What is spirituality and what is the role of spirituality in our lives? For many people, spirituality can take the form of meditation, the form of prayer or the form of a belief. But what is the meaning of spirituality in its true sense? We know that human beings function at three levels: at the level of the head or intellect, at the level of the heart or feeling, and at the level of the hands or performance. True spirituality manifests when the head, heart and hands are in harmony with each other.
The process of yoga, from the physical and moral to meditation and samadhi, is one of harmonizing the head. The yamas and niyamas make one understand the need to cultivate positive qualities in order to enhance and increase the beauty of life. Asana and pranayama provide one with physical health and well-being. Pratyahara and dharana provide one with the ability to stop the mental chatter. Dhyana and samadhi provide a connection to link up with the energy and the spirit which is inherent and vibrant within. This entire process of yoga deals with the management of the head, the mind.
However, there are other aspects of spirituality which need to be awakened and developed. One needs to open up the heart and to harmonize one's performance. Purification of feelings and emotions, the expression of love and compassion which is not self-centred, egocentric and selfish; and purification and harmony in the act of performing one's duties, one's dharma - these are the other components of spirituality. How can we awaken these faculties? How can we nurture the qualities of heart and hands? That is the training of the other yogas.
Bhakti yoga, which Paramahamsaji has been emphasizing since he left the ashram, is an important yoga. Bhakti does not mean devotion, bhakti does not mean a belief system, bhakti does not mean ritual. Rather bhakti means directing and channeling the expressions of the heart from an egocentric, self-oriented, selfish state of being to a selfless, expansive state of life. This is a teaching which will take us many years to understand. We tend to believe in our own conditioning and reject anything which is not a part of that conditioning. We think that it is not possible or not relevant or not appropriate for us at this time, that it is alien to our concepts, ideals, culture and religion. Many barriers are created when it comes to the proper understanding and application of bhakti, because bhakti does not fit into any intellectual compartments.
These three dimensions of head, heart and hands have to be harmonized in order to experience true spirituality. Belief is an intellectual process, understanding is an intellectual process, but not everything can be understood through the intellect. When you are in love with somebody and obsessed with their memory, can you explain that intellectually? When you feel affection for your child, can that affection be described intellectually? No. From our own experience, we know that some things can be explained logically and intellectually and that others cannot.
In spiritual life too, the only thing that can be understood rationally is the effort you make to manage your mind, your nature - that's all. In this way, we can more or less rationalize at an intellectual level the process of yoga which relates with the head. "By doing this asana, I derive this benefit. By practising this pratyahara meditation, I can expect the following results. By perfecting my dharana techniques, I can expect the following results. Through meditation I can hope to achieve some point of realization and understanding." But once yoga begins to relate with the heart, we begin to feel and not understand. Once we begin to relate to the ability to perform, we begin to act and not understand rationally or intellectually. The balanced, harmonious expression of intellect, emotions, performance and action is spirituality. This is also the path of tantra, the path of yoga and the path of Vedanta.
Jainism appeared for the first time about 2,500 years ago, Buddhism about 2,400 years ago, Christianity about 2,000 years ago and Islam about 1,400 years ago. Prior to the emergence of these modern religions, people had a different belief system, a different understanding of how an individual could relate with the cosmos and with the energy that controlled and directed the universe, which they named God. Individuals observed and witnessed each and every activity of life as a sacrifice. It is only in the last couple of centuries that we have shunned and neglected many of the ancient spiritual ideals and concepts, and adopted new ones.
We have altered our concepts of God and divinity according to the new religious beliefs that have taken over the education of mind, culture and lifestyle. In tantra and Vedanta, God was always seen as the feminine force. This is not the concept of male and female that we have developed today. The God of Christianity is symbolized as a male figure, but it is not male. In tantra, God is symbolized as a feminine figure, but it is not female. The symbol of a male body or a feminine body is only to indicate a quality, not the form.
The concept of God the ancients had was the hiranyagarbha, the golden womb. Hiranya means golden, garbha means womb. Life emerges from the womb. Just as the child emerges from the mother's womb after nine months, similarly, creation, the visible universe, emerged from this cosmic womb. Emergence from the womb represents growth and expansion.
A few years back, the theory of the 'big bang' was very prominent among scientists. This theory proposed that originally all matter, gases, chemicals and energies were compressed together in one body. Somehow, through a process of combination and permutation, an explosion took place in this body. That explosion separated and created many, many more bodies out of this one single body and became the cause of the expanding universe.
What scientists called the 'big bang' is the emergence of creation from the hiranyagarbha. The Upanishads have said that the first desire of God was, "I am one, let me become many" - Ekohum bahusyam. When God becomes many, by taking on different forms, and is identified as containing or as the inheritor of different qualities, that is the hiranyagarbha, creation coming forth from the cosmic womb.
From the very beginning, the eastern philosophies and religions have seen God as a feminine force, not as a masculine force. The masculine or father aspect of God was conceived of as a means of maintaining order and discipline in this chaotic creation, this chaotic society. The need to regulate everything, to create a sequence and a system, was emphasized. The efforts of every thinker and individual religious figure went into describing the balance of creation in the universe as being maintained by a masculine force.
So, God was perceived as a masculine power, one who rules, witnesses, decides and judges. It was this idea of God which became prominent and which is reflected in the new religions which have emerged in the last 2,500 years. However, the common sense of every thinker and preceptor, and the wisdom of saints, has always realized that God is a natural, maternal force, not a masculine, created force.
Now how does an individual connect with the energy of God? In creation we are all insignificant beings. Human beings are viruses that multiply all the time. If you take a single cell amoeba, you will see it divide and multiply so that in the course of time it becomes billions and trillions of cells. It is the same with human beings. They started off as one pair only: Adam and Eve, or Manu and Satarupa. In the Bible it says that God gave them the mandate to 'go forth and multiply' - and look at the mess they have created today, the multiplication has gone beyond the boundaries of the natural laws.
How can a human being connect with the universe which is the expression of God, and with God's energy which is inherent in everything? Not through meditation, but by appreciating the need and the existence of all other life forms, whether they are animate or inanimate. This teaching is given in yajna. Yajna is a very ancient ritual or system in which a link is created between the individual and the cosmos, God.
There have been two masters of yoga. The first was Patanjali, who is recognized the world over as an authority on yoga. He described the process of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi - the eight-fold path of yoga. The system expounded by Patanjali represents the yoga which helps you transform your nature, mind and personality.
The other great master of yoga was Swami Sivananda. He described the eight stages of yoga which come after one has perfected Patanjali's yoga. Where Patanjali's yoga ends, the yoga of Sivananda begins. Swami Sivananda has described the eight stages in a very simple form in English, although the English words do not convey the true meaning of the original Sanskrit concepts. In English, the eight stages are: serve, love, give, purify, be good, do good, meditate, realize. This eight-fold path of Swami Sivananda's is a continuation of Patanjali's yoga. In Patanjali's yoga you work with the microcosmic self, you, the individual. After you have balanced the microcosmic self, you become part of the macrocosmic self and interact at a microcosmic level by following the path of Sivananda's yoga. So the path of Patanjali indicates the personal effort one has to make to know and realize oneself, and the path of Swami Sivananda represents the connection one can have with other people, the cosmos and God. These two yogas become the complete yoga for the development and realization of the person.
Yajna is a part of Swami Sivananda's yoga. Not the fire ceremony, not the ritual, not the chanting of mantras, but yajna in its totality, where you are considerate and caring to each and everything around you, where you nurture and support the growth of each and everything around you. That is the fulfillment of life as a human being.
Millions of people in this world are born every day and millions die every day. What is their attainment? They are educated, they work at a job, earn their pensions and then leave. This is the attainment of every individual in life. Birth, education, marriage, job, family, pension, death. This is the eternal vicious circle. In between, you can experiment with one path here and another path there, one belief here and another belief there, one philosophy here and another philosophy there, one religion here and another religion there - and that's it. That is only experimentation, there is no achievement in it.
Are we here only to take birth, educate ourselves, marry, have a job, become financially secure for our old age - and then kaput? No, that is not the mandate of life we have received. The one who can understand the real mandate of life is known as a yogi. The one who can understand the real mandate of life is a preceptor. Thinkers can generate new ideas and concepts, but it is the application of these ideas and concepts which is the most important part of life. Very few people can tell us how to do that, when to do it and what to do.
Different preceptors have given hints all along. In the Bible and the Bhagavad Gitayou find instructions on how to be a good Samaritan. When somebody slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. But how many of you have turned the other cheek when somebody has hit you? Rather than turning the other cheek you have raised your hand too - and you call yourself believers? How many of you have ignored those who are suffering and in dire need of help - and you call yourself followers of a precept? Therefore, human beings are the most unintelligent beings on this planet. They have ears but do not hear. They have eyes but do not see. They have intellect but do not understand. They have legs but do not walk. They have arms but do not lift.
To progress, to evolve spiritually, there has to be stamina of mind, stamina of belief, stamina in work, stamina in all dimensions of life. Having this stamina in which you are just able to use yourself to uplift others is yajna. Those who need to be uplifted spiritually should be uplifted spiritually. Those who need to be uplifted materially should be uplifted materially. There should be no dearth of anything in your home. This entire planet is our home, and this is the vision one gets through yajna.
—Ganga Darshan, December 4, 2000