There are three words that seem to create more problems than they solve: vowsdevotion, andrenunciation. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the words themselves; it’s just that the connotations that have been built up around them have made them nearly useless in describing the spiritual principles they represent.

Vows have been inextricably linked with one’s commitment to an organized religion or church. Ostensibly, vows are taken to God, but everyone knows that it’s the organization that judges whether they are being kept. This turns vows into a set of rules one must follow or suffer punishment when one breaks them. In a world already overburdened by rules, it is no wonder that vows are looked upon with suspicion, even by the most spiritually oriented people.

In reality, vows are principles that spiritual aspirants hold in deep contemplation until they become amalgamated with their souls. Their public administration creates a line of demarcation in the span of a person’s life, marking a point of departure from the world mind. Vows then become an inner beacon—a light to guide the spiritual traveller through the darkest nights. Seen this way, vows are indispensable.

The word “devotion” describes the recognition of the immediacy and sanctity of the presence of God. Many an earnest student of spirituality has succumbed to the temptation of turning God into a theory—an intellectual puzzle to be solved rather than a Living Being to be experienced. But the word itself has come to mean a cloistered lifestyle, habits and rosaries, statues and early morning mass. And, as implied by these examples, devotion has become almost exclusively Catholic.

In reality, unless one has acquired devotion and has integrated it into his or her spiritual life, God can only be a theory and the Path an intellectual exercise. Even meditation, as mental a thing as that is, will not yield results unless it is approached with a certain degree of devotion. After all, is it your own mind that you love or the ineffable Silence from which it springs?

And finally the Big One--renunciation--perhaps the most loaded word of all. Again, everyone knows that this means no chocolate, no booze, no sex, and no anything that gives one pleasure. Because pleasure is THE problem, is it not? As the saying goes: “It wasn’t the apple on the tree, it was the pear (pair) on the ground.” And thus the word “renunciation” has the built-in implication that pleasure is wrong. But pleasure is not wrong…that is, not until it is. If we live for pleasure alone, then all of our seeking is for something out there.

Renunciation is a turning away from the world. In a sense, it is the very meaning of meditation. We have five senses by which we experience earthly life: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. In meditation, we take each of these and turn them off, just as we would a light switch. What are we if we are not these things? Who do we become if we are not our body? What world do we go to that does not depend upon these five things for its existence? It is the world to which renunciation (and meditation) is the key.

So, here we have three words—three words that simultaneously hide and reveal the spiritual path. There are many more. 

 


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