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Walking a spiritual path - why and how?

Why all that trouble?

Let's be honest, as long as we're doing well and our lives are running smoothly, we generally don't have much interest in the meaning of life, religion, spiritual training, or the development of positive energy in our minds. As long as everything is going well, we tend to feel in control. After all, things are going well, so what should we worry about?

Modern society tends to think short term. It's about being happy here and now, and little attention is paid to how our behavior can have disastrous consequences in the long run. We probably all know people who are addicted to all kinds of things; alcohol, drugs, shopping or whatever, because this makes their problems disappear for a while. In the complicated world we live in, it is often difficult to see what genuine wisdom and happiness is. The consumer society promises constant happiness, but real contentment and happiness cannot be bought.

We usually don't worry too much about our own transience. The fact that we all die is a taboo subject but avoiding the subject doesn't lessen the problem. For example, when you are confronted by a broken relationship or a serious illness, it quickly becomes clear how important a positive state of mind is. Just then, a spiritual path can be of great value. The realization that our current human life gives us freedoms and possibilities to make something of our lives, to make a difference not only for ourselves, but others as well. Only when we develop such a longer-term vision does our spiritual path take shape. It is never too late or too early to begin.

How Do I Choose a Spiritual Path?

The Buddha once came to the city of Kalama, and the people asked him:
"So many spiritual teachers come here, and many of them gave us excellent teachings, but they contradict each other. What should we do with that, how should we choose?" The Buddha then gave the so-called Kalama discourse (found in the Kalama Sutra), suggesting ten factors to consider when listening to spiritual teachings.

In summary, the Buddha said:

“Do not believe in spiritual teachings just because:

  1. It is often said
  2. It's in a holy book
  3. It has been passed from teacher to student
  4. Everyone around you believes it
  5. It possesses paranormal qualities
  6. It matches what I already believe
  7. It sounds logical
  8. It is taught by a respected teacher
  9. The teacher said it's true
  10. You have to defend it or fight for it

Trust or believe only if it fits your own experience, and if it's good for yourself and others. Then you should accept the lessons, and live by them."

The Buddha thus recommends critically examining both the teacher and what they teach when considering a spiritual path (including his own teachings), and not just blindly adopting them. But once you have chosen a path, follow the advice as best as possible to achieve your goal.

See next: How do I get started with Buddhism?