By Rev. Leland Stewart
What is common to all sacred moments is surrender
of the condition to possibilities beyond estimation and comprehension.
Glenda Green, Science and Spirituality, page 182
Spirituality is the relationship between the individual and the ultimate dimension of life, called by any name or no name. You might say that it is the vertical dimension. Ethics, on the other hand, has to do with the relation of the individual and other individuals and other forms of life. By contrast, it could be seen as the horizontal dimension. Life lived in its wholeness should contain both of these dimensions.
The Dalai Lama has said that the essence of his life is kindness. Kindness, mercy, love, respect: all of these aspects of the religious life are in the area of ethics. They have to do with our relation to other individuals and other forms of life. They are an important part of the religious life, but they are different from what is called spirituality. Many people are not quite sure what spirituality consists of, and some people see themselves as atheists or agnostics. Atheists do not believe there is a God, and agnostics are not sure whether there is or not.
However, whether or not one believes in God, everyone needs to have an ethic to live by. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a minister, a scholar, and the head of a hospital in Africa, wrote a book on civilization and ethics. It is clear that ethics applies to everyone, whereas some people do not relate to spirituality. This is not to say that people do not need a spiritual dimension to their lives, but rather that we need to become aware of our spirituality and be willing to affirm its existence.
There are those individuals who spend much of their time in meditation, and in the process they either become aware of their spirituality or focus on developing it. Such individuals may or may not include ethics in their meditation and may not cultivate their relation with other people. So it is possible to focus largely on the ethical aspect of life, or to dwell more on the spiritual. But to become a whole person, life needs to include both ethics and spirituality. To say that ethics are an essential ingredient of civilization is not to say that spirituality should be left out. Rather, the religious life must go deeper than ethics and include a search for meaning.
All of life is sacred. It is how we treat life that makes the difference as to whether we discover its sacredness. If we know that life is sacred, we will treat other people and other forms of life with respect and caring. We will avoid violence and war. We will take care of property and seek to keep our life healthy and in order. We will develop a spiritual practice that meets our needs, whether that means going to a religious center regularly or not. We will aim to live a life of service to others and to the world. This is our challenge. Inner and outer peace will be strengthened by our doing our part.
May peace prevail on earth!