What is Spirituality?
Before we can answer the question: What is spirituality?, we need to gain a basic understanding of human nature.
The Three Realms
Each human being is composed of three basic aspects: physical, mental, and spiritual.
The physical realm is the realm of the human body. It includes the workings of the body as a whole, as well as the workings of the various parts of the body, such as the brain and the motor and sensory organs.
The mental or psychic realm is the realm of thoughts and feelings, the realm of human psychology. It includes the characteristics and faculties of the human mind, the layers or levels of mind, and the various propensities of the mind.
The spiritual realm is the realm beyond the mind; it is the realm of the soul and Infinite Consciousness. The soul may be defined as the clear reflection of Infinite Consciousness and it reflects on the mind.
In human beings, the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects are highly developed, making us unique. We, as human beings, have the capacity to understand ourselves and to realize our inner, spiritual nature.
The Nature of the Self
To understand how we can go about doing this, we need to know about the self. By self, we do not mean the physical self, or the physical body, nor do we mean the mental self; we mean the spiritual self, or the soul.
What is the difference between the mental self and the soul? Western psychologists advance various ideas to explain the nature of the self, but most of these ideas are at best vague and incomplete, and at worst, totally incorrect. The mental self is our feeling of I- ness, our I-feeling. Our I-feeling has various stages of subtlety which give us our sense of doing and knowing. The difference between our mental self, or the various stages of our I-feeling, and our spiritual self, or our soul, is that the former is mental in nature while the latter is consciousness itself.
The Purpose of Human Life
The purpose of human life is to merge our mental self, or our I- feeling, into our spiritual self, or our soul, and then merge our soul into Infinite Consciousness. In other words, the purpose of human life is to merge our mind and soul into Infinite Consciousness, and thereby realize our true spiritual nature. This process is often referred to as self-realization.
As we endeavour to merge our self into Infinite Consciousness, we also should try to perform as much selfless service as we can. Spiritual advancement and selfless service go together. Thus, the purpose of human life can be characterized as self-realization and service to humanity (or, more broadly, the entire universe). Self- realization and Service to Humanity is the motto of Ananda Marga (the Path of Bliss).
The Essence of Spirituality
Spirituality means that which concerns Infinite Consciousness. When we direct our I-feeling towards Infinite Consciousness in a conscious, systematic way, we make spiritual progress. Conversely, when we direct our I-feeling towards the mental or physical realms without making any effort to adjust it with Infinite Consciousness, we do not make any spiritual progress.
Spirituality is about 'oneness'. By 'oneness', we do not mean oneness is the physical or mental realms, we mean oneness in the spiritual realm. The essence of spirituality is to become one with Infinite Consciousness.
The Spiritual Path
A time comes in the life of a person when they are given the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to direct their I- feeling towards Infinite Consciousness. If they decide they do, they get the opportunity to progress spiritually this lifetime; if they decide they don't, the opportunity to progress spiritually this lifetime wanes, becomes unimportant, or is lost.
Those who make the conscious decision to direct their I-feeling towards Infinite Consciousness, set out on the spiritual path. In one sense, the spiritual path is the same for all of us: all spiritual aspirants are endeavouring to merge their I-feeling into Infinite Consciousness. In another sense, the spiritual path is unique for each of us: each individual has to undergo their own distinct set of experiences in order to reach the goal.
Gaining an understanding of the purpose of human life is the first step on the spiritual path. Making the decision to direct our I- feeling towards Infinite Consciousness is the next step. When a person makes this decision, they become ready to learn spiritual meditation.
Performing spiritual meditation regularly is how we merge our I- feeling into Infinite Consciousness. Learning spiritual meditation from a qualified teacher is called initiation.
Broadly speaking, there are two types of meditation taught today: spiritual meditation and non-spiritual meditation. In spiritual meditation, the mind is directed towards Infinite Consciousness; in non-spiritual meditation, the mind is directed towards the psychic and physical realms. Many meditation techniques involve concentrating the mind on various mental or physical phenomena, such as a candle flame, blank space, a particular thought, money, power, etc. Such meditation techniques are non-spiritual in nature. Spiritual meditation always directs the mind towards Infinite Consciousness - the Supreme Soul.
The right to learn spiritual meditation is the birthright of each individual, and learning spiritual meditation must be free of cost. The simplest way to determine whether or not a particular meditation technique is spiritual or non-spiritual is to find out if it directs the mind towards Infinite Consciousness and is free of cost. Qualified spiritual teachers, called acaryas, teach spiritual meditation free of cost.
For most of the last 2,000 years, spiritual meditation was virtually unknown in the West, and western philosophy said little, if anything, about the purpose of human life. But that was not always the case. Although spiritual meditation originated in India, several famous Greek philosophers taught people about the purpose of human life, practised spiritual meditation themselves, and initiated their disciples. Members of other civilizations also practised spiritual meditation. But with the decline of the Greek civilization and the rise of organized religion, the practice of spiritual meditation all but died out in the West. Over the last 100 years, however, this situation has gradually changed. Spiritual meditation has again spread from India to the West, and today it is practised throughout the world.
As we make spiritual progress, we constantly need to adjust our I- feeling so that we can function effectively in the world. That is, as we direct our I-feeling towards Infinite Consciousness, we constantly need to adjust our I-feeling so that we can function effectively in the mental and physical realms.
This approach to life is called 'subjective approach and objective adjustment'. It is the spiritual approach to life, and may be characterized as spiritual methodology. The opposite approach is objective approach and subjective adjustment; is the materialistic approach to life. In the former spiritual approach, one's I-feeling progresses towards Infinite Consciousness; in the latter approach, one's I-feeling moves towards matter. That is why it is said the opportunity for spiritual progress is lost.
By following spiritual methodology, we learn how to direct our I- feeling towards Infinite Consciousness as we simultaneously function in the mental and physical realms.
Spiritual morality is the foundation stone of spiritual progress. Unless we follow principles of spiritual morality, we will not be able to meditate properly and progress spiritually.
There are two types of morality: simple morality and spiritual morality. Simple morality includes secular morality and religious morality, while spiritual morality includes cardinal human values (ie the cardinal principles of human morality, or the yogic code of Yama and Niyama, and Neo-ethics). To make spiritual progress, we have to follow the principles of spiritual morality. Thus, spiritual morality and spiritual progress go together.
Following spiritual morality is so important on the spiritual path that it has been said: 'Spiritual morality is the base, spiritual meditation is the means, and life divine is the goal'. Spiritual morality consists of:
* External moral discipline: ie not intentionally causing harm by thought, word or action; proper action of mind and right use of words; nonstealing; to see the Infinite Consciousness or Cosmic essence in all things; non-indulgence in superfluous things or greedlessness;
* Internal moral strength: ie cleanliness both external and internal; mental ease or contentment; going out of one's way to help others or selflessness; proper understanding of spiritual subjects; devotion to a higher principle of life or love for the Infinite Consciousness (God).
What Spirituality Is Not
Many people today are confused about spirituality. They often think that spirituality is something it is not. Now that we know what spirituality is, let us look at what spirituality is not.
Spirituality is not following numerology, astrology, the I-Ching, etc, merely to gain insight into one's life. Understanding one's higher self is, however, part of spirituality. It is not New Age metaphysics. Spirituality is not going back to a pre-industrial, pre- modern lifestyle where one can commune with nature and be one with the world; that is, spirituality is not back to nature or down to earth. Spirituality is not contacting ghosts, spirits or dead relatives to find the answers to life's problems; that is, spirituality is not spiritualism. Spirituality is not taking drugs to alter one's awareness or giving up everything to visit holy places; that is, spirituality is not escaping from or renouncing the world. Spirituality is not sexual union to gain intimacy in sexual practice; that is, spirituality is not sexuality. Nor is spirituality entering into a narrow relationship with God, following a set of dogmatic beliefs, and hoping to go to heaven after one dies; that is, spirituality is not religion.
Is spirituality yoga? Yoga does not mean exercises or yoga postures. Yoga means union with Infinite Consciousness. Mere performance of yoga postures or any other technique associated with so-called yoga is not spirituality. Unless and until a person has the inclination to become one with Infinite Consciousness or God and directs their I-feeling towards That, only then will yoga assist in spirituality. Otherwise, the so-called yoga is merely a subtle form of exercise.
As we have seen, spirituality is none of these things. All of the above are based on some kind of relativity; be it opting out of the world, physical, sensual, seeking mental stimulation, intellectual - they come and go. Attachment to or desire or addiction towards the relative defeats the purpose of obtaining the Infinite Consciousness or the Absolute. The relative world is a relative truth and can be useful in establishing a congenial environment for spirituality and the person who directs their I-feeling to the Infinite Consciousness will at the same time see the expression of the Infinite Consciousness in all things relative.
Spirituality and Religion
Perhaps the greatest mistake that people make when they set out to learn about spirituality is to confuse it with religion. Spirituality and religion are not the same thing.
The most fundamental difference between spirituality and religion is that spirituality teaches people to become one with God, or Infinite Consciousness. Religion, on the other hand, teaches people that they will always remain separate from God. What is the basis of the distinction? In philosophical terms, the fundamental difference is that spirituality is non-dualistic, while religion is dualistic. In dualism, the inner feeling and general tendency is to take it for granted that there are two entities, the unit being and the Supreme Being. In non-dualism the Supreme Being contains everything and there is complete merger of unit consciousness with Infinite Consciousness; the sense of I-ness is completely absorbed.
According to the cosmology of the main religions, it goes generally along these lines: after we have lived out our life, we die and our soul goes to purgatory, where it stays until the Day of Judgment. Upon judgment, the 'saved' go to heaven and the 'sinners' go to hell. The 'saved' sit beside God in heaven for the rest of eternity, and the poor 'sinners' sit beside the devil in hell for the same duration. According to spirituality, on the other hand, once we have learned spiritual practices, we have the opportunity to complete our spiritual journey and become one with Infinite Consciousness in this very life.
There are many differences between spirituality and religion, but the most fundamental difference is that spirituality involves becoming one with Infinite Consciousness - one with God - while religion involves remaining separate from Infinite Consciousness (eg being 'beside' God). Consequently religions will always mean separation of unit consciousness from Infinite Consciousness - separation of unit soul from the Supreme Soul. However, in spirituality, the unit soul is the same as the Supreme Soul, but for the sense of I-ness and this sense of I-ness is dissolved through spiritual practices. It is part of the Cosmic dance that this Cosmic drama unfolds itself for each individual.
The so-called rewards of religions will also always be relative. Everything relative is subject to birth, sustainability and decay or generation, operation and destruction (GOD - the Cosmic drama). The notion of a self or soul in heaven or hell is also a falsity and is relative because where there is separation of self from Infinite Consciousness there is the inevitable process of generation, operation and decay. This is simply the application of the theory of relativity. So, only by proceeding towards the Absolute is there spiritual liberation or permanent spiritual salvation.
The Science of Spirituality
Spirituality is a science. The science of spirituality, or the science of spiritual practices, is called Tantra. Tantra has existed for thousands of years. It sets out in very clear terms the various stages that spiritual aspirants need to pass through as they progress along the spiritual path. The practice of Tantra enables spiritual aspirants to move along the spiritual path in a smooth, natural way.
In some parts of the world, there is confusion about the true meaning of Tantra. People who have no understanding of spirituality and no genuine desire to progress spiritually popularize incorrect ideas about Tantra. They teach that Tantra is concerned with acquiring power (eg occultism) or enjoying life in various types of ways (eg sexual practices). Such people do not understand that Tantra is the science of merging our I-feeling into Infinite Consciousness by performing spiritual practices.
The practice of Tantra, and thus spiritual meditation, is designed to develop devotion. This is the purpose of spiritual practices. Once the feeling of devotion is developed, it becomes possible for the spiritual aspirant to merge their I-feeling into Infinite Consciousness.
Love and devotion are not the same thing. Love is a propensity situated near the mid-point of the chest. When the feeling of love is awaken and channelled towards Infinite Consciousness, devotion develops. Spiritual aspirants endeavour to awaken the feeling of devotion so that they can concentrate their mind at the point of the pineal gland, psychically advance in their spiritual outlook, and merge into Infinite Consciousness. This is the inner secret of spirituality.
Human life is very short, hence we should try to make as much spiritual progress as we can by cultivating the feeling of devotion.
Some people believe that they can make spiritual progress by relying exclusively on their own efforts. That is, they believe that they do not need the help or guidance of a spiritual preceptor. But this is a mistaken belief. Just as the effort to be successful in any aspect of worldly life requires the assistance of suitable teachers or mentors, the effort to progress spiritually depends upon the guidance of a genuine spiritual preceptor.
The guidance of a spiritual preceptor is so important on the spiritual path that it is impossible for a spiritual aspirant to make any spiritual progress without the Preceptor's help. The personal guidance of the Preceptor is what enables the spiritual aspirant to make spiritual progress. Such personal guidance is known as the grace of the Preceptor. In yoga, it is the grace of the Guru. Only God alone is the Guru and teachings are expressed through physical mediums who are Preceptors (but as the consciousness of the Preceptor is the same as Infinite Consciousness the Preceptor can also be called the guru).
When a person becomes ready to learn spiritual meditation, they find a spiritual preceptor according to the strength of their spiritual longing. If their spiritual longing is extremely strong, they will find a highly accomplished Preceptor, one who is well-versed in all aspects of Tantra and all branches of knowledge. Such a spiritual preceptor will be able to guide them successfully through all the stages on the spiritual path so that they can reach their ultimate goal. The guidance is in all realms of existence: physical, mental and spiritual. The Preceptor is merely the expression of the Infinite Consciousness through the form an enlightened being and is one with the Infinite Consciousness.
Ultimately spirituality means oneness or union with Infinite Consciousness. The essence of spirituality is to become one with Infinite Consciousness.
What is Spirituality?
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