Have you ever wondered what makes a saint, a saint? We have heard expressions such as, “He has the patience of a saint, " but what other qualities do saints have that sets them apart from us normal people, and how have they attained these qualities? Were they just blessed by God because God liked them more than God likes us, or do saints aspire to sainthood by working toward God in some manner with which we are not familiar? What qualities have they cultivated, and how do they actually cultivate them
This article, a follow up to my previous article outlining the first steps for sainthood, describes the intermediate steps of sainthood, and explains that no saints become saintly automatically. No saint has ever laid back and waited for God to bless them into sainthood; it takes effort, and before a saint launches into this effort, they must have two things going for them. For one, they must somehow see through the illusions of the world. If they don't see through the illusions of the world, then the tremendous effort and sacrifice that is required for sainthood will never come to fruition because effort and sacrifice are words a saint understands. Conversely, the world scorns these words in deference to ease, pleasure, and comfortable attachments to human beings and worldly possessions. In contrast, saints are seldom comfortable. How can one be comfortable when there are so many people in need - physically, psychologically, and spiritually?
My first article outlined the initial three steps where saints, through difficult and trying circumstances, come to understand things in very special ways. The first step would be relinquishing “self, " or personality belief. The second would be the deception of blindly following commandments by rote without true, intuitive motivation. The third would be the ending of doubt regarding which takes priority - God or the world.
Interestingly enough, saints are usually not recognizable in the world. They can be the neighbor next door, the person behind the counter, the common people we run into daily. The only way one may discover a saint is a saint is if one is very sensitive and notices that when he or she is in the company of the saint, they feel something quite different from that which is normally felt. This is not experienced at the typical conscious level. In other words, saints don't necessarily act differently on the surface than other generous, kind people in the world; it's the depth of their understanding at a subconscious level that alerts a sensitive person that something is unusual here. Saints don't act saintly, because no acting is required; they are inherently saintly. When you meet a saint, you simply sense something.
The next two steps for a saint would be for him or her to wholly give up, in his or her heart, those things that worldly people hold dear. Even though a saint may appear not to have abandoned these things and may live a seemingly normal life, their old attachments, which worldly people mistakenly call love, move from clinging, selfish dependencies, to unconditional love for a saint. Therefore, the next two steps for our saint are to fully understand two things; sensual desire and anger.
By thoroughly understanding the sensual desire and anger within him or herself, the saint is then able to let these two things go. Without understanding them first, however, getting rid of these two hindrances would be impossible because they seem to be inherent qualities of human beings. But a saint will take the time and trouble to look into them, which means that he or she, rather than indulging in them, steps back and refuses to follow their enticing temptations. This is done by passively observing them. This personal training takes courage and patience because it is going against the grain of our normal reactions. But sensual desire and anger is anything but normal for a saint; these two things are indeed dangerous.
Natural action for a saint would be a disdain of all sensual stimulation and anger, because those things merely keep a saint away from God. A saint understands that only God can truly satisfy, and therefore, he or she is able to naturally abstain from these hindrances without discomfort whatsoever, whereas a worldly person might indulge in them completely, simply because he or she have never taken the time and effort involved in understanding what anger and sense desires can do to a human being.
A saint will know, far better than we can know, that sensual desire is the root of our problems. We might think that sensual desire, when satisfied, is good, but a saint will know that sin and vice is based in sensual desires. Saints also know (and we don't) that when we desire something sensually, we will naturally cling to the satisfaction of attaining our desires, and when the time comes to satisfy that desire once more, we will go to great lengths to make it happen again and again. Maybe we will even become driven to extremes if we are refused the satisfaction of our sensual desires. That's how strong sensual desire can be - strong enough to take our minds off God.
Anger can be called ill will or hatred. We see it all the time these days when people argue about politics or religion. We polarize into certain positions and then see the entire world through the eyes of those positions, ignoring the gray areas between and preventing any kind of compromise. But a saint understands anger and what anger actually is, which is an attempt to rebuild an ego that has seemingly been injured by a comment or action that has in some manner diminished it. Once we take a stand, then any compromise would decrease our inflated idea of our self, and that would be disastrous in the eyes of a worldly person who has all of his or her eggs in one basket of themselves.
A saint, on the other hand, has no idea of self, and therefore is pliable and reasonable. A saint sees the concerns of others rather than propping up their own egos, and therefore the saint is always compassionate. Compassion, however, is always laced with a good dose of wisdom so that a saint's actions are always precise and accurate, and so that whatever they do has both short and long term benefits to not themselves but to everyone else involved.
Before our saint becomes a full-fledged saint, however, he or she has five remaining steps to climb. So stay tuned!
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com