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Sometimes you meet a young person who, although lacking life-experience, has a wisdom beyond their years. You can also meet older people, with much experience, whose development was arrested at an early stage. When you meet individuals like these you can’t help seeing what you see but, of course, always need to remember ‘judge not that ye be not judged.’ Maybe they jumped off the train for a moment and were stranded on an empty platform waiting for the next one to arrive.
The stages of human development have been closely analysed in recent times. We know that our phases of growth overlap but also have an inevitable sequence. Certain capacities, like language, social independence and emotional needs, seem to be laws of development written into the human person and follow a timeframe. Each of us develops in a unique way but we are all equal under the laws of nature. Yet there are exceptions. In some, the developmental process can get stuck and await a restart for decades. For others, well, they seem to cover decades in months. Mozart began composing at five. An eight-year-old chess player has defeated a world grandmaster.
More importantly, though, are the spiritual masters who have reached the highest level of development in this dimension. From their unique view of the panorama of reality they have given teachings that have formed lasting channels of transmission through history and many cultures. To encounter such teachers or benefit directly from their transmission through their followers is to enjoy a boost to one’s personal journey. It does not mean that the master’s experience becomes yours and they are cloned in you.  But in a sense, something like this happens through a close encounter with a person of high spiritual development. Scriptures insist on the value and need to be in the presence of such individuals.
For the influence to be transmitted there needs to be peace, a faith-connection, and freedom from doubt and envy. Then something of their knowledge enters your experience, expanding your capacity for the personal realisation you must still achieve in your own way. So, it is not that you will become a spiritual prodigy just through osmosis but the ‘grace of the guru’ will accompany you on your daily rounds, protecting and supporting you in times of discouragement and doubt and helping you turn a sense of failure into wisdom.
The gospel tells a story of a feast a man was preparing but the people he invited refused his invitation. Business meetings, new possessions that distracted them or having recently got married were among the excuses they gave. The man told his people to go out and bring in the poor, the handicapped and the blind. He said – and I missed this in many re-readings I have done of the story – ‘I want my house to be full.’
I read this as an example of the humility of God which we see in the altruism of spiritual masters through history. A child once said God made people because he wanted them to enjoy the beautiful things he had made. He didn’t want to be alone A law of development is that the full empty themselves in order for the empty to be full.
Let all those who seek their own fulfilment,
Love and honour the illumined sage (Mundaka Upanishad)
The word ‘upanishad’ means literally ‘sitting next to your teacher’ – just as you do at a meal.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2024
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