsic self-worth, one naturally relies upon other-power. This natural reliance, or faith, is the mark of the truly religious person, the person who has a place in the Kingdom of Heaven and will naturally enter the Pure Land.

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Replies to This Discussion

They are also the opening words of the famous 'Sermon on the Mount'

The Sermon on the Mount is regarded by many as a highlight in world literature.

In 2018 it is exactly seventy years ago that Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was shot dead.

Inspired by the Sermon on the Mount of Christ, he preached non-violentness as a Hindu and as a politician, among other things through the famous 'Salt March' of 1930.

Thank you for reminding us to be humble.

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