Dipping into the stream of religious diatribes, one might decide that a single facet of love is, in fact, the ultimate truth and expression of the spiritual life. Over here, some person claims that single-pointedness and the whole mind is the very launching pad of salvation. Over there, another states that obedience to scripture (or its equivalent) is the highest virtue.
A lot of people unconsciously figure out what virtue they find easiest, then follow the spokesperson claiming it’s the most important. That’s a danger.
Another danger is avoiding the question, as many do, by saying that love itself is the greatest virtue. Love is an essence and the very foundation of all virtue, just as fear is the very foundation of all vice. Saying that love is the greatest virtue is like saying that humanity is the best human.
It turns out that it’s not so easy to find such a solid thing as a “most important” virtue in the stream of life. Deciding that we’re going to put the whole mind first, we sit and focus on our breath – and everything else vanishes into the distance. But, sitting on our meditation mats, who among us is virtuous if we refuse to rise to answer the call of a being honestly and urgently suffering?
So then we decide that compassion is first – but then how will we ever decide between the self-compassion of meditation and the unceasing calls of suffering from the world at large? Or perhaps we hear no other call, and so we sit in meditation out of compassion, and we find within our hearts a sudden and passionate urge to thank God for the many blessings in our lives. Sitting on our meditation mats, who among us is virtuous if we refuse to pray our gratitude because we insist on self-oriented compassion?
Round and round the wheel of priority goes, until at long last we must each realize that the highest virtue is fluidity of mind. It’s the agile awareness that doesn’t give absolute obedience to any static ideal or ideology, but instead always listens and attends to the whispering of spirit within us. Without meditation and mindfulness, we cannot hear the whispers of spirit – but hearing them isn’t the same as obeying them. In a way, those tie-wearing theologians with their alms bowls in hand are right – obedience is the highest virtue, but not in the way they mean. Because no book or man or fixed thought can accurately contain and summarize the mysterious, magical movements of the living spirit. God, or the universe, or the soul – whatever you’re okay with saying to yourself -is the fluid and ever-changing Love that is the basis of all form. Obedience to that essence, no matter the sacrifice or pain of these fleeting egos we possess, is the highest virtue of them all.
Just as Love continuously changes form, so does the highest virtue. Your heart is a spinning prism through which the divine light shines in a million ways.