Monday, August 12, 2013

Is it unnecessary to follow a particular spiritual path?

Recently, I assisted with the planning towards offering a specially designed meditation support group for those in the "recovery" movement. The eleventh (of the now well known "Twelve Steps") step in the recovery process is prayer and meditation. So, we figured, since Ananda has much to offer in regards to both, why not offer such support to others?

The first question that arose, however, was "Wouldn't it be more acceptable to more people if what we offered drew upon a variety of universally acceptable prayer and meditation sources (and not just Ananda's)?

I had to admit that such was likely to be the case. The further statement to the question was the assumption that by only offering what Ananda had to share we'd be seen as promoting our own way, indeed, perhaps proselytizing. I had to admit, again, that, well, yes, some would certainly view it that way.

My musings here are not really about how best to format the meditation support group. In that particular instance, I had several, not entirely irrelevant, objections: 1. What we would offer would be universal and not particular; 2. The mere fact that we would draw on Ananda sources doesn't, in and of itself, make it self-promoting. 3. Self-promoting is an aspect of both intention and delivery and in this case there was to be neither. 4. What we have to offer is effective and helpful to people. There is nothing lacking in it and there is no need, therefore, from the standpoint of the goal of the support group to seek out other sources. 5. The public service we wanted to offer is not merely the use of our physical space but to share something valuable that we have to share.

I admit that to many people these distinctions are just too subtle and human nature too suspicious to carry the day against the objections raised above. I figure, well, ok, then if fewer come and fewer therefore benefit, that's their choice. Why should we dilute what we have when we know it is effective and offered in good faith?

In my last blog article I explored the question of whether heretofore "secret" teachings and techniques should be made free (or mostly free) and public. Is to do so to "throw pearls before swine?" Is there any harm done? For those exposed to sacred teachings who spurn them because not spiritually ready, such persons may, karmically and psychologically, defer their own acceptance for having rejected them. Aren't material objects which are considered precious generally costly, scarce or otherwise difficult to obtain?

Still, one could also argue that more people will have access and therefore, following the spiritual lottery odds given to us in the "Bhagavad Gita" by Lord Krishna, "out of a thousand, one seeks Me."

My conclusion in that blog article was not a call for secrecy but a reminder that what makes such teachings and techniques precious is that one must have, by self-effort and grace, have advanced sufficiently spiritually and sensitively to recognize their value and to plumb their depths through discipline, self-control and devotion.

So, now, what then, is best? A synthesis of yoga techniques and philosophies or a singular lineage and spiritual path? I say, "There's something for everyone." When searching it is useful to explore different traditions and teachers. To draw the best from each and incorporate it into one's "sadhana" (spiritual practices) can be helpful.

But how many frogs does one kiss before finding a prince? There is, so I believe and believe I have observed in others, a restlessness and dissatisfaction in a concatenation of disciplines and methods. It is not uncommon, when yoga practitioners of different lineages assemble together, to feel a different "vibration" in another tradition, even when outwardly very similar (practicing meditation and yoga, e.g.)

There's another point however. This must be either experienced by oneself or observed sensitively in others. When one approaches spiritual disciplines like a smorgasbord, the ego engages in a "like and dislike" weighing and comparing attitude. The sense of personal ownership and "doership" is increased, not lessened. It is an axiom of spirituality that ego transcendence is an integral part of the path to the goal. "I have chosen this technique, that method, this book or teacher" to satisfy "What I think is right for me!" The resulting direction of consciousness is opposite to that of the soul, which is surrender, self-giving, devotional and so on. There is, further, a tendency toward pride over having learned or studied all these different philosophies or techniques, or having studied under this teacher or that. It may even be the ego's excuse to remain "above it all" (meaning above a personal commitment to ego transcendence) -- best to study everything, you see.

Yes, the ego does have to make decisions, spiritually and otherwise. Those decisions, however, which incline one towards ego transcendence will advance the soul toward freedom ("moksha") faster. As I stated in the prior blog, there is no one "right" yoga practice or meditation technique. What is right is that which brings you toward soul freedom!

This idea leads one naturally, indeed, inexorably to the need for the guru. But I have written on that subject in numerous other blogs. Suffice to say that anyone who sincerely and with energy seeks spiritual freedom, such a one will be guided to those teachers, teachings, and techniques best suited to his own unique and individual path to God.

The simple fact is this: in the practice of yoga and meditation today (and, let's face it, in the multitudinous practices of religion and spirituality generally throughout the world), most seek something far less. In yoga, it's often health, inner peace, well-being, muscle tone, stress relief and so on. For students of philosophy there are just never enough time to read all those cool books. For others, there's always a newer and more popular teacher coming to town. Even for the vast majority of devotees (those who undertake yoga disciplines, prayer, or charitable service for spiritual growth or to do God's work), we are working out karma: we feel better living this way; we feel compassion for others; we want to give back; and sometimes it's less ennobling, as, for example, we engage in practices because we are expected to, or otherwise for approval and recognition.

You see, and now I get to the meat of things, we have this deeply embedded tendency to mistake the form for the spirit (behind the form). Thus, we get attached to doing yoga; or meditating; or reading and learning; doing charitable work; or going to church on Sunday. We mistake the outer act (even meditation performed mechanically is a kind of outer work) for the presence of God, or joy, or upliftment. We too often settle for the outer act because we know we can't control when the "spirit will move and come upon me." And, of course, we should never so presume.

Thus we think that if we can learn dozens of yoga poses or meditation techniques we will be better at yoga or meditation. Little do we realize how little it takes; or, put more intelligently, that it's the attitude and consciousness with which we pray, meditate, or stretch that awakens the Spirit within. When, far along our spiritual journey, we realize that "joy is within you," (Ananda's motto), and that spiritual growth is not a matter of accumulating more techniques, or reading more books, and that it is, after all, really simple, then we let go of our "romance with religion" (its outer trappings), and seek, as one great modern saint was apt to counsel, "God alone."

I'm not saying we throw the "baby out with the bath water." I'm saying that we realize that one, true path, one true teacher, one effective technique is sufficient in regards outer practices and that what we really need is attunement with divine realities. And this is where it gets "good." Good because so subtle. Good because God, being the Infinite Power, the Supreme Spirit, has no form; no name; all forms; all names! It's just too confusing. Monism? Dualism? Where to start? Where does it end?

Are you ready, yet, for a guru? Ok, later, then. Nonetheless, my point is that, using the analogy of human love, we don't need five wives or husbands: we need only one if we want to know what the potential of human love might be. And so it is with God. Being everywhere (and nowhere), we don't need to "kiss every frog." Rather, simplicity of outer practice; purity of heart; selfless hands in service; and devotion to the Supreme Spirit (in whatever form is your "Ishta devata" -- that which inspires you to seek Truth and Freedom).

It would not be my intention to discourage you if you are enthusiastically engaged in learning and practicing (or teaching) yoga, meditation, or other worthy spiritual practices. Energetic engagement of will towards and for Good is necessary for the refinement of our consciousness and nervous system, and the purification of our karma and dross.

Further, there are those whose syncretic methods are helpful to them, and, if they are teachers, perhaps helpful for others. I maintain, however, as stated above, that this a phase one goes through. A necessary phase for some, to be sure, but a phase nonetheless. I object to what is sometimes the pride and even arrogance with which some syncretic teachers and students look down upon those poor slobs "stuck" in one path or lineage. But, well, I have spoken above of the drawbacks to this form of "fast lane" eclecticism.

Nonetheless, I hope some of distinctions made here can be helpful. For, very often, given the tendency toward sectarian rivalry with which spirituality and religion is too often a victim, a sincere person hesitates to make the plunge toward a singular path, leaving behind the garden of syncretic delights (like leaving behind dating in order to marry).

No step, taken sincerely and intelligently, with energy and faith, toward God, toward Truth, can ever lead us astray. Lessons we may have yet to learn, to be sure, but if we take one step toward God, Spirit takes two toward us. As we increase in purity, wisdom, and energy our path to God will surely lead us home.

There is no God, but God. There is no good, but God. There is no Thing, but God.

Peace! Shalom! Shanti!

Nayaswami Hriman