Foundations of a Spiritual Path

Foundations of a Spiritual Path

By Desmond Yeoh SC

Recently, the newspapers quoted an elderly lady who said that she lived in poverty all her life and it had never been easy for her. Despite this, she concluded that she would not change a thing in her life! Why?  I believe that she gained tremendous wisdom from all her difficulties and was able to use that wisdom to advise and help her loved ones. She is able to find contentment easily and appreciate everything in her life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can give valuable advice to ease the suffering of those we care about? That wisdom can only be gained from the problems in our own life.

Power corrupts while suffering strengthens. So, in your life, do not fear suffering; do not try to run away from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering will only add to your worries. We create imaginary problems in our mind; most of which will never happen. A wise man said that happiness conditions suffering and suffering conditions happiness. This is because nothing is permanent. A person who is going through wonderful times now will have to suffer when those pleasant conditions end. If you are going through some difficulties now, you can look forward to the relief you will feel when those difficulties are over.  Everything goes up and down in a repetitive cycle. Every time we get something we desire, we will start to worry about losing it. A person who gains a position of power will have sleepless nights worrying about those who are trying to take it from him. It easier to become a champion then to defend one’s championship.

Most of us become spiritual seekers when we see that the world cannot offer happiness because happiness can only come from within. Whatever spiritual path we choose, we need to start with morality. Without morality, we will not be able to find the stability required to progress on any spiritual path. A person who harms others will always live in fear of vengeance. A person who cheat others will never be able to trust anyone. A mind of a person who lies all time will forever be occupied with trying to remember the lies he told. A person with integrity lives fearlessly. He has very little to worry about and can focus all his mental faculties on his spiritual practice. He will be able to meditate easily. This is the real meaning of Karma.

Some turn to religion because of desire and fear. They seek protection and favour from the Divine. No matter how hard we pray, we cannot avoid suffering because nothing is permanent. Everything must come to an end. I am not saying that you should not pray for help but the true Gem is wisdom and awareness. Instead of trying to earn a place in heaven, why not learn to live a life of peacefulness and contentment now. If in your search, your inner-peace grows year after year, then I assure you that you are on the right path.

With awareness and wisdom, we can master our fate. Fate, destiny or karma is not fixed. We often only see external circumstances that affects us but rarely do we see how our mental and emotional habits contribute to the event. Everything that we experience has two aspects to them. The first and obvious one is the external event that we have little control over. The other aspect is our habitual thinking and emotional patters which causes us to act in a way that either reduces or increases the effect of the external event. If we get into a big fight with someone, the presence of the other party (external circumstance) is only one of the many conditions which caused the fight. Our thoughts, perceptions, mood and habitual tendencies at the time is also a condition. If we perceive the world as a dog eat dog world, it is more likely to get into fights and arguments as opposed to a person who views an enemy as a teacher who appears to teach him patience. If we recognise this, we will be more able to integrate our spiritual and worldly life.

Awareness helps us to observe our thoughts and emotions while wisdom gives us the insight to understand how our present thoughts and actions can either increase or reduce our problems. That is why no other person can enlighten us. We must walk the path ourselves. No one can understand you better than yourself. No one but you can look into your own thoughts and emotions deeply enough to truly understand yourself. A teacher can tell you that hatred is bad; and it is like trying to hurt your enemy by poisoning your own body. But, only you can observe the thoughts that arouses hatred in your heart. Once we are aware of our habitual negative thoughts, only then can we can start using wisdom to perceive things differently. If we look back of all the seemingly bad events in our past, we will often find them to be blessings in disguise. Nothing is completely good or bad. If we understand this, we can face negative events with greater equanimity and ease.

We all seek happiness but few of us truly question what happiness means. Some people equate wealth and power with happiness because they do not observe if wealthy and powerful people are truly happy. Some equate happiness with sensual experiences. So they chase after excitement and whenever the exciting event is over, they slip into a depressed state while waiting for the next exciting event. This is because our mood swings like a pendulum, the higher one swings to the right, the higher will be the swing to the left. That is why, such people often complain about boredom. So, many struggle all their lives to accumulate wealth and life experiences but never achieving the imaginary future happiness that they hope to attain. Nevertheless, they continue to hope even at in their old age. Many of us already live in more comfort compared to our ancestors fifty years ago but we are no happier. Many often reminisce over the good old days when life was simpler.

The other form of happiness which is less dependent on external circumstances is inner-peace. If we want happiness, we should lay the causes of happiness now. Living a simple life is one of the factors that can increase the peace in our life. I am not saying that we should not try to make money. How much one makes does not really matter. It depends on how much we need in order to live comfortably. If we can find contentment with less, then the simpler our life will be. We will probably live healthier lives as well. Our luck will go up and down in a perpetual cycle like the waves of the sea. Living a simple life will enable us to remain below the surface of the ocean and remain unaffected by the waves. Trying to do this is not easy because everyone around us believes in the idea that abundance and happiness has a direct and positive correlation. We just have to look a little deeper behind the “facial make-up” to know that this is not true.

Living a simple life means reducing our desire for sensual gratification. This means that we spend less time and money on distractions. Time can then be freed up for meditation and silent contemplation. With less activities, we will feel more energetic and calm, thus enabling us to work more productively. If you feel lethargic at work, then maybe you should try cutting down on entertainment and spend more time just relaxing and doing nothing.

Our body, mind and emotions are all inter-connected. When we are tired or ill, we tend to be irritable and will find it more difficult to practice. Research has proven that regular exercise is as effective as any anti-depressant drugs in the market and the person is less likely to slip back into depression with exercise. So, keeping our body healthy with regular and moderate exercise can enhance our spiritual practice.

Keeping these basic principles in mind will enable us to practice more effectively and introduce more positive changes in our life.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. cab boon
    Oct 01, 2015 @ 12:45:23

    bro. desmond,words of wisdom,yes u said it all. sadhu

    Reply

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