Saturday, July 2, 2011



There is no precise definition of Spirituality. In Sanskrit – it approximates to the word “Adhyathmik”.

Spirituality means many things to many people today. But – most people agree that spirituality is hugely distanced from organized religions. Spirituality is different from religion.

Most people who practice spirituality go beyond the barriers of caste, religion, race, nationality and sex and view the whole humanity  as a single unit.

They may not defy religion – but they certainly transcend its barriers.

But, Indian spirituality has a specialty. It looks as if it has grown out of religion – but it has transcended it by miles.

Indian Spirituality is predominantly based on Upanishads, which are called – “Veda–Antha Bhaga” or the end part of Vedas. Popularly, we call it Vedantha.
This also means that - the 4 vedas we know are called veda-poorva Bhaga. They are the religion proper. Vedas are also called Karma Kanda, or the normal life activities of us and they largely focus our attention outside of us and tell us how to lead our worldly lives –with our own help and with the help of the intrinsic powers ruling the universe.

But, upanishads lead us into an intense and deep, inner search. Knowing ”I” – the real self in us is the objective of Upanishads.  Vedantha is called Jnana Kanda or spiritual wisdom and largely takes us inside our own self. Poorva Bhaga is an outward journey. Antha Bhaaga is an inward journey.

Vedantha in Upanishads is supported ably by later writings of Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma sutras.

Bhagavad Gita, coming from Lord Krishna himself, is a rare piece of Gem, which brings together different domains of knowledge required for life here and hereafter.

In India, due to their very ancient nature and Gurukul type of teaching methods – the extraordinary implications of the teachings contained in Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma sutras have largely remained confined to a small section of highly devoted Gurus and their disciples.

Today – people have much larger and easier access to these writings. But, understanding them requires a competent Guru’s support. These writings are very,very brief and use a lot of jargon. The meanings of many words are not – what the dictionary tells us – but, are much deeper and higher.

Since these are not ordinary knowledge, but eternal wisdom of a different kind – not everybody is considered fit for their teaching. A disciple who wants initiation into them is required to rise to very high levels of purity and in a worldly sense, make many sacrifices – to be eligible for their teaching. Even now, many traditional teachers insist on certain levels of purity before they agree to take an individual as disciple.

As time moves on, we find that, even though spirituality per se does not change, its external practice does change. Upanishads haven’t changed. Gita hasn’t changed. Brahma sutras haven’t changed.  So what has changed?

Today, there are not many forests where one can practice and teach Vedantha – as in olden days.

Some Spiritual Gurus today aspire to teach a much larger number of students (even if they are not disciples) in a much bigger geographical span – within India and in many countries outside.  This may be a necessity today, since, education has largely become secular and almost irreligious.

Most students do not satisfy most of the prescribed qualifications for being taught Vedantha. Moreover, lack of Sanskrit knowledge for students is a huge  hindrance for teaching Vedantha. So – simple extracts of Vedantha are taught in other languages - as can be absorbed by the students.

Is it good? It certainly is. Spirituality, howsoever taught, has a great civilizing influence on the students, who gradually turn into disciples too. This is why, we find, so many lakhs of disciples for many spiritual Gurus.

There is another aspect of modern day teaching of spirituality. The emphasis has shifted from Vedantha to Yoga – by which term, we now mean, Patanjali Yogasutras. Yoga, however, has a much larger connotation in Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Brahma sutras.

In today’s living conditions – Yoga of Patanjali is a great boon for the physical and mental health of the practitioners, called Sadhakas. The first benefit any one derives from Yoga is physical and mental health.

The 8 steps of Yoga are (i) Yama (ii) Niyama (iii) Asana(iv) Pranayama (v) Pratyahara (vi) Dharana (vii) Dhyana (viii) Samaadhi. It would be ideal to practice all of them under a competent Guru.

Of the eight parts of this system – most people are being taught today - Asana, pranayama and to some extent, dhyana by teachers who themselves know only that much. Degrees and Diplomas are now being awarded in Yoga – which is not the right way of imparting this 100 percent practical science. The Yoga practitioner must be a Sadhaka, all his life. A certificate in Yoga , without being a consistent Sadhaka, – from one who is himself not a Sadhaka, is an absolute waste for him.

The first 2 steps, Yama and Niyama, are cleanliness and discipline. They are important for any human being. Their importance for a practitioner of Yoga is much deeper. Without practicing Yama and Niyama, Prathyahara, Dharana and Dhyana are all impossible. Cleansing of mind and disciplining mind and body are a must for Sadhaka.

Patanjali does not lay much stress on asana – except saying that one must sit in such a posture that one feels comfortable and stable.

Pranayama is likewise required to make the mind – comfortable and stable. Thus, both are eminently helpful for yoga practitioners. Pranayama makes the mind fit for pratyahara and Dharana.

Pratyahara is a kind of withdrawal of sense organs from sense objects and restraining the mind. This gives us huge control on our sense organs. Dharana is a kind of concentration on a particular object.

Dhyana or meditation is the next step, which follows in continuation of Dharana, and gives us great knowledge / wisdom on the object of Dharana. Subsequently, Sadhaka can get into Samaadhi by giving up contemplation on the objects and dwelling only on the meanings.

Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi together are called Samyama. Yogasutras teach us a vast storehouse of self knowledge – by practice. Since, this is totally a practical science –every step through practice must lead to the next step. They become the life style.

Mere practice without knowing and understanding what one is doing – is just as useless, as mere knowing without practice. That is why, practice under a competent Guru – is always preferable.

How does Indian spirituality treat different people?

Lord Krishna, in his Bhagavad Gita has delineated basically 4 paths of spirituality. (i) Karma Yoga (ii) Jnana Yoga (iii)Bhakthi Yoga and (iv) Dhyana Yoga – which is also called Kriya Yoga by Patanjali. Dhyana Yoga is almost akin to Patanjali Yoga Sutras. All 4 paths are great and are suitable for 4 different types of persons.

Karma Yoga is suitable for persons who are more physically oriented and whose attention is on physically related aspects and action oriented aspects. If they practice selfless action / service, they achieve liberation. If they want to study – they can study the Karma Kanda part of Veda Poorva Bhaga, and they must practice Pancha Maha yajnas on a daily basis.

Jnana Yoga is more suitable for people with intellectual curiosity. They can undertake study of Upanishads, Gita, Brahmasutras. This is Jnana Kanda or Vedantha. The study of these under a Guru leads one out of ignorance and bestows on him spiritual wisdom. It leads directly to the real self.

Bhakthi Yoga is more suitable for those for whom total surrender of themselves to a superior Sakthi (or God) comes naturally. This requires total shedding of one’s ego. For people questioning and seeking answers, for people who are always action-oriented and those who are fit for Dhyana Yoga, Bhakthi yoga is useless. They cannot surrender their egos easily.

Dhyana Yoga or Kriya Yoga is for people who are seeking liberation through inner search. This requires huge discipline and practice with dispassion.

Thus, all people are broadly of 4 types and Indian spirituality prescribes one method of spirituality suitable for each. Any other method for them is of not much use.

Should a Guru teaching any of these 4 disciplines be a Sanyasi? He can be.

But, it is not necessary. But, he must be one without attachment. King Janaka was a king, ruling over a Kingdom. But, this did not prevent him from being the greatest spiritualist of his times. 

In modern days, a spiritual Guru may establish a huge spiritual heritage worth thousands of crores of rupees (or dollars) for the benefit of mankind. But he, himself can remain totally unattached to the incoming or outgoing of all this wealth. The wealth gets used for spiritual purposes. He will be doing Sadhanas always – to keep himself free from the trappings of ownership of such wealth.

Should he be a celibate? Not necessarily. Sage Vasishta lived with his wife Arundhati in the forests – and even begot hundred and one children. That still makes him the greatest spiritualist of his times. Most sages lived with wife and yet progressed spiritually to great heights.

A Sage’s mind, if constantly attached to the Sex feeling, throws him down from spirituality. But, if not so attached, it frees him from all bondage –even while being married. Sage Yagnavalkya’s story points to this precisely. But, for certain sadhanas, total celibacy is also a must. Then, the sages move out and go into caves, solitary places etc – for years and do their sadhanas. They, then, return back. But, otherwise, deserting the wife totally, for this purpose, has not been done by any of them.

The mantras to be chanted by the man and wife at the time of marriage also points to such a dispensation.

Today – there are too many misconceptions about spirituality. Like any other field, there are real spiritualist seekers and Great Gurus, and, there are also fakes. 

Whoever promises short cuts, magics, huge gains of money, instant cure of diseases etc, are obviously fakes. The purpose of spirituality is to promise only the permanent joy that comes when you dissociate from all the above, and when you remove your ignorance.

Yes. Health does improve. Diseases do get cured especially with Yoga practices. Whole Family happiness goes up. Even your capability to earn more wealth will go up.
With practice of spirituality – all these things do tend to happen. 

But, the real test of progress in spirituality is – 

(i)                  Are you becoming more and more joyful, with each passing day?
(ii)               Are you able to experience the whole universe as part of you and  Are you able to experience yourself in everything in the Universe.

Today’s Great Spiritual teachers in India are teaching precisely this. Don’t see the riches around them. See the richness they infuse into your life.

Let us now see a story. Once - A Girl was drowning in a river. A Sadhu and his disciple were also crossing the river. The Sadhu went forward, saved the drowning girl and carried her in his hands to safety. 

The disciple could not digest the sight of the half clad drowning girl being carried by the Sadhu all across the river to safety. After crossing the river – the disciple tells the Sadhu – Guru, how was it that you carried a beautiful girl in your hands from that end to this end? Is it not against our norms of spiritual practices? 

The Guru replied – I left her on the banks of the river long time back. Why are you carrying her still with you?

This principle of non-attachment (not, non possession) applies to all other mundane things.

The next principle of note in spirituality is – equality between dualities. Whether others like or dislike, praise or rebuke, help or torture, the spiritualist takes all such things dispassionately. The outer world must not disturb his inner world.

At the end – one word of humble suggestion to all readers:  Every one needs a Guru. You too need. Seek the best Guru whom you like. Your life will become a lot more wiser and joyful. Many worldly trappings will fall off automatically. Many of your misconceptions about spirituality will vanish. All Others glitter when you are at a distance. But, the Spiritualist glitters when you are at his feet.

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