The 6 1/2 Spiritual Laws of Success

a sermon by Jaco B. ten Hove
Paint Branch UU Church
August 8, 2004

[Follows "Magic Penny," by Malvina Reynolds…

Love is something if you give it away… you end up having more.
It’s just like a magic penny—hold it tight and you won’t have any,
Lend it, spend it and you’ll have so many, they’ll roll all over the floor.]

Ah, the Magic Penny Paradox, wherein to get something, one must give it away. Counter-intuitive as this may be, it sure works with love, doesn’t it? And this paradox isn’t some radical new, 21st century insight, either. Not only did (Unitarian Universalist) Malvina Reynolds write "Magic Penny" almost 50 years ago now, but Jesus said much the same thing to his disciples: to find your life, he told them, you must lose it [Matt. 10:39, Luke 17:33].

A paradox contains two items that seem to be contradictory but are both true. "The more you give, the more you will receive"—that sort of thing. Love is something if you give it away… you end up having more.

We might sing this to our children, but do we really believe its truth? If so, do we live like we believe it? Might we consider the Magic Penny Paradox a "spiritual law"? One author and teacher defines a "spiritual law" as something that it is in harmony with the universe. And according to him, this giving-and-receiving dynamic does indeed qualify; but hold that thought. I’ll get to more on this in a minute.

I’ve titled this new sermon series, "Salvation Through Lenses," because I will examine a few different systems of thought that try to explain such things as "spiritual laws." While we UUs don’t much traffic in traditional "salvation," we are still, in our heart of hearts, interested in the subject, I suspect.

In these days of uncertainty, any understanding we can muster toward hope and security of the inner kind is welcome. So we might seek "salvation" by peering as far into the heart of things as we can, using our holistic senses AND the best lenses available to us, sometimes even creating systems of thought that help make meaning out of it all.

My hope at this point, for today and coming months, is to portray at least a couple ways of seeking salvation by eyeballing our universe through particular and hopefully helpful lenses. Then I’ll take a stab at building my own system—all in the interest of deepening our awareness of how we work, internally and externally, alone and together.

Now back to the system at hand today. The Magic Penny Paradox is a connection I made that points toward Spiritual Law #2 in a systematic program offered by author and teacher Deepak Chopra, as explained in a curiously relevant little book called "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success." Yes, it was also a public television special, with tapes available, too, of course.

Chopra is indeed one of those contemporary teacher/marketeers. (I frankly think it was a stroke of marketing genius to link "spiritual" with "success" in the title.) And while I find his use of "new-age" jargon to be rather off-putting, his material is still worth translating, which I will do for you ever so briefly this morning, adding some of my own interpretation and emphasis.

Plus, I'll take small issue with his content in a couple places; thus my title symbolically reduces it to "61/2 Spiritual Laws of Success."

Happily, he defines both law and success quite quite liberally, so don't let those words be obstacles. Success, he says is the ability to fulfill desires in many realms, such as good health and relationships, a sense of well-being and enthusiasm for life, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, and yes, even appropriate material abundance.

However, says Deepak Chopra, any "success" can only be achieved by "nurturing the seeds of divinity inside us." Well, hey—this is a very traditional Unitarian angle! (The father of American Unitarianism, William Ellery Channing, touted a very similar line, though "nurturing the divine seed in each of us" was a much more radical notion in the early 19th century.)

A law, meanwhile, Chopra defines as the articulation of what is in harmony with the universe, or "divinity in motion." And wisely, perhaps, he leaves the definition of divinity wide open.

So let me back up to the first of his "laws," and then I’ll return to the Magic Penny Paradox, contained in #2, and work my way onward from there. Of course, these are each worth a sermon separately, so buckle your seat beats, because this will be a thick but quick tour.

#1 is the Law of Unity, another very UU perspective and the bedrock principle in this system. Chopra expresses it in rather metaphysical terms, but it’s essentially a treatment of the familiar, if elusive concept of oneness.

Do you ever try to really see our essential oneness? Sometimes I’ll squint my eyes to maybe create enough of the right kind of lens through which I might see everything/everybody around me as really unified, fundamentally connected. I can accept this Law of Unity intellectually, but it’s hard to grasp, moment to moment, when, say, bills are due and traffic piles up.

But Chopra helps by adding another dimension. "The spirit," he says, "is that domain of your awareness where you experience your universality." I find this statement a bit slippery but useful. My spirit is the part of my awareness where I experience oneness. Hmm, I will muse on that.

The challenge, of course, is always to expand the "experience of [our] universality," thus deepening our sense of spirituality and presumably increasing the odds for "success" in any given field of endeavor. Chopra recommends three particular ways to heighten this awareness of our interconnectedness, two of which are pretty familiar:

First, seek out silence and quietude, often through one or another form of meditation—to release distractions and hear both the still small voice within and the ripples of our universality. Imagine the receptive reflection of a peaceful pond at rest. A stone dropped into it can ripple and touch all shores. However, such reach is not possible when the same stone is dropped into turbulent water.

While we’re at that pond, Chopra suggests we add moments of appreciating the natural world, communing, looking for nature’s intelligence everywhere. This gives us a sense of unity with all life.

But third comes a toughie: practice non-judgment, he says. Practice judging nothing—because judging creates turbulence in your internal dialogue. "This turbulence constricts the flow of energy between you" and the oneness, he notes.

Hmmm. My first disagreement has to be with this non-judging piece. I'm all for being non-judgmental, mind you, but not to the extreme he advocates. I don't think I can help but be discriminating when parts of my world are unbalanced, unhealthy or evil. I am called to at least acknowledge my assessments, my judgments. I suppose that does disturb the quietude of my inner pond, but I'm just not beyond that yet, if ever.

Nonetheless, I can still release a measure of my judgmentalism and move toward the goal of becoming increasingly aware of my fundamental unity. I might adjust the old adage to say I should count to 10 before making a judgment. During that time I can remind myself to look for common ground and oneness.

According to Chopra, following a practice of regular quietude, appreciation of nature and non-judgment will create in us another productive paradox he calls "dynamic stillness," which helps align us with…

Law #2—of Giving and Receiving. The balance inherent in the world creates a universal process of exchange, of giving and receiving, whereby everything comes and goes, goes and comes, over time.

Life is anything but static, of course, with change as the only constant, so our challenge is to harmonize ourselves within the balanced exchange of energy. In such a balance, hoarding is unnatural; being selfish is unnatural—that is, "against the law" of Giving and Receiving. Instead, what is of value multiplies when shared. "Love is something if you give it away; you end up having more," like a Magic Penny.

And there’s a very simple, if paradoxical practice of this Law: give away whatever you want to receive. And give more than material items—give blessings, kind thoughts, favors, etc. Chopra suggests we give something to everyone we meet. I say, "Live out the Magic Penny Paradox." Give away whatever you want to receive.

The next of Chopra’s "Spiritual Laws for Success" may be universally acknowledged—scientifically, even—but it is often better spiritually internalized in the East than the West:

#3 is the Law of Cause and Effect. This augments the previous Law of Giving and Receiving by noticing that "what goes around comes around," sometimes folded into the concept of Karma. A version of this law from the Christian Scriptures is "Whatever ye sow, so shall ye reap" (Gal. 6:7). In Chopra’s words, "Every action generates a force of energy that returns to us in like kind."

The key point in this eternal process of Cause and Effect, he says, is that when we personally respond—as the effect to various causes—we may do so in both conscious and unconscious ways. Sometimes we react out of our conditioning and sometimes we actively choose how we will respond. Chopra stands on this Law to suggest that we can, in fact, become ever more conscious of our choices.

If we step back for a moment, as necessary—perhaps, again, counting to 10 before reacting—we can learn a great deal about ourselves and become increasingly effective toward our goals. The Law of Cause and Effect is a great teacher, looking for students.

Chopra invites us to especially be open to messages from our body, which is certainly a physical cause-and-effect machine—if we know how to listen and interpret its messages. Our bodies can help us find deeper meanings. On another plane, we can ask our heart for guidance and listen for inner messages. Even in harsh or demanding situations, where we might be under some kind of stress, the Law of Cause and Effect is still working, and we can always ask ourselves, "What's the message here?"

Attuning deeply to our bodies and our world, we might find ourselves open to

#4—the Law of Least Effort, which tells how Nature's intelligence functions effortlessly, holistically. Flowers don't try to blossom; they just bloom. Fish don’t try to to swim, the Earth doesn't try to spin on its axis; it just does.

As creatures of Nature, we can also abide the Law of Least Effort and do as instructed by Vedic Science, an age-old philosophy of India, in its principle of the economy of effort: "Do less and accomplish more," which is also a very common theme in Chinese Taoism.

Now, who wouldn’t be all for expending less energy and accomplishing more? But we get in our own way, don’t we? One particular internal activity consumes energy attention at a high rate—our attention to ego demands, such as maintaining control and "power over," the need for approval, etc.

When that ego energy is freed up, we can use it more creatively, productively. It’s like what Don Juan told Carlos Castenada in The Art of Dreaming: "...most of our energy goes into upholding our importance...If we were capable of losing some of that importance...we would provide ourselves with enough energy to...catch a glimpse of the actual grandeur of the universe."

Well, to practice the Law of Least Effort, Chopra suggests three exercises:

First, we can accept this moment as it is—because the Past is just history and the Future is forever a mystery, but this moment is a gift—which is why it’s called the "Present." Accept it, as it is.

Second, we can take responsibility for our own feelings, without blaming others. This is essential and sounds easy, but just watch how often you blame others for the way you’re feeling. No one can make us feel anything. We are in charge of that, to the degree we can be conscious of it.

Third, we can practice being non-defensive. Notice how much energy people spend defending their point of view, perhaps yourself as well. Instead, redirect this energy; don't force things. The essence of this insight is that "success" comes from following the path of least resistance, the Law of Least Effort.

Okay, holding that challenge, we come to another one, in creative tension with it.

#5, the Law of Intention says that because everything is unified and interconnected, we can be intentional about what we bring forward into that mix. All of Nature is a grand spiritual symphony, including our bodies, and we can compose for it creatively! The balancing act here is to be accepting of every moment as it is and thoughtfully introduce some benign intention for a future goal.

The principle at work is that whatever we put our attention on will grow and strengthen. So our intention matters. There is a lot of power in this. When aimed at change, the Law of Intention can be transformative. However, this leads directly into the next Law, which is yet another challenge.

#6—the Law of Detachment declares—counter-intuitively!—that we must give up all attachment to results in order to achieve what we wish. It describes how we can hold the intention, yes; and pay attention, indeed. But we must also let go of whatever actually happens. "You don’t give up the intention…You give up your attachment to the result," says Deepak Chopra—again, a fine balance to be reached.

This Law of Detachment says that our true Unity is the only meaningful source of wealth. All other objects (like cars, money, homes, etc.) are symbols of wealth and are transitory. Chopra reminds us that our attachment to symbols and results is usually motivated by fear and insecurity, and it wastes energy. Plus, "Chasing after symbols is like settling for the map instead of the territory," he says. Those who seek security outside themselves will chase it for a lifetime.

Instead, he promotes "the wisdom of uncertainty," which creates freedom and brings true security. By stepping into the unknown, detached from expectations, we grow without forcing solutions on problems. This allows a healthy preparedness, which keep one flexible enough to stay alert for new opportunities, to adjust one’s intention as we learn and mature. The paradoxical image is of "detached involvement"—again a balance.

Now, for Law #7, shift gears for a moment, and imagine that you are a parent who takes the following approach w/your children:

Beginning at about age four, you tell each child over and over these two things:

  1. There's a reason why you are who you are, and you have to find it out for yourself. You have a unique talent, which you will discover, along with a special way to express it.
  2. Don't focus on doing well in school, on getting the best grades or into the best colleges. Never, ever worry about making a living—I'll provide for you if need be. Focus instead on answering this question: How can I serve humanity with my talent?

You also teach them to meditate as another way to learn about who they are.

Can you imagine how such children might turn out? Deepak Chopra used this approach with his children, and lo and behold, they did get fine grades, into good colleges, and became financially self-sufficient. They came to many good things indirectly because because they were steadfastly focused on what they had to give to the world.

Law #7 says that each of us has a particular Purpose in Life, a unique talent which should be expressed in service to others. Precisely what it is we must discover and articulate for ourselves, which is the prime task of our maturing as whole beings.

Within this subject is another quibble I have with Chopra, whose language I’ve softened accordingly. I think he leans too heavily on everyone becoming an expert. Yes, we all have a call to specially manifest some particular aspect of our being, but not necessarily "one thing" that we do better than anyone else. I think that sets us up for unnecessary competition. I do heartily concur, however, with orienting our talents—however many or unique—toward service to humanity.

"When we blend (our) unique talent with service to others," he says, "we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals."

The internal dialogue of the spirit is "How can I help?" When we move away from "What's in it for me?" and toward "How can I help?"—we go beyond the ego to the domain of the spirit, where we experience our universality. The Law of Purpose in Life forces us to see ourselves in relationship to the world around us, with which we are inherently interconnected.

These seven Laws are not arbitrary or capricious; they apply throughout the universe, macro and micro. Take any cell of your body, for example:

It has a particular PURPOSE, a unique function that serves to help every other cell. This tiny part of your body is not preoccupied by the future,
*** it is DETACHED from the results of its work. Yet it brings
*** great INTENTION to its task. But it also functions without trying,
*** with LEAST EFFORT, partially because it responds automatically
*** to CAUSE & EFFECT, as part of a system of dynamic exchange,
*** constantly GIVING & RECEIVING, all in service of
*** a UNIFIED expression, which is your complete body.

These so-called Laws appear as a list in a sequence, but they are not always a linear process, really. They can function simultaneously, integrated with each other, although you could feel a natural sequence emerge as you apply them in your life.

For instance, you might understand the Law of UNITY by listening to the silence, but it is energized by
*** the Law of GIVING & RECEIVING—what you seek, you must give. This, in turn, activates
*** the Law of CAUSE & EFFECT, which illustrates how you can be very effective within
*** the Law of LEAST EFFORT. As you are able to then redirect valuable energy toward your goals, you activate
*** the Law of INTENTION and improve the odds for success, which makes it a lot easier to practice
*** the Law of DETACHMENT. All of this clarifies what the
*** Law of PURPOSE IN LIFE teaches you about yourself.

Whew! So there you have it—up and down, forward and back: a crash course in some Spiritual Laws of Success. You may well have more of your own, but I find that this system of thought provides helpful guideposts, even with my quibbles and qualifiers about jargon.

Most of us can't start out again at age four to learn how to focus our spiritual gifts in service of humanity, so we retro-fit as we’re able, using lenses that give us hope for some sort of salvation, leaning on whatever moves us along the journey toward greater harmony with the universe, balanced between a peaceful pond and the prongs of paradox.

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