Young Monk

Spiritual Leadership – Part 4 – Spiritual Mastery

“Masters today, were Starters Yesterday, so begin now.”

~ Bernard Kelvin Clive

Press play to hear an audio enhancement as you read.


Spiritual masters used to live in caves in remote locations. Today, you just might find one when you look in the mirror.

Many people would agree that the Dalai Lama embodies what it means to be an authentic spiritual leader. Two qualities emerge when we analyze what it is about him that generates respect in people around the world: forgiveness and humor.

The Dalai Lama forgives the Chinese for what they have done – and continue to do – to the people of Tibet and to him personally. He is also fierce in his honest commentary about injustice, but he exudes forgiveness. At the same time, he has an infectious sense of humor and is often shown smiling and laughing. Those who have met him confirm that he is a fundamentally happy human being.

If we are inspired by his example, what changes might that trigger in our lives? How might we attain some measure of the spiritual mastery that he demonstrates? We could start by considering the two qualities we just identified and ask ourselves several important questions.

First, what about forgiveness? It can be an excellent healing exercise to create a list of people you feel have wronged you in the past. Write out their names on a piece of paper, without wasting time rehearsing (again!) the epic stories of their misdeeds. Just write down their names and then survey your list. Read each name and say, “I forgive you.”

Young Monk with Buddha Statue

What does that accomplish? Not much, usually, because it’s a superficial gesture. Words like this can be largely meaningless; what gives them value is the meaning you deliberately invest in them. So, try it again, this time reading their names and saying, “I forgive myself.”

Now, that may not accomplish anything more significant in terms of real change but it does point in the right direction. The reality of forgiveness is to confront our own judgment and release it. We aren’t condoning someone else’s behavior by doing that, we are simply shifting from hate to love.

All of us get wounded in our interactions and very few adults can honestly recall a childhood without trauma, sometimes inflicted by their own parents. How long will we carry those stories? How long will we maintain a victim identity? How long will we wish for some kind of healing resolution?

Near the end of his life, the sage Krishnamurti gave his followers the secret to his own enlightened state: “Whatever happens, I don’t mind.” Presumably his attitude encompassed past events as well as present ones. Imagine looking back on your own history and feeling free of judgment, regret, anger, and the desire for revenge. That sounds like freedom to me!

Young Monk

If we were unburdened that way, it would open up a vast expanse of space within us, room for others to feel welcomed, just as they are, because releasing judgment of others in the past simultaneously frees us from the tendency to judge others now. Why? Because we recognize, either consciously or unconsciously, that we have no interest in creating new traumatic stories to re-burden ourselves. Once free, who would voluntarily seek enslavement again?

Spiritual mastery is gained, not through inner practice alone, although that is essential. We then take our practice into the world by, literally, practicing. And every moment gives us another opportunity, not just to deal with what’s occurring in caring ways but to release more personal baggage of our own. Why? Connections. Everything happening now is connecting to something that happened before. Nothing exists in solitary isolation. That means that the content of each moment is part of a holistic reality extending across time. When we accept what’s happening now, without judgment, we are also forgiving what happened in other connected moments across the spectrum of our lifetime, without needing to make those connections conscious.

What’s more, we are connecting with the same stream in others. The unburdened presence of a spiritual master works miracles this way, often without words being spoken. The possibilities for transformation and service are unlimited and we can happily spend the rest of our lives exploring the possibilities. Remember, happiness is the second quality we identified in a true spiritual master. Fortunately, as we understand how spiritual mastery works across time, we realize that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!


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