Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Bridging The Spiritual and Mundane

--by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Jul 08, 2013)

As I now look at our situation, I distinguish three major domains in which human life participates. One I call the transcendent domain, which is the sphere of aspiration for classical contemplative spirituality. The second is the social domain, which includes our interpersonal relations as well as our political, social, and economic institutions. And the third is the natural domain, which includes our physical bodies, other sentient beings, and the natural environment.

From my present perspective, a spirituality that privileges the transcendent and devalues the social and natural domains, or sees them at best as stepping stones to realization, is inadequate to our current needs. Such an orientation has led to a sharp division of duties that puts our future at risk. On the one hand, the pursuits of contemplative spirituality fall to the “spiritual virtuosos,” the
contemplatives, mystics, and yogis, who aspire to transcend the world and express their compassion simply by guiding others to the heights they themselves have reached. On the other, the steering wheel of humanity’s future is placed solely in the hands of politicians, development experts, technocrats, and corporate magnates, who are usually driven by personal ambition, misplaced pragmatism, and the tunnel vision of technical expertise. This division also opens the doors of influence over our communal institutions to religious dogmatists and fundamentalists.

As I see it, our collective future requires that we fashion an integral type of spirituality that can bridge the three domains of human life. This would entail embarking on a new trajectory. The spiritual quest, from ancient times to the present, has primarily moved along an ascending track: one that leads from darkness to light, from the conditioned to the unconditioned, from mortality to the deathless. Our task today, in my understanding, is to complement the ascending spiritual movement with a descending movement, a gesture of love and grace flowing down from the heights of realization into the valleys of our ordinary lives.

While neither can be neglected, the storms of crisis gathering on our future horizon oblige us to give special attention to the descending movement. Under the impetus of love, we must bring the light and wisdom gained from the transcendent domain back into the world in order to transform and redeem the social and natural domains. More concretely, this entails that in the social domain we must strive for modes of governance embodying justice, equity, and compassion. Social and economic policies must be rooted in the conviction that all human beings are entitled to live in peace, with sufficient access to food, water, medical care, and housing, and opportunities to fulfill their potentials. In the natural domain we must learn to look at the universe with wonder, awe, and reverence, treat other living beings with care and kindness, and ensure that nature preserves its self-regenerating capacities.

In short, the challenge facing us is to ensure that the world works for everyone, including nature itself. We have no better guidance in meeting this challenge than our spiritual traditions, but we must draw out from them their potentials for transforming our relationship to other people and the natural environment. The task ahead will by no means be an easy one, for we can expect staunch resistance from those who profit by preserving and extending the status quo. With the right combination of skills, however, I believe we will be able to prevail.

In my view, what we must do to achieve our goal is to bring together the wisdom of humanity’s spiritual heritage with the prophetic passion of the social activist. It is only when the two are united—when wisdom and love inspire and drive social conscience, and when social conscience draws its guidelines from timeless sources of truth—that we can shape our institutions and policies in the ways necessary to continue the human adventure on this fragile but beautiful planet.

--Bhikkhu Bodhi in Bridging the Spiritual and Mundane

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On Jul 5, 2013 Conrad P. Pritscher wrote:

 Excellent writing. The author is a bit paradoxical in that I sense he thinks he has the truth and is wise. I agree that he has the truth and is wise but I also think the tea party types think they have the truth and are wise. The practical test to check that we are actually seeing an integrated view is in doing rather than only in saying. As France's of Assisi said: "Preach the gospel always. Use words if necessary."  This author is stating the gospel as I understand it. I have been involved in anti-racist activities for quite a few years even though I am a white person. My parents were born in Germany and during World War II, I had relatives in the German army  And the American army. The Germans killing 6 million Jews partly motivated me to be rather anti-racist. I have been involved in teaching cultural diversity and ant-racist activities and I am now writing a book about anti-racism.   The work I am doing is not work in the sense that I am following what I think is natural for me based on how I understand the world.  The spiritual and the mundane are united when I do that.How I understand the world is very similar to how the author understands the world except I don't like the idea  that I am wise and others need my wisdom. Again the paradox  for me is every day I say:  "May I be wise and use the wisdom for the benefit of everyone."
 My feeding the poor is worth much more than any writing I may do about racism or anything else. Thanks for the opportunity to respond. Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Jul 7, 2013 david doane wrote:

 My reaction is "Yes, but."  I guess I'm being what's called devil's advocate.  All three domains, the transcendent, the social, and the natural, are important, and I think it's extremely difficult for one person to do all three, and especially to do all three well.  I think a person can combine efforts in the social and natural domains without great difficulty.  I think it's particularly difficult to combine the transcendent domain with either or both of the other two domains.  The transcendent domain is a different reality/orientation/focus than the focus of the social activist and the nature advocate.  My concern is that trying to combine them and do it all will result in mediocrity in all three.  Analogously, it is very difficult for one person to be both mother and father, both nurturer and disciplinarian, both therapist and cop, particularly when issues are difficult and stakes are high.  That's why there are separate roles and responsibilities, and it's very difficult to combine them.  Walt Whitman said something like 'If you are the hammer pound, if you are the anvil bear.'  My concern is that in becoming more socially and naturally active, transcendence will be compromised and diminished.  I think it is important for the transcendent one to share his awareness such that those focused on social and nature activism are influenced by his or her transcendence -- I think it's too much for the transcendent one to also be the social and natural activist.  I think it is important for the social and nature activists to continuously keep contact with and be inspired and guided by the transcendent one.  Also, I don't think of the transcendent one as "just thinking about it."  I think of the transcendent one as being in a high level of consciousness.  My little bit of growth in the transcendent domain has resulted in my being more socially and cosmically aware and has positively affected my social and environmental behavior, and I am pleased about that, but I'm no social or nature activist.  I don't know if my increased commitment to social and nature activity would diminish my little transcendence -- I wonder.  To those who can do it all, I admire you. 

On Jul 9, 2013 james wrote:

 I think it unwise (characteristic of ego) to assume anyone "needs" whatever I regard as "my wisdom."  There is a vast difference between practicing love and being or becoming a loving person.  I think that wisdom. like love. lies in unity rather than separation, acceptance rather than judgment.  I can only believe others need my wisdom if I separate myself and judge them to be less wise than me, which is IMHO  very unwise.  If I am wise, I will act out of that wisdom without judgment because it is who I am, rather than what I do.  If others judge me as wise, and value that wisdom, that is their perception and their choice, having nothing to do with me as a person.  My personal goal is to lose all motivation to practice wisdom or love; rather, being inseparable from them.  I think this can be done in all three domains: natural, social and transcendent. My own beliefs are embodied in this prayer: "God, I offer myself to You, to build with me and to do with me as You will.  Relieve me of the bondage of self,  that I may better do Your will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.  May I do your will always."  Being mindful that the God of my understanding is all encompassing and is within, rather than outside, of me.

On Jul 9, 2013 tony criscuolo wrote:

When reflecting on the infighting that is part of most every social and environmental action group it seems clear that an ability to step outside ones egocentric view of issues is crucial. Interest groups seem to have a relatively easy time when it comes to defining their goals for the welfare of society; the problems arise in deciding the course of action. 
How can a person step outside their ego driven perspective without a spiritual awakening? Only the recognition at a deep level that everyone and everything is eternally connected brings such an inclusive point of view.
In the ancient times in India, as outlined in Vedic texts, there was a ruling class that was accountable to the renounced spiritual leaders. Unfortunately the spiritual leaders of today have been usurped by the technocrats and their own personal failures. Unless we find a way to return to the spiritually based values, ethics and morals that set the standard in ancient and simpler times it does not look good for the long term health of modern societies.
In this regard the fundamentalist edges of religions have an important point to make, although their methods lack insight for enlisting broad support and cause even more division.
In our zeal for freedom we have permitted abominable behavior which leads to a loss of respect for our institutions. The result is an artificial separation and an inability for people of good conscience to make a difference.

On Jul 9, 2013 colleen510 wrote:

I question whether  Bhikku Bodhi means that we should all become hammer, anvil and the material being shaped by them.  Perhaps he might say that if we feel drawn to the role of hammer, we could strive to be a spiritually-influenced hammer.  I think his vision may be one where our experiences of transcendence, whatever they may be, influence our daily lives as water feeds an estuary.   If people only opened themselves even a bit more to that influence, the world might possibly experience a surprising transformation. 

On Jul 9, 2013 Sandra wrote:

 Thank you for your words.  The older I am the simpler my thoughts and projections have become.  I once thought "I know what I know" and lectured, gave seminars, weekend retreats and thought "how spiritual I am". Now I know nothing.  I have lost my words.  I question 'my intent and  my purpose" when  pursuing 'good works' or attempting to create change or most of all when interacting in my relationships. I have discovered being in a personal emotional relationship as a partner or spouse, being a parent, a householder with all it's daily minutiae is the most challenging 'spiritual' journey.   Being clear on my intent and my purpose  seems to affect the long term goal.  Remembering Teillard de Chardin's words: "We are all Spiritual Beings here having a Human Experience"  colours my actions and reactions and this appears to create positive change all around me.

On Jul 9, 2013 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 The three levels  of integrated way of thinking  and living presented in this inspiring writing is very close to me, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I am practicing this way of living, growing and developing as a member of my extended family and the community I serve. My experience is creating and sustaining light of hope in the midst of growing darkness. We need to join hands lovingly and empathetically with others at all levels and in different contexts of our lives. I feel passionately about living and working this way and I feel and see the beginning of the coming together of the  three interconnected levels stated in this thought provoking writing. It is good to have such wise people in our lives. 

With gratitude,

Jagdish P Dave

On Jul 9, 2013 Bea wrote:

This is a very thoughtful writing.  A perfect world would be one of total peace, harmony and freedom - good would triumph over evil.  Trouble is that everyone's perception of good and evil is different.  It's all in how each one of us sees it.  There is no reality, only perception.  The only way that I can achieve total peace, harmony and freedom is to stay in a constant state of surrender and forgiveness.  However, I am only human and, therefore, not perfect.  there is no such thing as a "perfect world".  All I can do is STRIVE for HUMILITY,  "perpetual quietness of heart".  All of this is just my perception, my own truth, which in my opinion, is what spirituality is all about - my own personal truth.  I cannot change the world or even one other person, but I can affect a change in another person, if they are willing, by changing myself.

On Jul 10, 2013 S. Paula wrote:

Thanks for this very timely  article which is thoughtful, and thought provoking; it  is right on target.. 

On Jul 10, 2013 Ganoba wrote:

 Bridging implies the acceptance of duality as reality. This itself is erroneous. There is no divide. Creation is one whole.
Wisdom based on duality creates problems which have no intrinsic solution.
Let is awaken from this nightmare of duality.

On Jul 10, 2013 Stacy A Rich wrote:

 Working on writing and networking with regard to both of these and the reality that we sometimes get "stuck" with tradition beliefs, core beliefs that are taught generation after generation. Bridging the gap between what we may have been taught, or are teaching our children and the opportunities we possess as human beings to explore our very personal Spiritual evolutions. It's a very exciting and as you've expressed, a critically important responsibility for all of us to insure the Love and Awareness are not exploitive or some sort of elitist idea. This misses the mark entirely, in my opinion. And those who are currently "in the business" of such exploitive realms continue to await the truths they claim to posses.  Love is inclusive by nature and does not survive unexpressed.  Stacy A. Rich

On Jul 11, 2013 Dilip Shah wrote:

 During the session last night, a 7 year old girl made some aat there was room on the ther comments that I think were extraordinary for her age.My hats off to her parents for starting her on this path at such a tender age.    Secondly, I was sitting on the floor in the hallway instead of.on sofa as usual, because I had to leave early. . Many people came over to me and told me that there was room on the sofa. They were obviously concerned about my comfort. Caring about each other is the hallmark of the Wed Circle sessions.    

On Jul 12, 2013 Dilip Shah wrote:

During the session last night, a 7 year old girl made some comments that I think were extraordinary for her age.My hats off to her parents for starting her on this path at such a tender age.    Secondly, I was sitting on the floor in the hallway instead of.on sofa as usual, because I had to leave early. . Many people came over to me and told me that there was room on the sofa. They were obviously concerned about my comfort. Caring about each other is the hallmark of the Wed Circle sessions.       Something went wrong during transmission yesterday. Here is how my comments should read. Sorry.

On Jul 15, 2013 amy wrote:

 Amen, Stacy!  You are right on!  Some people are denied love.  God sees.