Do you know The Gayatri? It is part of the Sanskrit scripture, the Rigveda, and is thought by many scholars to be the oldest known prayer in the world. There are many translations of it, but here is one of the better known:
O Thou Who givest sustenance to
From Whom all things proceed,
To Whom all things return,
Unveil to us the face of the true
Hidden by a disc of golden Light
That we may know the Truth
And do our whole duty
As we journey to Thy sacred feet.
At the heart of this beautiful hymn is the spiritual realisation that there is a soul that uses the Sun as its body, just as our souls incarnate through our bodies. From the moment that I first heard The Gayatri, I was stunned by this insight, which I could feel to be true in every fibre of my body, that the Sun is not just the source of all our light and heat, but is also a vast being of consciousness.
Sometimes in my classes we do an exercise that builds on this realisation. We go outside into landscape or a park and stand in an atmosphere of calm and mindfulness. We each of us then turn our attention to a particular tree and sense its roots, trunk and foliage. Then, from the tops of our heads down to our feet, we open up our energy bodies so that we can truly feel and sense the presence and essence of the tree. Calm and open, we come into rapport with the spirit of the tree.
We then do the same exercise with the Sun. Calm and quiet, we open fully to its spirit. And then we turn our attention to something tiny, a blade of grass, and again open ourselves to its spirit.
Tree, Sun, blade of grass – all of these have their own spirit. One of the most important teachings of shamanic and pagan traditions is the respect and appreciation given to the spirits of the natural world – from that of a grain of sand to a stellar constellation. St Francis of Assisi is a good Christian example of this too, befriending all nature’s creatures and conversing with Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
Saluting the soul
In spiritual development, it is considered to be a major step forward in the growth of our consciousness and compassion when we recognise and respect the inner soul in all life. In many traditions we are asked, when we meet each other, to salute each others’ souls. In Hinduism it is traditional to greet someone by placing your hands prayerfully in the centre of your chest and then bowing, saying ‘Namaste’ or ‘Namaskara’. I greet your soul. In mystic Christianity, there is also this tradition of bowing to your companions and meeting the ‘Christ within’.
This practice of greeting someone’s soul can have practical benefits. If, for example, you are encountering someone whose behaviour or attitude you find challenging – perhaps your children, partner, parents, colleagues, neighbours – then to meet their souls may completely transform your attitude. In the language of A Course in Miracles  you will have participated in a miracle simply by changing the way that you perceive them. You no longer perceive them as an irritating challenge who winds you up – but you meet and greet them as souls and manifestations of the cosmic Christ and Buddha consciousness.
But this can also give rise to a problem. This approach might be used to justify a value judgment, assessing the soul as good and beautiful, but valuing the manifest form and personality as being unworthy and less than valuable. ‘I love your soul, but I don’t love the rest of you.’
This kind of judgmental attitude is human and understandable, especially inside conflict and challenge, but it misses the great spiritual lesson of unconditional love. Jesus loves everyone regardless of their state. The Buddha’s compassion has no limits. The Great Spirit of Mother Earth embraces and nurtures all of us.
I live in a house that contains dogs, cats, teenagers and untidy creative people (me) and sometimes I choose to meet friends in cafes rather than have them come to my home, because I would want to put in two hours tidying up before I felt okay about them visiting. But I like to believe if that if Jesus or Buddha or Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela dropped by, they would not give a toss about the untidiness and would just love me and my home unconditionally. Indeed when spiritual teachers like Eileen Caddy or Ram Dass have visited, they were just completely relaxed and loving.
A process of grace and beauty
Great saints and good people love both the soul and the form, the essence and the vehicle, without getting caught up in judgments about appearance. In this issue of Cygnus the featured book is The Warmth of the Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting . It was also BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week earlier last month and I like it so much that I bought six copies of it for friends and relatives. It touches my heart precisely because it describes, in warm and inspiring prose, how to address the process of getting old with a grace that honours both internal and external beauty. The title incidentally comes from a song that the 100-year-old inhabitants of Okinawa Island in Japan sing together as they work in their communal gardens, working with heart and body.
This then is surely the important insight for all of us whatever our age, that we put into practice these two things at the same time. We greet the heart of all living beings – trees, people, blades of grass. And simultaneously we unconditionally love their forms too. Great saints and wonderful people display this generosity of spirit, modelling in a small way the virtually infinite blessing of The Gayatri’s ‘true Spiritual Sun hidden by a disc of golden Light’.
All my love, William