What I mean by that is that often our desire to even be on a spiritual path in the first place is in essence a selfish desire. We want to end our suffering. We want to know happiness. We want our Enlightenment. We want to live in Bliss.
While these desires might, in a sense, be more noble than desires such as wanting a new car or wanting a bigger house, they are still in essence coming from selfishness.
Once on our path, we might engage in service. The Bible tells us to do charitable acts. The Koran tells us to give alms to the poor. The Gita tells us to do karma yoga, or “selfless action.” Every yogic, Buddhist, Judeo-Christian or Muslim path has some form of seva or service. So, you could say that in the beginning we might start out serving others as part of our goal of serving our own happiness, so again, from our own selfish desires.
Of course, this sounds bad, but I don’t think it is. I think that is how God set it up.
Early on my spiritual path, that is what I wanted. I was seeking Enlightenment. I had enough of all this suffering and separation crap and I wanted me some bliss. It was essentially selfish. I wanted to know God, I wanted to understand the universe, I wanted to be happy. Maybe somewhere mixed in there I had concerns about peace, unity, human rights and the environment, but mostly I just wanted God.
I remember this one retreat I was going on, I prayed “I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi” over and over again. Sammadhi is the experience of Union with the Divine, a state of transcendent bliss that I had read about in many books and I wanted it! I wrote my prayer on paper, over and over again. “I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi, I want sammadhi.” I filled the whole page.
At the time I thought I was being passionate about my spiritual path, that I was pouring my whole heart and soul into my desire for union with the Divine, but looking back at it, I must have looked like a three year old screaming for a toy. I still yearn for union with the Divine, but hopefully I have grown a bit in the last 15 years and deepened my relationship with God a little bit. At the time, sammadhi was something I wanted to experience for myself.
Yet, I can also see that the spiritual toddler that I was, screaming for my sammadhi, served a purpose. It was a part of my spiritual development that helped me grow into a meditative pre-schooler, and then into a contemplative elementary schooler and eventually a mystical high school student. I won’t presume to guess where I’m at in the whole process, but I at least hope I am continuing to learn.
I have this theory that every human quality has a Divine purpose or a good side. Every human quality that we can see as a weakness or a detriment, when turned towards God is actually a good thing. It’s just when these qualities are used to drive us away from God that they are “bad.” So – I would say that wanting to live in blissy happiness and cozy comfy rose-colored Oneness with God is the Divine purpose of selfishness.
And the beauty of the whole set up is that once we start to do our karma yoga or our charitable deeds, it doesn’t really matter if our internal motivation is for our own enlightenment. As we serve down at the soup kitchen or animal shelter or children’s home, even though in a sense we were “faking it” from our own spiritual selfishness of wanting to be a good person – the very act of faking it begins to make it real. God tricks us. In our selfish desire to make sure we get into heaven, we begin to have our heart opened in compassion and understanding. We open ourselves to witness the suffering and the inherent dignity and beauty of the people we are serving. We begin to feel empathy and experience the actual Oneness of Heaven that we are hoping to attain later. And we begin to actually spread the loving kindness of God to others and in doing so, we get to experience it ourselves.
God is pretty smart.
Pretty soon we aren’t even praying for sammadhi anymore, we’re not even selfishly in it for our own Enlightenment. Pretty soon we just want to experience the heart breakingly exquisite feeling of being God’s instrument. Pretty soon we just want to witness God’s Love touching other people. Is that still coming from selfishness? Is that still part of the selfish prayer to be One with the Love of God? Sure. Maybe. Who cares.
Ironically, it was when I stopped praying for enlightenment and started praying to be an instrument that I actually started experiencing prolonged periods of happiness. Could it be that Union with God and serving God is actually the same thing? Again, I don’t presume to know. But it seems that it is when we get out of the self, even in our desire for enlightenment, that we can be free of the self and actually start expanding towards enlightenment. Oddly, we need our desire for sammadhi to propel us forward on our path, but as long as we are stuck in the self that craves sammadhi, we can’t actually GET to sammadhi. It’s one of those ways that God is mischievous and tricky and very very funny.
There is this poem that I kept seeing on and off on my spiritual journey by Rabindranath Tagore – and now I get it: