Question: What is the definition of spirituality?
Acharya Prashant: First of all the definitions that pre-exist in the mind must be cleared. Spirituality has nothing to do with religious customs, religious observations, or anything that pertains to a sect, a cult, a particular path, a particular group of people, a particular book, or a particular person.
Spirituality is simply the search for Truth. And it is very rigorous in the sense that in the language of spirituality, Truth is that which is not only unchanging within time, but is actually beyond time.
The word spirit means essence – that which is real, that which actually is. Man has to go to spirituality because everything that he perceives to be, keeps changing, and in that way keeps deceiving him. Whatever you come across, whatever you get attached to, whatever you think to be real, it is no more there the next moment. Yes, the next moment can come a year later or thousands of years later; but there surely comes a moment when what you thought to be real is shown to be false. False in the sense that it is no more there. And that is the definition of falseness. Falseness is that which presented itself as being, but in due course of time, moved into non-being. That is false.
Spirituality is the search for that which is beyond being and non-being and hence, that which will not deceive you by turning into the false when you believed it to be true.
If you exist, you exist as something. It is nonsensical to say, “I am, but I am nothing.” When man says that “he is,” in parallel he says that “he is something”. What is this something? Whatever man postulates this something to be, turns out to be ephemeral. Now, this ever-changing world no more remains an impersonal problem. Because whatever I think myself to be, comes from the world, and if what the world is, keeps changing, then it immediately means that I too keep changing. So, the transitory nature of the world now becomes a personal problem – provided you are thoughtful enough and attentive enough to see that all that you think yourself to be comes from the world. Hence, if the world is constantly a flux, constantly changing, then you too are constantly a flux, constantly changing.
Now, this is pretty strange! Who am I? Something that is not fixed at all. But, if I am not fixed at all, I simply do not feel good about it. My innermost being thirsts for something that won’t fall apart. My deepest yearning is for a particular stability. So, this dry fact that all my identities come from the world and hence are subject to change simply cannot satisfy me. This deep discontentment makes man move towards something that will not come to an end, something that is beyond the vagaries of time. This is spirituality!
Spirituality is very much like science, in the sense that it looks very closely at the world. Spirituality is extremely scientific because it wants to examine the world and its nature, just like the scientist. It wants to look at the world, it wants to observe the world, and see what the world really is. Where does the world come from? What happens to it? How does one perceive it? How does it change? How does it end? All its processes, its dissolution, its making, everything. Spirituality is very scientific. And then spirituality goes beyond science. How? Science stops at the world. Spirituality looks at the world, then looks at the self, then sees the direct relation between the world and the self, and hence, sees the two as one. Then it goes further beyond! When the spiritual eye sees that the self, the normal ego-self, is nothing but coming from worldly influences, it does not feel contended.
It cries out, “There has to be something beyond.” This deep belief, which for want of a better word, we can even call just a postulation or a conviction, is in the language of spirituality, called as faith. So, these are the two aspects of spirituality. The first is a very, very scientific observation of the world. If the mind is not scientific enough, it cannot be spiritual. If the mind does not know the world, it cannot move to something beyond the world.
Knowing the world, its movements, its games, its suffering and its cunningness is very important. The spiritual mind must deeply understand the world. That is one aspect of spirituality; the second aspect is faith. I understand the world. I see that I am made of worldly influences, but I also have faith that there has to be something beyond these influences – influences which give me nothing but suffering.
This is spirituality: attention and faith.
And both are just helping you to go towards something that is of the beyond. Something that is not merely a mental apparition, a sensory deception. And when you mention the senses then that is one example to indicate how spirituality goes beyond science. For science, something that cannot be detected, does not exist. If something can just not be detected, if it is absolutely undetectable, then science will say, “It does not exist.” Spirituality says, “My instruments for detection are very limited. I detect using my senses and my intellect, which are quite limited. Something that cannot be thus detected may also exist. In fact, it may be more real than what the senses announce as real.”
Spirituality thus lacks the arrogance of science.
Science says if my eyes can see it, look at it, only then it exist. Spirituality says, “But first of all am I sure that my eyes are an instrument capable enough to tell me the Truth?” Spirituality is an honest, brutally honest search for the truth. And kindly do not think that it precludes science. To go beyond something is not the same as rejecting it. Spirituality is deeply scientific and so very scientific that it transcends science. You could even say that it is more scientific than science.
Science stops at one particular superstition. What is the fundamental superstition of science? That my eyes will tell me the truth. My intellect can tell me the Truth. That is the fundamental superstition of science. Spirituality does not accept even that superstition. Spirituality says, “No! I want to look at the mind itself! And that looking at the mind cannot happen while remaining in the province of mind. Hence, there has to be something beyond the mind.”
And the spiritual man does not merely remain at the level of positing this; he actually tastes this. This something of the beyond, this unreasonable sureness, he lives in it, he breathes it. His being has a different color all together.
So, it is not merely a belief system. Spirituality is not a cult; spirituality is not a particular way of thinking; spirituality is deep immersion into the Truth. It is not something of the mind, it is something of your entire being.
You breathe it, you live in it.
-Excerpts from a Samvaad session. Edited for clarity.
Read more articles on this topic: