Growing Up – The Arc of Vertical Development

Human development unfolds on twin axes – horizontal and vertical. But first, as always, a story. 

There was a village in the East filled with boisterous young men who were always quarreling. One day a beautiful young woman showed up in the village market with a basket of fruit to sell. Word of her presence got around and she was soon surrounded by two dozen young men vying for her favor. “You have to marry one of us, they said, who will it be?” 

She looked around at them and said, “I can’t marry two dozen men, but I can marry the one who is able to read the sutras. I’ll be back at the same time next month to greet the person who can do this.” When she returned a month later, only half the original group of men were present. “We have read the sutras,” they proclaimed, “who will you choose?” 

Well, she said, looking more radiant than ever, “I can’t marry a dozen men, but I can marry the one who can explain the sutras. I’ll come back at the same time next month.” 

After a month, just four men returned and proclaimed they could explain the essence of the sutras. They were a bit calmer now but still keen for her hand. Again she said, “I can’t marry four, but I can marry the one who can live the sutras. I’ll come back each month at the same time.” 

Art by Katie Klein at the Lotus Center

A month went by and nobody came to meet her. Another month, yet nobody. And six months later, one young man returned. He was glowing and he bowed to her, saying “I have lived the sutras, and I know now what you were trying to teach us.” He now recognized who she was — Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Kwan Yin bowed silently and left, leaving behind the man who would transform the village into a place of peace by the presence of who he had become. 

In this story, development is not just the ability to know or even explain ideas but to actually live the learning. Horizontal development is knowledge and skills. These can be learned through scholarship and practice. Vertical development is lived wisdom, often acquired the hard way. It becomes the very transformation of being. 

Vertical development expressed another way is about moving up the ladder of consciousness. With each step up comes a shift in our state of being — how we think and how we show up in the world. Those with very high levels of vertical development have a transformational impact. Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Teresa. They manifest values about humanity, unity, humility, service. And love. Expansive love. 

Einstein expressed it this way:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

And so did Chief Seattle:

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

It is easy for me to know these things and repeat them but far more difficult to live them. It will take me far longer than the young man in the village under the thrall of Kwan Yin.

One Reply to “Growing Up – The Arc of Vertical Development”

  1. So many lessons in that story. I love this – “widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty”.. that is our life mission. I am inspired by your posts Lyndon. Many thanks for your thoughtful writings.

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