The religious traditions of humankind have stressed that spiritual understanding is not
In A Path with Heart, the contemporary Buddhist teacher and therapist, Jack Kornfield, describes a technique he uses with people who come to him for counseling. He asks them to imagine themselves in one of the major difficulties of their lives—perhaps a situation at work or a family situation. He then directs them to picture this situation as clearly as possible, imagining what each participant would say and how they would act, how the individual feels in these circumstances, what their emotions are, and so on.
Then they are asked to imagine that there is a knock at the door and one of the great spiritual teachers of the past—Jesus, the Buddha, a goddess—is there offering to help them. This spiritual being takes on the individual’s appearance and enters into the same situation. The individual then observes how this spiritual teacher would react in those circumstances, how he or she would resolve the problem.
The interesting thing about this exercise is that just about anyone can do it, even people who have no religious faith or belief, people who do not consider themselves spiritual. And that raises the issue of where the wisdom shown by the imagined spiritual guide comes from. It comes from within the individual; it is wisdom the individual already has. All that was required was a technique to tease it out.
This is a secret which many spiritual traditions seek to reveal—that all the wisdom and insight we need is already within us. All we need is a vehicle to call it forth.
The stories I will be posting on this blog are that type of vehicle. They are gathered from a variety of sources—Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, classical Greek, Christian, Islamic, Amerindian, contemporary. Each is capable of sparking that insight which is at the heart of spirituality.
Albert Low, in his Foreword to my Zen Masters of China, wrote that we do not read stories such as these for information “but to awaken a higher part of the mind, a part that in most of us is asleep.” The Catholic writer and spiritual director, Anthony de Mello, was fond of story-telling; I first encountered several of these stories in his books. He stressed that this type of story should be taken in small doses in order to acquire the maximum benefit. One a day is sufficient; if more than two or three are read at a time, they become mere entertainment.