What Are the Major Issues Our Various Spiritual Systems Are Meant to Address?
Sooner or later, probably most of us ask the "big" questions, at least once in our lives. Having an organized sense of what these questions are about helps us in our search for answers. It is in our search for answers that we adopt and explore our various spiritual paths. Finding these answers helps us to determine what we believe is our purpose in life. In knowing our purpose, we become better able to do what we feel is necessary in order to live by what we learn from the answers to our questions.
There are three major areas that formal religions and other spiritual paths usually address in some way or another. One is the nature of the Divine, its realm, and the life of the human being beyond the physical body (before and after death or in true spiritual form regardless of the body). Another is how much and what kind of control we have over our earthly bodies, our minds and hearts, and our lives (the fate/free will and wills of others/will of the individual questions). A third is what our values and moral standards should be.
Putting all these things together tells us about our relationship to Ultimate Divine Spirit and how we fit into the grand scheme of things. It gives us an indication of how we might help the fulfillment of a potential much larger than that of our individual selves to come about, even if we cannot know yet what the final picture will look like. It also tells us what we might not have to worry about and where we can simply seek enjoyment. It would seem that, within the rules that come from the ultimate source, if they are followed properly (that which is universal together with that which is truest to the self of each individual), and within the limits of whatever control we really have over ourselves and our lives, we may do as we wish. It could also be argued that, if we are following all the rules and making the best use of the freedom we have, we do not need to be concerned with what will happen to us in the afterlife, whether we think we know what it will be like ahead of time or not. (Here it should be acknowledged that there are those who believe following all the rules includes being of a particular faith and turning away from all others.)
People of conscience will legitimately disagree at times, but we all do have our values. We just do not always consciously define them. But it could be said that, if you do not know what your values are, you do not know who you are. Even people who seem to be behaving erratically or inconsistently are usually acting in accordance with some kind of internally unified world view and set of values, whether they know it themselves or not. Knowing what your values really are can help you to make sense of yourself and your motives. Having a strong sense of morals will also aid you with something else: finding answers to your other questions. A strong moral stance can be an important part of what keeps you clear of unscrupulous people, faulty notions, and ill considered activities designed only for material or egotistical benefit. Good values and moral determination are precious qualities on the route to the self discipline and control required, to one degree or another, for study, contemplation, meditation, prayer, and other tools for exploring the questions of choice and spiritual nature. This is the firm base needed in order to assess the matter of purpose. It would seem, then, that morals and values can be a good place to start in one's spiritual journey, not just rules to derive or discover by beginning in one of the other areas.
When we study, we can each find our own personal balance between what we learn from our experiences and what we learn from the things others pass on to us in one way or another (through lectures, books, pictures, music, dance, martial arts, ceremonies, casual conversation, etc.) We can also find a balance between what knowledge we gain or transmit publicly and what is best kept private. Our discipline helps us look for and adhere to wisdom in both kinds of balance. Along with wisdom, our morals and values also help us to know when to be rigid in this discipline and when to be flexible, thus enhancing our ability to maintain good balance. Consider, for example, whether it is really an affront to look beyond a "great master" for a piece of your education or if it is really compassionate to set a famous "great teaching" before someone deeply engaged in the business of grieving. The master may often know best, but he probably did not get that far by ignoring real life experience; and the mourner may or may not be comforted by your words. If you need to step outside your door to learn, do not hide in your house behind your books and classes. And if your words to one who grieves are really about sensitivity and sympathy rather than getting a chance to sound all-knowing or taking pride in being the one to rescue someone from their pain, think about whether you and your friend might be best off if you kept a well known saying or bit of religious doctrine to yourself, at least for a while. This may or may not be, given the situation. In either case, in this balanced way, we build on our strong foundation.
Once we get our development off to a good start, we can turn to wonder about things like whether or not acting like we have free will tends to make our lives flow more as though we do. We can ask if choice versus destiny is a "chicken and egg" question, with our choices locking us into our circumstances and/or our circumstances dictating our choices. We can contemplate the meaning of the idea of there being a "grand plan". We can wrestle with how much we think nature and nurture genuinely affect the course of our lives. We can consider the theory that you could potentially predict the future with physics, if you were ever actually able to chart simultaneously the location, speed, and direction of each and every particle in the universe, not just take two of those measurements at a time and only for some of the particles we even know about at a time.
There is a lot to read concerning these more specialized subjects. But many of us will likely be influenced, at least somewhat, by what we believe about Ultimate Divine Spirit, the reason for the existence of the universe and the beings within it, and what awaits us after death. This is true even for those who believe it is not for us to know certain information during earthly life. The belief that some knowledge or understanding will always be hidden, at least from the conscious mind while in the mortal body, is as legitimate as any description or explanation concerning these matters.
At least some of the answers we find in the major three areas of questioning may be different in detail from one religion or other kind of spiritual path to another. There is also some commonality to be found. There is information both general and specific. And individuals must draw their own conclusions about which way is best for them. However public some may be about what they discover, the journey itself is a very personal matter. It happens deep down, in our most private selves, and only part of what happens there can be expressed verbally. However, the signs of making this journey can sometimes be outwardly seen, at least by those who pay attention. And the individual can feel the changes as a life lived more intentionally falls into place. It may not make hard times disappear, but it helps us avoid some pitfalls, deal with hardship better, learn more from both our successes and our mistakes, pick ourselves up again more smoothly and with greater determination after tough times, make the most of the advantages we come across, enjoy the good times more fully, handle our achievements with a greater degree of both self-respect and humility, and feel more at peace with our place in the universe. In other words, our spiritual development should not only give us hope for what lies ahead and acceptance of what lies behind, it should help us live better in the present. To accomplish this, it should be integrated into our everyday outlook and actions rather than being something we section off as though it were a separate life.
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