There is a legend that during the Buddha’s lifetime one
of his cousins tried to kill him. The Buddha referred to this cousin as one of
his most important teachers in his development of compassion and patience.
Buddhism teaches that when we walk the spiritual path, our responsibility is
to comprehend that all life is precious and all sentient beings suffer, and so
we should act in ways that compassionately embrace and serve to end all
I learned something of this when I worked professionally
as a transdisciplinary assessment specialist with a young man who was
abandoned by his parents as a child after he was diagnosed as deaf and
mentally retarded. At some point his house had burned down, possibly by his
As he grew tall and strong, Davey was “warehoused” in
ever more restrictive institutional settings where the caretakers viewed him
as a feral and unapproachable tiger of a boy. He was described to me as
having little intelligence (only dangerous and destructive instincts), no
communication, and no feelings for other people.
Within the context of Davey’s existence, the questions of
spiritual connectedness and how he might experience a state of grace seemed
utterly irrelevant, but those questions were precisely what intrigued me the
most What I knew I wanted to do was to simply sit quietly in Davey’s physical
presence. Somehow sitting with a deaf young man, wanting nothing and doing
nothing, we both seemed to be shifting. What part of my intelligence knew
that, during this time, Davey would be my spiritual master?
Later I found a relevant teaching: Thogme Zangpo, a 13th-14th
century Tibetan Buddhist, who taught numerous Bodhicitta practices, including
something along these lines, said that if a person is disrespectful or
contemptuous, even if he is not your intellectual or spiritual equal, treat
that person with honor as you would an admired teacher.
When I met Davey I felt he was surrounded by people who
were fearful, angry and resentful, always focused on their own self-protection
and their own suffering. As I began to spend time with Davey I noticed some
things. There was not a molecule in me that wanted to seduce his friendliness,
teach him anything, test him for any skills, count his behavioral outbursts or
give him psychotherapy. I also realized that trying to suggest any
alternative behavior among his staff would be unproductive.
Have not each of us encountered people who live with
conditions negatively affecting their “intelligence”? Either impersonally in
books or video, or more intimately as family members, friends, teachers,
physicians, or paid companions, we might reflect upon the true nature of those
people apparently born “not whole”.
As we shift our values and behavior to appreciate,
preserve and enrich the multivariate ecologies that consciousness can embrace,
as we stop “throwing away” our trash so we can feel like good green warriors,
let us remember to deeply consider the marginalization and suffering of our
Most would agree that what makes human life so precious
and unique is an attribute described as intelligence. How has intelligence
theory evolved, and what does it mean when someone is born with “low” or
non-measurable intelligence? Does it mean they have low or non-measurable
In 1905 Binet and Simon created the first IQ test in
France to calculate “mental age” to screen children for normal brain function
so that “abnormal” children could be separated and not behaviorally disrupt or
otherwise adversely affect the development and scholastic achievements of
normal children. Binet measured intelligence quotient by calculating the
ratio of mental age to chronological age, with 100 being the normative score.
Most people today are familiar with IQ tests that provide Full Scale, Verbal,
Performance and other subtest scores.
While there were and are many competing theories of
intelligence, Howard Gardner dramatically challenged the dominance of
mathematical theoreticians with his 1983 publication of Frames of Mind: The
Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner is a Harvard Professor of
Cognition and Education who also holds faculty posts in Psychology and
Neurology. As Gardner worked with stroke patients who had aphasia and also
studied cognitive development and educational implications in children, he
apparently intuitively understood that intelligence is a dynamic, complex
interplay of relatively distinct faculties affected significantly by content,
culture and context.
Gardner’s rigorous study of multiple (seven)
intelligences has been systematic and multidisciplinary. It involves
inclusion of the fields of psychology, neurology, biology, sociology,
anthropology, the arts and the humanities. Always under criticism that his
scientific “proofs” of the theory are not empirically sustainable, Gardner
does not venture into morality, emotion or spirituality. He clearly constrains
his work to address the cognitive and intellectual aspects of the human mind,
but given my work with people who had intellectual disabilities, I was
especially interested in other types of intelligence.
About this time (in the mid ‘90’s) a new theory of
intelligence emerged. Daniel Goleman wrote Emotional Intelligence.
Integrating the neurophysiology of emotion into the evolving concept of
intelligence emphasizes the benefit of achieving resonance in what I
understand to be “whole person” awareness, responsiveness, social
collaboration and presence.
While I understood little of Davey’s occasional attempts
to sign to me and he continued to show no interest in conventional
institutional activities, there began to be a perceptible resonance in our
energies. It felt good. It felt peaceful. It felt as though we were agreeing
to trust and between us violence and frustration had no place. One random day
Davey took my hand and indicated he wanted to go outdoors. Together. We had
entered into a state of grace. Being together outdoors in that context was a
deep spiritual experience.
Davey was not conventionally smart. He was
brain-damaged, socially wounded and communication-impaired. When he chose and
how he chose to connect with me at a more than primal level, I appreciated his
great “non-rational” intelligence. I understood this not analytically, but as
if the information had entered me through my belly, rising into my heart. Gut
feeling intelligence? The more I worked with Davey and many others like him,
the more I was certain that there is little correlation between intellectual
intelligence as measured by an IQ test and non-rational intelligence.
Therefore, IQ is a poor indicator of non-rational knowledge, the capacity to
grow and emotional maturity.
Goleman continues to investigate and promote the
necessity of awareness, empathy, teamwork, self-discipline, resonance and the
many essential functions of emotion in intelligent functioning. His current
work features theories of social intelligence, ecological intelligence and the
application of emotional intelligence to developing exceptional corporate
Through the grace of global East-West exchange, sharing
and unification at many levels we are participating in the emergence of
spiritual intelligence. In the prolific writings of contemporary quantum
physicist Danah Zohar, the purposefulness and crowning comprehension of what
I’ve discussed comes together in intelligence that I experience more as
“innerstanding” than “understanding”. With spiritual intelligence everyone is
honored, engaged and included as having value to self and to all.
For example, my loquacious and sometimes frankly
psychotic friend, Katie, has social behavior difficulties and a developmental
disability related to Williams Syndrome. When we visit, however, her gigantic
smile freezes my brain and melts my heart. A master’s tap on my slumping
shoulder at the zendo has the same effect.
I will share one last story about Davey. As he softened
from within, his staff transformed. After a couple of years they had become
his fiercest advocates. When Davey was finally provided with his very own
small home and familiar and competent companion-caregivers (no more
caretakers), he found a pile of wood scraps in the back yard and
silently, carefully started to piece together a small and intricate structure
in his “leave me alone, please room”. One of his companions brought him glue,
a hammer and some nails. Weeks later Davey had found his creative talent in
the world. He was a master doll-house builder. He had also apparently found
spiritual healing after years of suffering from whatever happened when his
house burned down.
Every single individual grows and grows stronger when
rooted in fertile ground and nurtured. Every individual is a whole person.
Every individual communicates, no matter how deformed or ill the body is, and
no matter how incomprehensible the behavior may be. Each person contributes
to the community. Every being is a spiritual being.
If we are to achieve a
richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut
of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in
which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.
Barbara Ludwig is the program developer
at Life College by CHAS, a growing branch of Community Homes and Services Inc.
in Novato, California. Barbara consults and presents in the USA and Canada.
She is a lead developer of the transdisciplinary assessment and treatment
model as applied to individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities,
mental health needs and substance use disorders. A student of eclectic
spiritual teachings, Barbara’s spiritual master is ShantiMayi, see:
www.shantimayi.com. Barbara can be reached at: