The Moment that Defined Spirituality
Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies, Columbia University; author of The Jewel Tree of Tibet (Free Press)
One day in the 1970s, when I was working on the translation of the Vimalakirti Sutra, an ancient Buddhist text, something hit me: The term bodhichitta, which was usually translated to mean "awakening mind," actually meant a spirit that bursts forth with love and compassion for all beings. For the first time, spirituality really meant something for me. Thoughts, words, and actions are "spiritual" only if universal love is the motive, compassion the cause, happiness the aim, and responsibility the active principle. You're being religious when you believe in Jesus or Buddha or any other truly holy being, but wow, you're being spiritual when you become the loving, compassionate, caring being they all inspire you to be.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Author of Honeybee: Poems & Short Prose (Greenwillow)
Being part of any gathering of people—staring into human faces, feeling the comforting permeating presence of unknown friends—airplane gates, waiting rooms... Or walking/bicycling city streets—inside the flow and press of gracious eccentric humanity, moving, breathing, suffering, hoping... Pulse of life, all hues of stories, sorrows, dreams, precious mysteries linking us at any given corner... This is why I cannot possibly believe in war or violence as a promising human tactic. Our imaginations are so much bigger than that.
Gravity-defying choreographer, head of Streb Lab for Action Mechanics (StrebUSA.org)
I think that moment comes in the last half-second of life. When I'm taking my last breath, I want to look at how I used up the best of myself. How much did I sweat, push, pull, rip, fall, hit, crash, explode? Maybe it has to do with being able to suffer discomfort in zones away from those I knew—the mud zone, the "I don't know" zone. We're given to planning for the future, but if you fully invest yourself in this half-second you're in right now, the future will take care of itself. My dream is to be so well used that in my last half-second, I just burst into dust. With my work, it's not a far-fetched idea.
President and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone
My grandmother was a very spiritual person. She tried to save me because she knew that I, as a young boy growing up very poor in the South Bronx, believed that money was the key to everything. She tried to convince me that there was a God, but all I could do was look around and ask, 'How could God let people like us, who don't do anything wrong, live in these conditions?'
During my sophomore year in college, my grandmother, who was the most righteous, perfect, spiritual person I ever met, got a very virulent form of cancer. One day it was just us in the room. She was in a lot of pain and dying. I had to ask her: "Grandma, do you still believe in God?" And she looked at me and said, "I believe in God more strongly than ever." That moment crystallized spirituality for me. Her faith and belief is something that has guided me from that point on. There's so much of the belief system that says that things happen to you because of something you've done, or you think there couldn't possibly be a higher order of things. But that's all part of the gift of life. It was something my grandmother knew; even at the end she understood that it was all a gift.
My deepest moments of what I would consider spirituality come to me in my studio, with no one around, the music on, ideas flowing, paint seeming to magically go onto the canvas. These to me are intensely private and sacred times. I am Jewish and while not religious, my roots go deep, and, I believe, all lead to the studio. Two sketchbook entries written at different times might help explain my journey, one in which I felt lost and the other found:
"In this painting I have totally lost my way. What is painting after all? It's not a mark a tree limb Turquoise Sky Beads Sparkles Silk Canvas Far From it its Essence Sublimity Touch a journey Silent Language Speaking to Eyes willing to lose their way open open open Shine." (July 2003)
"These are my most authentic moments. Sitting here in my studio with music (Gounod's Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile) or absolute silence with all the thoughts about painting flowing very differently than they do when I walk out of this space. Here one thing leads to another in and out of my control but always (mostly) right. I am taken...inside...nothing that is not me is in the painting. And this summer I travel with Vincent, Antoni, Anselm, Jean Michele, Jackson, Eva, Willem, Nina Simone, and Sofie von Otter." (July 1, 2006)