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In many religious traditions, we are on the planet for basically two reasons. Our mission/purpose/raison d’être has two components, two paths.
In the Baha’i Faith (and I just love this guidance because it is so simple and clear), we call it our “twofold moral purpose.” Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote:
God’s purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquillity of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established.
On the one hand, our spiritual journey is about our personal transformation. Spirituality and religion should make our lives better and show us a path toward personal peace and enlightenment.
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If it doesn’t do either of those two things, then we should all jettison it. The wisdom of faith either makes our lives better, increases serenity, and makes us better people, or there is really no reason to have it in our lives.
As we seek to walk the spiritual path with practical feet, we are frequently daunted by the hurdles thrown at us by the outside world. And, more importantly, we are often overwhelmed by the obstacles that we ourselves create – ones that arise from within to keep us stuck and immobilized, and occasionally to throw our lives into chaos.
We let “overwhelm” and “resistance” keep us from achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves. We often have negative internal voices that consistently and corrosively tear us down and hold us back. We become slaves to addictions that sabotage us and blow up our lives or insidiously eat away at us from the inside. Negative character traits like envy, jealousy, anger, and resentment oftentimes toxify our lives, moving us ever further away from the life we dream of — a rich, satisfying one filled with joy and contentment. The list goes on and on.
Spiritual traditions and teachings are a set of tools that, when practiced (sometimes over and over and over again), can help us navigate the rocky shoals of an uncaring, overwhelming outside world. A world that requires rent and work and health care premiums. A world fraught with rejection, stress, idiot bosses, and crazy roommates. External temptations and seductions from drugs, alcohol, sex, power, prestige, status, money, and the endless screen-fueled distractions that live in our pants pockets.
When you can snatch the pebble from the hand of your self, that is when you will pass the ultimate test.
When you can effortlessly walk the rice paper of your own ego without leaving a mark, that is when you can leave the symbolic monastery as a master — a master of your darker, more selfish impulses. A spiritual warrior-monk emerging into the world in order to face dark and dangerous adversities and dark and dangerous temptations.
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Most people’s spiritual paths end there, at the personal. When most people think of spiritual tools for change, growth, and finding peace, they think of themselves working internally to increase serenity, perspective, and wisdom.
In contemporary American culture, we rarely view a spiritual path as having much, if anything, to do with the peace, serenity, and wisdom of the totality of humanity. This leads me to the next part of the journey — the other branch of our twofold moral purpose: our spiritual journey not as an individual but as a collective, a species on a planet — a planet that we are on the verge of destroying.
This essay is excerpted from Rainn Wilson’s new book Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution, published on April 25, 2023, used with permission of the publisher, Hachette Book Group, and available here: www.soulboom.com
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Favorite sentence: "When you can snatch the pebble from the hand of your self, that is when you will pass the ultimate test." Well played on the bamboo flute of lived experience, Grasshopper!