Importance of Character

A question that many people ask is, “What is the most important for spiritual life”? If we look at the ancient spiritual traditions, such as the yogic tradition and the Biblical traditions, it is focused on character development. In the past one didn’t receive Shaktipat until they’d been with a spiritual teacher for at least 12 years. Why? It is because one needs character to hold spiritual energy. The energy comes and goes unless one has a vessel that can hold it. Ramakrishna and Adi Shankara (the founder of Advaita Vedanta) both talked about this. Before one is ready for the higher teachings, which anyone can intellectually get, one must build the vessel.

A lot of people want to skip over character development, and a lot of strange things come out of that. It may surprise you that Charles Manson began studying Advaita Vedanta (non-dual realism) in high school, but he didn’t have the developed character to hold the awareness. As a result, he deduced, “It’s all one, so it doesn’t matter what I do.” He could go ahead and kill people, and it didn’t matter because we’re all one. On a certain level that may be true, but on a character level it is completely untrue. Because he didn’t have the character, he couldn’t hold the higher teachings. Manson wasn’t anywhere near the higher teachings. While he represents an extreme example, he is a perfect example of why character is important in order to be able to integrate and to hold the evolved teachings.

It’s no small thing. One cannot just use words and philosophy and do whatever one pleases. Character is a little different than personality. Character is like the inner core of personality. There are a few qualities to sound spiritual character. One of the qualities is spiritual courage and endurance. It takes spiritual courage to live in a world where people aren’t so interested in truth. In a world in which everything is relative and nothing matters, one can make up their own story. The courage is when one understands that there is a deeper truth and one goes into oneself and links to that truth.

Another level of character is honor. What I mean by honor is self-respect. Today we see a worldwide program of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem prepares us to be slaves because one doesn’t understand that we are unique sovereign beings that are here to know and be the expression of God. Low self-esteem erases God from one’s story. We’ve seen governments attempt this such as China and Russia, and we’ve seen this fail. The vulnerability is low self-esteem. The development of self-respect and self-esteem is knowing that one is a spark of God and possesses inherent value because we are put here as the spark of God to be unique expressions of the Divine. Knowing this is incredibly important because you look at yourself entirely differently.

You are the expression of the Divine. That is very significant. This is what I mean by honoring and respecting yourself. This is different than being egocentric. It is about understanding that we are children of God. In that way, we can bring forth the divine expression. Low self-esteem blocks the whole process of expressing the Divine.

The third level of character is a framework of morals and ethics and spiritual discipline. Morals and ethics have some cosmic aspects that are very important, as well as natural law. When we seek to disrupt that natural and cosmic law by saying that we’re the center of the universe, there really isn’t any cosmic law and whatever the ego conceives is “good”. We see this happening today, and it yields chaos. There are two levels of this chaos. We have outer chaos, such as wars, lying, cheating, stealing, and murdering being normal and acceptable. And there is also an internal level, where we are desecrating our program as the image of God within us. When we are aligned with the Buddhist Eightfold Path or the Yogic Yamas and Nimayas, the Biblical Ten Speakings, or the Sumerian moral teachings, which are somewhat identical, we honor the cosmic natural laws, which state that we are not to lie, steal, bear false witness, murder, pollute the environment, etc. These are all basics. When we violate these basics, we have more than a little social chaos.

There is an attempt again by the international corporate world to say that it is fine to pollute the land and to desecrate sacred burial sites. It’s fine to do whatever you want because money is god. This is a deep perversion of the natural cosmic laws and is also idol worship. The Native Americans at Standing Rock are standing up and saying, “No. This is the blood of the land. We’re not really going to allow you to pollute this.” There has been a dramatic bifurcation with a variety of military vehicles and armor, and the Native Americans are creating prayer fires and greeting the armed police and shaking hands. This is very disarming. The People at Standing Rock are demonstrating spiritual courage and holding the perennial ethics of how to live as full, healthy beings on the land. Respecting the land is a very important message. Hopefully, by standing up they are able to stop the international corporate lack of character going on. This is but one example of where lack of character goes. Lack of character leads to chaos, carnage, and destruction.

The next aspect of character is spiritual discipline. This has a few aspects to it. One is perseverance. Another is that we have to be very clever on the spiritual path. You can’t just buzz and try to be super holy when you’re not and can’t hold the energy. You cannot go from a meat-eating diet to a live food diet in a day. If you try, you fail, and this can bring a backlash. Spirituality is the same way. You have to pace yourself. Spiritual teachers are important because they can give feedback about how to evolve. Spiritual life is really just like anything else. You have to train for it, prepare for it, build your character, and evolve at a pace that your system can handle. That may sound mundane and actually it is. Life has that mundane quality. But if you are just in a fantasy world, that’s where you get into trouble.

Spiritual discipline is creating that regularity through a systemic approach. I call this approach the Six Foundations and the Sevenfold Peace.

The final aspect of character is responsibility. Sometimes people don’t want to make a commitment. The problem with responsibility is you have to commit. From a humanitarian perspective, responsibility is healing the world and healing our souls. The deeper soul is always healed, but this means connecting with it. The responsibility ultimately is to know God, and the Divine is found in the play of creation, healing our relationships and healing the planet. The Divine is also found in our soul. The deeper we get in touch with our soul, the more we are able to make that contact.

We have two directions here – inner and the outer. They are not separate. Once you have character, you’re not struggling with all of those issues, and you can focus. It becomes unified. As you begin to touch your own soul, you begin to touch the soul of the world so they become one. You and the world are one. Your blood is the rivers of the world. Your breath is the atmosphere. Your lungs are the trees. Your skin is the topsoil. Your bones are the crystalline structure. We nurture that. Suddenly, you understand your oneness because you are the oneness.  One needs character to hold this awareness. This is why the great teachings of the great traditions start with character and spirituality flowers out of that.

May you be blessed with that flower. Amen.