If we really want to make progress on the spiritual path, there is no substitute for putting others first. It is the give-and-take of innumerable little encounters with others in our daily life that really wears off the angles and corners of the ego. Unless we reduce our self-will like this, we will simply have too wide a load of self-will to get through some of the strait and narrow gates into our deeper consciousness.
Eknath Easwaran is probably best known as the spiritual teacher of the folks who wrote the vegetarian/natural foods classic Laurel’s Kitchen. But his book The Mantram Handbook, from which the above quote is taken, deserves a wide readership in its own right. Its message is elegantly simple: the use of a mantra (or, for western meditators, a “prayer word”) is a profoundly beautiful, healing, and spiritually beneficial practice. And although sometimes it feels as if Easwaran falls prey to a bit of magical thinking when he is praising the power of the mantra, for the most part the book is filled with common sense and a recognition that the benefits of a repetitive meditation word are really quite down to earth. He goes to great lengths to be inclusive, looking at ancient Christian traditions such as the Jesus prayer to show that this is really a global spiritual practice — and when he makes statements such as the one quoted above, it’s clear that the spiritual wisdom at the heart of Easwaran’s work is likewise truly universal in scope. My one caveat: putting others first must never become an excuse for self-hatred, excessive passivity, untreated depression, or submission to unjust systems of social privilege. Like any other spiritual practice, it can be counterproductive in some circumstances. But for anyone with a healthy sense of self, putting others first can be a doorway to authentic humility and spiritual growth.