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January 03, 2009

Sustainability of the Self

The Dalai Lama

Human beings are of such a nature that they should have not only material facilities but spiritual sustenance as well. Without spiritual sustenance, it is difficult to get and maintain peace of mind.

 -- Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

Good Morning,

Brian Glanz and Mohini Glanz

Definition, history, and context: these are the keys to unlocking wisdom. The most profound and touching words are vague but implicit. It is not enough to hear or read them. They can say many things and require interpretation. Because they intrigue and beg questions, wise words become an experience and mean something to you.

The Dalai Lama speaks and writes wisely -- pointing you on your way, causing you to wonder. For sustenance and peace of mind, or what I call the "sustainability of the self," he asserts that we need spirituality.

Many define spirituality as religion, but some religious people lack peace of mind, and some nonreligious people have peace of mind, granted that measuring happiness or the like is relative and largely indefinite. Rather than conclude the Dalai Lama is wrong about our need for spiritual sustenance, with a broader perspective on the meaning of his words there is wisdom to help any person -- of any faith or no faith at all.

Simply put, his message calls us to search. What he has called "spiritual" can be religious, but may not be. His only requirement for spiritual sustenance is that it should not be material; his only sure statement is that for our peace of mind, being and possessing what is material is not enough. The Dalai Lama does not tell us what else we must get, or have, or be, but by leaving this open to interpretation he suggests that at least, we must seek something more.

Definition, history, context ... Princeton defines "spiritual" as "apparitional: resembling or characteristic of a phantom; 'a ghostly face at the window'." This may seem different than what the Dalai Lama meant, but I read "spiritual" in that context as a positive word for the unknown. Spirituality would be our mindful investigation of what we naturally fear. Science would be the greatest example of productive, universal, human spirituality; it is a definition I, for one, like a lot.

The publicly editable Wiktionary entry, affiliated with a Wikipedia article, defines spirituality as "Concern for that which is unseen and intangible, as opposed to physical or mundane." That isn't a ghost in a window, but it does, also point toward the unknown. Some say religion and its description of the supernatural are our ancient, pre-scientific way of doing most of what modern science and technology now do -- explain the seemingly inexplicable and solve what was once intractable, like feeding the hungry and healing the sick. What science and technology seem to be missing is an invitation, a bridge to social and personal meaning, wise words, or if you will -- spirituality.

CompassionRise is my search and you are welcome to it, I would rather it be our search. The wisdom shared or at least sought here, daily, is necessarily informed by my experience and I intend for it to influence my experience, too. You can carry wisdom like a lens, recall it like a rule of thumb, or walk with it like a friend, to find your way.

Tony Wilkinson of Cambridge and London put spirituality for the nonreligious in a context on which anyone should be able to agree: happiness. In his book "The Lost Art of Being Happy, Spirituality for Sceptics" Wilkinson offers a practical approach leading to the same, personal destination the Dalai Lama points: "peace of mind."

As this is a daily I must end it with many thoughts outstanding on spirituality. The Dalai Lama will not be my only guide though he is a model for the sort of help I seek. He is a dear friend to humanity who has bridged gaps between religions, between religion and science, and between cultures as old as history. Others in that mold may include Carl Sagan, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Hu Shih or 胡適. As this is personal, too I am no less awed and formed by my wife, my parents and family, my friends, my Catholic school mentors and godless, Cornell University professors. If as I suppose, the spiritual is the unknown and spirituality is our want of knowing, then there is entirely too much to say about it at once, except: by one definition, this is both the means and the end.