One of my favourite TV shows is called Master Chef and it works more or less like this: there is a group of “master” chefs who specialized in food from all around the world. A contender challenges one of the chefs to a cooking duel. They are to cook a three-course dinner in an hour. But the real trick is the following: there is a secret ingredient, to be reveal a few minutes before the duel starts and which must be used in all meals. Once the food is cooked, a jury of three taste the dishes and decides who is the winner. Now, the secret ingredient can be almost anything edible, and it’s fascinating to see how the chefs make a spicy soup out of chocolate or ice cream out of an eel.
I guess that by now you are wondering what does all of this has to do with spiritual intolerance. A lot, actually -once we use our imagination and the power of stories. Let’s say that in this episode of Master Chef, the secret ingredient is mango. As I have already explained, the secret ingredient has to be present in all the dishes: entry, main and dessert. No matter what other ingredients you use, the foundation of the plate is mango. How the mango inspires will vary from one chef to the other. The way the judges receive the mango dishes will also be different. There may be agreement that one dessert is far superior than the other, but a split decision on which is the best main course.
Let’s say that one of the judges is so impressed by these mangoes creations, that actually opens a restaurant specializing in mango and hires Chef 1. Another judge does the same and hires Chef 2. While the restaurants are new and building a clientele, both owners get along and can actually have their business a rock throw from the each other. But as the restaurants gain fame, the competition becomes nasty.
One owner begins to discredit the creations from the other restaurants. Critics enter the picture and start analysing the dishes and place the starting role not in the mango, but in one of the supporting ingredients. Other mango restaurants begin to pop up like daisies in the summer, each selling their version of the honey-mango gravy. Given some time, the purists will appear: those who say that the one “true” mango soup is the one that has tender green chillies in it. If there are no chillies, that ”ain’t a mango soup” Worst, it can be detrimental to your health, because the chillies balance the sugar levels in the mango, saving the body form potential diabetes. Or so they say, with experts’ studies in hands -studies scoffed at by other experts, of course. The whole thing sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Way over the top. And yet, we witness something similar every time we come across spiritual intolerance.
All through the history of humanity, there has always being a searcher, an eventual master, who connects to the essence of the Divine (the mango of our tale) and interprets this mystical experience through his or her ethnic, historic, educational and personality filters. If this master is also a good teacher, he or she will explain this moment of enlightment and the conclusions drawn from it, in a way that finds echo in the intellect and spirit of many. Sometimes the teachings won’t go beyond a small number of pupils or disciples. Sometimes they will transcend the boundaries of time and geography and reach millions. However, no matter how relevant and life changing the teachings may be and how many people make them their own, at the end of the day, they come from one person’s experience and they can be truly understood by that one person. Unless each student does his own spiritual pilgrimage in the valley of the Spirit and finds his personal connection to the Divine, all the teachings from all masters hardly go beyond skin-deep.
If there is something that brings us together as humans, however, is the habit of filling voids with self-righteous, loud noises. So many, instead of dedicating themselves to their inner discovery and growth, name themselves guardians and defenders of alleged “truths,” I guess in an attempt to align themselves with the apparent winning team or to fulfil a need of belonging. Hence, they style themselves as the spiritual version of gourmet critics and defend zealously the need for the green chilly in the soup, instead of enjoying that golden, sweet taste of the mango. If we add politics, money and power to the pot, many of them will go from annoying but more or less harmless critics to inquisitors and fundamentalists, ready to burn human flesh to prove their alliance to their faith and deity.
And yet, when we go back to those first teachers, what we mostly find is an invitation to open ourselves to the Divine, to surrender to it, see it as parent and become one with it. The teachings are, in my opinion, to be the wind that blow our sails, but we are the captains of our ship and we adapt the sails to the winds to go where we are call to go. The masters’ words should be a source of inspiration to find our own, unique moment of connection and oneness with the Source of all. Everything else, as one wise teacher said, it’s commentary. With chilly or no chilly, as dessert or main course, cooked or raw, accepted or denied, what holds together and gives nourishment to this banquet called life, is the Mango.
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