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Practical Spirituality – Laying the Path


I tried to complete this article thrice before, but somehow or the other it didn’t turn up in a way I wanted. I have rewritten this article thrice. And yet I am not satisfied with the outcome. It just makes me wonder if my current disposition is so bad, because of all the traveling I have been doing and the food that I am eating. Being a very strict vegetarian, having proper food is an austerity, almost a penance, while on travel, especially to a place where not even plain rice is vegetarian, except at the few Indian restaurants. My teacher on several occasions had mentioned that not only the food we eat, but also the person cooking it, the person who bought the raw materials and so on, all have influence on our mood, behavior and disposition. Guess I am having that experience firsthand. So, I am leaving this to my ‘flow’ of thoughts.

I was having lunch with a group of engineers who were discussing some highly sophisticated technology stuff and as the lunch began to take effect, the topic drifted to focus on a guy who claimed he was into hatha-yoga for the last one year and on how it has been extremely beneficial for him. And as the initial conversation was winding down to the normal ‘yeah, yeah, that’s right…’ kind of semi-disinterested agreement, one person quipped that “yoga is all about breathing, you know”. I suppressed a ‘whoa! Hold on!’ and continued spooning the food in to me.

Several years ago, when I was about 20 or so, we had arranged a family pilgrimage to several temples in Kerala. We were about 11 people in a van and in due course of time, our conversation came to discussing about how my studies with Bhagavad Gita were progressing and what impact it was making on me. Not many of the ‘elders’ really gave any importance to what I had to say, but one of my uncles suddenly turned to me and said “All this is not required. Just chant ‘Om Namo Bhagavate Rudraya’… all bad things will go away, you will study well, get good money’… “. I was kind of amused but had to resist the urge to debate him, merely out of respect to an ‘elder’ person.

I even had my father yell at me once because he thought I was getting too much in to ‘this unproductive stuff’. He is supposedly a very religious person and he boomed, “This stuff is for people above the age of 50, when they get all the time they need for this kind of time pass!” I didn’t mean to be disrespectful but I shot back. “Appa, YOU are above 50. I don’t see you spending time on this ‘stuff’. Instead, you just sit around when you DO get time and watch only the stupid mega-serials.” That stopped him short. He glared at me for a few moments and walked away.

Couple of lessons learnt from the above incidents:

1)      The tendency to show that ‘oh, I know something’ about a topic, especially when it is related to spirituality, is pretty hard for a normal person to resist.

2)      It is only by sustained practice and ‘living the philosophy’ can we actually hope to transform anyone’s opinion. Even then, there is a risk that it might only inflame anger as well as enviousness and not acceptance.

I just wanted to share these with you all before actually getting to the topic at hand.

So, we see people going to temples, churches and mosques every day. We see them immersed in prayer, with some people weeping, some serene and a few whose prayer style borders on eccentricity. But I was standing at a restaurant counter, when a man came and stood next to me. After giving the token, he kept smiling and talking to himself. After a minute or so, he took his mobile out. I saw the wallpaper was a nice picture of Tirupati Balaji. He started mumbling something, touched the mobile to his eyes, and kept it back in to his shirt pocket. He did this a couple of times until his food packet got delivered.

Is this man spiritual? Some might think of him as a weirdo. Others might marvel at his ‘devotion’.

If you are born in a Brahmin family, or grown up around one, you would have seen the myriad of pujas and homams (fire sacrifices) being conducted. The young kids do sandhya-vandanam meticulously and the morning and evening times resonate with chanting of the vedic hymns. It is really an indescribable experience. May be not these days, but the families usually follows so many rules, Acharam and Anushtanam, and what not, right from the time of waking up to eating and sleeping.

Are these (we?) ‘brahmins’ spiritual? Also, some think of the myriad of rituals and hymn chanting as a waste of time. Others think of it as a necessary burden for the discipline that spiritual practice requires.

I used to work as a teaching assistant during my Master’s course. I had this boy who came to the class and instead of listening to what I was saying, was busy reading the bible. This repeated itself over the entire semester. I did try to tell him subtly to focus on the class, for the money he had paid, but yeah, it didn’t work. I heard another TA describe this boy as being “addicted to the bible”. He was usually very quiet in class and never troubled anyone, did not too bad in study but he kept praying now and then.

Is the boy spiritual? Some might say that he is a ‘Jesus-freak’. Others might see him as being devoted.

I had a friend who was my junior in the same university. A Muslim, if you hadn’t guessed already. He was the normal devout Muslim who never bothered anyone except me, of course. Don’t take it in the wrong way, he was good friend.

(I just thought I will mention this, not wishing to leave any Muslim friends here feel bad…  no question for this part).

So, individual perceptions vary because people have varied (sometimes pretty weird) notions of spirituality. I once read an article where a mother was feeling proud of her son who had become very thoughtful after going to some Osho classes and now silently munches on a chicken burger at breakfast (I assume he did it noisily before)! Some people think they can just live as they want, but just have to do a little good here and there. Some think building schools and hospitals gives them spiritual uplift. There are some others who think they need to put an external show of ‘religiosity’ in order to feel ‘spiritual’ and convince others as such. The increasing number of fake swamis these days is proof enough.

The point I am trying to get to is this. Do we actually know what spirituality is? Who is a spiritual person? What does it take to become and remain a spiritual person?

Note: It is impossible to teach Spiritual Science without an associated ‘philosophy’.  Whatever I am going to present in this series is fully based on Vaishnava Siddhanta.

We can say a spiritual person is one who has realized his actual identity as an eternal, undivided, indestructible ‘anu-atma’, an infinitesimal spirit soul. This in common terms can be termed as ‘self-realization’. So, spiritual science starts off with this fundamental understanding that we are the spirit souls. And the purpose of this science is in realizing one’s true nature and purpose of existence in relation to the Supreme Lord.

There are many versions of ‘self-realization’ going around. Some term it as ‘realizing oneself as the divine’. The more popular version is ‘realizing that God is in everything, so everything is God’. I keep coming to these statements over and over again since these ideas have taken over so many millions of people in a deadly grip of self-glorification, and false hope of ‘becoming God’ one day.

There are also so many people who subtly demand to be glorified and worshipped by projecting themselves as ‘self-realized’. So, in order to make proper spiritual progress, it is critical to understand that we are not the body, but it even more critical to understand that we are NOT God and the commonly stated goal of spirituality, Moksha, does NOT mean oneness or nothingness. I know that there would be many people who subscribe to the ideas of this oneness or even nothingness quoting Aham Brahmasmi, Tat tvam asi etc. It would suffice to say that I do not follow Advaita and it is not my interest to try and prove to anyone as to why it is so.

Nowadays, to say that we believe in the existence of the soul is to invite the ire of the ‘modern scien-tellectuals’.  They say that there is no soul, because they do not have any evidence of the same. The Vedas repeatedly say that the soul is not a gross material entity, which by default makes it beyond the reach of our material senses, skills and our contraptions. So we cannot realize the existence of the soul by direct experience or direct perception. The only way we do this is through ‘Shabda’, which are the ‘Vedas’.  If one does not accept the Vedas as an authority, they have no business commenting on spiritual matters that stem from the Vedas.

Let’s take a look at around us. There are so many machines around us. Billions of buildings are being built and have been built. You see flights taking off or landing, ships afloat on water. Computers rule the world these days. But there is one thing that will bring all this to a stop if removed from the scene.

Us. The ‘living’ beings.

Without the presence and touch of a spiritual entity, gross matter can NEVER gain conscious abilities or the inspiration or impetus for creativity. Without the spirit inside, even this body will have no capabilities, even though it might be perfectly healthy from a ‘medical’ point of view. So to believe that all that is around us was somehow manifested by chance is gross foolishness.  It takes that ‘spark’ of spiritual energy to…

Anyway, let’s get back to topic. We have seen what self realization is. How does one get self realized? Spiritual science is actually very simple and extremely complex at the same time. This is not word play. For a person who accepts the Veda pramana, this science is very simple. For one who wants to get to the spiritual stage by logical analysis, it is very complex and difficult to understand.

This spiritual science comes with its own set of rules and regulations, just like modern science. But unlike modern science, there is an additional component that renders the outcome of a spiritual experiment as unpredictable sometimes: personal resolve. It does require a person’s undivided attention and resolve to progress on the spiritual path. This resolve comes from faith, built through proper ‘sanga’ or ‘association’, properly guided by the grace of one’s Guru and by the mercy of the Supreme Lord Krishna.

It only takes humble service and truthful enquiry to an Acharya, to understand spiritual science. And it is the same thing that makes this that much more difficult. Through experience I can say that when you in search of spiritual knowledge and are sincere, when you are ready, it is actually your Guru who finds you. This is difficult to grasp logically, but that is how it works in the spiritual dimension.

I know my focus has been in all directions in this article, but I hope that my condition will improve. From the next article onwards, I would like to take things in a more easy pace, starting with the basic regulatory principles for spiritual practice. Thank you for your patience.

0 03 August, 2010 Bhagavad Gita-as i learned August 3, 2010

About the author

A techie by profession but spiritual by nature. Ambi writes about the ancient wisdom of our Indian culture in a way the modern generation can easily understand. Oh ya, his comments are as interesting as his posts and his posts always trigger healthy debates.

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    1. Ambi

      True, the subject is an ocean. But I want this series to be as focused as possible. And I thought I had it all figured out until this whole trip of mine happened.

      I believe I can get it to a more focused approach going forward, with some extra divine grace. 🙂

  1. david

    Does anywhere in Vedas mention on Vegetarianism reflected?

    p.s > Nice to see your series again. Looking forward to it.

    1. Ambi

      I am going to post an answer anyway…

      In brief, yes, the Vedas do recommend vegetarianism for spiritual practice. I am not an expert in Vedas to actually show and quote, but if you look at the teachings of almost any Vedic sampradaya, you will see that the Acharyas, who have explained the Vedas in detail, do have vegetarianism as a requirement for spiritual practice.

      There are several reasons for such a regulation which I will be addressing in my forthcoming articles, like the ‘principle’ behind vegetarianism as well as several other austerities that are required.

      I do not, however, want anyone to feel here like being vegetarian is ‘superior’. Even many animals are vegetarians and there is nothing to take pride in. It is to merely aid in achieving spiritual progress.

      1. david

        Hi Ambi sorry for late response. Will look forward to your vegetarianism mentions in future articles.

        “ven many animals are vegetarians and there is nothing to take pride in” – very true. I have seen many these days who behave “transformed” overnight after becoming vegetarians lol…

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