Spirituality- The western view:
Spirituality in the west today is often equated with being detached, mindless or penurious. This popular notion mostly arises from the biblical knowledge of Jesus born in a manger, being a carpenter’s son and not from a line of royal heritage of Kings. Hence, many people think that one must give up everything- home, money, family and job to truly attain God. This is reinforced by the skewed image that the west has about the saints of east who give up all their material luxuries and sever all relationships to go and meditate in the Himalayas.
The world is a hard place to live in whether you are 10 years old or 80 years old, the challenges may change but they exist and everyone believes their life to be the hardest and thus seek love, support, comfort and escape. To fulfill these feelings, people turn to food, relationships, drinks, work and a million other distractions. However, boredom and monotony sets in leading to thoughts about escaping the harsh realities of life.
Escapsim- The bane of conscious living
The escapism mentality is socially ingrained within us in ways to escape homework in school, punishment from teachers, work in office and commitment from our relationships. Advertisements constantly remind us: “Take off a day, escape to Africa/Australia” and many other ways where we can escape our loneliness and insecurities by using our purchasing power.
We willfully cave in thinking this will relieve us, when we come back everything may seem better but more often than not,“Our problems will be waiting for us, when we come back.” to quote a movie. Thus escapism is not something that will work in any sphere of life not even in spirituality.
The 4 stages of life- As per Ancient philosophy:
Saints in India do not just give up their life one day and go and meditate in the forests. There are actually four stages in the life of a man as described in classic Hindu texts. Brahmacharya (dedicated to study and school), Grihastha (dedicated to family life), Vanaprastha (withdrawing from material life) and Sanyasa (renouncing life to attain God).
It is often scorned upon if a young person wants to give up his life and follow sanyasa like Gautama Buddha who incurred the wrath of many brahmins because he left his family and royal duties to become a sanyasi. He opposed the then existing norm and questioned many ideas and practices of the Hindu religion. However, his teachings do not teach that everyone must renounce life and follow in his footsteps. In fact his 8-fold path is so simple in it’s essence that anybody can follow it. The essence of Buddha’s teachings lie in compassion and love for fellow beings which require active involvement with the environment and not detachment from one’s environment.
The philosophy behind Conscious Detachment
Many major religions in the world also teach the same idea. Prophets like Muhammed were actively involved in family life and political reforms. Quran teachings emphasize on love and brotherhood among people and the prayers that are performed everyday have been made to fit into one’s everyday life so one can spend time in reflection and prayer and dedicate the rest of his time for his family and for charitable work.
Jesus also taught the same in many ways. He never said: “Leave your wife and children and come unto me.” He taught us to love others, the power of forgiveness and non-violence. Although the idea of Christ being married is blasphemous to many, it’s quite obvious that Jesus could have done all he did whether he was married or not. Marriage would never have limited his powers or his love for humanity.
Tao and Zen paths of philosophy often emphasize on being mindful of one’s action every minute of the day. They have special workshops where one has to take a vow of silence, this is not to discourage people to interact with each other but for the simple reason that when one is silent, they have a chance to be alone with themselves and their mind which is a rarity in today’s world.
The art of dwelling in one’s own Self is one of the biggest lessons in life and key to spiritual practice.The emphasis of ”being in the now” is also very important in these paths. So if one is able to fully do justice to whatever activity he does in a day- be it work, family or prayer, that itself is a spiritual practice akin to meditation.
The Possibility of being a Spiritual Householder
Every religion emphasizes on the importance of being married and continuing one’s heritage. In fact, evolution favors organisms who are able to pass on their genes through reproduction. It’s a singular human trait that we revere celibate people like saints, because we think that is something very difficult.
From an evolutionary perspective, it’s hard to find celibate animals. The alpha males mate with many women to pass on their genes to as many off-springs as possible and thus increasing the chances of his line out-living the others. This is often not the case with humans due to their cultural definitions of marriage and responsibilities. Humans are able to pass on their unique traits not by having as many children as possible but by creating a legacy of their own which many can imitate including their own children. This is the singular reason for why we love saints, rock stars, freedom fighters or anybody else who is considered inspiring.
Apart from these people, parents and close friends often play a major role in shaping one’s outlook in the world. We can be as spiritual as we choose to be, One does not need to abandon his earthy duties to discover God because He has no special preference for someone in ochre coloured robes.
The Indian way of grihasthashrami (householder) is where one leads an ashram life while living in his house. He is a person who tries hard to attain the supreme goal of attaining God even while living with his wife and children.
The great Guru-Lahiri Mahasaya, teacher of Yuketeshwar ji who taught Paramahansa Yogananda (author of the famous book “An Autobiography of a Yogi”), was a householder. In his book, Yogananda says that Lahiri Mahasaya’s sole purpose on earth was to teach people that one can attain enlightenment even when one is a householder. In fact, Lahiri Mahasaya served as an accountant until his retirement for the Military Engineering Department of the British Indian government and lived in his house with his wife at Varanasi influencing scores of Hindu householders to follow in his path. There are many examples in the book about holy men and women who did not renounce their worldly duties or relationships but still extremely spiritual people who attained enlightenment (samadhi).
Weaving Spiritual Practice in Everyday Life
It must be emphasized that family life is not meant to take us away from God, but to bring us closer to Him. The key for being spiritual is not the place but the regularity from which it is practiced. The spiritual and worldly aspects of life can be maintained in harmony if one perform his/her actions in regular intervals and conscious awareness of one’s actions.
One cannot live without being active- physically, mentally, intellectually or spiritually. Everyone is constantly engaged in some form of action. No one becomes enlightened overnight; it involves time and concentrated focus coupled with immense patience and love.
Do your duties in the world and remember your life goal, it maybe to be the happiest person or to achieve detachment while being loving or to discover God. Everyone has a different ultimate goal, your path is unique to you. Apart from fulfilling your day-to-day responsibilities take few minutes in a day to perform unselfish actions or your preferred spiritual practice. You will gradually gain mental strength, clarity of mind and a deeper understanding of your purpose in life which will lead to self actualization.