It’s always helpful for us to have examples of those who successfully walk the spiritual path. We can benefit in many ways from following what they have learned, and in many instances we can emulate them. These individuals can serve as role models, and their lives can inspire us in our own spiritual pursuits, especially when they hail from the same spiritual tradition that we follow.
As opposed to the prevalent me-first and money-first principles that often dominate the daily headlines, spiritual role models can provide higher ethical standards for us to follow. Instead of witnessing the many ways that humankind expresses hatred toward one another, we can see from the lives of the saints and the saintly how it is possible to love one another. Instead of observing instances of criminal acts against one another, we can see far more inspiring examples of those who selflessly give to one another. The spiritual greats show us by their lives what philosopher Gerald Heard called “unlimited liability” in practice. Tibetan Buddhists call this “bodhichitta.” We’ve seen Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi exemplify selfless ideals in their daily lives that serve to raise the bar for us all.
It can also be tremendously supportive for us simply to recall those people who inspire us, especially when dealing with the challenges of life. For example, when a driver shamelessly cuts us off in traffic, if we visualize Jesus in the passenger seat it would help to dictate our response. If we are forced to lay off an employee at work, think of how Buddha would deliver the unwelcome news. Reading about the lives of saints can similarly inspire us to uphold higher ideals and choose the higher road when dealing with the vicissitudes of life.
Just as “you are what you eat,” so, too, we become who we emulate. By modeling our lives after the spiritual role models who inspire us, we benefit not only our own spiritual lives but also the lives of others.