Religions, Spirituality & the Dalai Lama's Wisdom
09 May 2010

I STAY CLEAR OF RELIGIONS because they tend to be more about politics, social hierarchy, control and dogma, than about direct, spontaneous spirit experience. So rather than being systems that put us in touch with the miraculous, religions can insulate us from the holy experience with its layers of concepts and dogma. Religions use people's natural spiritual urge to control them, to make money, and sometimes to abuse them. And in return, religions offer hope — that there is something more in life than just our little lives, and that consciousness continues after death.

Living a meaningless existence is a terrible thing for most of us, and so there is a psychological urge to embrace individuals, organisations or institutions that offer meaning to our lives. And from the point of view of those offering meaning-systems, this powerful urge for meaning makes for a very successful marketing strategy, a bit like marketing on the back of another power urge — for sex.

Modern cults and New Age spiritual groups are very popular today because they offer new, updated meaning-systems — road-maps of hope. But again, we have people who are declared very spiritual (either by themselves or others) controlling other people who are declared as less spiritual (either by themselves or others). It seems that there is this abstract called "spirituality" that nobody really knows what it is, that is being used as a bargaining chip for devotion to spiritual teachers and teachings.

Of course, just because nobody really knows what "spirituality" is does not mean that it isn't something real. I have experienced many "spiritual" moments in my life, and for most of that life I have considered myself a "spiritual person". But real spiritual connection always found me; when I pursued it, all I got was a conceptual semblance of spirituality — fool's gold. So from my perspective, anyone who tries to be spiritual ends will often end up being decidedly unspiritual. It is a far better to aim for authenticity rather than spirituality. And it is far better to try to be a loving person to those around you than it is to be a spiritual person to those around you.

A couple of days ago someone sent me an email with some recent quotes from the Dalai Lama. Brazilian theologist, Leonardo Boff, asked him, "What is the best religion?"

The Dalai Lama responded, "The best religion is the one that gets you closest to God. It is the one that makes you a better person."

Boff, continued the dialogue, "What is it that makes me better?"

The Dalai Lama answered: "Whatever that makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more detached, more loving, more humanitarian, more responsible, more ethical. The religion that would do that for you is the best religion. I am not interested, my friend, about your religion or if you are religious or not. What really is important to me is your behaviour in front of your peers, family, work, community, and in front of the world. Remember, the universe is the echo of our actions and our thoughts."

He went on to say: "The law of action and reaction is not exclusively for physics. It is also of human relations. If I act with goodness, I will receive goodness. If I act with eviI, I will get evil.

"What our grandparents told us is the pure truth. You will always have what you desire for others. Being happy is not a matter of destiny. It is a matter of options."

Finally he said: "Take care of your Thoughts because they become Words. Take care of your Words because they will become Actions. Take care of your Actions because they will become Habits. Take care of your Habits because they will form your Character. Take care of your Character because it will form your Destiny, and your Destiny will be your Life.

"There is no religion higher than the Truth."

What wise words! My respect for the Dalai Lama has risen enormously after hearing about this exchange. For it shows that he is not peddling Tibetan Buddhism, he is promoting compassionate behaviour, period, regardless of the dogmas that might be used to justify that behaviour.

I have been around many spiritual people over the years who have behaved less than honourably because they have been so fixated on their own spiritual importance and high standing that "little" or "illusory" things like general behaviour were overlooked.

What the Dalai Lama reminded me was that our primary focus should be on our everyday behaviour and compassion to others, not on how enlightened we are or how spiritually wise we have become. Personally these days, I prefer the company of non-spiritual people (whatever that means) who are authentic and kind. For me, genuine kindness is the real spirituality. (I prefer the term "kindness" to the term "love", as the latter is so semantically abused in our society today.)

And the funny thing is that when you find real kindness, from the heart, you find real spirituality. It is right there — silent and whole.

So thank you to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his great wisdom :-)