Acharya Prashant: So, here we are, sitting in a spiritual city. Everything here, the whole context is spiritual. Some of us are not from India, and they have come here for spiritual reasons.
So, what is Spirituality?
There is that which is visible, which appears substantial, is perceptible – we call that as the material. And then we use the word ‘spirit’. If there is a need to have a separate word, surely spirit can be nothing, just nothing what material is. Otherwise, another form of the word ‘material’ would have sufficed. Or another form may not even have been needed. So, when we say ‘Spiritual’ or ‘spirit’, by definition, it can have no elements of that which is sensory, sensual, mental, material, carrying a name or form or that which we call as existence. The Spiritual can be none of these. If we can put our finger on it, it is material. If we can hear it, it is again material. If we can touch it, lift it, keep it in our pocket, wear it or even think of it, it is material.
What is material? That which we see, that which forms our universe, that which is space-time; that is material. Then, by definition, the spiritual has to be beyond space-time. That’s a nice point we have come to. Whatever then is in space, is spatial cannot be really spiritual. If that be so, then would it be fair to call a place as spiritual? A place is surely a geographical location, space. It is really prudent to say that a particular temple, a particular thing, is spiritual? It is important to enquire about this because several of us take great pains and cover large distances to come to spiritual places.
My question is – Can a place be spiritual?
Similarly, time. Whatever is in time is material. Time means change, time means evolution, time means coming from the past and flowing into the future, time means mental activity. If this be so, then can a promise of redemption be called spiritual? If time is just material and Spirituality is surely something beyond material, then if so-called spirituality offer a great transformation in the future – some kind of a heaven, some kind of a superman – is it really Spirituality or is it just another worldly hope? A so-called great man tells you that, “You are evolving and then you must reach the climax of your evolution. You must achieve greatness. You must become something.” Is this a spiritual statement or is this a statement as worldly as saying that, “My son must become the CEO of a big firm.” What is the difference between the aspiration to become a divine superman and the aspiration to become the richest man in the world? Both are just dealings in time.
Similarly, if you are being told of some great spiritual traditions, then surely you are being told of the past. All traditions flow from the past and hence are in time. If you are being told of great spiritual traditions and are encouraged to follow them, is it any different from being asked to tow the family tradition? Is it really any different from being asked to do what your country or community have always been doing? Time, past! So, surely the material, be it a temple or be it a T-shirt, can have nothing to do with Spirituality. And there can be no spiritual stream coming from a glorious past.
Now, what do we see here? As I went around the city, there are a lot of merchandise on sale – necklaces, bracelets, anklets, kurtas; you name it – kindly do not answer in a hurry – A T-shirt that is printed with an “ॐ” (Om), does it not immediately appear as spiritual? And in that, does not its whole appeal lie? Would it sell if the printed images were not carrying a connotation? And not only is that the intention of the seller, even the buyer starts feeling a little different – probably a little holier, probably a little more pious – after wearing that T-shirt.
A few days back I was at a place where they take a particular hill as very sacred. I entered into a discussion with one of the leading spiritual personalities, whatever that means ‘spiritual personality’, and a world-renowned author, and I asked him that, “Do you really believe in things like time and space, a particular place, a particular image?” And I kept asking. The result wasn’t quite pleasant. But I still want to keep asking and I want to ask you as well, “Are we not taking forward the material in the name of Spirituality?” And in asking this question, I am not condemning the material at all. Material is material, and what is material, has its own place in the material domain. Material is wonderful. But when we say spiritual, then surely we must have something which is transcending the material. My issue is with the blurring of this distinction; my issue is with this sometimes deliberate deception.
You see, we all are in search of the essence, the spirit. The spirit means the essence – the truth of something. We all are desperately in search of that. That is why we come to the so-called spiritual place. That is why we take great pains to reach Masters, to interpret the Scriptures. People from outside India come, having quit their jobs, having left their families behind, having invested a lot. This shows that surely they are searching for something. But if you just wanted the material, there was enough material at your home. What was the need to travel so far? Your thirst is real, but the medium that you are choosing to quench your thirst, is a false medium. And if you keep taking the false as true, then the true will always elude you. In spite of being present and easily available, you would keep missing it. You would keep missing it precisely because you are searching for it in the wrong place. Or let me put it this way, you are searching for it in a ‘place’ (smilingly). Every ‘place’ where you search for it, is a wrong place.
There is a whole ‘tamasha’ (show) going on. It’s a market place. It is a spiritual mall. You visit any of the holy cities, the situation is the same. And it is quite pitiable because those who are coming to the shops are coming with a true requirement. It is not that they want to waste themselves, that they are intent upon investing themselves falsely. They are feeling a certain call, their mind is experiencing certain restlessness. Therefore, they are coming to the market. And they cannot be blamed, because all their lives, whatever they have wanted, they have only obtained it from a market. So, it is kind of understandable – if one feels that even the spiritual need will be met in some market, maybe a different kind of market, may be some spiritual market.
No, that cannot happen. The spiritual, by definition, is totally, totally different. The rules of the material world do not apply there at all. In the material world, to get something, you have to move. In the spiritual world, to get the Real, you have to stop. In the material world, when you gain something, the amount, the number, the weight of your possessions increases. In the spiritual world, when you have really achieved, then you become lighter, you lose. That is the reason why, in spite of the thirst being real, the thirst continues. The thirst continues because the false is assumed to be true.
You may then ask that – “Is there no importance, no significance of the material expressions of the spiritual, of the mantras, of the temples, of the holy rivers, of the sacred mountains? Do they hold no significance at all?” They hold a great significance. They hold a great significance only when the mantra, which is a word and hence material, arises from a spiritual centre.
When the material is directly a manifestation of the spiritual, only then the material is a symbol of the Divine, only then the material points at non-material.
If the envelope is carrying a love letter, then the envelope too gets some love that the letter is entitled to receive. But what if we start worshipping empty envelopes? The envelope may have once carried a love letter. But the letter is long lost. Now there is only the word, now there is only the material. And you are sticking to it, and you are worshipping it, and you are thinking that you have received something valuable. You would be disappointed. And we all are continuously receiving only disappointments.
A temple is wonderful when it arises as an expression of a devoted Heart. The Heart comes first. The temple rises as an expression of the Heart. But if the Heart is shrouded by a thick mind, then of what use would it be to just go and touch stones?
In fact, then it would be dangerous because your disease would exist as before and you would be complacent that some kind of treatment is taking place. Your mind will continue to remain complacent, conditioned, deluded and arrogant. But because now you are wearing a sacred thread, have visited sacred places, then pilgrimages, read a few holy books, now you would feel as if the divine has descended upon you. Now treatment would be doubly difficult.
You see, as I was going around this place this morning, I was pointing it to Kunal (a fellow seeker) about people carrying a particular hair style or beards. When a Saint becomes One with existence, when he finds no reason to resist or control the happening, then a beard is beautiful. The beard has no significance by itself. It is beautiful as a manifestation of a surrendered mind. That is what a beard represents – I do not want to fight it. I do not want to cut it. I do not want to resist the body. – But if you go to the holy places, you find many people carrying beards. The beard is a material thing. You will not become spiritual by carrying a beard. You will not become spiritual by reciting “ॐ” (Om) a million times. These are all material endeavours. But is it not very easy for us always to detect the spiritual? And if it is possible for us, please pay attention to this, and if it is possible for us to detect the spiritual, it means that we are surely carrying an image of the spiritual.
So, the moment something comes before our eyes which match that ‘image’, we say, “Oh! This is something spiritual.” So, the moment someone wearing the saffron colour, that orange, comes in front of your eyes, you immediately say, “Oh! Someone spiritual!” Now surely the spiritual is material. Now surely you have an image. And the image can only be of something material. Now you are saying you already know what is Spirituality. No, you can never know what Spirituality is. Spirituality is something totally dynamic. The expressions will keep changing, always changing. And if you are obsessed with the expressions, then you will keep missing the Real.
You see, you look at buildings, and if you are shown the pictures of ten buildings, and asked to detect which one of these is holy or spiritual or religious, you would not waste a second in putting your finger. All you need is a dome or a minaret or a spire. And you are very clear that this one must be a holy building. Now, how do you know? But you know. And because you know, you do not Know anything.
If you are shown the picture of an ordinary man, wearing ordinary, contemporary clothes, even wearing a neck-tie and sunglasses, it would be very difficult for you to say that “This is a spiritual man”. On the other hand, if you are shown the picture of someone with a shaven head and a long beard, and beads in the palm, you would be quick to say, “Ahh! Something spiritual there!” Is that not so?
So, then, we are not looking for ‘spirit’. Now we are saying we are looking for something which looks like my pre-set image. Now we are not looking for the Truth. Now we are looking for an affirmation of our mental concepts. So, you are saying, “That which I am already carrying in my mind, I am looking for a confirmation, a reinforcement of that.” And that will happen. Your own concepts will be strengthened. You would become more and more confident about your own dogmas. And you will say, “Yes, yes. I know. That particular river is holy, and that river is ordinary.” Such a silly thing to say! Are you getting it?
The True, the Real, is not something to be sought.
It is our nature.
It is never going away.
Getting it doesn’t require special practice or effort or ‘sadhana’. It rather requires honest attentiveness; when you can be honest towards yourself, when you can acknowledge all your follies, when you can be attentive to the daily mistakes – that is Spirituality.
Spirituality is nothing special. It is very simple, ordinary.
The man who lives in himself, in his simple nature, is a spiritual man.
Spirituality is simple wisdom.
You could even say that –
To not to be foolish, is to be Spiritual.
As simple a definition as that.
But you will not like this definition if your mind is besotted with the great, with the extraordinary, that fanciful image of godhood – “God, the dazzling! God, the awesome! The bewilderment that is divinity!” Now you will not accept this. Now you will say, “No, no, no. I wanted something that will overwhelm me. I wanted something that will make me feel like belonging to another world.”
Spirituality is not about reaching another world.
Spirituality, mind you, is about knowing this world.
The majority of mankind has no understanding of what this world is, and lives in dream of some other world. Spirituality is not another world, but this world. If you can understand what I am saying, if you can go to the Silence behind these words, that is Spiritual. If you can look at the bird on the tree, if you can look at the traffic on the road, if you can listen to the noises coming from the kitchen, and know what they are, what they really are, that is Spirituality. Spirituality is not about knowing the Scriptures. Spirituality is about knowing why you are restless. Spirituality is about knowing why you resist change, why you like something, why you dislike something, why you run towards something, what are you scared of. Spirituality is about living your daily, ordinary life, wakefully.
This ‘waking up’ which manifests itself in your every action, in your daily life, this is Spirituality. It will manifest itself in various forms. You too will make temples, just that those temples will not look like temples of the past. And if you have firmly believed that a temple is a temple only when it looks like temple of the past, then you will never really be able to enter your own temple. And only your own temple is Real. All other temples, for you, cannot be temples. Spirituality is about letting your own temple come up.
As you visit India, and the various holy cities, temple after temple, priest after priest, river after river, ashram after ashram, I want to ask you, where is your own priesthood? Why can’t your own house be your ashram? When will that come up? Where is your own Scripture that is waiting to manifest itself? And it is so close, if only you stop blocking its way. Why do you feel incapable, small, impotent? Why do you think that there can be only ‘n’ number of Upanishads? Where is your Upanishad? Where is your Gita? Where is your Bible? Why must you travel afar? Do you really think that you are any different from the Rishi who gave us the Sacred Sutras? It is a mistake if you think so.
You and the Rishi are One. Just that the Rishi knows that, and you do not accept that. That is the only difference. And that is a difference created by you; that is a difference sustained by you. Nothing in existence is trying to show you down. Only you are insistent upon believing that you are small, sick, incapable and in need of support from the world, from the material. Unfortunately, there are several others like you who are equally sick but want to exploit your sickness. Then you become customers and they become sellers.
Why must you visit the so-called Spiritual shops? Why? Did the author of the Bible read another Bible to come up with the Bible? Did the Rishi of the Upanishads read the Upanishads in advance so that he can announce the Upanishads? What if you are the first man or the first woman? Who would tell you what is holy and what is not? How would you then know that you have to take a visa and a flight to India? Surely these things have been put into your head by the society. Had you been the first man, nobody would have been there to tell you all these things. And then you would not have done these stupidities.
You are the First man, and knowing this is Spirituality.
Not only are You the First man, You are the only One.
The entire world is You.
Only You are.
And if only You are, why do you roam here and there like a deluded deer? Wherever you will go, you will be moving only in your own expanse, then what is the need to feel so desperate about reaching?
It never occurs to us that the greatest possibility lies within us. It never occurs to us that by terming something else great, we have correspondingly termed ourselves as relatively small. That is the greatest danger of creating a God outside of yourself. God represents everything that is the highest about You. And if you have put your highest representation as something outside of yourself, then you have condemned yourself to littleness. Spirituality is about realising that you need not live in pettiness. It is an inner sureness based on nothing. The spiritual man, the spiritual mind, lives in the spirit, in the essence. He is not deceived by symbols.
So, this afternoon, my request is, kindly know the material as material. Kindly know the envelope as envelope. Kindly know the symbol as symbol. The envelope is not even the love letter, and you have assumed the envelope to be the Beloved. Can we get more foolish than that? Somebody is so enamoured with the envelope that he forgot the letter. And another one has taken the envelope to her bosom and the Beloved is waiting and waiting. But the envelope has so captivated you that you will not look at the Beloved. Occasionally your heart will cry out. It will say, “Something is missing. Please, something is wrong.” But then you will look around and find other like you, all just carrying envelopes, embracing envelopes, sleeping with envelopes, kissing envelopes, putting envelopes on the forehead, worshipping envelopes. And then you will say, “If the whole world is doing this, then this must be right. Look at the crowds, look at the queues. Surely not everybody can be foolish.” Do not discount that possibility. Everybody just might be foolish. You need not be.
Foolishness is not your nature. Simple wisdom is our essential nature. And that will not come as a result of some teaching; that will not come as a result of travelling hither and thither. That comes when you stop doing what you have always been doing. That comes when you start seeing the absurdity of continuing with your ways, not by doing something extra, not by booking one more flight, but by perhaps cancelling a few tickets.
You know what happens when the false dominates you? The True will stand right in front of you, right within you, at an arm’s reach; and you will walk past it as if you have seen nothing, as if you have heard nothing. The Beloved will keep knocking your door and you will not answer, because you are hugging the envelope.
I have no issues at all with shops. Shops must sell. But they must be honest about what they are selling. If there is a shop that is selling enlightenment, then it is a fraud. A shop can sell shoes and oil, and bread and cement, and ideas and knowledge; such things a shop can surely sell. But a shop cannot sell Love and Freedom and Truth and God. When a shop makes such claims, then I will resist. Then I will speak. When a shop says that, “Come, I will show you the great”, and it shows you the great by pointing at some structure, then this is an injustice. If someone calls you to show you the great, then he must ask you to look at your own Heart. Greatness lies there. Greatness does not lie in some special structure. Greatness does not lie in the life of some special man or woman. And if you are continuously being told that a man or a woman or both, were great and special, then what about you? Who are you? All the greatness has been taken away by them. And what have you been left with?
Don’t you see that? Why do you allow yourself to be exploited? Why must you go and bow in front of the great buildings, and the great portraits and statues? Those who have known have always said that. ‘Avadhuta Gita’ of Dattatreya beautifully says, “To whom can I bow now? To whom can I offer obeisance? It’s me, me and me. How to offer salutation now?” And that is the greatest salutation that you can offer to the Truth.
When you know that now you cannot bow down to the false, then you have surrendered to the Truth.
And only when you have surrendered to the Truth, you will get the courage to not to prostrate in front of the false.
But if you keep prostrating in front of all the shops, then how will you ever bow to the Holy? How?
Spirituality is Surrender.
But before surrender, it is rebellion.
Rebel against all that which is false. Rebel against all that which is material but claims to be spiritual.
When you have rebelled against the false, that is surrender to the Truth.
Do not allow your mind to be colonized. Enquire, ask questions. Faith is not blind belief. Faith is not following the crowd. God does not live in a special place. You will not meet God in some heaven in future. Enlightenment will not come. These are there. And only these are there. Why are you trying?
I might have said something which may cause momentary disappointment to you, especially if you have invested a lot, in your travels and your beliefs. The hurt that is being caused is intentional. I am speaking as a friend. Nothing must be beyond your questioning, nothing, nothing at all. Do not take anything to be so sacred that you cannot enquire. Enquire like a child. Enquire without inhibitions. Enquire without already declaring that this is Holy or pious. Ask – “Why must this be so?”
Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
Watch the session: Spirituality is the intimacy of the immediate, not the blaze of the beyond
Advait in Everyday Life
Advait has since long been revered as the crown jewel of all spiritual philosophies. However, there are very few books, if any at all, that practically demonstrate the presence, applications, methods and benefits of living as per the golden teaching of Advait-Vedanta.
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