Living in the conditioned world, we know that we can never arrive at the ideal. It remains like the pole star. It guides our travel without us ever actually arriving. Nonetheless, when travelling, it is valuable to know the direction, and the direction of the spiritual life is toward a world of love, compassion, joy and peace. We may arrive at such a land after death, a land presided over by angels or Amitabha Buddha, or other benign spirit. In the meantime, however, we make the same journey here in this life. We act in those ways that are conducive to the generation of such a land. We could call it Amor, from the word for love.
So, as spiritual seekers, we are all engaged in creating Amor here in this world. This takes faith because it is a matter of acting without guarantees. It takes courage because it often means going against the popular trend. It takes patience because things do not happen in a trice. Often results surface long after. It takes love because that is what it is all about. Also, it takes hard work, but this work is only meaningful when it is in the service of love and not simply a substitute for it. The creators of Amor are all amateurs.
The Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Ibn Arabi, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Honen Shonin, Rumi, Dogen, were all amateurs in the important things that they did. They worked very long hours and did not get paid.
The word amateur is derived from the word for love. They all did what they did for love. The professional does it for money. There are other motivations - power, revenge, curiosity, desperation and so on - but love and money are the two main motivators for most work. Work also serves various social functions. On the one hand it creates genuinely useful and important things. On the other hand it is a good way of keeping the population occupied and out of trouble.
The term 'professional' is nowadays a term of praise, but it used to be suspect. Nowadays, it is supposed to be a guarantee of competence and there is a close association between having qualifications and receiving money. Originally the word meant somebody who professed something, which is to say, who believed in it and preached it to others. Now it means somebody who has been trained and charges money.
Somehow we have moved from a society in which the ideal motivator is love to one in which the natural motivator is profit. This is degeneration. In the process, we have also made something of a fetish of training. Training has replaced education. Technical know-how has displaced character. We have stopped being free spirits.
This social change was, perhaps, most signally marked by the tennis tournament at Wimbledon becoming open to professionals. When I was young, only amateurs were allowed to compete there. I am not saying that this was good or bad particularly in terms of tennis, but more that it was a sign of the time and of how the times were changing. We can also note that it was the emergence of 'spectator sport', sport in which the most important thing was the entertainment value for the watcher, rather than the experience for the participator. The move from amateur, participator sport to professional spectator sport does seem to me to symbolise a significant cultural shift.
Consider universities, for instance. When I was young, the primary purpose in running a university was to provide education. Now, largely, it is to make a profit by offering training courses. Consequently, hardly any university in Britain teaches unprofitable, ‘improving’ subjects, like philosophy, any more.
Money in Place of Passion
This change has produced a more docile population. The ‘angry young man’ phenomenon has not been entirely extinguished, but most students these days are too worried about their student loan to be taking the risk of trying to change the world. Money has replaced passion.
In fact, almost the whole population is in debt, and this has become a major lever of social control. Money has become the way to control people so governments have taken increasing interest in controlling banks. Banks are now virtually part of government. Of course, governments are also in debt. The whole structure looks increasingly rickety.
There are many more examples of this decline. It leads to anxiety and loss of faith, which are virtually the same thing. This is why everybody considers themselves to be stressed. If you ask somebody why they are stressed, they might say that they have to work long hours, or that they have deadlines to meet, or that their job is insecure. If we consider my list of heroes at the beginning of this post, we can reflect that none of them had a secure job, nor much money. They often did have much to do for little material reward and sometimes they worked all night; yet none of them were ‘stressed’. Sometimes they might have been tormented by inner conflict and passed through ‘the dark night of the soul’, but we have a sense that such turmoils enriched their lives. We do not think that they were conditions that called for medication.
Such people did what they did for love, love of God, love of one’s neighbour, love of an ideal, love of love. They did it in faith. Again, love and faith are almost synonymous.
Against the Times
A spiritual community is, therefore, even more against the flow of our times now than it was even fifty years ago. It is certainly a participator activity rather than a spectator one. Spectators may come and see, but they do not get much from it until they really start to take part.
Many so-called monasteries or ashrams now pay their ’staff’. They are becoming businesses. Spiritual materialism has progressed from being a personal attitude to being an institutionalised practice. All this is lamentable. In individual cases, you can see the logic, which is generally, essentially, that one has to survive within the culture and this is the way our culture is now.
Increasingly, furthermore, we do not value things unless they have a price tag. That completely artificial label substitutes for our judgement of the spiritual substance of the matter, just as nowadays nobody can, any more, make an intelligent judgement about whether food it still good or not, but has to look at the date stamp on the packet. The loss of love is also a loss of confidence and a loss of appreciation of real things.
Disaster Waiting to Happen
Such total dependence upon money also makes us extremely vulnerable. Money is artificial and its value is sustained almost entirely by confidence. This is a house of cards. More than a house, it is now a tall tower. All this can collapse. When it does where are we? In despair. There are now quite a few countries that have gone through such despair - Argentina, Greece, Portugal - but these countries are not the biggest or most powerful. The turn of the latter will come in due course - they have already had some tremors. In the past, periods of social madness generally ended in wars. Increasingly, nowadays, they end in economic collapse. When that collapse comes, many values will change. It could be for the better, or for the worse. One of the reasons for establishing a spiritual community is to create a seed pod that might survive such collapse and carry good values into the post-disaster world.
There is a natural tendency for people to think that things will go on as they are forever. They ignore the writing on the wall. We cannot foresee the future, but we can see the piling up of bad karma and the degeneration of wholesome values. Perhaps building spiritual community is a bit like being Noah before the flood.
Building Amor on a Small Scale
So we are engaged in building an ark. At present not many people are interested. They come to visit and are surprised at the unfamiliar atmosphere. They breath the air of love and freedom and go away feeling slightly intoxicated, as they return to the ‘real world’ of stressful, artificial living, slightly unsettled in their conviction that there is no alternative. Perhaps, when the need for an alternative is thrust upon them they may remember. Perhaps there will one day be a whole fleet of arks, all different colours, shapes and sizes.
Spirituality is subversive. It turns the worldly world on its head. You can make what we do here sound awful: there is a lot of work and no pay, long hours and few holidays, little entertainment and no television, and our central activity is walking round in circles chanting the same words over and over again. What kind of life is that for anybody? It would not make a good advert in the travel agency. Yet here there is joy and love and a sense of reality as well as mystery. Here you can find a little enclave of amateurs. Here we live in harmony with nature, have breakfast in the open air to a background of birdsong. We love and care for one another.
Here too we can be hosts. We can welcome visitors. We can hold retreats. We can set up temporary communities as well as longer term. We can build Amor on a small scale again and again and spread seeds that blow across the world to take root wherever they may. I pray that little flowers of Amor may bloom on every patch of Earth that has not been concreted over by the spread of materialism. Eventually those flowers will grow tall and the concrete will all get broken up into sand and pebbles.
Beautiful! Namo Amida Bu. Dharma is true spiritual currency, no paper or coins necessary. I pay the karmic mortgage on my body by working towards true liberation for all beings. This is a very interesting point. Can the world continue to keep piling debt upon debt until there's nothing of any real value left any more? Or will we all get sucked into a financial vortex when the devil calls in his dues!!? I think there's a lot to be said for taking responsibility for one's personal currency, and I don't mean the numbers that come up on the screen at the cashpoint, or the elusive banknotes in our pockets, which never actually acquire any value in the duration of their circulation, but continue to undermine the integrity of the Human spirit by promising non-existant ''wealth'' on carnal terms. Spiritual Currency is the energy that we utilize in order to protect ourselves and others from the onslaught of a world shot through with greed, hate and delusion: the genuine desire and intention to overcome our own corruption so that others can have a place to come and find sanity, when the mirage of materiality dissapears. Namo Amida Bu( :
Thank you for building this ark of love for all who want to be open for it.
Namo Amida Bu