Although I often express this philosophy of love in Buddhist language it is not the property of any religion exclusively. I’ve seen it in Hindus, Buddhists, Janists, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians… alike. It is there in the Kabbalah and its there in Quaker meetings. It is there in the great movement of the dervish and in the stillness of quiet contemplation. All these traditions are human attempts to connect with the ideal of perfect love and to optimise the human response to it. Therapy, religion, enlightenment and spirituality are, or should be, different names for the same thing, liberation from self into a direct encounter with reality.
I am a Buddhist, relying upon the unimpeded light of Amitabha Buddha. Light or love or spirit – call it what you will, comes to us from the Unborn. I am, therefore, a Buddhist, because to me the key element of Buddhism is to take refuge. For me it is important to take refuge in a Buddha, or, to put the same thing differently, it is important that what I take refuge in is a Buddha. A Buddha is one who embodies unconditional love. Other traditions know this by other names but its essential to understand that we have the same or significantly overlapping faith, in love.
Before committing to Buddhism, I travelled to the north of Scotland on a mission to visit the Findhorn Foundation. Whilst I was there I met EiIeen Caddy, the founder of the community, who said to me “the meaning of life is love”. At first I thought it was yet another well trodden mantra for the new age movement, but she said it with such belief in her eyes, her voice, her heart that I could only smile. Eileen just radiated love.
Eileen later explained that she believed that spirituality derives from the contemplation of love in its purest form, unconditional love, beyond what is possible within this world. She also explained that love is quickened by proximity to death, I later learned that she was battling with cancer, but her community applied their spiritual awareness and healing hands to her health for many years on.
We are all trying to love – all trying to live loving lives. However, because of the way this world is, our love is continually frustrated. We can all experience disappointments and we carry the hurt of these disappointments and defeats and this sometimes leads us to act in ways that are destructive. Love thus gets twisted.
Eileen believed that the most ‘evil’ acts are distantly related to a desire to love, but sometimes it is very distant. I struggled with this message but now I realise Eileen was right and how vital it is to maintain the courage to go on loving through all our disappointments is the central challenge in life.
Eileen taught me that spirituality must be based on the awareness of a ‘love that surpasses human understanding’. Mindfulness of that love is the substance of spiritual practice no matter what cultural trappings it is dressed up in. For traditions to quarrel, as they have done for over two thousand years is thus absurd, but it is all too common and is just another example of how love gets twisted.
Love is not something one earns or deserves nor is it something that one has any control over. We are beneficiaries. Love is freely given. To live a spiritual life is essentially to do things ‘for the love of it’. No other motivation is required.
On the one hand, this means to do things without attachment to a result or reward. On the other hand, everything we does in practice have a goal in view and that goal is closely or distantly related to what we love. Love provides the framework within which a meaningful life is lived. Love is the substance of it day to day. The frustration of that love is the ‘dukkha’ that either drives us into twisted harmful counter-productive activity or enlightens us and puts us onto a spiritual path, that is, a path that expresses our love more directly.
Creativity (both practical and artistic) is directly related to love, is the expression of love and its struggles. Creative acts either celebrate or sustain the things we love or they enhance our love, either making things that might not have initially seemed so loveable, or carrying us through our disappointments and defeats in a more constructive way.
So most spiritual practice commonly involves some kind of contemplation or meditation or prayer. These practices keep us focussed on pure love in one or other of its manifestations and this sustains and cultivates the love in our lives. The art of mediation or prayer, therefore, like other art, either celebrates love or transforms adversity into love. However, there are limits to what one can do by contrivance.
The Buddhist precept ‘Right effort’ is a where effort flows from inspiration rather than something that can create inspiration in the first place. Love could be called eternal life – and much has been written in all traditions to describe love as a more alive kind of life than mere animate existence.
Grounding one’s life in love is thus an antidote to worry. Love protects us so that we do not then need to be always on guard, or in a state worry or to act defensively. ‘To love’ is not the same as trying to sustain a particular emotion or a state of mind. It is not possible to sustain any state of mind indefinitely, but it is possible to have a sustaining faith in love. We are recipients of love even when we are asleep and we can have confidence in it without having to think about it all the time.
Eileen taught me that through this understanding we are able to love others and truly enjoy this life and all other lives hereafter. Love appears in the ephemeral world but it belongs to eternity. The person who lives by love is rooted in eternity rather than ephemerality. This part does seem to be something that one can learn, at least to some extent. One can make a conscious shift from the position of attachment to ordinary things into the world of love.
However, this is only an option if one has a strong sense of the love and this sense is associated with gratitude for eternal life. I think it was Krishnamurti who said that where love is lacking, there is karma. Karma is the dead side of animate existence. Karma is mechanical, inexorable and deadly, whereas love is alive, unpredictable and joyous.
If Krishnamurti is right then love lifts us above karma. Love is the only thing that can rescue us. If we do not have the consolation of love then we go on being dead. When bad things happen, if we have confidence in love and eternal life, then we can remain grounded in that and not be overwhelmed by the soap-opera of life.
This seems to me to be what spirituality is all about. There are many people who play around the edge of spirituality but when some upset comes along in their life they do not rely upon love but turn back immediately. For such people worldly attachments are really what is more important, but it is a sad state because they are closed to the blessing that is at hand.
Love is a circular blessing. The more love enters one’s life the happier one is and the more grateful one feels and the more grateful one feels the more easily love seems to enter. And so it goes… spirituality is a matter of living in a simple way, nothing special, and having a practice that enables one to return again and again to love and the consciousness of its all enfolding blessing so that confidence is always growing.