SPIRITUALITY IS NOT FOR LOSERS
….Excerpts from a work in progress….
The Mind Butterfly
We are all spiritual, in one way or another. Like butterflies we flit from physical, sensuous life to thought and emotion, the realm of the spirit. This is how we live, moving from one level of existence to another seamlessly in our everyday lives.
There have always been attempts to put these two aspects of life in different compartments. Perhaps it is because material life and the spiritual life are seen as two opposites of the spectrum. But they are not. Both are what we are. We are nothing without the physical and material part of ourselves and we are nothing without the functioning of the mind and the spirit. Spirituality is with us all the time and it is nothing if it does not create wisdom and courage deep within.
Religion and spirituality is flawed and misdirected if it weakens or diminishes you with teachings of withdrawal and passivity. For the spiritual life, the life of doubt, inquiry and knowledge, must help you evolve to a better life. It is my belief that while the transcendental goals of spirituality, of any practices of meditation or of study of the texts of old or new wisdom, goals such as enlightenment or nirvana, are a part of traditional vision and beliefs, but the goal here and now is to be able to live with as much harmony and happiness as is possible.
Don’t Look for certainties
Anyone who takes an interest in trying to understand some of the eternal questions about life, it’s purposes and how it should be lived, must not look for certainties. There are no certainties in the challenges of thought and philosophy. There are only some directions, some ideas that come together and seem to be true. As the Zen saying goes: “ we do not look for answers. We lose the questions.” One of the greatest gains of the wisdom of life is to be able to deal with anything with our deep calm and understanding. To be able to feel the exhilaration that comes at moments of achieving excellence, the feeling of being more than a man. There is no greater joy than this. For it these moments you go beyond the limitations of being a human being who is a victim of destiny.
Down the ages, we have been obsessed with Truth, we have created other worldly dimensions of great beauty and happiness, almost all traditions have their fantastic heavens, but we have not been able to live without conflict. The bloodiest wars have been fought on the basis of this obsession with these doctrines and ideas. Indeed since spiritual ideas are almost always beyond the pale of rationalism, they are absolutely free, even beard sometimes. We have seen that very strong ideas create conflict and this happens to this day in contravention of all the technology and the knowledge of the modern age. Because when it comes to religious or spiritual ideas, we suspend our intelligence and strict to the end equated and the archaic.
Utilitarian knowledge and Spirituality
We have become accustomed in our times of looking for utilitarianism in the pursuit of science and knowledge. It is the characteristic of an era and a society which seems to have built its entire idea of happiness on consumption and “ using” Nature, Knowledge, Space, even people, to derive material benefit. Science too has suffered from this attitude as what we call “practical science” means the loss of the sense of wonder, of love of the universe and of those values of thought and meditative nests that inspired the scientists and philosophers of an earlier time.
Bertrand Russell (Principles of Social Reconstruction. 1916) wrote about the real meaning and purpose of a life of contemplation when he wrote: “it is the happy contemplation of what is eternal, that Spinoza calls the intellectual love of God. To those who have once known it, it is the key to wisdom.” By “happy contemplation” here is meant the flights of the mind which are able to carry the thinker into the realms of the infinite, something which is impersonal and above mankind such as God (Russell was an atheist but uses that word as an idea of a transcendent power), or truth or beauty. They are thought and pure philosophy, without regard for some gain, is something that human beings have always indulged in and enjoyed as a part of their lives. While the person of intelligence involved in work and struggle in everyday life finds a deep sense of peace and meditative calm in “just thinking about things” in solitude, the philosopher goes deeper into the questions and challenges and tries to come up with some possible answers.
It is interesting here to give a thought for a moment to those ancient seers and philosophers of India in Vedic times who had no repositories of knowledge to fall back upon and who yet spent their lives in the contemplation of the eternal questions. There is a beautiful passage in the Rig Veda which expresses an admission of honest doubt in knowing the truth about the creation of the world.:
“Who really knows? Who here can say it? When is was it born and whence comes this creation? The gods came after this world was created. Who then knows whence it 1st came into being?
He, the first origin of this creation, perhaps he formed it all, perhaps he did not. The one whose I control is this world in the highest heaven, he only knows it, or perhaps he knows not. (RV;10.129.6–7)
In our own time, scientist and philosopher, Carl Sagan, thought that: “the moment we think that we know everything there is to know (about creation and the universe) in that moment we will have failed.” The one thing that distinguishes the dogmatic man of religion from the scientist and philosopher, or just the ordinary person who engages in “the happy contemplation” of the world and of everything around him, is that in religion there have got to be certainties. Everything is known and settled. There is no room for doubt or change and each idea will be defended and fought for. In science things change with every discovery. It is a way of thinking that frees us from the burden of being right all the time. In our own lives we know that we are never right all the time and each one of us, the young and foolish as well as the oldest and wisest, we are all learning on the job. We know from science and from traditions like Buddhist thought, that everything is changing every moment and that is the only certainty that we have to fathom. Time, the atoms in all that exists, the planets and the stars, and finally the impulses and outreaches of the ever active mind are moving at breakneck speed every instant and we must recognise this even though it is human nature to seek for permanence. Uncertainty in this context, is not a wobbly or a amorphous form of living without knowing where we are or where we are going. Uncertainty is an existential quality but in the midst of it all, the individual finds an anchor in his own wisdom and stability of thought. I find it amazing that what a modern scientist like Khalsa Gan said a few years ago was also said almost 3000 years ago by the Indian sages.
Ideas Turned Aggressive
at a later time in the history of civilisation is, much after the great philosophies of the Greeks and the Indians, there was a loss of that knowledge of no words, a fading away of that pristine intuition and ability to absorb the essence of nature and of life. Ideas turned aggressive into religions. Men arrogated to themselves the responsibility of telling, even commanding, other men as to how they should think and pray and live. The prophets and the priests appeared. But though the hold of religions was strong, there were rebellions of the free spirit in every age for subjugation and control of doctrine would never be accepted for too long.
We know that millions of people were killed in the brutality of religions in conflict with each other. Millions of people were burnt at the stake in the most peaceful and non-violent religion of Christianity. The same is true of the conquests of Islam and the unholy rage of all religions to try to convert people. These are some of the realities believe with even today. The best defence of it all has always been that you cannot blame the religions for what men did with them. The truth is that you cannot separate the followers from the religions and even though each great religion has been a creation of noble thoughts and beautiful humanity, it has also had to live in its own time and so I in the conflicts that man is heir to. We are fast approaching a time when a total land mines surrendering dependence on any religion has become irrelevant to our lives.
Again and again new paths to spiritual freedom were found and the process continues to this day. Things are true and not true depending on how they fit into your own nature and existence. All that you find to be true and in harmony with your life must give you the fearlessness and bravery of the warrior. That is the only way to live through the ups and downs, the happiness and the despair and the challenges of destiny.
Thought is Free
Something powerful is happening in today’s world in the realm of religion and spiritual thought. Religions on the one hand have, perhaps on being threatened with irrelevance, become belligerent and even viciously active in conflict areas. On the other, there has been an upsurge as never before in the creation of new systems of spiritual thought. This has been marked by free thinking, a recourse to indigenous and ancient wisdoms, and the emergence of teachers of spiritual ideas who have in common the values of universalism, peace and love for all humanity.
It is interesting and also significant that both these situations are happening at the same time. Religious bigotry and extremism seem at once to be a desperate answer to the demand in all cultures for greater personal freedom from socio-religious taboos and a general fading of belief in archaic systems.
There is a triumph here of intelligence and individualism as people living in an era of the information and knowledge explosion begin to think for themselves. As Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a spiritual guru from India, says:”I see that less people now come to me with questions about god. The are more interested in knowing about Enlightenment and how to live with happiness.
There will always be religions and masses of people to follow them, for the need for religion in most cases is like having a bank account, or a car, or a job. Everyone must have one. Following a religion makes you part of a tribe, the tribe validates the beliefs and the entire package gives the person a quickfix to a god idea that balances out the material and the transcendental life. In any case this is not something that is ever going to change for everyone learns of the god idea, whether he except sit or rejects it. Everyone wants a part of the action, sometimes if only to ensure that even as they live quite happily in their overriding material concerns, they do not miss out on the divine element. It is easy to be critical of this, but that is how different human beings are made and the important thing really is that whether totally materialistic or very highly spiritual, there must be an effort to understand how to live. “Everything has been worked out,” said Jean Paul Sartre, “except how to live.” At some stage of the other everyone feels the need to break out and to think.
The Spiritual Adventure
Nore people than ever before are wanting more from religions and getting it by personal thought and practice even as they follow their religions. There were always such people, of course, and for them it was a matter of absorbing the spiritual essence of the religions. What is happening now, in the atmosphere of greater freedom is that more people realise that they don’t have to be limited by or be captive to organised religion all the time. They can look around without being intimidated by jealous gods or angry priests.
Spirituality in our times is one of the great adventures of intellectual discovery and almost anything goes in the creative, open-minded and scholarly search for ideas and wisdoms that can sustain us in our lives today. If one but steps out of the comfort zone of one’s own religion and looks out, there is an exhilarating moment of enquiry that honours all great teachings that have ever been on this planet, without thought of any limitations. Researchers and thinkers in different parts of the world are looking at indigenous peoples and their thought traditions about life, the old currents of pantheistic God’s and the mother Goddess, the secret teachings of the Sufis, the philosophical realisation is of the yogis and holy men in the East, the ancient wisdoms of Greece and Mesopotamia, India and the Far East. It is a vast and varied canvas that modern spiritual thinkers have gone into.
Every new discovery, even though it be of long forgotten ideas lost in the ages, and every new exploration of the meaning of life is of value in so much as it broadens the areas of our own search for what will be of value to us. The concept of intelligent openness of mind that we are favouring here, really means that nothing has to be finally accepted or rejected as the touchstone always is one’s own sense of discrimination. There are bound to be masterly and profound ideas that can be of value and there are also bound to be the many cults and new organised ‘small’ religions which have become businesses for gurus and teachers of all Follow Nothing, Learn Everywhere
The information age has given a flood of ideas and systems and| philosophical ways of understanding and dealing with life as we live it. It is interesting to find that what we see happening now in the world of what is called New Spirituality, is really a result of the coming together of Eastern traditions of thought and the interest and curiosity of the Western mind.
There had been a great interest among Western scholars since many centuries in the ancient books of India comprising the Vedanta system of philosophy and there was a great deal of activity in translating old Sanskrit texts into Western languages. The same was true about the interest in Egyptian, Greek and other ancient scriptural texts which were painstakingly studied and translated and made available to the west.
Along with this there was a great deal of activity by Indian and Oriental spiritual teachers who went to Western countries and spread the teachings of their traditions. Perhaps the most visible of them all was the International Society for Krishna consciousness (ISKON).There are countless spiritual organisations founded by yoga and Vedanta teachers from India, and most notable among these was the work of Mahesh Yogi’s TM (Transcendental Meditation) movement and the work of the spectacular spiritualist, Osho. Perhaps a final synthesis of Eastern thought for Western sensibilities was achieved by the very popular, Dr.Deepak Chopra.
As things are now we have the major religions and their interpreters. We have a great amount of work being done on finding the secret teachings of the ancient wisdom and the knowledge of the indigenous peoples, and we have vibrant and innovative activity in bringing esoteric spiritual knowledge as well as new creative thinking on spiritual matters from writers, thinkers, scholars and also psychiatrists.
In this vast wonderland of thought and spiritual teaching it is difficult to find one’s way. I think the best answer to this is to be found in one of the most well-known sayings of the Buddha who exhorted his followers thus: “Believe nothing. No matter where you read it, or who said it. No matter if I have said it. Unless it agrees with your own reason and common sense.”
The propensity to follow a teacher or a system is very strong in most people. That is perhaps a natural circumstance in all men and it explains the great popularity that religions and cults have always had. Most people want to be shown the way, want to be told what to believe and how to lead their lives. This will not change. However as more and more people use their own intelligence and freedom of thought it is bound to happen that they will move away from the safety of religion and its dogma and the exotic, sometimes weired beliefs promoted by various cults and gurus. This is the only way people can learn what they want, reject what does not appeal to the mind and find their own most sensible way to live. The transcendental and amorphous goals of spiritual pursuits, such as Nirvana et cetera, can be kept in abeyance for most of us who are more interested in the business of living.
You Are Everything, As Is Nature
Whatever happens in the physical and material life a person leads has resonances in the mind and spirit. All spiritual thought focusses on understanding of your life and its events and gives the inner strength to go through with it all, the good that turns hurtful, the hurtful in mind and body, that fills with despair. It is the strength in your spirit alone that brings up from going under. It is the accumulated reservoir of knowledge and understanding that saves you again and again.
That inner strength that is deep in your being is a reserve of energy that is seldom accessed. In meditation and yogic and other practices it is awakened to come to our aid in our living in all the ways that we live. It can be considered simply as physical exercise which tones up and analyses the muscles of the body. There is no mystery to it. We do not live nor have our being or feeling and thinking at one level or in one way. Like Nature that is the seed of our creation. Nature or Prakriti ( an aspect of divine mystery and energy) is everything and part of all that exists. Just as you are. You are everything and not this one idea or that.
Nature has been given a great deal of importance in the design of living in the philosophy of Vedanta. Ideas of the supremacy of nature in its various manifestations and driven by its own immutable laws, occupy a major part of the philosophy of the ancient seekers or Rishis of India who lived in the forests in their small Ashrams and deliberated the great questions of life in the universe. So much so that in the Upanishads and in the Bhagwadguta , nature is considered an aspect of Divinity and a physical manifestation of it. The laws and processes of nature also direct and control human beings and are part of their mental and physical make up. It is in the silence in the forest and the raging storm that destroys and it is the calm waters of mountain lakes and lightening that annihilates the dark. It is also the cosmos and the stars and expances of space and time and you are all this. Not just metaphorically but in a very real, down-to-earth sense. As has often been said, “you are made of star stuff.”
The Mantra of Strength
It was this great idea of man’s oneness with the divine, with the creative intelligence of the universe, that was contained a in the great mantras of Vedanta. Who but men of the highest realisation of their own great possibility of evolving to supreme consciousness could have had the courage to chant: “Aham Brahm Asmi” (I Am God) and “Tat Tvam Asi” (Thou Art That). “Anything that makes you weak physically, mentally or spiritually must be rejected like poison,” said Swami Vivekananda, a great Indian sage.
Vivekananda was a Hindu monk of the highest degree, the Paramhansas and had been initiated by one of the greatest spiritual Masters of India, Ramakrishna Paramahansa. But he was not a conventional orthodox monk self centred in his own salvation. He was a sensitive humanitarian who wanted desperately to do something to help the suffering millions.
He saw the physical and mental misery of the poor and dispossessed masses in India and it troubled him immensely. He realised that a people weakened by material circumstances in a society riven with the inequality and horrors of untouchability, did not or could not seek spirituality for their priority was survival. Religionand philosophies come second to the business of living everywhere in the world.
And understanding this truth of life, he fi at the rmed upon the great mantra which he repeated everywhere. The mantra of Strength. Hard work and self confidence. Weakness, he said, is death.
He had seen one of the fault lines of religion as well as spirituality. In their teachings of love, humility and withdrawal from crass materialism, all wonderful values in themselves, they tend to dilute the spirit of achievement and struggle. Specially in India, the philosophies of illusionism and karma, the helplessness of man in a pre-destined world, led to an existential surrender. Total dependence on divine powers made for weakness and lack of self-will.
It is a strange irony that such dependence and surrender to religions or to the gentle teachings of the spiritual life, do actually create a sense of withdrawal, living in denial of the conflict and the struggle that is necessary in all lives. While all of us need the sanctuary of peace and happiness in our lives. We cannot have it at the expense of what we must do, what we are driven to achieve by our own talents and what is necessary to survive. It is often said in the spiritual context that there is a need or a yearning for “an endless bliss.” This would be wonderful if we can find the bliss without giving up on life.
Vivekananda’s Mantra of Strength has to be with us all the time. The Warrior and the Yogi must come together in each one of us. To use a colloquialism, Spirituality is not for lose…