In Brief The meaning of life is love. The meaning of a particular life is a function of how the person has coped with love's disappointments. Love is a grace. Religion and spirituality derive from the contemplation of love in its purest form, beyond what is possible within this world. Love is quickened by proximity to death. Creativity is the expression of love and its struggles. Although I often express this philosophy in Buddhist language it is not the property of any religion exclusively. All religions are human attempts to connect with the grace of perfect love and to optimise the human response to it. Therapy, religion, enlightenment and spirituality are, or should be, different names for the same thing, liberation from self into a direct encounter with reality.
In More Detail My philosophy is that the best life is to live in grace and the most important thing we can do is try to remember it for the remembering of it itself effects a change, yet memory is also a mystery. What is it that prompts one to remember? When I remember Amida is that a sign that Amida has just reminded me? Who is actually calling to who? I am a Buddhist, I am Pureland, relying upon the unimpeded light of Amitabha Buddha. Light or grace or spirit - call it what you will, comes to us from the Unborn. I am, therefore, a religious Buddhist, not a secular one and to me the key element of Buddhism is to take refuge. This will be true whether one is a Buddhist or not, however. It is important to take refuge in a Buddha, or, to put the same thing differently, it is important that what you take refuge in is a Buddha. A Buddha is one who embodies unconditional love. If your god is a Buddha then you have essentially the same religion as I do, whatever you call it.
Grace can also be called love or the unconditional. We are all trying to love - all trying to live loving lives. However, because of the way this world is, our love is continually frustrated. We all experience many disappointments and we carry the hurt of these disapointments and defeats and this sometimes leads us to act in ways that are destructive. Love thus gets twisted. Even the most 'evil' acts are distantly related to a desire to love, but sometimes it is very distant. To maintain the courage to go on loving through all our disappointments is the central challenge in life. Religion is the awareness of a 'love that surpasses human understanding'. Mindfulness of that love - the love exemplified by Buddhas (irrespective of what religion they belong to) - is the substance of religious practice no matter what cultural trappings it is dressed up in. For religions to quarrel is thus absurd, but it is all too common and is just another example of how love gets twisted.
Grace is not something one earns or deserves nor is it from within oneself nor is it something that one has any control over. In ourselves we are not important. We are beneficiaries. Grace is freely given. So the other thing we can do is remember not to claim credit for it. To live a spiritual life is essentially to do things 'for the love of it'. On the one hand, this is to do things without attachment to a result or reward. On the other hand, everything we does in practice have a goal in view and that goal is closely or distantly related to what we love.
Grace provides the framework within which a meaningful life is lived. Love is the substance of it day to day. The frustration of that love is the 'dukkha' that either drives us into twisted harmful counter-productive activity or enlightens us and puts us onto a spiritual path, that is, a path that expresses our love more directly. Creativity (both practical and artistic) is directly related to love. Creative acts either celebrate or sustain the things we love or they enhance our love, either making things that might not have initially seemed so loveable, or carrying us through our disappointments and defeats in a more constructive way.
Religious practice commonly involves some kind of contemplation or meditation or prayer. These practices keep us focussed on pure love in one or other of its manifestations and this sustains and cultivates the love in our lives. The art of mediation or prayer, therefore, like other art, either celebrates grace or transforms adversity into grace. However, there are limits to what one can do by contrivance. 'Right effort' is effort that flows from inspiration rather than something that can create inspiration in the first place.
When I was a child I had many spiritual experiences which made a big impression upon me. In fact, I spent much of my early life trying to get more of those wonderful experiences - to re-enter that world where everything is radiant; but no matter how I tried, I could never make the real thing happen. It came when it wanted to not when I wanted it to. Such "openings" still come to me, always just as unpredictably as when I was young. No amount of spiritual training or education has made me master of them. They are grace.
I think that grace could be called eternal life - which is a more alive kind of life than mere animate existence. Grounding one's life in grace is thus an antidote to worry. In this respect there is a big difference between remembering grace and remaining alert. Grace protects us so that we do not then need to be always on guard. To remember grace is not the same as trying to sustain a particular state of alertness or a state of mind. It is not possible to sustain any state of mind indefinitely, but it is possible to have a sustaining faith in grace. We are recipients of grace even when we are asleep and we can have confidence in it without having to think about it all the time.
Through grace we are able to love others and truly enjoy this life and all other lives hereafter. Grace appears in the ephemeral world but it belongs to eternity. The person who lives by grace is rooted in eternity rather than ephemerality. This part does seem to be something that one can learn, at least to some extent. One can make a conscious shift from the position of attachment to ordinary things into the world of grace. However, this is only an option if one has a strong sense of the grace-world and this sense is associated with gratitude for eternal life.
Where grace is lacking, there is karma. Karma is the dead side of animate existence. Karma is mechanical, inexorable and deadly, whereas grace is alive, unpredictable and joyous. Grace lifts us above karma. Grace is the only thing that can rescue us. If we do not have the consolation of grace then we go on being dead.
Grace is the key to happiness. When bad things happen, if we have confidence in grace and eternal life, then we can remain grounded in that and not be overwhelmed by the soap-opera of life. This seems to be what religion is all about. There are many people who play around the edge of religion but when some upset comes along in their life they do not rely upon grace but turn back immediately. For such people worldly attachments are really what is more important, but it is a sad state because they are closed to the blessing that is at hand.
Grace is a circular blessing. The more grace enters one's life the happier one is and the more grateful one feels and the more grateful one feels the more easily grace seems to enter. I feel immensely lucky. The Buddhas have always smiled on me.
Spirituality is a matter of living in a simple way and having a practice that enables one to return again and again to the memory of times of grace and the consciousness of its all enfolding blessing so that confidence is always growing. So, in summary, the most important things to do are:
1. remember grace as the epitome of love.
2. don't claim the credit.
3. appreciate whatever comes and make the absolute most of it.
4. have complete faith in eternal life, even though you don't understand it.
5. whenever one meets with troublesome or adverse circumstances, remember to establish oneself in the realm of grace and unhook from the world of transient things - disappointments are part and parcel of life.
6. live fully with no 'no-go' areas - think, feel, imagine, create: sometimes we are joyful, sometimes sad, we rejoice and we grieve, life has many aspects like changing weather; cherish the times when grace breaks into your life but remember it has innumerable forms - do not just be looking for one 'perfect' one.
7. have a regular practice of remembering and celebrating grace.
9. count yourself as of no importance and return to childlike simplicity - know that there are many things one will never know or understand - we are all ordinary beings.
10. allow feelings to come and go yet know a deep contentment that fills your days.