A GIANT LEAP FORWARD
Being ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ (SBNR) is a school of thought that is quickly gaining widespread acceptance. The educated society of today is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the undeniable discord that has resulted from so-called religiosity all over the globe since centuries.
Moreover, people today are ever more thirsty for rational comprehension of life as a whole and look at belief systems as inhibitions to their free access to knowledge and expression. The need for self-awareness is distinctly noticeable as opposed to adherence to a set of beliefs and rigid codes of conduct of a dogmatic or cult group that may not resonate with their individuality or may not answer their deepest questions about life — like “Who am I?”, “Why am I born?”, “What is the reason behind Creation?”, “Is Death the tragic end of the beautiful story called Life?” or even more practical questions like “Is it possible to achieve equanimity of mind in trying circumstances?”, and so forth. They named this quest ‘spirituality’, wanting to break free from organized religion but at the same time not wanting to compromise with the supramundane aspect of it.
The speed at which life is coming at us today from all directions is downright overwhelming. To make matters worse, what is known today as religion has mostly seemed to add to the noise than to mitigate it. Acquiring a sense of control in these turbulent times has become as much a necessity as it is humanly impossible. This paradoxical situation has catapulted the quest for a higher realm of existence or a sense of connection wherein one can transcend the noise and experience tranquility and be at peace with oneself and the world around. This quest for transcendence is, undoubtedly, a giant leap forward in the march of human advancement.
However, transcendence is not a path that man can walk alone. It is too immense for the tiny human brain to comprehend. We may grope about in the dark by trying out various speculative experiments but will never be able to arrive at a perfect conclusion.
It is just like the good old story of a frog in a well, trying to contemplate the size of the Pacific Ocean. A frog was residing in a 3-feet-wide well all his life and one day, a visitor frog came there and informed that there was a body of water called the Pacific Ocean of unimaginable proportions. The resident frog tried to stretch his limits of speculation and asked if the ocean was ten times the size of the well or twenty or hundred or a thousand or ten thousand times the size of the well. How will he ever be able to understand the size of the Pacific Ocean? Similarly, a personal endeavor is absolutely insufficient in ascertaining transcendence.
Consulting a guide seems to be a better option but can turn out to be another bigger problem because there are so many cheaters out there who are ready to exploit innocent truth-seekers or solution-seekers and present a bogus ideology or practice in the name of spirituality. In fact, spirituality as is understood today, has no standards, no rules, and no aim. Sounds like freedom, does it not? But guess what, it is just like an elaborate road system sans traffic rules. You will almost never get to your destination!
Since the modern definition of spirituality is subjective and only tends to a direction of continuous improvement and does not offer a precise understanding of an end or perfection, it is entirely speculative and an arena of chaos and therefore, promises to be as much or even noisier and frustrating than the mundane life that it initially was intended to combat.
THE SWEET SPOT
Now, the burning question is — Is there a “sweet spot” between religiousness and spirituality so that there is clarity about the aim, a proven roadmap to that aim, and accessibility for all people who feel the need to have answers to life’s deepest questions regardless of their cultural, linguistic, religious or racial backgrounds? Fortunately, the answer to that is an emphatic yes!
It is of paramount importance to note that in any field of activity, the end should be clearly defined for any progress to happen or to even gauge whether or not progress is happening. The same is true for spirituality. Ambiguity is paralyzing whereas clarity is inspiring and liberating. And we have to honestly admit here that any individual or collective human endeavor can never give a perfect picture of everything because we can only go so far. We need the voice of someone who knows the end of this journey or quest, and who can show us the roadmap to get there. And who can deliver it better than the Creator of the whole process?
THE AUTHORIZED ROADMAP
Fortunately and thankfully, God is neither dumb nor inaccessible nor imaginary. He is absolutely real and out of His causeless mercy, He regularly descends from His blissful spiritual abode into this material world just to educate us on the path to ultimate happiness. The ancient Vedic literature that originates in India are direct compilations of God. The great sage Vyāsadeva who compiled them is an empowered incarnation of God.
The Original Personality of Godhead is Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa as is confirmed and proven by Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā and also by many stalwart sages and demigods who are accomplished self-realized masters of religious principles like Lord Śiva, Lord Brahmā, Nārada Muni, Asita Muni, Kapila Muni and many, many others. God is known by many names across various languages, religions, and cultures. But He is essentially the same person. The Bhagavad-gītā and the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam offer the highest revelations of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, and the path for us to get there for permanent relief from material suffering.
Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.1.2) really sets the stage, right in the very beginning of its enormous 18,000-verse long Sanskrit text. It is mentioned therein, “Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Bhāgavata Purāṇa propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries. This beautiful Bhāgavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyāsadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realization. What is the need of any other scripture? As soon as one attentively and submissively hears the message of Bhāgavatam, the Supreme Lord is established within his heart.”
So let us get our fundamentals right here. Religion aimed at fulfilling material motives is a problem. It is referred to here as a cheating process of religion. That kind of religion does not satisfy the soul because it does not address the need of the soul. The soul is hankering for eternal happiness but materially motivated religious systems offer temporary, material rewards to religious ritualistic performances. That has to be discarded. But real dharma, or religion, is synonymous with spirituality, and should not be discarded if we really care for our own good.
DEFINING REAL SPIRITUALITY
Spirituality is nowadays considered as something metaphysical — either mental, intellectual or psychic — but that is not spiritual. That is just a little higher than gross materialism. It is subtle materialism. Spiritual means relating to spirit. We are not talking about ghosts here. Spirit means anti-matter. The Bhagavad-gītā (7.4-5) deconstructs the creation into fundamental elements in order to help us understand it all in a clear fashion.
“Earth, water, ﬁre, air, and ether (sky) constitute the gross material energies whereas the mind, intelligence and false ego constitute the subtle material energies. Besides these inferior material energies, however, there is another, a superior or spiritual energy of God, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”
We have to objectively understand these two energies — material and spiritual. It can be done by observing their symptoms. The notable feature or symptom which separates spirit from matter is consciousness. Spirit is conscious whereas matter is unconscious. Another striking feature is that matter is temporary or perishable whereas spirit is eternal and indestructible.
We are all a combination of matter and spirit. Well, strictly speaking, we are all eternal individual spirit souls entrapped in temporary material bodies. We are not our bodies. The fundamental problem is that we tend to amalgamate these two opposite elements — the spirit soul and the material body — into one and identify, or rather misidentify, ourselves based on the material body.
For example, a person may think he is Indian, or American, or a human being, or a cat or a dog. The truth is that the body may be Indian but since he is not the body, he is not Indian. By sitting inside a German car, do you become a German? No way! But we actually are thinking exactly in that way. This misidentification of the spirit soul with the material body is the root of all problems. Based on this misconception, we consider everything pertaining to the body as our own — my family, home, nationality, religion, etc. These are nothing but extended selfishness.
Spirituality starts when one understands that ahaṁ brahmāsmi — “I am spirit soul. I am not this lump of matter called the body.” Trapped in 8.4 million species of bodies, we all are a conglomerate of atomic spiritual particles. And apart from the infinite number of atomic, infinitesimal spirit souls, there is a singular infinite spiritual whole that is God. We are His parts and parcels. The constitutional or natural position of the inferior is to serve the superior and so our constitutional position is to be eternal loving servants of God.
Now, we have forgotten this intimate relationship and have been embroiled in materialism since time immemorial, spanning many millions of lifetimes. The endeavor to revive this lost connection is what is spirituality, or more specifically, yoga or devotional service. The eternal transaction between the atomic spiritual soul and the infinite spiritual whole is the pure spiritual activity called devotional service. This is real spirituality.
THE HIGHEST SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE
The real, or the highest, religious or spiritual principle is defined in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (1.2.6) thus, “The supreme occupation (dharma) for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.”
It does not matter which school of thought one comes from. If he understands God and has learned to love Him, that is perfection. But if he is fanatic about his school of thought but has not understood the higher principle of love of God and the consequential love for all sentient beings, he has absolutely wasted his time performing all kinds of religious rituals and ceremonies.
It is a public examination. It does not matter which school one comes from. If one passes the examination, he becomes qualified. But if he is just proud of or fanatic about his school but does not understand anything and consequently fails the examination, it is a great loss. So here is the test — one may profess himself to be either religious or spiritual or scientific. Whatever it may be, the test is whether he has understood the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, thoroughly and learned to love Him. That is what really matters. Then only will there be complete peace even in the midst of the greatest calamity. Otherwise, all kinds of material advancement in the fields of religiosity, economic development, sense gratification and liberation, without Kṛṣṇa consciousness is simply a grand failure.
WHILE THE OPPORTUNITY LASTS
The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement offers the highest benefit to humanity at large by liberally distributing the authentic science of God as revealed by God Himself in the revealed Vedic scriptures as well as offering standard practical principles to achieve complete peace in this life and attain the highest perfection of entering the spiritual world just after quitting the present material body. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement serves as the perfect platform for unification of all religions and spirituality.
To add to the good news, the actual practice is not at all difficult. As per the directions of all scriptures and as demonstrated by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the devotee-incarnation of Godhead, the authorized process for self-realization for this day and age is the constant chanting of the mahā-mantra —
hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa
kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
We now have the blessed human body which affords us the opportunity of self-realization and God-realization through the chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, which is not possible in any other species of life. But that opportunity does not last forever. It is only going to be for a few years. So it is not wise to cast this opportunity to the waters. If one is not careful, one can enter into animal species after this death and for millions of years, in various subhuman species, there will not be any chance of escape, until one takes on a human form again. So, let us grab the offer while there is time left in this body. It is ticking away and we never know when the end is going to be. So the only time left to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness is now! Get in touch with our temple and make positive steps towards the kingdom of God! [End]