What I've Learned from the Spiritual Masters

08/18/2011 12:45 pm ET | Updated Oct 18, 2011

I've been thinking lately about the things I've learned from the likes of Jesus, the Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle and others. So, in the next three posts, I'll share a few of the lessons I've learned from these persons and their writings, as well as the impact they've had on my own spiritual evolution. Their words have added richness to my spiritual journey. I hope my words do something of the same for you. There are 10 lessons in all, two of which are here.

1. I know who I am.

For most of my adult life, I'm pretty certain I did not. For example, my identity was entangled with a variety of ego-identifications: my ministerial "calling"; the size of the church I served -- the bigger, the better, of course, as size added an illusory significance to the ego, the "little me," as Eckhart Tolle calls it; the titles I earned; the successes I achieved; the clothes I wore; and so forth. I even made the mistake of thinking I was my body, as well as the voice(s) in the head.

But none of these things are really who you are. You are not your body, for example, as a recent news report served as a good reminder. It was the story of Charla Nash

The question occurred to me, "Is Nash still Nash even though she no longer looks like Nash?" Of course! Why? Because Nash is not her body. She is not her thoughts either. And neither are we.

I came to this awareness soon after a series of life-altering events which I describe in my book -- events like the sudden and unexpected death of my father and, a few months later, the breakup of a 20-year marriage. I became increasingly disillusioned, even depressed. Much of what I had been taught to believe no longer seemed to work. Even the stuff I had been saying I believed, I quietly questioned but could no longer accept or pretend to believe.

I was left with no alternative but to leave the ministry and everything I had ever known. However, I left empty-handed, in terms of all the previous points of self-reference. I can remember many nights staring at the ceiling and wondering, "Who the hell am I?" The best answer I could come up with was, "I have no clue." Yet (and this is the blessed but inexplicable part of it all), the emerging awareness that I was clueless as to who I was, instead of incarcerating me in some kind of dark cell of despair, opened for me as a door into greater freedom and inner peace. I later learned, when you no longer know who you are, you are likely getting closer to who you really are.

2. I know why I'm here.

I suspect one of the biggest disservices our culture has perpetrated on people -- and by "our culture" I refer to virtually every religious culture -- is to teach people that they showed up for some grand purpose. That you, and only you, can fulfill that purpose. Furthermore, your immediate purpose in life is to figure out what that grand purpose is and then, of course, do it.

There's only one problem with this religious indoctrination: It isn't so. Which is why most people go through life frustrated and wondering what they're here to do. I am not suggesting, however, that each of us has no special gifts and a career or calling to match. But the supreme purpose for your existence has nothing to do with your calling or your career.

So what is life's purpose? A grand enterprise shared by all humanity, it is the achievement of God-consciousness or Divine awareness. "Achieve" may not be the right word, as it implies effort. The real truth is, to borrow the words of one of the characters in Deepak Chopra's, novel "Why Is God Laughing?": "God is not difficult to find; God is impossible to avoid." In other words, we show up to know God. You may not feel as if you do but that's because you've either forgotten you do or, like many, you've been religiously indoctrinated to believe you don't.

I suspect this may be the church's greatest error in the last two centuries. Virtually every Christian tradition I know talks about the grace of God but, when it comes to actual practice, these same traditions saddle souls with stuff they must "do" to know God -- stuff that's as onerous as the proverbial Sears catalogue. By a horrendous act of religious reductionism, grace has been made into laws that, if strictly followed, will make it possible for one to know the divine. It seldom does, however, which explains why scores of people have left organized religion only to seek another spiritual path.

Now, I'm fully aware that many readers have had their fill of the God-talk. So, if you are more comfortable calling life's purpose the process of becoming self-aware, so be it. Or maybe you're more comfortable with what my favorite French writer, and self-proclaimed atheist, Andre Comte-Sponville calls "the oceanic feeling," or "spontaneous mysticism." In his beautifully written "The Little Book of Atheistic Spirituality," Comte-Sponville coined a word -- entasy -- to describe his own spiritual transformation.

My point is simply this: the purpose of human existence is to experience the inexplicable. I call that inexplicableness God. You call it whatever you wish. Or call it nothing at all. But when you've experienced what Christians call "salvation," what easterners call "enlightenment" or what New Agers call an "awakening," then for you, the arguing about religion, spirituality or even the existence of God is just interesting debate. Furthermore, the longing for meaning, joy and happiness -- what everyone desires but few seem to find -- well, that ends, too. You are already what religious cultures tend to teach you must attain through obedience or effort.

You can spend your life seeking to "do" something so as to create within yourself the illusory sense of self-importance. Or you can relax in the awareness you are everything already. The former will give you satisfaction, but I assure you it will be short-lived. The latter will give you satisfaction, too. And it is enduring.

Until the next post, peace.