Living the Spiritual Life
Why Be Spiritual?
Before we begin our discussion about spiritual life, let us clarify certain points.
Is it necessary to be spiritual? Can we not live without spirituality? What do we gain by being spiritual? What do we lose if we neglect spiritual life? Is spiritual life an option?
The answer to these is simple. Life without spirituality is incomplete, unsatisfactory and unfulfilled. Why? Because we are essentially spiritual beings! A human being is not just a body but he or she consists of the Atman, mind and body. In fact we are the Atman with a body-mind complex. As we neglected the most important part of our being—spirituality—, in spite of having physical and mental health, many of us continue to suffer so much.
Swami Vivekananda summarised the essence of all scriptures thus:
Each soul is potentially divine.
The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal.
Raja Ajit, the Maharaja of Khetri, once asked Swami Vivekananda, ‘What is life?’ Swamiji answered: ‘Life is the unfoldment and fulfilment of a being under circumstances tending to press it down.’
The Ideal of God Experience
Sri Ramakrishna’s advent was meant to revive the Ideal of experiencing God in this life. Through his life and teachings Sri Ramakrishna woke up this sleeping grand Ideal of life. He continues to awaken the consciousness of modern man to this supreme concern of spiritual life.
To Sri Ramakrishna the quest for God or the Divine was the primary concern of life. He gave himself to the search of God and found His divine Presence everywhere. To Sri Ramakrishna, seeking God was the sole occupation of life. He emphasised this to everyone who came to him seeking peace and fulfilment. He emphasised God-realisation as the only goal of life. Like the sages of the Upanishads, Sri Ramakrishna saw that a life without God or God-experience as a life of huge self-annihilation, mahati vinashtih— ‘a great disaster’, as the Kena Upanishad says.
The Isavasya Upanishad says that those who do not lead a spiritual life go to the worlds of darkness and are called asuras, demons. He also taught that God can be realised through intense yearning. Seeking,wanting, yearning, longing for God—this is the core point of spiritual life. We might call this as Vyakulata Yoga—the Yoga or Path of longing for God.
Sri Ramakrishna advised the modern man in search of peace:
To realise God is the one goal of life. Devote yourself to spiritual practice and go forward.
Through practice you will advance more and more in the path of God. At last you will come to know that God alone is real and all else is illusory, and that the goal of life is the attainment of God.
The ancient Rishis as well as the later day sages of India knew through direct experience this truth: they realised their true nature and attained supreme peace. They said that our real nature (svarupa) is Satchidananda— Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. The whole problem is that we have forgotten this and that is why we suffer.
Hence the sages place the ideal of Godrealisation as the goal of life so that we may put an end to our suffering and realise our true nature and be blessed forever.
Again, if we are all potentially divine beings, then God or Self-realisation is not an option—it is inbuilt in human existence. If we are divine we have no choice but to manifest our nature. Nature is like an escalator—it takes us up through various experiences and make us mature. Through the process of evolution, Nature is carrying us to our final destiny—our Divinity. She would not let us go until we know who we are. There would be no respite until we realise this. Then only we will go beyond all suffering and become free. That is why wise people all over the world in every clime and time have renounced the world so that they can realise their potential nature and become blessed. They have found that nothing is permanent in this world—everything else is changing and unreal; only God is the Unchanged One and Real.
To put it simply: We are spiritual beings. To manifest our spiritual nature is the inevitable goal of life. Spiritual life is not an option. To live a spiritual life now or later is an option.
What If We Do Not Live a Spiritual Life?
The Kena Upanishad, one of the ancient Hindu scriptures, says: na ched avedin mahati vinashtih: ‘If one does not come to know the Supreme, he must suffer utter destruction . . . Those who realise the Supreme become immortal, but others inevitably suffer.’
This implication of this verse of the Upanishad is that we if do not realise God,
- We remain incomplete and insecure, and unfulfilled.
- We miss the greatest joy, bliss that could be ours. After all with every breath we are striving to remain happy!
- We cannot solve the problems of life— and death.
- There would be no end of our sorrows and sufferings. In any case we will have to turn to spiritual life sooner or later. So, why not now?
But before embarking on spiritual life, we must get rid of certain peculiar ideas about spiritual life that many of us nurture. Some of these ideas are:
- That spiritual life is only for a few eccentric people (possibly, a screw must be loose in their heads!).
- That spiritual life is a special way of living and not suitable for everyone.
- That youth is for enjoyment; one can surely take up spiritual life in old age, etc.! What is the hurry? We can even take it up in the next life!
Obviously these ideas spring from ignorance of the real nature of life and of spiritual life. For spiritual life is not a special way of living, but a spiritual way of looking upon oneself, others, life and the world. It is a way of having a healthier, wiser, happy and more fulfilling life. It is a way of developing a holistic way of life. It is a way of living a mature, balanced life; it is a way of achieving integration of personality. It is a way of turning away from a ‘having mode’ of life to a ‘being mode’ of life.
Why People Neglect Spiritual Life
Despite all evidences to the contrary, spiritual life is a life of joy, meaning and fulfilment. Strangely enough, many keep away from religion, spiritual life, God. Why is this so? Advances in science and technology have deeply influenced and changed our way of thinking and attitudes. Some thinkers give the following reasons, arising out of this ‘scientific way’ of thinking, for neglect of spiritual life:
- What cannot be proved in the laboratory of the scientist should not be accepted.
- What we see in front of our eyes, and what we experience through our senses alone must be taken as the only reality. In other words, we have become crass materialists. (Materialism is not having many materials but to consider matter alone as real) To add to this someone invented the Credit Card, encouraging us to become virtual Charvakas, the sweet-spoken materialists referred to in Sanskrit literature. The Charvakas believe that one should somehow enjoy life, by hook or crook—‘by taking loan, enjoy the clarified butter’ (rinam kritva ghritam pibet)!
Of course, science and technology have conferred countless blessings (along with sufferings, and phobias) on mankind. But the question is: has it made man better, nobler, altruistic, and civilised? By all facts and figures that we have, we can say an emphatic ‘No’.
Further, we also are under the delusion that progress in external knowledge is equivalent to all-round progress. Not true.
The real question is: what gains has the inner man, the real man, made? Have the age-old questions—‘Who am I? What is life? Where am I going? What am I expected to do?’—been answered? We are still seeking answers—often groping in darkness and gloom!
We speak of progress and advancement as the hallmark of modern life. But what is the criterion by which we can define progress? The famous American writer Aldous Huxley says that true progress must be measured in terms of overall increase in goodness, happiness and creativity. If we take this measure, there will always be very few people who measure up to this criterion. A few people! That is not the way. Only when a large percentage of the world population is steadily progressing in terms of goodness, happiness and creativity can we say that the world is progressing.
We have not been able to prevent wars; nor eradicate poverty, hunger, malnutrition. In spite of all the psychological progress, even by rough estimates, one-fourth of the world population are mentally sick. That is almost one in every family!
Hence let us think seriously over what we call success and progress.
Understanding Spiritual Progress
Now let us turn our attention to spiritual life. When asked about spiritual progress, Swami Brahmananda, the spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna, made a remarkable statement. He said that one must become a gentleman before one tries to become a spiritual person. By the word gentleman what the Swami meant was one must become a mature, balanced, and focussed person.
Swami Vivekananda’s Karma Yoga is a beautiful reformulation of the Karma-kanda of the Vedas in the context of spiritual life. Karma Yoga purifies our mind—it leads to chitta-shuddhi. It makes a person more rational, disciplined, focussed and mature, and fit to undertake spiritual Sadhana. (In this context, Swami Yatiswarananda, an eminent monk of the Ramakrishna Order, used to say that many scientists are nearer to God than many devotees, because they already possess three important requisite qualities for higher life—a definite goal, concentration and discipline.)
Swami Yatiswarananda’s Advice
Once I asked Swami Yatiswarananda, ‘How one can progress in spiritual life?’ In reply he said that five things are essential for progress in spiritual life:
- A deep desire for leading a pure life.
- A pure and self-controlled life. Without control of the mind there is no chance of progress.
- Without the grace of God no one can progress in life. He further advised, ‘Always connect every thought, word and action that you do with the divine’.
- Constant self-awareness. One cannot emphasise sufficiently the importance of awareness. One must be constantly watching what one is doing.
- We must have a definite role model such as Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and other direct disciples so that we may mould our lives also in their pattern. For women the best role model is Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi.
The revered Swami used to say that one must find out ‘the Centre of one’s consciousness’. In other words, we must find out where our mind is. With little introspection it is easy to find out where one’s mind dwells most of the time. If we find ourselves thinking worldly thoughts we must try to shift the ‘Centre’ to a higher, spiritual Centre. Spiritual life is an attempt to shift this Centre to a higher, spiritual Centre.
Sri Ramakrishna’s Five Commandments to Spiritual Aspirants
The Upanishads are the essence of the Vedas; The Bhagavad Gita is the essence of the Upanishads; the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna is the essence of the Gita.
In the very first chapter of the Gospel itself Sri Ramakrishna gives us five commandments. These were given in answer to M.’s two specific questions. The first four commandments are in answer to the first question, and the fifth commandment to the second question. By following these commandments anyone can progress in spiritual life and attain to God-realisation. ‘M’, the recorder of Sri Ramakrishna, puts two questions to Sri Ramakrishna and we get the following five commandments:
‘M’ (humbly): Yes, sir. How, sir, may we fix our minds on God?’
Sri Ramakrishna replies:
. First Commandment : Repeat God’s name and sing His glories.
. Second Commandment : Keep holy company and now and then visit God’s devotees and holy men.
. Third Commandment : The mind cannot dwell on God if it is immersed day and night in worldliness, in worldly duties and responsibilities. It is most necessary to go into solitude now and then and think of God. To fix the mind on God is very difficult in the beginning, unless one practises meditation in solitude. When a tree is young it should be fenced all around otherwise it may be destroyed by cattle. To meditate, you should withdraw within yourself or retire to a secluded corner or to the forest.
. Fourth Commandment : You should always discriminate between the Real and the unreal. God alone is real, the Eternal Substance, all else is unreal, that is, impermanent. By discriminating thus, one should shake off impermanent objects from the mind.
‘M'(humbly): How ought we to live in the world?’
. Fifth Commandment : Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God. Live with all—with wife and children, father and mother—and serve them. Treat them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that they do not belong to you.
A maidservant in the house of a rich man performs all the household duties, but her thoughts are fixed on her own home in her native village. She brings up her Master’s children as if they were her own. She even speaks of them as ‘my Rama’ or ’my Hari’. But in her own mind she knows very well that they do not belong to her at all. Do all your duties in the world, but keep your mind on God.
If you enter the world without first cultivating love for God, you will be entangled more and more. You will be overwhelmed with its danger, its grief, its sorrows. And the more you think of worldly things, the more you will be attached to them. [Gospel, p.81]
Indeed, if one practises these five commandments of Sri Ramakrishna with Shraddha, patience and perseverance, with God’s grace, one is sure to realise God and attain blessedness. Such a person becomes a source of peace and blessedness and inspiration to many! May we all develop devotion and faith in these words of Sri Ramakrishna! •
Swami Dayatmananda is the Head of Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, Buckinghamshire, UK.
Courtesy : The Vedanta Kesari DECEMBER 2014