Finding the Essence of Spiritual Simplicity | The BridgeMaker

Finding the Essence of Spiritual Simplicity

By on Nov 28, 2011

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness. – Dalai Lama

Simplicity is a buzzword these days.

There are books and magazines devoted to it. Alex has written some excellent articles on his blog about simplicity. In our over cluttered, over consuming, over scheduled, over teched (I made that word up), over stressed, super-sized culture, we crave simplicity the way a parched nomad in the desert craves a sip of pure cool water.

Lately, I’ve been craving it in my faith life.

Seeking simple faith

I have friends of many faiths, and I respect them all, both the friends and their faiths. In the last year, I have happily accepted invitations to visit several of their places of worship, and in each instance, I was touched by something beautiful. Yet, somewhere there was a subtle or not so subtle message – be one of us, not one of them. You must believe what we believe, or else.

If there really is only one “right” faith, then how to choose? It’s like standing in the cereal aisle of the world religions mega store. My spiritual synapses begin to sizzle and short out.

Does it really have to be this complicated?

Is it possible that in naming our different faiths, we have created the “ten thousand things” that all originate in the nameless eternal Way?

The way of no way

The legendary Bruce Lee revolutionized martial arts with a tradition-shattering approach that he described as the way of no way.

Instead of the set moves and rigid techniques of a particular martial arts style, his idea was to use any and all forms of combat as appropriate, to simply be present and alert, in order to respond unfettered by any required structure.

“No way as way.”

His martial arts concept reflected his personal philosophy:

You can’t organize truth. That’s like trying to put a pound of water in wrapping paper and trying to shape it.

Is it possible that all our faiths are like trying to shape truth in wrapping paper? We can put water in a cup, and it becomes the shape of the cup.

We can put water in a pot, and it becomes the shape of the pot.

But it is still water.

We can add seasonings to it. We can pollute it. We can make it different colors. But we cannot change the nature of water. Bruce Lee said, “Be water, my friend.”

Does that mean we should just abandon all our faiths? I don’t think so.

An invitation to look beyond

We live a human experience, in our bodies, in our families, in our cultures. We need words to communicate. Communication with words will always be imperfect, limited not only by our vocabulary, but by the individual lens through which we each view our world.

As the Bible says, we see through a glass darkly. We have the choice to see this imperfection as creating barriers, or we can see this imperfection as an invitation to look beyond the differences and transcend the barriers.

For myself, my spiritual life is enriched and deepened by embracing truth as I find it, wherever I find it. My faith community is Christian, and I have worshiped in Thai temples.

I am an ordained Stephen Minister, and I am training as a Shambhala warrior. I follow Jesus, and the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. I have offered incense at a Hindu shrine in Kathmandu, and in West Africa, I smiled as my young son bowed to Allah alongside the Muslim guard he loved.

I pray to God, Kuan Yin, Mary (when I need to talk mom to mom), the creek by my cabin (which sometimes talks back), and occasionally my dog Sam who died years ago. When my mother died, I prayed Jewish prayers of mourning. I believe that my prayers all go to the same destination no matter how they are addressed.

Years ago, I heard a lecture by a Buddhist teacher. He talked about how we label our experience and how we might make it more simple. For example, he said, think about seeing a flower.

“Ah,” we might say, “a beautiful red rose.”

“Ah, a beautiful flower.”

“Ah, beautiful.”


And then he simply smiled.

As much as I enjoy the richness and beauty of all the ten thousand facets of faith, in essence perhaps faith is as simple as that … a smile. A smile is an invitation to connect, and what is the value of faith unless it connects us to the eternal Way?

A Course in Miracles teaches that we are only as connected to God as we are to each other. When we use faith to separate ourselves into us and them, we are separating ourselves from the very thing we yearn for, that spiritual sip of pure cool water.

So what is it that will bring us all together to drink from the bubbling spring at the beginning of heaven and earth?

In answer to an interviewer’s question about the nature of his faith, the Dalai Lama said, “My religion is kindness.”

That, it seems to me, is the essence of spiritual simplicity.

Galen Pearl is the author of 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There), a blog devoted to helping us develop habits to grow a joyful spirit. In addition to writing, she leads workshops and discussion groups focused on increasing the joy in our lives. Connect with Galen Pearl here.

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  • Hi Galen,

    Great stuff and I totally agree. I believe in a sense of oneness and connectedness in our world and with all things. From this is helps me conceptualize God as a source of life that is not trapped by labels and iconography. Whatever our view may be, stepping outside of ourselves is crucial for a full spiritual experience in my opinion.

  • Kindness is indeed something we all need, like mercy, like love. Truth is another. However, I believe that though there are many pieces to form the truth, there is but one truth, one true picture that is formed. If we say there are many truths, maybe we don’t really believe in them as truths anymore but as illusions. I respect other people’s right to have their own faith, but unpopular as it may be, I stand up for Jesus whom I believe is the Truth for it is in Him where I’ve found true kindness and mercy, in being able to die to save sinners like me.

  • Lovely Galen, infused with deeper connection and togetherness. We are a human race with a spiritual essence and when we can learn to honour our spirit as much as we covert human trappings, then life will be more joyous than competitive. Spirit blends, not disconnects.