What is a spiritual attitude? Here is a beautiful story of Buddha and his disciple Subhuti
Subhuti was one of the chief disciples of Buddha and he had been long wanting to propagate the teachings of his master. One morning, during Buddha’s sojourn in Jetavana, just outside his abode Gandhakutir, he prostrated before Buddha and sought his permission to spread his message far and wide.
“Get up, Subhuti,” Buddha said. “It’s not easy being a teacher. Even if you are speaking beautiful words, there will be plenty who will criticize and condemn you.”
“With your blessings and grace, O Shasta, I’m sure it won’t affect me. Do I have Tathagat’s permission?”
Buddha remained silent for a few minutes and made no further remarks. Subhuti sat there with his head bowed. Meanwhile, other monks approached Buddha with urgent tasks relating to Jetavana and other viharas, retreat centers, and monasteries that were mushrooming in all parts of India. Three hours later, Buddha had his meal and went inside his cottage for his daily rest.
A few more hours passed and when Buddha emerged again for the evening discourse, Subhuti was still outside with his head bowed.
“Subhuti,” Buddha said, “you are still here. I thought you got your answer from my silence.”
“I’m not wise enough to know the meaning of Tathagat’s silence, Lord. No one is.”
Buddha smiled and assumed his lotus posture.
“What if you go to a village to teach, Subhuthi, and people choose not to listen to you? What will you do?”
“I’ll not mind, Lord, for I’ll remind myself that at least they are not calling me names or accusing me.”
“What if they do that?”
“I’ll still smile, O Tathagat, for, I’ll remind myself that this is a small price to pay for spreading your message. That, they may be doing much worse by abusing me physically.”
“And what if they do that and hurl stones at you?”
“I’ll still be okay with Tathagat’s grace. I’ll remind myself that at least they have not pinned me down and stabbed me?”
“What if they do that?”
“I’ll take heart thinking that they have not killed me.”
“And what if, Subhuti,” Buddha asked in his usual detachment, “they do kill you.”
“I’ll be most happy, Tathagat,” Subhuti replied raising his head for the first time. Beholding the beautiful form of Buddha, with tearful eyes, he continued, “Other than dying by Tathagat’s feet, I cannot think of a better nirvana than dying spreading Tathagat’s message.”
“Subhuti,” Buddha said rising from his seat and embracing him, “you are fit to be a teacher. Morning was merely your test of patience. You have the spiritual attitude required to take on a great cause.”
In this wisdom of a lifetime, nothing else perhaps could spell any clearer the three core virtues that define a person’s spiritual attitude. Patience, selflessness, and determination. In Subhuti’s character I also see a sense of gratitude and surrender. We can’t develop an unconditional spiritual attitude without cultivating patience and selflessness.
Non-fulfillment of desires and expectations is often at the root of human suffering. Why don’t people value me? Why doesn’t my partner love me? Why isn’t the world waiting for me? Why isn’t my work appreciated? And so on.
If I start giving a sermon on how expectations are bad, that won’t work because you already know all that. We are so compelled and controlled by our emotions and desires that when in the throes of them, our viewpoint seems so right and legit, no logic works at that time. That, however, can’t be the excuse for not evolving spiritually.
Developing a spiritual attitude in life
And that leads me to the crux of the matter today: a spiritual attitude. Unless we foster a spiritual outlook towards our own life and others’, we can’t really hope to rise above our petty thoughts and emotions. We place too much emphasis on self-comfort, on why I’m being treated or not treated a certain way. How about why shouldn’t I be more selfless? Why shouldn’t I be more giving? Rather than being in the crowd opposing Subhuti, why couldn’t I be Subhuti, instead?
A spiritual attitude basically means that we don’t always put ourselves at the center of our decisions and actions. Maybe we don’t always have to look for what’s-in-it-for-me. Why must every generous action of ours be reciprocated? After all, if it’s truly selfless then let it be just that — selfless.
Have you noticed how sometimes we give a gift to someone and we want to know exactly what that person did with that gift? And we may even feel hurt if we find out that he or she didn’t use it and passed it on to someone else. That means, we never actually parted with our gift, to begin with. Where’s the act of giving in that?
If you wish to take on a cause to help others, some cause that makes your existence more useful, which in turn will make your life more fulfilling, developing a spiritual attitude towards life and our world is a must. Which essentially means that just because the other person is hurting me, or people disagree with me and don’t reciprocate etc. are not good enough reasons for me to abandon patience, selflessness, and compassion. And sometimes, the only way of transcending your small personal issues is by devoting your energy to bigger ones.
To worry or be careworn is our mula pravriti, inherent tendency. We may as well then worry about greater and altruistic causes than be bogged down by our own piddly issues.
Mulla Nasrudin was taking a stroll with his friend when suddenly out of nowhere clouds began gathering in the sky. Before they knew it, it was raining in buckets.
“Mulla!” his friend shouted, “open your umbrella! Thank God we have one!”
“This umbrella is no good,” Mulla strained to speak under the onslaught of heavy rain. “It is full of holes.”
“Why on earth are you carrying it around then?”
“How would I know it was going to rain!”
Why spiritual attitude?
Like Mulla we carry around our baggage, our me-first umbrella, thinking it would help us, insulate us, but it’s full of holes. It can’t protect us or those around us. Not from sunshine nor rain. No doubt, you have to take care of yourself, enjoy yourself, and so on, but to go through an entire lifetime doing just that is plain ignorance. It’s certainly not spiritual and it definitely won’t be fulfilling.
If it’s fulfillment you seek, look past yourself. Even past all methods of meditation, yoga, and so on. Methods don’t necessarily lead to fulfillment. While they may help us become more mindful of our words, actions, and speech, at the end of the day, it is our attitude that fuels our fulfillment. The pages of history are replete with selfless saints across all religions who never did this kriya or that, they didn’t sit down and practice yoga or meditation as per the yogic scriptures, were they any less enlightened? I don’t think so. What they did possess was a gentle and compassionate world-view.
The more spiritual your perspective, the grander your life becomes. Forgiveness, selflessness, patience, compassion, and gratitude naturally flow unrestrained like Himalayan waterfalls in monsoons.
Be patient. Give before you take, give a lot more than you wish to take. Nature will reciprocate. It never fails.