Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Am I spiritual?

What does it mean to be spiritual? This question is similar to the one that asks, "What is good art?

As open ended as such questions are, it doesn't mean there's no answer that is helpful.

When speaking about atheists, agnostics, or stoics, we can say that being spiritual (for them) is having good "spirit".... being compassionate, kind, loving, having high ideals, personal integrity, energetic and creative, cooperative, and so on.

But neither can we deny the ordinary meaning of the term ("spiritual") nor especially its true and deeper meanings. For, virtue alone is not enough. It has been well said that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Good deeds create good karma, but good karma accrues to the ego which is ever unreliable because its most basic instincts are self-protection and self-assertion in the face of life's inevitable tests and trials. Eventually good karma simply gets used up and you either succumb in the other direction or at least start all over again. Ultimately, no matter how successful or happy in human terms a person becomes (and how few do), it will never be enough. "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee," St. Augustine warns us.

Divine consciousness is not simply earned by will power alone, but is won by devotional and conscious self-offering. Why is this? Because superconsciousness is MORE aware than the conscious or subconscious mind; it is by definition transcendent of ego consciousness. One doesn't slide into higher consciousness by actions initiated solely by the will of ego alone. At some point, influenced by the higher spiritual vibrations of saintly souls, high spiritual teachings and true and sincere spiritual teachers, our soul is touched and inspired to seek "the pearl of great price: God alone!"

Reality is infinite: whether in time or space or in consciousness itself. Thus, the ultimate spirituality is to seek attunement and immersion into Infinity itself. This requires recognition of the inadequacy of ego and, ultimately (at least), a supreme act of what appears, to the ego, to be self-annihilation but which in fact is Self-expansion towards bliss. The ego rebels and is frightened and wary; but the soul thrills at the prospect. In God who is Infinite, how can anything be lost? What else is infinity if not every-thing, material, immaterial, or conscious. Described millennia ago, this state, which is called many things and no-thing, including God, is "Satchidanandam," ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.

Love of God is paramount and is therefore both the alpha and omega (beginning and end) of true spirituality. This simply cannot be denied. The steps toward perfecting this love is what Jesus meant, and he pulled "no punches," when he "be thou perfect, even as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect!" (Why? Because in our souls we are already perfect but haven't realized this fully.)

Most ordinary, Sunday-going religionists obey the rules; go to church; try to be good and honest and all the things which in the yoga teachings comprise the most outward aspects of the first stages of spirituality called yama and niyama (do's and don'ts). I don't mock these for all of us must learn these lessons. They are the foundation stones, the house, of spirituality. Paramhansa Yogananda called the church the "hive" and the living experience of God's presence the "honey." He said BOTH are needed.

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" Jesus chided his critics. The Jews of his time, like so many at all times, need to work from the outside in and can, at first, only see the outer trappings, the husk but not the kernel of religion. Obedience to rules is a good start but is secondary. Performance of rites and rituals or attendance at church, similarly, is also secondary but woe to he who thinks he is above this. Time proves all. If self-sacrifice and devotional self-offering is the ultimate price, you'd better start right now and if for you, child of Spirit that you still are, need to demonstrate that by going to church on Sunday to show that you are willing to give your all to the quest for Self-realization, then so be it! Do it, however, with Joy or you will gain nothing!

Study of and knowledge of scripture, though helpful, is also not the essence of spirituality. Yogananda's guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar, said of such (pundits and theologians), "They smell unduly of the lamp (kerosene)." A finely honed definition is not a substitute for superconsciousness. On the other hand, quoting Yogananda, "Stupid people will never find God (until their brains mature)." In my book, this includes dogmatic people. Study of spiritual teachings should bring one to a universal view of all life and all sincere striving. Love and kind acceptance are the fruit of true wisdom inclining as it must toward superconsciousness.

Selfless service is perhaps the most important because high thoughts and devotional feelings must be purified in the white-hot crucible of direct but selfless, ego-transcendent action. Even prayer and meditation are but (refined) action. Both true devotion and true contemplation find fulfillment in silent, inner communion. Action without personal desire, serving God with devotion and true understanding within and without in the fulfillment of one's rightful duties in life, are the surest path to God.

One could therefore say that spirituality is directional. Here, below, I offer a more or less random description of typical stages of spiritual growth. Such are necessarily suggestive of the precept of reincarnation:

1.  Virtuous behavior, moral integrity, and right living are the foundation
2.  Belief or, better, intuitive awareness of God or a higher power.
3.  Study and practice of religion and religious attitudes.
4.  Adherence to religious discipline.
5.  Increasing holiness, self-sacrifice, calmness, joy, and peace.
6.  Prayer and meditation with increasingly deeper inner experiences of superconsciousness
7.  Appearance of tangible evidence of sanctity recognized by others.
8.  From here, the stages are internal to one's consciousness, the supreme goal of which is Oneness with God (using whatever terminology is appropriate to one's tradition).

It would be absurd to insist that spirituality must take these stages literally in its unfoldment. Yet, there is a recognizable direction and logic to the steps described above. I do not intend that these steps be rigid or tightly defined. They are merely suggestive of the general idea.

Maybe some day I'll write about "good art," though this isn't my "field." Art as a Hidden Message is a book by my teacher (and founder of Ananda worldwide), Swami Kriyananda, brings clarity to the messy and subjective field of art and art appreciation. Art for art's sake is revealed for the fallacy it is, for art communicates.

Blessings to all, from Camano Island Hermitage,

Swami Hrimananda