Unlike all other living creatures humans are endowed with the seed of a potentially very precious, happy, and meaningful life. This is a rare, unusual, and fortunate opportunity. It is rare because human life is an infrequent occurrence. In a clod of earth we can find more living beings than the total number of humans on earth. It is an unusual and fortunate opportunity that results from the special qualities and capacities unique to human life.
What are these unusual and fortunate qualities and capacities? Amongst all living beings we alone possess a sharp intellect, superior capacity for language, creative imagination, an expansive compassion and love, and most importantly, the ability to know and unite with the very nature of our being. Because of these capacities we, unlike all other living beings, are able to gain freedom from suffering and flourish and prosper in our own lives and in relationship to others. In this way human life is unique occurrence.
In ordinary life, this extraordinary potential remains unseen and unknown. We cannot develop it, because we are constantly distracted by our busy mind. We follow our mental chatter wherever it leads us, filling our time with meaningless activities, consuming attachments, and needless distractions. Yet, with the proper circumstances – a sound mind and body, personal freedom, a strong motivation, and proper teachers and approaches – we can overcome these self-imposed limitations and place ourselves on the path toward a special and precious life.
Since a profound and sustained health, happiness, and wholeness is the unique potential of human life, their attainment becomes the unique purpose of human existence. We move toward the possibility of a fully realized life as soon as we turn mind and heart in the proper direction. What could be more meaningful than to live the full potential that is coded into our nature? What can be of greater value? What can bring us greater joy?
In the East there is a story told of a fisherman who goes down to the sea each morning before dawn. One morning he finds a leather pouch. Still dark and thinking the pouch was filled with small pebbles, he amused himself by tossing one pebble after another into the sea. As dawn appeared there was only one pebble remaining. He looked at it and was stunned to see that it was actually a diamond. He had thrown all his diamonds into the sea except this one. Like the fisherman we are also unable to see the great gifts of our life. Unaware, we toss them away, satisfying our self with an “ordinary” life rather than the extraordinary one given to us as humans.
There is another story told of a poor framer who struggles each day to make a basic living. Unknown to him, under the floor of his dirt hut is a buried treasure left by a King long ago. Unaware of this hidden treasure he could not enjoy the wealth that was always “under his feet.” As a result, he lived in great poverty. However, one day a clairvoyant, a wise man, visited the farmer and told him about the great wealth lying underneath his hut. All you have to do, said the wise man, is dig for it. It is much the same with our self. We live with the great treasures of peace, happiness, and wholeness right in front of us, but we cannot see it. Yet, all we have to do is to develop our mind and our heart, and there it is!
Butter lies unseen within milk. To transform milk into butter we need to churn it. We need to work what is there. To transform the seed and possibility of a precious life into a life of exceptional health, happiness, and wholeness also requires effort. This effort is a self-education, an education focusing on mind and heart. This inner development will reveal our hidden human treasure by removing the mental obstacles that obscure a larger life. An inner education is not about acquiring information about the outer world, or developing the tools of a vocation. It is an education about our inner life. It is a process of looking within, removing the veils of mental chatter and afflictive thoughts and emotions, expanding understanding, gaining new capacities and skills, and developing our full potential. Many before you have accomplished this. So can you.
Modern education has been oriented towards accomplishment in the outer world. In this we have been very successful. But outer accomplishment is not a guarantee of health and happiness, and in actuality it might get in the way of achieving these goals. In order to complement our outer expertise we must now focus on inner development. We need a holistic education that educates all aspects of our humanity. Only a holistic education of body, mind, and spirit can guarantee that we do not come to the end of life empty-handed, having missed the great treasures of human life.
Most of us are given tastes of what such a life would feel like. Perhaps it is in a moment of communion with nature, an experience at the peak of athletic performance, a touch of the blessings of love, the direct experience of dance, music or the arts, or an opening of the heart through service to others. During these “peek – peak” experiences you will likely experience an inner spaciousness and ease, intense aliveness and connectedness, wholeness and delight – a seamless flow and presence in life. These seem like “magical” moments. But in actuality they are the qualities of our innate nature that we have long ago forsaken. Imagine what it would be like if you could stretch these moments out so that they could become your life rather than mere transitory glimpses of what is truly possible. That is the life we are seeking.
The Education of Mind and Heart
There are three aspects to this education: study, reflection, and contemplative practice. They each support the other. First, we gain an intellectual understanding through reading and attending seminars. Next, we gain a further understanding of what we learned, through mental reflection. Finally, through formal contemplative practice we directly experience all of the qualities of an unconditioned mind and unconditional heart. In this manner we progressively, with great patience, transform the seed of a precious and special human life into reality. That is the aim of this self-education –a flourishing of body, mind, and spirit.
It is important to emphasize the interplay and interdependence of personal development and service to others. We do not live as isolated beings. We are part of a larger community. Although we cannot fully serve others and heal the problems of humanity until we have committed ourselves to personal development, we cannot fully develop our own life without a concern for how we can benefit others less fortunate then ourselves. Personal development, compassionate care, and service go together. They are as inseparable as a flame and its heat. Our individual problems are a microcosm of the larger problems of humanity.
Until we can move beyond personal anger humanity will not move beyond war. Until we can move beyond greed humanity cannot move beyond poverty and famine. Until we can move beyond self-centeredness and self-cherishing we cannot experience the suffering of others, as if it was our own. Until we recognize that healing our self and healing the world is a seamlessly interwoven experience we will neither heal our self nor the great challenges facing humanity.
Gandhi said to us “be the change you want to see happen in the world.” Through inner development and the expansion of consciousness, we become the change we wish to see happen in the world. is this concern for others that transforms our journey from an ordinary one into a noble one.