Remember the hindu swami who boasted that all of the top Hollywood actors were his disciples? He was caught practising and promoting open sex, adultery and child molestation. He also possessed 21 Rolls Royce that he called his “Lotus vehicles”. Luckily he was discredited and died before he could do much more damage. Yet, strangely, there are still so many “disciples” of this rogue that even to this day believe he is their spiritual leader.
OK, that is an extreme, if real-life example, but how do you achieve spirituality? Here are some very practical things you can adopt without disturbing your daily routine and without shirking your responsibilities.
Most definitions of spirituality (including some articles that have appeared on the subject in this forum) define it in pure religious terms—that it is “God’s science”. That may work for those of faith (see distinction below) but not for all. Spirituality and religious beliefs are entirely separate. I could live my life without believing in Salvation, or “Nirvana”, or “Zen” and yet lead a very spiritual life. This article balances the two.
Let us separate spirituality from its commonly mistaken similarities of practice –“faith” and “devotion”.
Faith is abstract, it is a feel-good thing, nothing more. I am not marginalizing faith. It is what keeps most of us going. I am saying it is not measurable (no matter what many of your well meaning friends may try to convince you of otherwise), and it is intensely personal. Extreme faith can also lead to inaction and irresponsibility, so faith has to be practised carefully, and it does not lead to spirituality. Christians have faith that their souls will be redeemed after death. Hindus have faith that their individual soul is indivisible from God and will rejoin the Supreme Being after death. These are faiths, not spirituality, although they may contribute to it.
Devotion is a personal contract that defines behavior driven by a set of beliefs. It may well be an outcome of faith. It is not spirituality.
Spirituality, on the other hand is a core belief that we exist not just as a mass of bone, ether and water, but that there is a spirit inside us that is deeper than the rest of our faculties—cerebral, physical, psychological and pathological. Once you have this core belief, the next task is how to utilize this spirit in elevating the rest of our faculties within the context of our daily lives, challenges, relationships and habits. The best thing about spirituality is that it is permanent and when achieved, it become an inviolate part of your life.
Here are some practical tips on how to achieve permanent spirituality.
– Believe in something higher than yourself. That will strengthen the core belief I spoke about above. It could an abstract god, a stone or wooden idol, a sacramental book or a series of rituals practised in many religions. But not another human. Remember, being one of faith or devout does not make you spiritual. Let me give you an example. Many religious fanatics would have you vest all of your problems into the hands of a spiritual leader. They may even have you believe this leader is divine, an incarnation of God. If it works for you, fine. But be careful. No human can ever achieve divinity. More importantly, no human can bestow divinity to anyone else. So even if you mistakenly believe another human is divine, what use is he to you, other than as a teacher? Substituting that higher “being” with a swami or a guru is dangerous. My advice is, look to a spiritual leader only as a teacher who can guide you in your quest for spirituality. Respect him or her as you would a close friend or a man of wisdom. However, if all that he or she wants you to do is practise rituals, chant unintelligible hymns or mantras or donate to his church or synagogue or temple, you are wasting your life and will remain eventually dissatisfied. You will not achieve spirituality, only a temporary relief from daily challenges. You might as well go to a casino and lose yourself at the blackjack table.
– Spirituality is a commitment to improve your life. Anything that detracts from it (e.g. meaningless rituals, or even giving alms) is a distraction.
– A healthy spirit resides in a healthy body. True spirituality demands clean, non-addictive, healthy living. Leaving aside ailments and conditions over which you have no control, live a healthy life. This does not mean turning vegetarian, or vegan, or forsaking alcohol. It simply means maintain a moderate diet, exercise regularly, and forsake unhealthy habits.
– Think positive. This means having high self-confidence and defeating negative thoughts before they overtake your faculties and capabilities.
– Respect others. This means that you form positive, productive relationships and not think in terms of “hate”, “dislike” and “taking revenge”. This does not mean turning into a pacifist. Fight for your rights and when they get trampled upon, raise your voice and if necessary, your fist. However, when in an argument, listen to the whole of the other side’s argument. Let them finish and then state your point of view.
– Do not give into extremes either in behavior or thought. People who routinely marginalize opposing points of view are crass and not spiritual. Do not be like them. Its effect is very toxic on your mental well being.
– Allow time for meditation. This is truly time where you “connect” with your higher being.
– Strive to improve your material life without being greedy or overly possessive. This may sound anti-thetical, but if your mind is worrying about your daughter’s college expenses, it is hard for you to be spiritual—you will stop at just being a person of faith or a devout person, but not a spiritual person.
– Help others and believe in true charity. I personally do not like funding religious organizations, but if they are also using most of these contributions in helping the needy, then I will gladly give. People who donate to redeem their souls, or to appease God, are misguided.