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The Components of Spiritual Intelligence




Excerpted from
Awakening The Buddhist Heart: Integrating Love, Meaning, and Connection into Every Part of Your Life
By Lama Surya Das

What is spiritual intelligence? And how do we get it? How can we each find a higher or deeper transcendent spiritual vision and perspective? Some vegetarians say that it is spiritual to be vegetarian; people who are kosher believe that it's spiritually necessary to be kosher. In Judaism, following the Torah is spiritually intelligent. The word "Islam" means surrender or submission to Clods will; in Islam, surrendering to God's will is spiritual intelligence. That's not so different from Taoism where spiritual intelligence is equated with learning to be one with the flow of things, the Tao. Some people might say we become more spiritually intelligent by meditating and sitting around trying not to think. However, Tibetan lamas say that when we practice that type of mind-wiping meditation we run the risk of being reborn as cows-dumbly chewing their cud over and over again.

But all of this seems very generalized and is missing a certain specificity. From where I sit, spiritual intelligence has three separate components. They are:

I. A Sense of the Bigger Picture

Have you ever tried to look at the world with a Gods eye view-an overarching or divine point of view? Think about this for a minute. Even if you don't believe in God-and most Buddhists don't-imagine what an omniscient being would see. Some say that Buddha, who was perfectly enlightened, was omniscient. What do you think he perceived as he lived an enlightened life? Remember that the Buddha himself said he was able to remember at least five hundred previous lifetimes. From his unique vantage point, it would be almost impossible to become overly invested in petty day-to-day problems. I think the Buddha, who often referred to his students and followers as children, had seen so many things come and go that he was able to keep everything in perspective.

I spend a lot of time flying around the country on teaching tours, and I love looking out of the plane window while passing over places like the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes, the Midwestern farmlands and plains, great rivers like the Mississippi, and large man-made cities too. When you fly over the Grand Canyon, the pilot often points it out, and everyone looks out the window. I like peering down over rows of neatly laid out houses on streets that from a distance look like accessories for a miniature model train layout. From thousands of feet up in the air, even New York City appears to be a gleaming anthill. I love being high above the clouds where the sun is always shining. This reminds me of deep spiritual memories, of a sacred timeless time and spacious space. The feeling is one of been there, known that.

From the perspective of being high lip in a plane, we get a small sense of the bigger picture, the long view, the eagle's vision. Most spiritual traditions make a special place for elders, those members of the community whose age and experience makes it easier for them to offer a larger, wiser perspective on life. As we mature spiritually and become elder-like in our attitude toward life, it becomes easier to get beyond our own petty prejudices and short-term thinking and move further away from selfishness and self-interest toward stewardship and guardianship.

When we take the long view, we are better able to be spiritually intelligent in our relationships. Margot, for example, is very upset that her son, Josh, failed a geometry test. She's worried about Josh getting into a good college, and because of this she's been coming down pretty hard on him. When she is able to step back and take a God's eye view, she can see that it's just a small test, and not the major calamity that she fears. Life will go on . . . and on. Still, it is hard to remember that sometimes.

My friend Patti says that when her son was three and a half years old, he had a table with four little chairs, and he used to lug one of the chairs with him everywhere, climbing on it and turning it upside down. He was really rough on those chairs. First one broke, then another, and finally a third. Patti got angry at the little boy. "Can't you be more careful?" she said in an angry tone of voice. Her son started crying. "Mommy," he said, his little lip trembling, 'Tin your only son, and you're making me feel bad because of a chair." Patti said that even though her son is still a little kid, he exhibited a wisdom that was, at that moment, superior to her own.

If we're going to relate to others successfully, we need a firm sense of perspective and a clear idea about what's important in the long run. That means that often we have to let go of our rigid ideas and fixed positions on a wide variety of things. We need to focus on those values and virtues that we know are important in the long run and let go of some of the issues and concerns that are fundamentally superficial or even comic. Sometimes when we look at life with a long view, all we can do is laugh at our foibles. Doesn't it sometimes seem as though we are all Moe, Larry, and Curly, continuously tailing all over ourselves in our clumsy silliness?

Buddhism teaches that we are usually feeling something - pleasure, displeasure, or indifference. But these feelings change, all the time. We have good years, and we have bad years; good hair days and bad hair days. We can be elated one week, sad the next. We can be calm one moment, excited the next. Nothing stays the same. The long view helps us let go of our attachment to feelings that aren't giving us real satisfaction.

2. The ability to distinguish the real from the unreal

It is taught that when the Buddha achieved perfect enlightenment, the veil of illusion was lifted from in front of his eyes. He was able to see truth: he was able to perceive reality. Illusion and delusion are part of the human condition. In a world that is filled with deceit, manipulation, and exploitation, not to mention spin doctors, it's easy to get cynical about truth. It's easy to become confused about what we're really hearing, seeing, experiencing, or feeling: it's too easy to believe what we're told, even when, in our heart of hearts, we know it's not true.

The Buddha saw and experienced life with perfect clarity of vision. Keep in mind that when the Buddha began his path, he was a human being, like you and me. When the Buddha became enlightened, he still retained all his humanity, but he had transcended his human limitations and attachment to mere appearances. He realized freedom and deathless bliss, "nirvana."

The Buddha became enlightened through his own efforts. If he were living today, indeed if he were one of our neighbors, we might look at him and say, "Wow, that guy really keeps working on himself." The Buddha's hard work paid off; through his efforts, he was able to realize absolute truth-ultimate reality. In Buddhism, the true nature of the world is called "sunyata," or emptiness/openness.

Most of us, of course, have to be content with relative truth or relative reality. Because we believe in the possibility of enlightenment, however, we continue to strive toward the deepest truth. The path to ultimate reality takes hard work. If we value truth and reality, we do this work by chipping away at the falsehoods, both large and subtle, in our own lives. If we continue to look at any object or situation and use our minds to peel away the layers of projections, concepts, and reactivity, we get closer and closer to reality and absolute truth-things just as they are, in all their naked, unalloyed splendor. That's part of becoming more and more enlightened. We can become a little more illumined every day that we walk the path.

Take a book off a shelf and look at it. At first glance it looks like paper and print, but get beyond mere surface appearances, and think about the ink and the trees that created the paper. If you were to try to get that book down to its most basic form, you would have to consider atomic and molecular structure. And what about the words in the book you're examining? Do they reflect truth? Does the book convey different levels of meaning? Many of us have had the experience of reading and rereading a book, finding new and deeper truths each time.

The search for truth is the seekers search. We keep analyzing, reflecting on, and unwrapping the experiences we encounter in an attempt to find fundamental truth. Every day we can bring the search for truth to our dealings with friends, family, and coworkers. All we need to do is make truth a value, a touchstone. All things flow from that commitment.



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