Religion and Spirituality – Part 2
To distinguish between religion and spirituality further, we can examine chapter 7 of Bhagavad Gita verse 16:
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caturvidh? bhajante m?? jan?? suk?tino’rjuna | ?rto jijñ?surarth?rth? jñ?n? ca bharatar?abha ||7-16||
Arjuna, the foremost in the clan of Bharata! People given to good actions, who worship me are four-fold—the distressed, the seeker of security and pleasure, the one who desires to know (Me), and the one who knows (Me).
In this verse, Lord Krishna describes the people who are devoted to him in 4 categories: ?rti– the one remembers the Lord only in times of trouble. Arth?rth?, the person who makes effort towards ones pursuits of money, security, power and pleasures. But recognizing that the results are not always in ones hand, prays to the lord to be his/her accomplice in fulfilling ones desires. The third is jijñ?su, the one who wants to know the nature of Isvara. The forth is a jñ?n? the wise person who knows the reality of Isvara as not different from oneself. Having defined 4 types of devotees, he then says, jñ?n? I consider as myself.
Now let us analyze the position of each of these types of devotees with reference to whether they are merely religious or also spiritual. We can say that ?rti (those who pray to Isvara in times of trouble) and arth?rth? (ones who seeks help of Isvara towards gaining several ends in life such wealth, relationships, progeny etc.) are religious people who may or may not be ethical or interested in personal growth. But if one is a jijñ?su, who wants to know the reality of Isvara, one can not avoid being spiritual as pursuit of knowledge entails making effort towards gaining maturity that includes being ethical in ones conduct. Wise person (jñ?n?), is a real manifestation of spiritual being as his/her maturity is so that ethical life including showing compassion and care for others becomes spontaneous, permanent and effortless. If we follow this definition, ?rti and arth?rth? are considered to be religious, but they may or may not be spiritual. Whereas, jijñ?su and jñ?n? are certainly spiritual.
In this context, it is important to recognize that modern day spirituality talks about the final reality of ‘I am limitless’. They seem to be saying the same thing as what Bhagavad Gita says. However, there are some important differences. When modern teachings make the statement I am limitless without employing appropriate methodology, listeners imagine that this realization is going to dawn on them suddenly one day and they would become ‘enlightened’. This makes them not pay adequate attention to initiating personal growth, to take care of their subjectivities, and to resolve past resentments in awareness of Isvara, which is an essential part of being spiritual. According to our tradition, knowledge of ones identity with Isvara (the cause) will not take place unless one is a deserving recipient to hold and assimilate this profound truth. To become ready for this knowledge, we have to transform ourselves bring the understanding of Isvara in our life.
The following example shows how one can bring in awareness about the presence of the total in every event in ones life. For example, let us say you make a decision of moving into one city. This decision is yours, but you have no idea what people you are going to meet, what type of interaction you are going to have and challenges that you are going to face. All situations that arise and experiences that we have with different individuals at that place are arranged by an order which designs the events in a way that we probably can learn some lessons towards our personal growth. The more we begin to realize that things don’t happen randomly, they do have a reason, then our focus is turned to what can we learn from it. This understanding of Isvara’s order in turn enables us to relax as our life unfolds. It is this connection with total which helps us to release a lot of psychological fears, anxieties and stress related to unknown. It in fact makes us truly spiritual person, who is ready to take on any challenge and learn from it. Therefore, a common misconception of people that prayers are only preliminary aids and when the person takes to knowledge, there is no need for religious life (through any form of devotion) is not valid.
There is also another misconception that once we are a seeker of truth (jijñ?su), wanting to know the reality, we will be spiritual and cease to pray for small things like security, pleasure, or stop praying for success in job, education etc. that religious persons generally pray for. This is also not totally true. Yes, it is true that the spiritual person wants much more than small things and hence, shifts his/her prayers for gaining clarity and wisdom. But it does not mean that the person will just stop praying for other things such as good health and overall well being of oneself, ones friends and relatives. This is because nobody can deny that these things are important, we are all helpless with reference to our ability to get them, we are also unsure of how events will unfold in our lives. Hence, any prayer for any purpose is valid and cannot be looked down upon. That means, both jijñ?su and jñ?n? being spiritual, increase the scope of their religious life without eliminating any type of prayers.
The other related point is that if we begin to be spiritual by discovering value for self-knowledge and begin to pray for clarity and wisdom, we tend to look down upon others who are still asking for more money, power, children etc. as merely religious. We need to recognize that every form of prayer is legitimate and those who are praying at least show some degree of awareness of the presence of the total and are asking for help. This itself shows a lot more maturity compared to those who have no cognizance of the presence of the total.
Moreover, to refine ones understanding of who is truly a spiritual person, Gita also analyses whether one is sattvic (wise and virtuous), rajasic (ambitious and aggressive) or tamasic (lazy and dull) person based on whom one chooses to pray to.
It says the tamasic people pray to spirits and ghosts. We often see in certain new age tradition, contacting spirits and seeking answers from them is considered spiritual. In fact, contacting with spirits is considered quite tamasic according to Gita. Many times out of love of our departed loved ones, we want to establish contacts with them and communicate with them, but this again is considered tamasic. In fact, the 13 day ritual in Hindu tradition is meant to help the departed individual to leave ones bond with existing relatives and friends and move on to the next set of experience. Ones time with the existing people is over and one is supposed to move on. Of course, the shraaddha ritual is done by son/daughter every year to pay respect to the departed and ask for their blessings, but one is not supposed to be disturbing them by contacting them, and using them to get some information that one is seeking.
Gita further points out Rajasic pray to some higher entities. These entities called yaksha or devas are individuals with higher powers who are residing in different realm of experience. They are entities in the creation, may be more powerful but are still individuals. Just as king or prime minister can have relatively more power than you and can grant you some things, but they are more powerful entities and not the final cause Isvara.
Unlike the other two who pray to entities in this world which are within the order of Isvara, Sattvic people pray to Isvara- the ultimate cause of the universe which pervades and governs everything in the form of series of laws and orders that exist in the universe. As we have seen, spiritual person not only pray to this all-pervading cause, but also pray to know ones identity with this cause.
That means, according to Gita, to be spiritual, we not only have to recognize the presence of total, initiate religious life by connecting to the cause, learn to pray, inquire about the nature of Isvara to whom we pray. This requires a lot of understanding and analysis.
What makes it difficult for us to grow from being merely religious to being spiritual by understanding the nature of Isvara and incorporating it in our life to truly transform ourselves? One source of problem is that our normal orientation of Isvara being an external entity away from us is so strong that when that gets questioned, we begin to feel uncomfortable. When we are made to look into realities that cross our comfort zone, we find ingenious ways to deny ourselves this knowledge and retain our present world vision. In order to dismantle present understanding, we need some grace. This is why for being truly spiritual, we need to understand true nature of Isvara and not get stuck with our personal image of what Isvara is. To make that change, we have to pray everyday for expanding our vision and enhancing the clarity of thinking. Constant willingness to look into oneself and challenging our understanding about nature of oneself, universe and its cause is crucial for ones spiritual transformation. But to do that, we need to make repeated efforts in the right direction.
Let us take one example to see how practically one has to carefully look into oneself and challenge ones well entrenched patterns of behavior. One person came to us with his problem of anger. The person was getting angry with slightest provocation and could not stand anyone having any differing views from his. He justified his anger claiming that his anger was only directed towards persons who had unreasonable opinions and views. Over our conversation, we discovered that as a child, he wanted to become a foot ball player but his parents were opposed to it. Parents insisted, ‘You have to become an IT professional’ He became one, was successful and gave up his passion. Externally everything seemed fine. However, yielding to parents wishes and keeping his own desires unfulfilled had its own costs. As an adult, if somebody said something different from what he believed, or expressed a contrary opinion, he exhibited very low tolerance and started being abusive or aggressive.
He told us that in an attempt to solve this problem, he had earlier consulted some people who had suggested deep breathing exercises to calm him down and resolve this anger. By doing these breathing exercises regularly, he was able to contain his anger for some time but could not eliminate periodic bursts. That means, breathing does help somewhat but mere repetition of breathing does not solve the problem entirely.
In order to deal with his anger, he needed to understand that the real cause of this anger was his parents forcing him to give up his dream. With this awareness, he needed to separate the issue of parents forcing him to do something from a completely unrelated scenario of people expressing their opinions that could be counter to his. Similarly we all need to recognize that there is often a mix up in our understanding which makes us treat two totally separate issues as related and respond to a situation from this distorted view. Once that cognitive separation takes place, one has to be alert that one does not fall into this misinterpretation based on past behavioral patterns and habitual thinking.
One has also to further analyze the parents’ behavior and see the order behind parents’ aspirations and motivations that resulted in unintended coercion. He appreciated that parents were only thinking about the economic viability and what they considered to be welfare of the child and were oblivious to adverse impact it was going to have on him for not following his dream. He freed himself from any resentment by understanding the order behind their actions.
With reference to the present situation, he recognized that everybody does not think alike- differences are very much part of Isvara’s order and one has to accept them. Not only, one has to accept the differences but also recognize that they are very much necessary as one can learn from others point of views and opinions. This reorientation takes place at several levels and requires deliberate and repeated effort. The effort undertaken for personal transformation and the final pursuit of knowledge of Isvara makes one a truly spiritual person.
To conclude, religious persons can be relating to Isvara with partial awareness or misguided understanding in some cases. However, for spiritual person, knowing nature of Isvara is part of inquiry into truth and relating to Isvara is part of process of gaining maturity required to gain knowledge.