If you are reading this it might be that you live in a country torn by war and devastation and the Spirit may then be your lifeline, but, given that you do have time to read, it is more likely that you live in a country that is at peace, that is not under the sway of an occupying army. It might be that you are in the midst of a famine and have no idea where your next meal is coming from, in which case a knowledge of the Spirit may be what you need in order to face a painful death with dignity, but it is more likely that you live in a country that has rarely before in history experienced such prosperity as it enjoys now, and it is likely that you have a good prospect of being fed, not only today, but tomorrow as well. It might be that you are on your sick bed struck down by a terrible accident or prone by an epidemic contagious disease that has already wiped out your nearest and dearest, in which case to be at home in the Spirit may be your last resort of sanity and enable you to conduct yourself through such great adversity with a sense of meaningfulness, but it is more likely that you are more or less sound in body and limb and have a prospect of greater life expectancy than most humans in history have enjoyed. In fact, it is probable that you not only enjoy and may rejoice in precious human life, but that this particular birth has come at one of the most fortunate times in history when, despite continuing conflicts in some places, there is extensive peace in much of the world, and that you have been born in a country that is relatively secure, disease free and prosperous and that you have the leisure to study and practise the Way. This is an amazing grace and benefit that has been freely bestowed. The feeling that arises in us when we contemplate this is itself a prayer of gratitude and relief.
If you are reading this then you not only have precious human birth in rather fortunate circumstances, you also have a special opportunity in that you have access to precious spiritual teachers who can guide and help you and who, because they are doing their best to live lives in accordance with the spirit provide an example of what it is to be a student of the Way. There are living masters of spirituality in our world today. That is a cause for rejoicing. A wise man once said that as long as a people revere their saints there will be strength in the community. He was not talking about saints of one particular school or denomination, but simply about good people. A true teacher may have learnt what he or she learnt within a particular religious tradition, but if he or she is a truly spiritual being then they will have risen above sectarianism and radiate the spiritual light that is the salvation of all people. Spirituality is not a club, it is a universal human birthright. It is what makes life meaningful, noble and dignified. Great souls, mahatmas, sages, saints, have big mindedness. They love all beings. Their lives are love and they exist in this world in this life that they – and you and I - already have.
We all live in relation to a long tradition of spirituality. It may have come into your life as a family tradition; your parents may have been Catholic or Jewish or Hindu or whatever; or, it may be that you grew up in a family that paid little overt attention to the Spirit, but this tradition has, nonetheless, been there in the culture all around you throughout your life. My father was agnostic and my mother seldom went to church, but she was a great lover of poetry and of English culture and as a child I learnt to please her by learning quite a lot of poetry off by heart. This was a way of absorbing a lot of rather varied spirituality. Although the modern age has been dominated by efforts to make society more rational and secular, the fact is that our culture is saturated with the spiritual. Our ideas of justice, kindness, dignity, compassion, service, loyalty and love have all evolved in a spiritual context. Our secular society would quickly fall apart if we did not have that background of culture established over many centuries (which also is why imposing some of these secular principles in some other cultures that have different histories sometimes does not work). Gratitude for what we have and what we are part of is a foundation for prayer, devotion and contemplation.
Europeans draw on the Greeks, Romans and Hebrews for their sense of what life is all about and what this world is and means. People in the Middle East draw on Islam and its predecessors. People in India draw on the great sages and avatars of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. In the far east they draw on Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tzu and many other later spiritual geniuses. North Americans draw on all of these Old World sources and, increasingly, so do we all. We draw on strands of teaching that go right back to shamanic, druidic, vedic and ancient Egyptian times and we have it all here today. We are the heirs to a greater richness of spirituality than has ever before been available. I can read Lao Tzu, Ibn Arabi and Francis of Assisi in a single afternoon from the same bookshelf. One sentence of any of them may be enough, but I have all this. This great and broad tradition is a voice of universal love. It is a surfeit of riches and it is part of the life that I already have. I did not create these saints; they are not my possessions; they lived before I was even thought about; and yet here they are. This is a grace and a benefit; it is love and it is part of the life that we already have.
Throughout human history there have been great spiritual teachers and sages. Their spirit is still with us. We are all loved by them. In one sense we all stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder, equally loved, but in another sense, we are all unique and separate, all helping one another. To value the fact that we live in contact with those who have walked the path before us is to love. It is an appreciation of life. “Love is the life that you already have” means to appreciate this, to have faith and to let out a prayer of gratitude. This is not something that you have not yet got. Perhaps one day you will find greater and better teachers, greater and better illumination, greater and better faith, but it does not matter. The fact is that you already have precious teachers and a precious and enormously rich tradition and that you have the leisure to meditate and pray and the capacity to do good. You can practise: Whether you do it kneeling, sitting in the lotus position, standing with arms wide stretched toward heaven, or prostrating full length on the ground is secondary: there are many ways. All these way are instances of love and are something that you already have that has been freely given. The gratitude that we feel for all this is prayer in one form or another - let us not neglect it, let us celebrate.
For Part One