What is Spirituality?

From Yogadrishti Series: Chapters of Spirituality, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The spiritual traditions say that spirituality is overcoming duality in life, and the experience of universality, the experience of unity in diversity. The foundation of your spiritual development is the dawning of the ability to experience unity in duality. Even in the Bhagavad Gita, the first prerequisite for a spiritual aspirant as defined by Sri Krishna is not asana, pranayama, relaxation, meditation, japa or mantra. The first guideline in the Bhagavad Gita is to overcome duality and see oneness in everyone, see the unifying factor in everyone. This is the first condition to becoming spiritual, according to Sri Krishna. It is also the first condition spoken of in the ancient teachings of saints and in scriptures. Duality is the barrier between the individual and the divine. When seen from a philosophical perspective it becomes difficult to eradicate duality; however, if it is approached from a practical perspective, it becomes possible to manage duality and attain unity.

Satyam Shivam Sundaram

In order to develop a unified, singular vision, what is the sutra that should be followed? Recall when Anasuya asks her son, Dattatreya, "Son, what is the truth?" Dattatreya replies, "Mother, the only permanent thing in this dimension is Satyam Shivam Sundaram; the truth that does not change, that is eternal and permanent." If something changes, it is not eternal or permanent, therefore it cannot be the truth. Auspiciousness is that in which there is the possibility of attaining happiness, contentment and fulfillment. Beauty is that appreciation of life where there is no sadness, distraction or disturbance; everything is seen as the manifestation of the higher power. The nature of God is Satyam Shivamundaram; however, it cannot be realized by the individual due to the dvaita bhava, the dualistic mind. In another sense, the dualistic mind is a gift from nature to this creation, as nothing in creation or nature can be understood without it. The problem is that it creates a distance between yourself and your inner source. You identify with creation, the material world and sense objects.

In the scriptures, the state of duality is considered to be the biggest fault of the mind. Due to this state, you view circumstances and people as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. It makes you think in terms of high and low, rich and poor. Duality gives you the impression of 'having' or 'not having'. It is the cause of your perception of the lack or prosperity in your life, your strengths and weaknesses. It places the mind in a constant state of fluctuation, since the mind sees two and finds itself wanting in its given circumstances. The dualistic mind always changes its intentions, so one is never comfortable, no matter where one is. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. One never finds balance.

Beyond duality

If you want spirituality to grow in your life, first you must put an end to this state of duality. The end of duality and the awakening of non-duality and unity is the bedrock of spirituality. In this process, the sutra to be followed is: "See yourself in everyone." As stated in the scriptures, try to see God in everything.

A clear understanding of how to overcome the duality of mind is given by Sri Swamiji when he speaks of cultivating atmabhava, the ability to see yourself in other people. For example, your child is sick with a high fever. The doctor has given medicines and is treating the child. The child is being taken care of, yet you spend sleepless nights by your child. Why do you not go to bed and sleep properly? Why do you have to stay up, and why do you stay up only with your child? Why will you not stay up when somebody else's child is sick? You do not express that same care and concern at that time. Why? The answer is simple: in your child you see a reflection of yourself, whereas in another child, you do not see your reflection. If you are able to see yourself in other people, then that reduces the dualistic mentality and cultivates atmabhava, the awareness which makes you see yourself in every object, in every other form. Therefore, reach out to all beings. Only then will the vision of duality end in your life.

Spirituality is not an order or a discipline. Religion is an order, a discipline, a belief and a faith; however, spirituality is the worship of life and of the beauty inherent in life. It is the search for peace in life and the experience of the Supreme Element. One who rises above the state of duality and attains the state of oneness takes the first step into spiritual life.

The world and nature are composed of tamoguna. When you come to this world of sense objects in bodily form, the influences of tamoguna control the body and mind. The state of duality is where the kingdom of maya, illusion, begins. Due to maya, the mind remains confused. The state of duality is maya's strength. If, however, you manage to attain the state of non-duality, you will get the visa to enter the kingdom of God, of Paramatma, the Supreme Spirit. Then you will be able to go there whenever you want; you can go on a pilgrimage, receive darshan and come back.

A sadhu's way of thinking

A sadhu has a particular way of thinking: 'Staying in this world is not the aim of my life. The aim of my life is to attain God. What should I do for that? How do I experience that Supreme Element? For that, I must free myself from the obstacles that bring destruction and downfall.' These obstacles are the six enemies in everyone's life: kama, lust; krodha, anger; lobha, greed; moha, infatuation; mada, arrogance; and matsarya, jealousy. These are the six children of duality, due to which strife, problems, difficulties, conflicts, confusions, and all types of psychological upheavals, mental problems and difficulties arise. The sadhu first struggles with and attempts to overcome these six enemies.

The dualistic mentality, with its six offspring, creates havoc in one's life. Thus, sannyasins begin their journey with the idea of renunciation. They renounce those things that bind them, and adopt those that can help reduce the weight of the six enemies. The weight must reduce. Renunciation means to reduce the baggage. If you have fifty kilos of baggage and can carry only twenty, you will renounce thirty kilos. A sannyasin will try to renounce forty-nine kilos and carry only one kilo. Renouncing and reducing the weight is known as chhorna, leaving behind. The spiritual journey of a sannyasin begins with leaving behind the dualistic mind, passion, aggression, greed, infatuation, arrogance and envy.

The last chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that the fires of lust, anger and greed burn a manushi, the human being; they destroy human life and existence. One who can bear their heat is a sadhu, and one who cannot bear their heat contracts mental problems and diseases. If lust, anger, greed, infatuation, arrogance and jealousy are strong and their disturbances go on for months and years in the head, what will be the state? There will be no peace. The mind will become restless, dissipated, imbalanced, aggressive and gross. That is why spirituality for a sannyasin begins with renunciation and non-attachment.

Destiny of every human being

As far as shraddha, faith, is concerned, it applies to both the householder and the sannyasin. However, if in householder life spirituality begins with faith and its growth brings happiness, in the lives of sadhus, faith is strengthened with renunciation. Renunciation is the basis for attaining freedom from the six enemies. Until this freedom is attained there will be no peace, even in the Himalayas. Once this freedom is attained, you will not hear noise in the midst of a busy market, due to the peace and quiet within.

To develop spiritual power and inner strength, one has to realize and eradicate the negative influences of the destructive conditions and traits of mind. For that, 'leaving behind the extra baggage' must be the theme. The idea of tyaga, renunciation, is cultivating this spiritual awareness, which is the destiny of every human being. Without renunciation, one cannot cultivate spiritual awareness. One can experience the spiritual nature, the awakened nature, the untainted nature of consciousness only by renouncing and staying away from the influences and effects of the six enemies of life. Avoid those things that stain the purity, simplicity, innocence and strength of consciousness. The one who adopts the path of renunciation by confronting the six enemies and is able to become free from the tamasic influences, reaches the heights of spirituality. Such a one gradually becomes a sadhu, a saint, and develops a unique way of thinking with a different perspective on life and creation.