What Is A Spiritual Ideal?
(Posted on: May4, 2014 by David McMillin)
[NOTE: While serving as mentor for an online version of "A Search For God" study group and working on the Ideals lesson, a study a participant shared some reflections on the meaning of ideals, but also some confusion culminating in the question: “Please identify what are Spiritual Ideals.” Here is my reply. – David McMillin]
Thanks for your comments and request.
First let's consider this definition of “ideal” from the ASFG text:
"An ideal is something beyond and above us toward which we build." (ASFG)
Notice the association of an ideal with building, for we will be pursuing that topic in the next lesson on Faith.
When defining an ideal, terms like “standard,” “pattern,” and “measure” are commonly used. That the standard should be beyond and above suggests a spiritual origin – hence the term “spiritual ideal.” When used in the singular (ideal), we are usually speaking of a spiritual ideal. When used in the plural (ideals), it is typically inclusive of mental and physical ideals as discussed below.
The ideal cannot be made by mortals, but must be of the spiritual nature that has its foundation in Truth, in God. Know the first principles: 'The gift of God to man is an individual soul, which may be one with Him, and that may know itself to be one with Him and yet individual in itself, with the attributes of the Whole, yet not the Whole.' (262-11)
“Such must be the concept, or the ideal, whether of the imaginative, the mental, the physical, or the spiritual body.” (ASFG)
Thus we have an explanation of ideals – spiritual, mental, and physical – that are based upon a standard or pattern that we have been exploring in the first two lessons: Cooperation and Know Thyself.
The “gift” that we are given as souls is called WILL. It is WILL that allows us to be individuals. It is WILL that allows us to be in relationship with our Creator as equals – as partners and co-creators with God.
Working with ideals is the means by which WILL can used constructively in COOPERATION with God. That is the basis for the relationship in which we come to know ourselves as spiritual beings.
If we did not have WILL, we would not need ideals. We could just be programmed to do whatever God wants. But that would not be the level of companionship (relationship as equals) that God desires. So the challenge is to learn to use WILL constructively.
The spiritual ideal is that which is the highest pattern or standard by which we can measure the use of WILL. For some individuals the spiritual ideal is a person who exemplifies the highest that we can strive for (such as Jesus, Buddha, etc). For others the highest ideal may be a spiritual attribute such as Love. And so forth, as laid out in the “Ideals Exercise” resource for this lesson.
Some people aim pretty low when choosing an ideal. For example, if the highest standard by which to measure one's life is simply the physical/material side of life (such as money and possessions or survival of the fittest), then life will eventually become shallow and meaningless – even destructive. That is not to say that the physical/material side of life is bad or to be ignored – that is why “physical ideals” are important. A physical ideal is simply the spiritual ideal applied at the level of our physical behaviors and activities.
Some people mistakenly use their own “ideas” as the ultimate standard of truth by which to measure the meaning and value of life. Such ideas may be associated with religious traditions (theologies, creeds, etc) or philosophies. We see this with some of the religious extremists active in the world today who use ideas (such as “holy war”) as the standard by which to live. Again, nothing wrong with using the mind to build a meaningful life, but are our personal thoughts and ideas the ultimate standard by which we can measure our existence? This is the distinction between ideas and ideals. Mental ideals are based on the spiritual ideal and are the basis for how we think and the mental attitudes we hold toward ourselves, others, and the world.
Because our earthly consciousness is innately three dimensional (spiritual, mental, and physical), we need mental and physical ideals – standards of thought and action. But those ideals must be attuned to a higher spiritual standard “beyond and above” or else our efforts fall short and we fail in our Search For God. Hence the need of a spiritual ideal to guide us.
“From the physical, mental, and spiritual viewpoints our ideals are patterns by which we endeavor to shape our lives. We must understand the meaning of “The Oneness” and merge our physical and mental ideals with the spiritual ideal of the soul.” (ASFG)
It is a matter of choice (WILL). That is why the title of the ASFG book chapter for this lesson is a question: “What Is My Ideal?” Is it founded on a spiritual premise? Is it self-centered? Is it just an extension of our limited mental and physical consciousness associated with the physical body with its biological brain?
The first two lessons have pointed us in a definite direction. It is about our relationship with God and knowing ourselves through that relationship – to know ourselves to be ourselves (as separate individuals), and yet ONE with the Whole that is God. That ONENESS requires the proper use of WILL in Cooperation with God. That's what a spiritual ideal is for.
The ASFG book text strongly endorses the life of Jesus as a spiritual ideal – an example and standard by which to live. The awareness of Oneness with God is called Christ Consciousness. Jesus the man, attained that consciousness, as we all may do. But it is a choice we make. That is the nature and purpose of ideals – to attune our personal WILL to God consciousness in a very practical way in the midst of life. Thus we find God and become a channel of blessing to others.
I pray that this explanation is helpful in your Search For God. Blessings, Dave
[The group member replied with some reservations about using Jesus as an Ideal, citing a disappointing Catholic upbringing. Yet she noted that she found the description of Jesus and Christ Consciousness portrayed in the Cayce readings as believable, concluding: “I would like to see the story of Jesus to be re-written and represent his Ideal and the power he gained thru it!” Here is my reply.]
… thanks for sharing your thoughts on the first exercise for this lesson. You are not alone in having an ambivalent (or perhaps even negative) reaction to considering Jesus as an ideal. I was raised in the “Church of God” denomination of Christianity (which is about as oppressively fundamentalist as one can get). And yes, it was extremely negative: Just by being born we are each inherently sinful, wretched creatures deserving to burn in hell for eternity, etc. And this somehow represents the message of Jesus?
I have found the Cayce readings helpful in gaining a better perspective on the “story of Jesus.” There are some excellent resources related to Cayce's story of Jesus such as “Lives of the Master (The Rest of the Jesus Story)” by Glenn Sanderfur.
We will be exploring some of this in the lessons that follow – particularly in the lesson on the Cross and the Crown, where we will be considering the possibility that part of the meaning of the death and crucifixion of Jesus was the meeting of his own personal karma from past lives.
Your observation that “faith gets distorted when trying to apply cultural habits” is a good example of “ideas” vs “ideals” that is part of this lesson.
Just curious: Have you made progress in identifying your own spiritual ideal? You do have one – even if unconscious or unrecognized. It doesn't have to be Jesus:
… beginning with the spiritual, (for all that is in mind must first come from a spiritual concept) what is thy spiritual concept of the ideal, whether it be Jesus, Buddha, mind, material, God or whatever is the word which indicates to self the ideals spiritual. (5091-3)
Over many years of working with various ideals (including Jesus), I keep coming back to “creative service” as my spiritual ideal. I regard it as a variation on ONENESS (attunement to Creative Energies to help others). We get to choose our ideals (WILL).
Thanks again for sharing. Blessings, Dave