What is it to ‘be spiritual’?

When people ask me what do I do every day ever since I quit a full-time job in July 2011, I feel reluctant to say that I am engaged a bit more than I used to in spiritual pursuits. By the end of the post, the reason for my reluctance will be clearer. The common understanding of spiritual pursuits could be somewhat different from what I intend to convey. Usually, it is taken to mean that one is engaged in religious studies, participates in group chanting and/or attends religious classes (e.g., Veda chanting or Bhagawad Gita lessons), visits temples, etc. My guess is that spirituality could include these but is certainly not limited to them.

At a personal level, I am doing some of the above activities more than I used to, in the past. I find them useful, comforting and I think they help me in ‘spiritual pursuits’ as I am going to describe them below. I believe that they help to prepare the mind just as one prepares the soil before seeding. Harvest comes much later and a lot more remains to be done after seeding. Hence, the analogy seems apt, to me.

But, it is possible that one may just stop with these activities and not pursue a spiritual path. Worse, in some cases, pursuit of the above activities is construed to be a license to engage more freely in unethical and immoral activities in the worldly plane.

What exactly is being ‘spiritual’ or being engaged in spiritual pursuit? What follows is a personal definition. I see two dimensions to being spiritual.

As one becomes more and more spiritual, in every action/non-action, one will go through three stages consciously: awareness, action (or non-action) and acceptance of outcome of the previous two stages of awareness and action. This is one dimension of spirituality.

Being aware of a situation including one’s own motivations, prejudices, insecurities, fears, anxieties, jealousies, etc. makes it a lot easier to deal with them. The moment one becomes aware of them, one ceases to justify them to oneself and the journey to a world where we are rid of them has begun in a big way. ‘Being aware’ is also the very big step in developing and maintaining ‘Saakshibhava’.

In the practical plane, awareness leads to conscious action, weighing of costs, benefits and consequences of action and inaction with greater objectivity. In fact, awareness in some situations will lead to non-action which is very different from inaction.

Inaction usually is thamasic whereas non-action is deliberate. Action usually results from the need/urge to act, driven by ego – wanting to be seen as doing something (for one’s own self-image and one for the sake of worldly perception). Awareness leading to non-action is recognition of a problem but also the attendant recognition that one’s proposed solutions might not solve the problem but compound it. That is humility or, at the minimum, leashing the ego. We all have the urge to solve all the problems that befall us (personal) or come to our knowledge (private and social) – personal, private or social – and underlying that urge is the belief and the confidence that we have the answers. It may be true on occasions but, mostly, it is our ego that makes us believe that we have the answers.

Once we have decided to act (or, not act), then we accept whatever outcome that comes our way without any attachment to it. Of course, I am not saying anything new here. Most of you know who holds the intellectual property right to this one.

May be, I should propose one amendment: Instead of ‘action’, let us say, ‘decision’ without attachment to outcomes. ‘Decision’ is broader and includes both action and non-action.

The second dimension of spirituality is to make sure that one’s actions are aligned with one’s words and words are aligned with thoughts and of course, to ensure that the thoughts be healthy and dharmic.

It seems apt to end this post with the words of Sri Chandrashekhara Bharati Mahaswamigal (1892-1954), 34th Pontiff (1912-1954) of the Sri Sharada Peetam, Sringeri:

 What is the practical use of enunciating the abstract truth of the Absolute Brahman to people who are not prepared to put into practice the elementary principles of even Samanya Dharma, Ordinary Law? After securing steadiness in Samanya Dharma, and after purifying and qualifying himself by the earnest practice of Visesha Dharma, the Special Law, prescribed for him, a person attains the requisite standard of competence to enable him to enter on the study of Advaita. The tendency to neglect the wholesome doctrine that Vedantic study is intended only for the competent is responsible for the confused thinking of modern days. Even for simple crafts, such as masonry or carpentry, a preliminary course of training is required before a person is allowed to handle the instruments; but in the field of Brahma-Vidya, the science of the Self, the highest and the most difficult of all sciences, everybody thinks himself competent and entitled to study the system of Advaita and even to sit in judgement over it. This attitude must go and must be replaced by earnest endeavour first to secure the necessary competence. If we make an honest attempt to secure that competence by following implicitly the directions of the sastras and of the Guru, the Lord will guide us along the path of progress, solve all our problems and doubts, free us from all worry and trouble and lead us on to the state of realisation of the Advaita Reality, the truth and the bliss of the absolute oneness of all in the undifferentiated Brahman. [Link, p.14]

(So, why am I reluctant to say that I am engaged in spiritual pursuits? It is not correct to say that one is working towards a doctorate just after having joined the Kindergarten.)

2 thoughts on “What is it to ‘be spiritual’?

  1. Makes for uplifting reading. I think though that you have certainly gone way past “kindergarten” level in your spiritual journey:)

    Getting the thought, word and action aligned is the most difficult thing. And getting the ego out of the way. Signs of spiritual awakening would include the ability to live in the present moment, being enthusiastic, passionate and spontaneous, not having a need to judge oneself and others too highly or poorly, being secure and non-anxious or fearful, and ofcourse the action( or the non-action as the case maybe) being on the right course.
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pingback: Religion and spirituality and not Religion vs. Spirituality | Jeevatma

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