Spirituality is the topic of the second part of the series. Spirituality is broadly defined as including “a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves”—typically involving a search for the meaning in life. But many people loosely use the term “spiritual” in ways that detract from the true meaning of spirituality and what it is to “be spiritual”.
Acharya das clearly explains the meaning of “spiritual”. It begins with a real understanding of the differences between the material and spiritual energies. He also contrasts the materialistic and spiritual worldviews. The wisdom which arises from true spiritual vision is to see as follows:
- The world, not as my home or my property, but a place that existed before I showed up in this body and which will exist beyond my current life in this body. My claim to any part of this world is false. “Consuming” this world will not give me true and lasting happiness. I should view this world with appreciation and through the lens of guardianship.
- All life is sacred. All life is spiritual. There is no higher or lower. We are all spiritual brothers and sisters. Exploiting or using others brings unhappiness to the user and the used. Love and serve others.
- I am not material. “I” am spiritual. The path of true self-discovery brings eternal happiness, peace, and fulfillment.
Ignorance consists of considering that which is temporary as eternal, the impure as pure, misery as happiness and the non-self (the body or mind) as the real self. – Yoga-sūtra 2.5
In the stage of perfection called samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact. – Bhagavad-gītā 6.20-23
He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna! – Bhagavad-gītā 6.32
It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words. – Caitanya Caritamrita Adi 9.42
Namaste and welcome. So this is the second part of our series on Yoga, Spirituality, Enlightenment and God. So speaking about spirituality…There are so many ideas floating around as to what constitutes spirituality or what is spiritual. And if you attempt to define it, I mean, I just did a quick Google search and see what comes up at the top of the list and there was this definition: Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and it typically involves a search for meaning in life. I’m not very satisfied with that definition simply because we could be looking at somebody in a political party, in a social revolution, a political revolution, a member of the Nazi party. (laughs) I mean, you know that definition fits anything like that and so for that reason I feel that it lacks in true value. In the dictionary things work, I think, a little bit better. They defined spiritual as not composed of matter. I’m going like, “Wow, that’s a relief!” (laughs) So this actually now helps to now form some sort of understanding. I mean, the problem is this, if you do not have a clear understanding of what is spiritual, then you might associate spirituality with all kinds of ideas and fluffy stuff, and floaty stuff and you know. I mean some people they paint a picture on their mind or the feeling of spiritualists like rainbows and butterflies and unicorns and you know. I am not meaning to denigrate anyone but that is not, you know when people start veering off into this sort of a tangent they are going to have difficulty understanding the true meaning of spirituality.
So, if we’re going to look at this we do have to understand, if we are going to consider this definition which is actually accurate that this world, this world in which we live, or nature as we might call it is not inherently spiritual. To be completely in tune with nature, to be completely in tune with this world, to be in tune with my body is not inherently spiritual. It doesn’t mean that it’s not subtle, it’s perhaps in some ways important or whatever but it is not actually spiritual. Neither is my body. My body is not spiritual so diving into experiences of my body and then calling that a spiritual experience is also not a good understanding.
So what is taught and promoted within the Vedas is that fundamentally within our experience, we will come into contact with only 2 fundamental energies within this world. One energy is spiritual and one energy is material. And in the Vedas they refer to this as purusa and prakriti or what maybe be called also the mahatattva and jivatattva. Spirituality then is defined by my quest to actually come to learn to appreciate and become absorbed in that which is spiritual. If I am becoming absorbed in that which is of a temporary, impermanent and constantly changing nature that is not spiritual. That is material, and a material experience.
The foundation of anti-spiritual thought or anti-spiritual consciousness is fundamentally materialism. You know generally people have this idea, they have this appreciation that it’s not good to be materialistic. But if you ask people what is the meaning of materialistic what do they often say? To be too attached to things you know what I mean to be too overwhelmed with thoughts of my position in life or you know things related to this world, this is materialism. But from the Vedic perspective the foundation of all materialism is this misconception that I, I am material. Now when I say that, many people will go, “Whoa, I don’t think I’m material.” But if I ask you to identify yourself, tell me who you are, generally most of us will give a list of characteristics or labels associated with this body—I am male or I am female, I am of a particular age, a particular height, weight, complexion, my hair is like this or whatever. If I am holding those labels to be who I am and my identity then I am not, not appreciating my true spiritual existence. So the foundation of all materialism is the idea that this body that I have on is me. It’s who I am. If I cling to this idea and everything that is built upon it, then I’m a materialist.
The foundation of all spirituality, the foundation is this very famous Vedic aphorism or mantra, Aham brahmasmi, I am spirit. I… You know, if I close my eyes and I think about that statement, I meditate and reflect I am spirit, I am not this temporary and changing material body. This is the foundation of all spirituality. If I propose something to be spiritual and I am not, and I’m not making this the foundation of that experience, it’s not, I am sorry, it’s not a spiritual experience. It is a material experience. Just because something is very subtle or very ethereal or very what people might call heavenly, that does not make it something spiritual. The foundation as I said is this understanding or appreciation.
So life, anything that is living, life itself is a symptom, a symptom of the presence of the spiritual energy, of spirit. Matter does not possess life. It does not have life. When we see life it is because of the presence of this spiritual energy. The amazing thing, the amazing thing about this yoga process and philosophy is once you start having the experience and realizations that come with it and the understandings that come from it is that when life is in the presence of matter, matter begins to change the way it behaves and appears to take on the quality of life and this is very confusing for everyone because we begin to relate to other bodies as being the actual person. And it is not usually until the moment of death when someone actually leaves that body that we’re struck with this whole new reality that this body lying in front of me is actually not a person. But because of the great potency, the spiritual potency of this life particle or spiritual existence when it is intimately associated with matter it seems to take on like it’s alive, like this is how the person really is. When we understand this, we can more easily understand a couple of the things that we are confronted with.
In this world, all living beings search for happiness and we search for happiness because it is the eternal nature of the soul, of the living being, the spirit soul, what is accurately described or called in Sanskrit or in the Vedas as the atma or self. My eternal nature is to exist in a state of happiness. So when I am embodied when I am inside this body and completely identifying with I will attempt to seek to fulfill my desire for happiness, my quest for happiness with this body, thru this body, in relation to this body in the hope, and it’s a vain hope, that I will actually experience true fulfillment, unending, boundless happiness. The problem is that when you get absorbed in that illusion, when you are overwhelmed with materialistic idea that I am material, this body is me then you will experience constantly insecurities, frustrations, fears because everything that you are doing is, you’re just simply trying to feed the body and neglecting the spiritual person within. In the Vedas they use the example of like a bird in a cage. You have a beautiful golden cage that’s all decorated and there is a bird inside and somebody is completely focused on taking care of the cage, polishing the cage that’s so beautiful but neglecting to feed the bird within. In a similar manner what happens when we are overwhelmed with materialistic consciousness the tendency is to become totally focused on the cage and the bird within that is me, the actual spiritual being is entirely neglected and for that reason we are filled with such a lack of fulfillment, such insecurity, such…all of the pain and suffering associated with material existence. And for this reason we experience unhappiness.
In the Bhagavad Gita there are three verses which describe a truly spiritual condition as opposed to a material condition. It describes that, ”In the stage of spiritual perfection called samadhi one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by the practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized thru transcendental senses established thus one never departs from the truth and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position one is never shaken even in the midst of the greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact. So the spiritual experience, the spiritual realization, the spiritual perspective makes it so that even while we live within this world and within this body, it completely alters 3 different things, our view of this world, our view of others and our view of our self. It is this understanding of my true spiritual identity that creates spiritual understanding and creates the opportunity to live a spiritual life.
So how does a yogi view the world? They see the world as being temporary, changing and it is not my home. The yogi will understand that I cannot become perfectly happy by consuming matter. I can take matter, the material elements of this world and I can put it into different shapes and forms because it’s all fundamentally the same stuff just in different shapes and forms and I can stuff it into the different orifices of my body. I can rub it all over my body, I can do all of these things to stimulate my senses into a frenzy but the problem is this, the nature of matter, atomic particles they do not contain the quality of ananda or blissfulness. So no matter how you pack it together, no matter how you try to stuff it in or on your body you will not have an experience of lasting happiness from it.
There is also this other understanding the yogi has that I cannot lay claim to this world as mine. It was all here before I showed up in this particular life and it will all be here when I’m gone. The idea of laying claim to it as mine is going to be an enormous source of anxiety and difficulty for me. And what the yogi has in a spiritual understanding, a spiritual perspective is a deep and profound respect for the material creation and a feeling of guardianship towards it. In relation to all others, it is very simple. In the Bhagavad Gita there is a wonderful verse that states “He is a perfect yogi who by comparison with his own self sees the true equality of all beings, both in their happiness and in their distress, O Arjuna.” So this is a spiritual understanding if you do not see all living beings with an eye of equality, you see all living beings as my brother and sister that I am not superior to them nor is one superior to another. With such a perspective one lives with a profound feeling of respect, of compassion and of care.
In the Bhagavad Gita also it describes that two of the characteristics of real spiritual vision in relation to others is non-violence, non-violence and the other thing is a compassion for all living entities. These are two qualities that clearly demonstrate that someone is living a spiritual life. If a person says they are leading a spiritual life but does not have compassion for others and is not acting non-violently towards others causing intentional harm that serves no real purpose then they are not living spiritually. There was great, in the Chaitanya Charitmrta another great spiritual text, it speaks about what is the actual duty of all living beings. This is the spiritual perspective in relation to others. “It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, with his wealth, with his intelligence, and with his words.” That’s quite profound, isn’t it? It’s quite amazing. It reminds me a little bit of something I read about the Dalai Lama. He had this statement in a one book that he wrote. Anyway he said if you want to experience happiness in this life, two things are required. One is you must have purpose and you must serve others. This is the key to happiness and I totally agree with that. This is an eternal spiritual principle. That purpose is the purpose of actually self-discovery and everything that is associated with that we will speak about that in the next two parts of this series. But this idea of serving others it is actually part of our spiritual nature. Our eternal spiritual nature is not to be the top dog, to be the one on top, number 1. You will not experience happiness in this. It’s not possible. You may get a temporary rush, a temporary flash but it’s not really part of our spiritual nature. We derive happiness when we serve others and people do this. They serve even their pets and they take joy even in serving their pets because service to others is part of our eternal spiritual nature. So in the next part of this series I will talk more about self-discovery and what that really means and I will address that so as I just mentioned that the way in which a yogi looks upon the world, looks upon others, and looks upon themselves determines whether they are living a spiritual life, whether they are a spiritual people or whether they are materialistic and that view that I have presented is the foundation the way in which one looks at the world, the way in which one looks at others and speaking about the way we should view ourselves. The path or the activity of self- discovery is what we will address next time. Thank you very much for attending and I’d like to invite you to join in a brief kirtan meditation where we will chant the mantra Aum Hari Aum.