The concepts of religion and spirituality will become much more apparent to us when we start inquiring and relating the observations to our experiences. Religions, in general, ask us to ‘believe’ in certain concepts and almost all religions want to have a crowd of ‘believers’ within their folds. Many people find solace in religious pursuits and many more find religious pursuits to be somewhat aimless fantasies. You can convert people of one religion to another; but in spirituality, there is only self-transformation; no conversion is necessary or possible. Spirituality is about self-inquiry and the pursuit of Truth. The self-inquiry may ultimately lead to a personal conviction and a faith-based on that conviction which is obviously not built on a belief system someone else created for you. The Truth one realizes out of self-inquiry and contemplation leads to awareness and a better understanding of the purpose of life and that will stay forever within the individual. ‘Beliefs’ can falter, change, alter, and create confusion, although they may be still valid for people who do not want to invest in self-inquiry. In my opinion, beliefs are for lazy minds who have given up on thinking for themselves whereas self-inquiry is for those who want to take care of their own affairs.
Indian Scriptures allude to this universal concept by quoting a mind-boggling number of Gods and Goddesses in the pantheon - 330 million! Why are there so many Gods in scriptures when the scriptures talk of the Ultimate Reality, Truth or Param Porul as the One? It is because each individual has the right and a responsibility to inquire and know the Truth in his/her own terms- nothing more, nothing less. If the scriptures are to be written now, I guess there would be more than 6 billion Gods referred to in them! One god for each person! That would lead to anarchy, won’t it? Not really!
It is our birthright and innate nature to be free and to have an inquisitive mind. It is freedom from limited thinking and ignorance. In order to get that ‘free-ness’, one should have the clarity of mind with clear intentions and objectives. Naturally, we are narrowing down the population by implying these qualities as a pre-requisite. With an agitated or excited mind, logical thinking is next to impossible and an unclear vision is not conducive to taking any creative pursuits either. This is where the idea of spiritual practices or daily sadhanas enters into our daily life. Bhagavad Gita (2.63, 64) says:
“Krodaad bhavati sammoha:
sammohaat smriti vibhrama:
Smiti bhramsaad budhi nasO
budhi nasaat pranasyati
Raga dwEsha vimukthaisthu
Atma vasyair vidhEyathma
prasaadam adhi gacchathi”
Meaning, delusion arises out of anger and that bewilders the mind. Thus reasoning is lost and one falls down. Talk about progressive degradation! But a disciplined person attains perfect calmness as the sense objects are under his control and as he doesn’t attach ‘like-dislike’ labels to his experiences conveyed by the sense organs. This is where our scriptures become excellent guides for us to get inspired from. Note that, in general, there are no dos and don’ts in Indian scriptures. They even tell us to ignore the very scripture after attaining what you are inquiring about. (Vedava daratha Parthha …O Arjuna, go beyond even the Vedas… BG-2) Men of wisdom, having gone through their inquiry (sadhana) have found that all explanations and scriptural readings cease at the experiential level.
Maintaining a tranquil mind is necessary to do anything creative. If one is writing a major paper or preparing for a presentation, a calm mind is a requirement. Imagine a worker trying to break a large boulder (rock) with a sledge hammer. He needs to strike it many times to break it, but the blow that makes it split asunder is the last one blow. In fact, the last blow is the only immediate visible reason for breaking the rock. Does that mean all the previous blows were a wasted effort? Obviously, the initial blows were all necessary for the rock to be ready to break at the last blow. The immediate cause is just incidental. So it is important for us to establish a daily sadhana or a way of life that leads to spiritual uplift. This doesn’t mean that you keep praying 24x7. On the contrary, you don’t really need to pray for anything at all. It is about keeping a vision and awareness throughout life that constitutes spiritual living. It is also about living and enjoying with progressively reduced urge to cling on to the experiences on which we label them as good or bad. An experience, ‘named’ as good or bad suggests that you need to resolve it or you carry it along as baggage to ‘deal with it later’. There is no conclusion to any experience if we label it good or bad. Our tendency is that a bad experience needs to be changed into a good one; and a good one needs to be maintained so that we can continue to enjoy it. Is there anything that is permanently prone to enjoyment only? No. This is the cycle of clinging attachment and incessant pursuits! Indeed, mighty Maya is at work.
There is no other magic to spirituality than the daily practice of awareness, once we are subscribed to the idea of self-inquiry as opposed to being a mere believer! In the path of self-inquiry, self-discipline (control over senses and mind) is a prerequisite whereas in a religious path that is not necessary as someone else is thinking for you anyway! Spirituality is a matter of achieving clarity of vision of a higher ideal. As Swami Rama puts it nicely, the prayer-hymn “Asatoma Satgamaya, thamasoma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma amrtham gamaya” (Lead us from unreal to real, darkness to light; mortality to immortality”) is not a prayer to achieve these states. It is a vision that we want to keep working at. It is this awareness we want to aspire to have continually within you. No ‘belief’ will get us this vision and there are no shortcuts either. One has to work at it and take full responsibility to behold this vision. This vision leads to “Who am I inquiry” and ultimately to self-realization.
Many of us pursue a model that is best described as hybrid – religious and spiritual life, combining the two in varying proportions depending on our innate nature. This duality has always been there in human development and scriptures provide interesting poetic episodes where such concepts have been elucidated by sages. These are wonderful plot points in the myriad of stories that turn the course of direction for the master storyteller and the reader disciple alike.
The episode of an instant of Sri Hanumanji and Sri Rama in conversation is unique in its purport and intend. You see the disciple be as mature as the guru in these types of conversations. Sri Rama asks Hanuman – ‘Who am I to you?’ Hanuman replied. “In the physical level you are the Lord and I am your servant; in the sense of me as the living and throbbing individual entity, jeeva, I am part of you and in the level of Atma, the self, you and me are the same. I have concluded this on my own”
“Deha-buddhya tu daso'ham
iti me nischita matihi”.
This is the ideal status of a true devotee /seeker. In a short shloka, Sree Hanuman ji described the three systems of Sanatana Dharma – Dwaitha, Vishistadwaita, and Adwaitha philosophies! They are not at odds with each other as some of us may have wrongfully understood. The three yogas – Karma for dwaitha or duality; Bhakthi for vishista adwaitha or qualified duality; and Jnana for adwaitha or non-duality are expounded by Hanmanji in his profound reply. They all lead to the same goal of self-realization. In fact, within the span of a day, most of us go through the three levels of sadhanas whether we realize it or not. We do have moments of intense activities and service; moments of contemplation & devotion; as well as moments where time stands still in true understanding. We are at liberty to practice any of the three or a combination of them within the folds of Sanathana Dharma. Scriptures such as Srimad Bhagavatham provides great insights into these schools of philosophies along with practical guidelines for house-holders like us.
Many great souls- Mahatmas used the scriptures as their basis for inquiry and have amazingly concluded similar visions of the Ultimate Truth. There is great merit in reading and studying the lives and teachings of these gurus as a daily practice. They have inspirational stories to tell and they keep you excited about the possibilities. Well-known Mahatmas such as Adi Shankaracharya, Ezhutthassan, Sree Narayana Guru, Ramana Maharshi, and the Gurus of recent times - Swami Chimayananda, Sree Sai Baba and Mata Amruthananda Mayi, etc. - have laid wonderful paths of discipline and spiritual practice for our guidance.
In short, practical spirituality can be summarized with the Famous W5 (What, Why, Who, Where, When) and a How!
What is Spirituality? It is the way we think and acts in life by taking full responsibility for our own thoughts and actions without depending on anyone else. Dependence on someone and getting inspired by someone are entirely different in attitude.
Why? We need to develop a readiness to face any situations in life by developing mental tranquility and proper attitude. Situations are typically difficult to face, even impossible to change, but our attitude can definitely be changed. And the journey is alone.
Who? - You and I, on our own terms. It is not just for the Sadhus and priests. No doubt all mahatmas- religious or otherwise are our teachers. But no one other than our own self is there to take us through life’s ups and downs in the journey till the end.
Where? Right here, wherever we are. No need to wait until we get into the company of yogis in the Himalayas, the Pope of the Vatican, or the crowd of Holy Mecca. It is in our houses, workplaces, parks, and playgrounds alike.
When? Spirituality is right now, in this life, in this moment. No need to wait until we get older or eventually die and get in line to be chosen for heaven or hell. There is a Chinese proverb - the best time to plant an apple tree was 5 years ago, but the next best time is right now. Spiritual life can bring heaven here and now, for the self; the people around, and even for the environment.
How? By practicing mind-full awareness guided by inspirational spiritual disciplines taught by men and women of wisdom. Inquire. Inquire. Inquire. And we should be ready to even make mistakes of our own before finding that path of freedom!
Yes, indulge in beliefs, we are limited; live life with awareness, we are unlimited. The choice is ours to make.
Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
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