Monday, September 1, 2014

Am I "Spiritual?"

We hear frequently the term "spiritual but not religious." Some say we are spiritual beings having a human experience and, accordingly, "Of course I am spiritual!" Paramhansa Yogananda once addressed a person's concern about leaving the spiritual path by reassuring this person that "we are all on the spiritual path." I think he was being "nice" while at the same time affirming a metaphysical truth.

Coming back to earth, however, I read a quote from Mark Twain who supposedly quipped that "If Jesus Christ were alive today, there is definitely one thing he would not be: a Christian!" Cute, and, understandable! Jesus' consciousness ("I and my Father are One") could not abide by narrow sectarianism in any form (such as we see all too often among some self-defined "Christians").

What makes a person "spiritual?" In the New Testament (Matthew 25:40), Jesus says that if you help others in need you have done it for God and will have earned the kingdom of heaven. By this yardstick, some will say that an atheist can be a Christian, well, or at least "spiritual." I'm not about to argue with this deeply compassionate and inspired teaching from the New Testament. From the standpoint of Vedanta we would say that it is more "sattwic" (uplifting) to help others in need than to be selfish. According to such good actions (karma), one can advance spiritually. Any good and kind and virtuous person, therefore, can gain merit and is, spiritually speaking, above someone who lives selfishly. "Above" here means that such a one has a consciousness that is expanded beyond the little ego-self and includes the needs of others.

Again, this is the "long view" born of the teaching that we are souls (eternal and perfect) made in the image of God. I won't debate that teaching but it still doesn't answer my question satisfactorily. This view, admittedly, is essential and I do not reject it.

Still I am probing to go beyond what could be called "liberal theology" or an egalitarian theology that says blithely "I'm ok, you're ok (as you are)." My daughter's blog ( has an article "Going for Good or Going for God" that addresses my question squarely. Is virtue enough? Is virtue the same as spirituality?

I've heard the quote that "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." This medieval cliche can mean, to me, that good karma may balance or mitigate bad karma but once it's used up you start all over again. Unless we consciously seek God (which is to say, "transcendence of duality, ego, and mortality"), we are locked onto the wheel of samsara (repeated rounds of birth) for what might as well be termed an eternity.

In "Autobiography of a Yogi," Paramhansa Yogananda writes something to the effect that only when the soul awakens to the "anguishing monotony" of repeated rounds of rebirth does it cry out for freedom. Once when I was discouraged, I wondered if that was enough to grant me spiritual freedom. Of course it is not. You have to want God: eternal bliss. Rejection is not enough, else, suicide would be our ticket to salvation.

Infinity embraces and IS everything. Nothing in God is foreign or evil. But when we are caught in duality, good and evil are very real. God IS and HAS everything, but one thing: our attention; our love; our sincere yearning to reunite with our Father-Mother, Beloved in Oneness.

There are good and virtuous people whose lives are a great inspiration and blessing to this world but who have no desire for God. There are devotees who are selfish, irritable and sometimes even proud but who deeply love God and seek to know God as their very Self. Such is the endless and complex play of karma and delusion. But only those who seek freedom, find freedom. How long that takes or how arduous depends in part upon the intensity of their effort.

Where each soul is on the journey home to God cannot be seen except by a true saint. The virtuous man might have an epiphany and rise to freedom: perhaps he would be blessed to meet a saint and instantly have the vision of God or superconsciousness, thus igniting his fervor for transcendence. The devotee might encounter a karmic bomb that would blast from her all her devotion and send her plummeting into the living hades of depression, anger, or fear. Or.............the opposite...........the virtuous is hit with the karmic bomb and the devotee is uplifted into an ecstatic divine vision. In all cases, it is we who must make the choice in response to life's tests and opportunities.

Karma is exacting and not whimsical, however. The fact we cannot see it doesn't mean it doesn't function, just as the law of gravity works just fine without our consent.

For, returning to our metaphysical truths, we are not our karma; we are not our ego or body or personality. Our soul here and now is already free. Time and space are a product of God's consciousness. We could be free right now, Yogananda claimed, if in declaring it so we realized it without reservation and in every cell of our being. Try it: it's not so easy. Hunger and desires and fears rise up instantly, clinging to us like ghouls from the underworld trying to pull us into their haunts.

But this much we can say: no one achieves God consciousness by accident or without choosing it. When someone called Jesus "good," his reply was curt: "Why do you call me good. No one is good but God." The Bhagavad Gita proclaims that all human virtue and excellence comes from God. Only those who acknowledge this and seek God alone can rise to God consciousness.

Yogananda stated that "The drama of life has for its lesson that it is simply that: a drama." If we can laugh and cry watching a movie and, when it is finished, call it good, why cannot we do this for our life? God plays all the parts but we cheer the hero and hiss the villains. Play your part as a hero and when the play of your life is ended, walk off the stage free and into the Director's loving embrace.

Yes, you, too, ARE spiritual.


Nayaswami Hriman