By David Marsh.
Sometimes people will say, "I really want to be more spiritual."
It is a question worth asking.
Different spiritual paths have different purposes although, at the highest point, they all merge into one. Some people believe that being "more spiritual" will allow them to go to heaven. Others believe that being spiritual will ensure a better incarnation for the next life, or perhaps eliminate the need to reincarnate altogether.
For some, ego satisfaction plays a part in the desire to be more spiritual. Perhaps one wishes to be perceived as a "spiritual person," and believes that the respect and admiration of others will accompany this perception. Clearly, this is not a good reason to pursue spirituality, since resentment will occur when such hoped-for benefits do not appear.
If one is going to pursue a spiritual path, one must have a correct purpose for doing so.
Purpose - correct purpose - is of crucial importance to any worthwhile undertaking, which is why Right Purpose is part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Without a clear purpose, there is no real motivation. Without real motivation, nothing constructive will be accomplished.
Guatama Buddha himself was quite clear in terms of the correct purpose for following the spiritual path he taught, and captured the essence of this in the Four Noble Truths. He taught that the purpose of following his spiritual path was to stop the attachment and clinging generated by the ego-mind. This would, in turn, put an end to the unhappiness and frustration caused by such attachment and clinging. Once this unhappiness and frustration is done away with, we are free to be happy. Not happy in a brief, ephemeral way, but truly happy, truly at peace, truly calm, and truly confident.
This is not so much different from wanting to go to heaven, for if you reached such a state, would you not feel that you were, indeed, in heaven?
But being happy in this way is still not the complete reason for pursuing a spiritual path. What good would it do to be happy when everyone about you is suffering? What kind of spiritual path would allow us to focus only on our needs, and not those of others?
Therefore, Buddhism also teaches a concept called Bodhichitta, which is a term for Great Compassion. Specifically, Bodhichitta encompasses the desire (aspiring Bodhichitta) and effort (engaging Bodhichitta) to reach enlightenment in order to free all living beings - not just ourselves - from suffering.
Right now, in our unenlightened state, we are capable of doing some things to help others. But our capabilities are limited because we are not enlightened. Our ability to see what is needed is clouded. Our concentration is poor. We're not always capable of even helping ourselves effectively!
Furthermore, when we are not enlightened, our commitment to help others can be tainted by egotistical desire - maybe we want to help the poor so that we can win an award saying how wonderful we are! Maybe we want to demonstrate that we are somehow morally superior to others. Maybe we want to help others in the hope that those helped will feel that they "owe us." Maybe we want to help others so that those helped can be converted to our religion, or our way of life. All of these ego-driven motivations are impure. With such "hidden agendas," our ability to help is severely handicapped.
The list of limitations to helping others in an unenlightened state is endless.
In an enlightened state, we are much more powerful. We clearly see what needs to be done, and how to do it. We act without ego-desire, out of pure compassion for others. We provide exactly the help needed, and move on.
Thus, the purpose of our spiritual path should be to achieve enlightenment in order to free all living beings from suffering.
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