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spirituality, as understood in india.

The meaning of being spiritual

If you have heard the name of one enlightened man from India, named Nisargadatta Maharaj. One of his quotes was, ‘to know false as false, so that the real is revealed automatically.’ The same thing was expressed by my spiritual master Gurudev, as ‘to see things as they are.’ So to me, spirituality is to see things as they are, and to be able to see things as they are it is important to also recognize false as false. Personally my spiritual journey started very unknowingly unconsciously, at the age of seven, when one even doesn’t know what is spirituality, or what it means to be spiritual.

I grew up in a joint family of sixteen people in India in my hometown Rajkot, Gujarat. So in the sixteen people we were four generations, from my great-grandmother to my youngest cousin. At some point when I was about maybe three or four years old, my grandparents came in contact with Osho, at that time he was known as Acharya Rajneesh.

And Osho was at that time traveling around India, giving talks about different subjects, so he used to come to our hometown and give talks in public, where almost five, six thousand people would gather in a big playground or in a big school ground, and my grandparents used to go and listen and then slowly, slowly them and then my parents also fell in love with Osho’s teachings and there was a meditation centre running in the house, conducted by my grandfather. So as a kid, I used to jump in some of those meditations without even having any idea what is meditation. But from that point maybe a seed was planted. Growing up, listening to his talks, being part of these meditations with ten, twenty, forty people. Once a month kirtan would be happening at the house, so ecstatically diving into this ocean of devotion, celebration, silence. So all these things were the surrounding of my upbringing, without having really any real idea what is actually going on.

About at the age of sixteen or seventeen I moved to Pune, near Mumbai, where Osho’s main headquarter was also and Osho had just moved there from America back to India. So again, somehow it felt like, ‘somewhere the master is taking care.’ I used to go to listen to his talks. Sometimes he was giving talks in the morning and in the evening. I remember at the age of barely sixteen or seventeen I asked him a question about the practice of awareness, and I never thought that he would even considering answering that question... I think it was the great compassion of a master that he actually took a question of a sixteen year old and gave a one hour talk on that question which still rings in my ears.

So in that way, the journey continued and after Osho left the body, I came in contact with one of his first disciples who is also an enlightened being and with him the journey is still continuing. It’s been thirty two years, since I’ve known my second master, we lovingly call him Gurudev.

With Gurudev I have probably understood slowly slowly what it is to be spiritual, or to be on a spiritual path, or what is spirituality, and that understanding has been slowly growing since the last thirty two years. What that understanding has made me realized is that being spiritual is not really about a certain kind of lifestyle, like ‘enjoying life and not caring about anything’ – you know, a lot of times terms are used like, “I am in the moment, it’s all love...” So I realized that in simple words, spirituality is to simple be, is to remain conscious and aware at all times at all cost; and that awareness, that consciousness is not limited to when you are practicing a certain meditation technique or a certain yoga practice, or sitting in meditation. But the same meditation or that same space must be carried on in the day to day activities, in our way of functioning, in our way of responding to the situations and people and in our way of being. If all that state of meditation does not come into our day to day life, then, as I understood from my masters, whatever practice or whatever meditation technique we have done is just a time-pass.

If spirituality is not reflected in the practical day-to-day life, it is not real

The main foundation of this understanding is the practical aspect of spirituality. That is why I understand that when my master Gurudev opened his Mystery School in South India, he called it “a school of practical spirituality.” And when I was there with him, we discussed this a lot, what is this ‘practical spirituality.’ And he used to explained us – because you know, spirituality stays a lot in people’s heads, so it’s all about certain concepts and believes, like this or that means to be spiritual, like being a yoga practitioner or a mantra practitioner, or even a meditation practitioner – and people build a lot of identity around that. What happens is that in our normal life we build a lot of identities out of our career or profession, “I’m so-and-so, I’m this-or-that, I’m a musician, I’m a yoga teacher...” so everything becomes a strong identity and the ego builds up on that, and then one goes on the path of meditation or on the path of yoga and one starts calling him/herself, “I am a yogi, I’m a meditator...” but when when you see those people in their normal life everything is hodgepodge, chaos – not like an integrated, conscious approach to life.

So, my master’s approach has been how to apply this same dimension of spirituality practically and then only it reflects how really a spiritual person is, and in some way they can be extremely simple, ordinary, almost invisible... but even than invisibility there is a certain light of truth, there is a certain light of real, a certain reflection of awareness and consciousness. Such people don’t carry any banners of any strong identity, “look at me, I am on this path.” They are almost absolutely absent. In India sometimes we come across this people who are ‘invisible,’ but they might be in the highest state of yoga... but if you look at them maybe you see them in the marketplace, bargaining with a vegetable seller and you may wonder why an awakened being would be like that, but that is the simplicity of this person: that he might be in the highest state of being, but in the normal life he’s totally ordinary and simple and down to earth. And he’s total in everything, there is no lack of passion there.

I heard this story of Swami Ramakrishna – an awakened being who existed in east of India, around Kolkata. There is a story that he was very passionate about food, he loved food! And as soon as he would get hungry, he would run to the kitchen and ask his wife Sarada, “Ma, what is the food today, just bring it, I’m very hungry!” and he would really enjoy the food. One time Ma Sarada asked him, “Swami, you are such a giant enlightened being, you have so many disciples, people really respect you, they really revere you. So does it look good that you’re so attached to food, always craving for food?” So as I remember – I heard these stories when I was a child – and I remember that in the story Rama Krishna answers to her, “My dear, you don’t understand, this is the way I keep myself connected to this world of maya, I have to have some kind of bond which keeps me on this earth playing, so I have created this attachment with the food, if I lose this attachment, I would be basically disconnecting that thread and then it will be very difficult for me to be in this body, because basically there’s no more a need for me to be in this body. The highest purpose of being in this body has been served, the awakening has happened, I have known my true nature, so for me, I could easily leave this body now, but to be able to somehow finish my karma and my duration of a normal natural life, I have to create kind of a bondage to the earth plane.” So you see, in that way, many enlightened beings are total in what they are doing in normal life, but ultimately they’re completely detached.

Beware of the trap of the ego by 'being spiritual'

So, being spiritual or understanding spirituality is not really all this hi-fi things, and going around telling people, “I’m a yogi, and I’m this...” No, no... In the path of Sufism, they say that if your right hand is practicing something, your left hand should not know about it, that’s how secret you should be about your practice. And one should understand that the mind, the ego are such a mechanism that they like to not only survive but also boost themselves on any damn idea. Let’s say there’s a successful business man or entrepreneur in whatever profession, then their ego builds on that, “I’m successful, I’m rich, I’m famous, I’m prestigious, etc.” and suppose that same person leaves his/her profession and goes in the path of spirituality, renounces everything and becomes a meditator, then the same ego will survive on the thought that, “now I am a renouncer, now I’ve given up everything, now I am a meditator...” so the ego is still surviving – earlier surviving on the false idea of success, name, fame, and now the same ego gets nourishment from the idea of renunciation, being spiritual, being meditator. Contradictory to both these things, the real spirituality is not to get attached to any of these. Our guru was always explaining that, “it is to become like a mirror, mirror-like, where one simply reflects everything.” And he used to give this beautiful analogy, that, “when you stand in front of a mirror, the mirror simply reflects.” The mirror doesn’t tell you, today you’re looking good or today you’re not in your brightest spirit... there is no judgement there and if a person can come to this simple quality of reflecting, mirroring, then I understand that that is to me being really spiritual or to be on the path of spirituality. Simple, ordinary, silent, no announcements, no banners of great identities, nothing – one is simply ordinary, doing what is needed to be done with totally, awareness, consciousness, dedication, sincerity, commitment, love. Then it doesn’t require much – whether one recognizes or not, then you’re spiritual, then you’re really on the path of spirituality.

A false guru cannot help you along the path

In India, Satsang is a highly recommended tool for any seeker of truth, seeker of spirituality, seeker of the real. Satsang means being in the company of the truth and that can only happen in the presence of a saint, someone who has realized the truth, who is awakened, who is enlightened. And friends, it is really a long journey! This journey can continue for many lives, so it is actually hard to believe that if someone goes to India just for a few months and then starts giving Satsang here in the west. For us, having grown up in India is a little bit hard to believe. I’m not saying that it cannot happen in a period of a few months to someone, no that’s not the case. It all depends on one’s own state of being and also what kind of work one has done on oneself in this life and previous lives. Sometimes maybe just that point is needed and one becomes in contact with an awakened being and the door opens. But that is a very, very rare case. In most of the case, it’s a long journey and until and unless a Guru tells the disciple that, “now you have arrived,” then only that permission of what we call Satsang is given. Until then it is dangerous to be in company of such blind and un-ripened people, because Satsang is a huge responsibility as far as the person who is offering such a thing. One should really, really fell that, “yes, this is a person who is going to shatter my beliefs, concepts and all the ideas that I’ve collected over this life and many other lives...” You know, not everything on the journey of spirituality is pleasant, on the contrary a true spiritual journey is mostly unpleasant – I’m not trying to scare anybody but this is how it is, the real picture is like that. Of course, it can be smoothened with many different things, depending on your guru along the path, but ultimately is like peeling your skin. Therefore, if someone is offering you a very pleasant goody-goody-happy-journey, then most probably he or she is not the right person, because it’s not about having a good time. It’s about knowing or re-discovering the true nature of the self which is a little bit of an arduous process. My humble suggestion would be to be really vigilant and careful and be deeply inquiring into what is really being offered and then one can consciously choose whether to be part of it or not.

Finally, one has to see that a lot of these things are being commercialized. I’m not saying that there’s no price for certain things, but at the same time you have to see that when there is a commercial aspect, if certain vested interest of yours is involved in being fulfilled, then you have to really know that you are not in the right place. A a vested interest of a person could be that one wants to build a career, one wants to make money – nothing wrong with that, but a true teacher, a true guru is not supposed to make you fulfill all that. A true Teacher usually takes away a lot of bullshit from your life so that the real can begin. So it is better to stay away from places where your vested interests are being nurtured, fulfilled, nourished or where you get empty promises. Also, all these things of certifications... it’s not how it is in India!

Spirituality or being on a path of spirituality is a lifetime commitment, not only this life, sometimes many lives. Our gurus always have talked about having the patience of a hundred and eight lives. Osho used to say, “spirituality is not meant for everyone; it’s a luxury.” It is a luxury because when you have lived everything possible in life and still realize that all of that is still not bringing you what you want, then you’re really ready to be in the path of spirituality − because once it’s understood that all these things are not actually the real source of bliss, then one starts looking in the right place.

Know what you are looking for

There’s a beautiful story of a Sufi saint Rabi’a from Kashmir, very rebellious spirit. There was a time when she was outside her hut looking for something. So because people respected her, some approached her and asked her what was she looking for and she said she was looking for a needle which she had lost.

The real work is in the Heart: Wake up your Heart! Because when the heart is completely awake, Then it needs no Friend. -Rabia

So people told her that they would help her to look for it around the place where she was looking. But after two or three hours nobody found anything and then they asked her, “but do you remember where you’ve lost your needle?” and she replied, “yes, I lost it inside the hut,” and then people said, “then why are we looking here if you lost it there?” And she said, “that’s what you people do, you’re looking for something which is not there, so I thought then you may be right, so I’m doing the same thing!” So that was her way of teaching the people that if you want to look for something, then you have to look in the right place. And spirituality is about looking for the right thing in the right place.

Manish Vyas

This talk is also found in the Podcast section.


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