Jeremy Ball ventures down a pathto spiritual awareness that's modest and honest - -and completely within the reach of us all.
Thisis dangerous ground to tread -- lecturing other peopleon spiritual ego. Let me start off by saying I feelwell qualified, having succumbed to many battles withthis ego demon. So these utterings come from someonesharing his insights and experiences, not a haughtypulpit. My partner and I have recently been honouredby the birth of a third child and just yesterday wecompleted the birth registration details. In the father'soccupation section I entered "Tour Guide"and I smile as I remember with not a little embarrassmenthow, for the previous birth, I called myself a "SpiritualTour Guide", to name just one such cringe-invokingmemory.
Spiritual life can be summarised into living a pathwith the purpose of eradicating the ego and the developmentof virtuous qualities. The ego can be explained as afalse concept of "I" or the self. We eachhave many concepts about who and what we are, which,in turn, limit what we can bring forth into the worldof ourselves. The kind of qualities that have been consideredvirtuous by the Masters throughout time are kindness,compassion, forgiveness, integrity and honesty, to providejust a sample.
When we embark on a "conscious" spiritualpath, our ideas about ourselves and our identity change.In creating this image of perceived perfection in ourminds, we can actually create the thinnest, yet toughest,veneer of impenetrability upon the surface of our ego.
So, before turning to some of my teaching for simple,yet effective, methods to counter the effects of thescourge of spiritual ego, first let us discuss whatthis "spiritual ego" might look like. I alwayslike to turn to the example of my mate Ian back in JollyOld London Town. I have known Ian since I was 12 yearsold when we became next door but one neighbours andwe have been firm friends ever since.
It's the sort of friendship where, although you mightnot have seen each other for several years, when youdo meet up again it feels as if you never were apart,slipping back into an easy intimacy.
Ian left school at 16 to become an apprentice builderand has shown no interest in what the outsider may considerspiritual expansion. He wouldn't be able to tell youthe difference between a chakra and Chopra, althoughI'm certain he can do a few nifty things with his spiritlevel. He would have certainly heard some colourfulwords on the building site but asana would not be oneof them.
Yet it is a rare day that I meet someone as honestand integral as Ian and who has the strength of characterto tell the absolute truth, even in uncomfortable situationsor when that truth results in immediate loss to him,whether it be material, financial or stature in theface of others. (He obviously understands or simplyfeels the longer- term benefits).
Ian is incredibly centred, probably not the word hewould use to describe this quality, and seldom loseshis temper even in the face of testing situations. Hehas a natural faith and trust in life and in the flowof natural justice, but when questioned about this wouldmost likely shrug and not have an explanation for itother than to say, "It's obvious" or, "Itjust feels that way". It is as if he carries aninnate understanding of the spiritual rules of dailylife, a fact that he is not aware of and certainly paysno attention to -- that is just who he is. I, on theother hand, have a small amount of what you could callspiritual understanding, but do I convert this intopersonal qualities and walk with them each day? Certainly,I believe, much less so than Ian.
The purpose of this is not to sing the praises of mymate -- he is unlikely ever to read these words andnor would he be particularly interested -- but ratherto illustrate what I term "unconscious spirituality".Often, when someone says they are on a spiritual path,they really mean a "conscious" spiritual path,meaning they are making a conscious effort to bringspiritual wisdom into their life. Or at least read somebooks! But we are each a manifestation of the one all-encompassingspirit so how can we not each be on a spiritual path?Having a limited mental awareness of the path we areon doesn't make us better than those who are not; itis obvious to me that some who are not "aware"are, in fact, more advanced if that distinction canbe drawn. Does the sun have to know it is a sun in orderto shower its light upon us? Our level of spiritualdevelopment can only truly be measured by how we behavein the world and how we treat other people. The subjectmatter we study, or the context within which we studyit, is really irrelevant.
Whether I learn about personal integrity through theTen Commandments or through ethical business practicesdoesn't matter; it is much more important how well Ihave embodied the practices, forging them into qualitieswithin the temple of my mind-body -- the imprint onmy soul. Just as it doesn't matter whether I have learntmy football at the David Beckham academy or with a tincan in the back yard, what is most important is howwell I strike the ball.
When Anubis, the Egyptian dog-headed god, weighs thehearts of mortal men against the feather to see whois light or pure-hearted enough to pass into the realmof the immortals, he is simply concerned with lightnessof heart, not what or who you studied with to get itthus. Hermann Hess in his book Siddartha weaves thestory of the simple ferryman who attained enlightenmentby his gentleness of spirit as he served others andlistened to the flow of nature.
When we embark on a spiritual path, as with any changein life, our concepts of self change. We get to seeourselves in a different light - and, hopefully, moreclearly. A common danger with embarking on a spiritualpath is that, unless keenly monitored, we can startto obviously or subtly develop the idea of self superiority.All spiritual systems tell us that we are one being;any divisions are temporary or artificial, so how cananyone be better than another. Thinking we are superiorbecause we are better looking, or better at sport isone thing, but being spiritually better -- that is,fundamentally at source superior -- is a very dangerousnotion indeed and one that's incredibly detrimentalto further spiritual growth.
So how can we combat this?
* Taking a Spiritual Master By this I mean takinga guru and a genuine living guru, not someone whois prone to self delusions, and living so you don'tneed to imagine or hear secondhand what they are like,but you can actually experience the presence and howthey behave toward other humans. This can help intwo ways: firstly, the Master is so further advancedthan you that you feel like a spiritual child, whichis rather humbling ("I am not so special afterall"); and secondly, their example will subtlychart you a course of deep integrity. Further, ifyou have close enough contact with them they willlet you know when you err into the thickets of selfdelusion. His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama is my guruand guiding light. I just need to be in his presenceor think of him and my back straightens and I laughheartily at my pretensions. I also have other BuddhistMasters I look up to and know more personally whowould quickly throw me a glance, ever so compassionately,if I were to let my ego off the leash.
* Giving up the Merit (especially good for healers,doctors or performers) This is very much a MahayanaBuddhist practice. Mahayana Buddhists have an appreciationof the interconnected nature of everything and theirefforts towards enlightenment are not just for theirlittle self, but for us all. So once they have performedanything of a meritorious nature, whether it be savingsomeone's life with emergency open heart surgery orhelping an old lady cross the road rather than think,"How marvellous am I to help this poor beingin such a way" instead they think, "Howfortunate was I to have this opportunity to serve.It is only due to others' good deeds towards me inthis and previous lives that I am in this position.May any merit that has been gained through this activitygo towards the benefit of all sentient beings everywhereso we may reach mental liberation hand in hand".Not only is someone who thinks like this sharing hericecream, but she is also not building up anymoreself identification (no more plastering being appliedto the self). As we can see from the business of show(Hollywood and all that) many people in the limelighttend to suffer from ego build ups and ego breakdowns.An Indian sound healer, who put on the most magnificentperformance holding the whole audience literally intrance, shared with the small audience, of which Iwas one, that he always plays a track last that counteractsany ego or pride that may have been built up withinhim from the applause and congratulations of the crowd.When will we see a cover version of this track inthe Top Ten I wonder?
* Finally, hang around with good people, old mateswho will tell you when you are getting too big foryour boots, and keep the ability to laugh at yourself.
Ask them to be straight up with you, make a dealto watch each other's back in case Old Man Ego hitchesa ride. Remember, enlightenment can come in a flash,but the spiritual path is generally a long one aboutslowly developing positive qualities, just as diamondsare formed by constant force within the earth. Takeyour time, enjoy the ride, as much as you can andremember even after the big E there are still thedishes!
In keeping with the advice, may any benefit gainedin the writing of this article go to the benefit ofall beings everywhere and, to be extra safe, may themerit obtained by sharing this merit go to all sentientbeings too!
Footnote: Let Jeremy explain his title:"Bob the Buddha is a phrase that was coined bymy daughters about a year ago now...when their friendhad a Bob the Builder plate. Never having heard of abuilder but having more than the usual amount of exposureto Buddha icons, they thought he had said Buddha. Sohenceforth the cartoon is Bob the Buddha for us! "