Spiritual Wisdom for Secular Times

The search for meaning and faith.

What is Spirituality (2): Updating ancient wisdom

This spirit inhabits and forms us, moment by moment

Banyan Tree
A very ancient story from India tells of a loving father teaching wisdom to his eager, intelligent and respectful son. Asking the boy to fetch a fruit from a large tree, a banyan, he then instructed him to cut into the fruit and say what was inside it. "Very small seeds, Sir," replied the son. The father then asked him to break open one of the seeds. "What do you see there?" he said. "Nothing at all", was the son's slightly puzzled reply. "And yet, although you cannot see it", his father continued, "Within that seed lies the source of a magnificent and productive fruit tree... And I want to tell you the whole universe is something like that. A subtle, invisible yet powerful and creative essence, a spirit of sacredness, permeates it all."

Next, the father showed his son a bowl of water, and beside it a pile of salt. "Put the salt in the water tonight, and come and see me again tomorrow morning", he said.

The next day the father asked his young son to bring him the salt, but of course the boy could not find it in the water. He was told by his father to taste the water, sampling it from both sides of the bowl; but, wherever he tasted from, it was salty. "I cannot see the salt, Father", he said, "Only the water." "In the same way, my darling Son", replied his father, "You cannot see the Spirit; but I assure you truthfully, it is here. This subtle and invisible essence is the spirit of the whole. . . of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Truth. . . And you are part of it too."

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Banyan fruit opened up
Today, of course, a father would have to ask his son - or his equally inquisitive daughter - to look into the banyan seed with a microscope to see the individual plant cells there. He would then have to show high magnification photographs and illustrations to demonstrate nuclei within the cells and the chromosomes they contain. These, he would explain, are made up of molecules of DNA, the coding for the genetic material which gets passed on from one generation to the next, determining the characteristics of the offspring. He would explain that all living creatures, plants and animals have self-replicating nucleic acids in their cells, and that a mechanism exists for mixing chromosomes from different types of organism, male and female, to ensure variety.

Going further, the father is also obliged to show his children that long-chain molecules like DNA are made up of large numbers of individual atoms of different types, and that these contain smaller entities still, the protons, neutrons and electrons.

"What are these made of?" The child may ask. "Well, to tell you truthfully", the father might reply, "It is an unavoidable mystery. Smaller particles exist, but they are too small to be seen by even the most powerful microscope. Single atoms are about one ten-thousand-millionth of a centimetre in size. They cannot be visualised, and are only known by their effects in highly specialised experimental conditions. Some of the tiny particles have been given names like ‘quarks', ‘gluons' and bosons, but have no stability, and cannot exist independently. We cannot yet - and perhaps never will - explain fully in terms of fundamental physical material the miracles of existence and the miracle of life."

A nebula: like a banyan fruit, seeding stars
"None of this", the father might say, "Invalidates what I told you earlier about a pervasive and subtle essence or spirit inhabiting the universe. This essence is everywhere at once. It is in the tiniest sub-atomic particle and throughout the vastness of space.

"Outside time, the realm of spirit has no boundaries, no beginning and no end. Think of it, if you like, as a never-ending cycle. Although people have called it by many names, it has no true and proper name - for to give it a name would be to reduce it once more to the nature of things, and therefore of thinking. This would be to falsify it, to render it incomplete. Our minds are part of the seamless whole, but when we try reducing that whole to a single thought or a single word by giving it a name, we take the great risk of belittling it, and of misleading ourselves."

"In itself, dear child, this essence has no substance. It is void. It is no-thing. But it is not nothing. It is every thing, everything! And you can experience it. People can, even if only fleetingly, experience becoming one with the spirit of the universe, because you and I and all the people are already at one with it. Our task is to realise that: to make it real, to make it our reality. This sacred reality is our birthright."

The father continues, "This breath, this spirit inhabits and forms us, moment by moment. At the deepest level, it is us - and we are it. There is no need to be afraid of my words, my beloved. Nothing has changed since I started speaking, since you came to me with the banyan seed, or since we placed salt in the water bowl. What I am speaking of is our glory, not only the glory of humankind but also of all creation. If you do not know it is there, it will be hard for you to seek it out, to bring it forth in your life and in the lives of others. That is why I am telling you this."

Salt - from the sea of life
"You have to taste the water to discover the salt. When you have similarly experienced the spirit, you become free to develop a secure faith in human spirituality and the divine essence. From such faith comes courage, the courage to seek out this spirit each moment and live by its truth until the end of your days. That, dearest child, is my desire for you, my sacred wish for your happiness. Then you will have inner peace, joy and contentment... And your life will be a blessing for others."

This wisdom story has a timeless message. I wonder if you agree?

Peace and best wishes to all for the coming year! 

Larry.


Copyright Larry Culliford

Larry's books include ‘The Psychology of Spirituality', ‘Love, Healing & Happiness' and (as Patrick Whiteside) ‘The Little Book of Happiness' and ‘Happiness: The 30 Day Guide' (personally endorsed by HH The Dalai Lama).

 

Larry Culliford, M.B., B.Chir. (Cantab), M.R.C. Psych. (UK), is the author of the Psychology of Spirituality and a psychiatrist in Sussex, England.

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