Showing posts with label diversity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label diversity. Show all posts

Monday, August 18, 2014

Diversity vs. Depth

I had a conversation the other day that brought up a subject I'd like to share. The subject is not reflective so much of the conversation as it was prompted by the conversation. It goes something like this: a sincere person seeks to live a spiritual life and wonders if he or she should renounce or withdraw from his or her current environment and seek a more spiritually supportive one. Some of the issues include loyalty to friends, neighbors and present occupation, including the service one renders to others or could potentially render if one embarks upon a deeper spiritual life of service.

I remember a man in one of my raja yoga classes years ago: he was older, close to retirement, and very inspired by the path of meditation and raja yoga. At the end of the course he disclosed that he had made a decision to remain "in the world" serving people "on the street" rather than continue with his studies with Ananda and with deepening his meditation practices (presumably in the direction of learning kriya yoga, which we teach).

Though few articulate their choices in this way, many, I have come to see, struggle with a similar choice. Ok, it's fine to say that some people are not ready to make a deeper spiritual commitment in their life. So, sure, we can say there's no "right" or "wrong" choice here. But, by contrast, we can say that some actions lead us toward God and others don't or at least are less likely to. From stories of Paramhansa Yogananda as told by my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, I understand that sometimes a choice like this might impact one for many, many incarnations to come. A spark of spiritual awakening might not recur for a very long time.

It is also true to say that very, very, very few people come to a fork in the road with this as their choice. Few, in other words, have an interest in a deeper spiritual life to begin with. Few have the opportunity, as well. So it is not an unimportant question from the standpoint of karma and reincarnation, and many, many lives of "soul searching."

As the famous story of Martha and Mary illustrates, it is a false dichotomy to see the spiritual path as a choice that eschews involvement and service in the world. (Jesus chides Martha for being too busy in the kitchen, praising Mary for sitting at his feet and absorbing his spiritual vibrations. The issue is not one of service but of attitude and consciousness. Martha was all "hot and bothered" and wanted Jesus to tell Mary to come and help her. For all we know, maybe he did!)

It is the ego, in fact, or at least ignorance, that, in subtly resisting a deeper spiritual commitment, views that commitment as judging the world and giving up on one's friends, family, and ordinary activities and occupation. The important thing, spiritually, is whether one's heart, mind, and hands are drawn toward God or towards ego motivated desires. The details: how, where, when, etc., are secondary.

Getting back to the conversation I had and admitting that I'm not really sure what possibly hidden motivations triggered it, the term "diversity" was used. At first, it seemed that the "diversity" alluded to was a racial one, implying that in city life one is exposed to different races and types of people and how wonderful (and spiritual?) that is. Whether accurately or not, I extended the term, in my mind, to the diversity inherent in city life: amusements, activities, people, and so on. All over the planet, people are drawn to cities for the opportunities in employment, comforts, a better life, and, yes, amusements and worse, that a city offers. There's no doubt that such a move has freed millions from the bondage of village life with its monotony, prejudice, and ignorance.

It is also true that cities are spiritual cesspools at least as much as they are spiritual oases!  (And that assessment is rather generous, I'd say.) So, yes, one's motivation and attraction to move to and remain in a city will differ greatly. But, from years of teaching (in the city) and counseling, I have also seen where the issue is a false one.

It is, for most, a false dichotomy. The activity, the restlessness, the delusions of the world around us are what most people (asking this question) are familiar with. The outward forms of spirituality (group meditations, living in an ashram-like community, serving in a spiritual work, living, perhaps, in the country away from cities -- these being typical aspects of Ananda, at least) are unfamiliar. Standing on the precipice of a choice between the familiar and the unfamiliar, most people prefer the familiar. That one can excuse this using the spiritual rationale that one might accomplish greater good by remaining in the world is essentially just that: an excuse. Like the famous warrior-disciple Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra confronting his kith and kinsmen arrayed for battle, we question our commitment to the "battle of life" inasmuch as it appears to require the destruction of that which is most familiar to us. (A scene from the scripture, the Bhagavad Gita.)

It is axiomatic in lifestyle changes of any importance that one's new way life must be protected, like a young plant, from the foraging marauders of past habits and associations, including former friends. If it is, in fact, one's dharma to serve (spiritually) in a worldly environment then one's dharma will find you. But to have a period of time, perhaps several years, even more, in a spiritually saturated environment where new habits of devotion, daily meditation, God-reminding service, and the company of high-minded souls can take root and go deep is necessary so that whatever one's future service may be, can flower from the spiritual depths within you. (To raise a child in such an environment is a great spiritual boon; whatever "sacrifice" in diversity might be more than gained in spiritual depth and consciousness that sees "unity in diversity.")

This is a fair and good question and of course the "answer" always must be, "It depends.....on you." It is not untypical of a human life cycle that as the years go by, interest in "diversity" wanes and acceptance and preference for routine and stability wax. Most people probably become what Paramhansa Yogananda called "psychological antiques" as a result of this all too common tendency.

But there is a spiritual side to it, too. For the awakening soul, worldly diversions and diversity lose their glamor and attraction. The Bhagavad Gita puts it this way in the words of Krishna: "What is day for the worldly man, is night for the yogi and what is day for the yogi is night for the worldly person." A devotee might see the unchanging Atman or Spirit in all of the world's outward diversity and thus no longer find any profit in the exercise of this inner sight. Thus the yogi might indeed withdrawn from active involvement in the world, no longer needing it for spiritual growth.

More likely, however, is that, as Jesus put it so well, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God......and all these things will be added unto you." Wherever you are, and whatever you do, put God "first" by daily prayer and meditation; offer yourself, your actions, your thoughts and your feelings up to God every morning, throughout the day, and at the end day......give it to God. God can come to you wherever you are.

But, if your life allows you to "put God first" in a dynamic way, immersing yourself with like-minded souls, don't turn your back on this by excusing your own unfulfilled desires or restlessness saying "I can do more good by remaining in the world." To do so is more likely to jeopardize the inspiration that led you to have a choice and to ask the questions.

There is another aspect to it which is, as Paramhansa Yogananda put it, "Environment is stronger than will." One whose worldly desires are still present and magnetic will be influenced in that direction in an environment filled with disparate vibrations of consciousness. Such a one would do well to be surrounded by others of like-mind to strengthen one's aspirations toward truth such that one becomes strong spiritually.

Joy to you,

Swami Hrimananda