Bhagavad-Gita is the simplest summary of spirituality according to Hindu tradition.
What is Spirituality?
The world we see before us today can be called a Utopia – a dream world filled with the best technology and science has to offer. It is easy to be mesmerized by it and want to swim in all the luxuries and fantasies it has to offer. We live in this world like a Goldfish – with a short term memory and a huge ego . We feel we are the centre of the world. And the moment life hits us with a setback we are like deer stuck between the headlights. That’s when we are reminded of this word – Spirituality. Do we look at the sky for to feel spiritual or donate to a temple and be done with it? The truth is that the Goldfish needs to turn into a salmon and swim against the current of the physical desires and ego to reach within. The hidden secret is spiritual growth is possible only from within. We don’t have to travel anywhere else. But this inward journey can be difficult and at times unnerving.
We live in a fast-paced world where everything from the “How to make Dolgona Coffee” to “Meditation” enjoys its 5 minutes of fame on the internet before it is lost in obscurity. We live the life of a Goldfish in our own small world with a very short memory. But this Goldfish has a huge ego. So, words that sound smart like “Spirituality” have been hammered and stamped for so long that it sounds mystical and unattainable. On the contrary, it is an inward journey and a difficult one because the process of unlearning all the wrong notions we have gathered over the years, can be unnerving.
Simply put, Spirituality is the condition of your body; mind and intellect that make you more available to your day to day life. It transforms your outlook towards your work, personal relationships, and world views. It teaches us to be in the present and focus on now.
I followed Simon Sinek’s fundamental theory method from his book “golden circle” to approach this topic which is “to always start with why before going to how and what”.
Why you do need spirituality?
Humans are made of matter and spirit. We are aware of our mind, body intellect, emotions, senses, and perceptions. These take us closer to the external pursuits of wealth creation and spending it in any imaginable way, that would show off our materialistic prowess. Our homes are filled with trinkets from all over the world and everybody is busy portraying a picture-perfect life. We are busy in this strange phenomenon of deriving happiness from transient things. This leads us to despair and confusion.
So, the obvious solution to this is to shift focus to the Self within us. Life means “Anubhava Dhara” – stream of experience. Each unit of life (experience) is made up of 2 things – the subject (Individual) and the Object (World). Scientist focussed on the object and made it technologically supreme and perfect. But the paradox is that we are still riddled with anxiety and worry. So, the sages in Himalayas focussed on the Subject. They culminated the sublime knowledge of the Vedantas and Upanishads to live life fulfilling both spiritually and materially. Lot of effort was taken to simplify the teachings, so it was understandable to people with different temperament and inclinations.
Living is an art and skill that needs to be learned and practiced through spiritual education. Living the right way without the constant anxiety and stress doesn’t come naturally to mankind. At birth, we are disconnected from our Self. We need to strive to get it back and the path is not easy. Thankfully, we do have manuals to help us through our spiritual journey towards the Self.
How do we grow spiritually?
One needs to begin with the right attitude.
- If you want to grow spiritually, there is a certain amount of striving in the right direction and Tapas involved. Spirituality doesn’t just come to us as we grow older. Action (Karma) and receptivity (Bhakti – learn the humility of waiting) should come simultaneously. Self-help is important but trying to do everything by yourself is like a plant trying to grow without sunlight. Similarly waiting for things to happen to you leads to stagnancy. We need to find the sweet spot between the two. It is quite visible in asana practise. Just because we practise 4 hours a day, we won’t master all the asanas. We need to wait and give it time.
- Starting your journey with no preconceived notions about the outcome is vital. Seeking means “I do not know, and I want to find out”. But nature, abhors a vacuum. Whenever we don’t understand anything, we try to rationalise it with a name “God”. This gives us confidence. But confidence without clarity can be dangerous and lead to fanatic beliefs or we might just go around in circles because of our assumptions. On from personal experience, if you think about God you become hallucinatory, only when you are conscious about mortality will u want to truly know the nature of this life.
- We have a lot of material in the form of Vedanta and Upanishads available to us. We need to read, analyse, contemplate on these teachings and their effects on our lives. Its important to accept these teachings intellectually. This is our Svadhyaya. We need to remember here that we have the choice to reject any teaching that doesn’t resonate with us. Education is not only about pushing knowledge in but also to draw knowledge out of oneself. Only contemplation and right to reject ideas makes it possible.
- Learning the art of being in the present is most difficult. I try to do it with my asana practise. While doing a preparatory pose for an asana, focus on the preparatory pose and don’t premeditate the final asana. That’s being in the present which is a kind of meditation as a lot of focus is needed.
- Being aware of your thoughts. Awareness is Aliveness. Only when you focus on your thoughts, you can course correct. We will have a negative emotion or thought. Being aware of it and course correcting is important. A good exercise is to note down your thoughts in the night. We need to do this till it comes naturally to us.
- The four Paths to Self-Realisation- Vedanta suggest 4 different ways for a man to balance is material and spiritual journey and to meet his Maker. They are
- Karma Marga
- Bhakti Marga
- Jnana Marg
- Yoga Marga
Karma Marga is one in which a man realises his own divinity through his work. This path is for the active man. He works for the welfare of others selflessly without any attachment or ego or expectation of reward. I think, by changing our attitude and emotional relation to it, we spiritualise our work. The work will continue but the work idea in it will disappear.
In Bhakti marg one feels the existence of God in all animate and inanimate things. Here the realisation is through love and devotion to a personal God. This path is for the devotional man. But as Guruji said, Bhakti should be devoid of ego. Otherwise it’s like trying to light wet woods. I think working with our emotional energy, through faith, prayer, and worship can be very helpful in today’s world where so many people are visiting psychiatrist and psychologist. I think this is the most difficult path if followed correctly and requires thorough discipline and willpower.
Jnana marg is the intellectual approach to spiritual evolution, where his realisation comes through knowledge. I think a Jnana yogi needs to have a firm foundation in all the other three paths. Otherwise it is just idle speculation of a brilliant mind with only one-dimensional thought process. This would lead to an inflated ego rather than understanding of the self.
Yoga Marga is for the reflective man who realises his divinity through control of the mind and senses. The Yoga Marga is unique because it is a combination of the other three. Mind is the seat of knowledge; heart is for devotion and the hands and limbs are for action. The path of Yoga combines this body, mind, and soul. Hence is considered as foundation where all the other three paths meet. I think Raja Yoga is suitable for everyone because of its scientific approach.
These four Yoga paths do not represent separate paths. Each path is closely related to the other. The same person can be a Bhakti Yogi when he prays to his God, a Karma Yogi when he stands by his fellow men, a Jnana yogi when he reflects on meaning of life and a Raja Yogi when he meditates and performs Yoga practices.
How do we measure our spiritual growth?
I think this is the most tedious process. It’s almost impossible to measure our spiritual growth because we have no other similar experience to compare it to. Any other material experience like buying a Ferrari can be articulated.
Here maybe stillness of mind should be the goal. Calming of thought waves even when you are actively involved in real life decides your spiritual growth. Accepting situation without fluctuation of mind and not getting affected by the outcome means you are on the right track. The volume and intensity of your bhakti, Yoga, Karma or Dynan is futile if a pin prick makes you agitated and neurotic and sends you on a whirlwind of emotions.
A spiritually evolved person is a pleasant person to be around. This is the simplest measure of one’s spiritual growth
On the face of it, the concept of Spiritual growth seems complicated and unattainable. All we need to do is break it down into few points that we can do in our day to day life. Points to focus in our Spiritual journey
- Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions. Keeping a daily diary might help.
- Practise detachment in small things of your life even though it doesn’t come naturally to you. Fake it till you make it. Do not hoard. Give away everything you don’t use. Start small.
- Silence is golden. You will never regret your silence. Fight your urge to talk and give opinions. Don’t give advice unless asked for.
- All the above can be made easier through regular practise of asana and pranayama. Through alignment of body, we work inwards towards alignment of mind and intellect. It has been a very strong anchor in my life.
Body, mind, and intellect are just the icing on the cake. We must dig deep within and find our Self which is pure bliss
I, myself don’t understand this statement fully because I haven’t yet experienced my own Self. But that is my leap of faith. I have chosen to follow this path and I shall reach it in this life or next. The goal now is not to waver or doubt my choice every time I have a setback. This is my discipline towards my spiritual journey.