Hindu spirituality requires an explanation in depth, showing what field it covers and how it differs from religion. Everything relating to external forms belongs to religion, while the depths of spirituality are in the interior life. Religion can be practised in a group with rituals and ceremonies closely linked to social life; it can have a doctrine and dogmas. But spirituality is entirely personal and individual; it does not depend on external forms, nor on a religion, it surpasses them all by attaining a level of understanding in which the differences characterising the various religions are effaced.
Anyone practising a religion is a religious person, but he is not necessarily a spiritual person as long as he has not discovered in himself another quality, namely that of a universal vision much greater than the world observed around us.
Nowadays there are many people who want to find out about Indian religions. They find it difficult to understand Hinduism as a religion, because there are no dogmas, but only rituals and ceremonies. The Hindus call their religion “dharma”. Sanatana Dharma is the ancient path established by the great sages, the rishis. It is taught to people. It has the goal of liberation, Moksha.
People have to attain this. Various paths lead to liberation. Among these paths is religion. All these paths do not appear to be religious, but they are essentially spiritual. The chosen path followed by each person must be in accordance with his individual nature.
The Vedas taught what is, even today in India, the basis of Hindu spirituality and religion. “Truth is One. Sages call It by various names.” This is the basis of Hindu spirituality. Moreover, the teaching in the Upanishads is completely metaphysical. It insists on this point; there is only one Reality, Brahman, the Supreme. Brahman is the source of the universe. The entire creation is pervaded by That, Brahman.
As long as man is in the state of consciousness of ordinary limited life, he does not know that the entire creation is pervaded by That. This is a fact that no one can explain. In ordinary life we are not conscious of the existence of a single fundamental unity. Nature attracts us so strongly by its variety that we do not even look for what is behind the diversity. It is said that the power of external nature keeps us under its control, possesses us and prevents our being conscious of the Ultimate Reality, Brahman.
The Katha Upanishad teaches us that our senses are so captivated by external nature that they do not grasp the internal Truth. When a courageous man succeeds in stopping the activity of his mind, he can see into its depths and he is capable of realising his true nature; Atman. He sees that Atman is not different from Brahman.
The sages have said that reason does not lead us to this great universal idea. We have to go beyond the scope of reason. This is why we have to take up spiritual discipline. But spirituality does not seem interesting to those who are strongly attracted to ephemeral, material life. To follow a spiritual discipline, one must be strongly attracted to the interior life. Even if one has this good disposition, it must also be borne in mind that it will not be easy to continue our search, because of the difficulties to be overcome and the obstacles to be surmounted. Faith alone is not enough. It is necessary to attain the realisation that All is Brahman.
It can be understood and imagined that Hindu spirituality is based on metaphysics; but the fact is that in Hinduism religion is not separated from metaphysics. The influence of metaphysics penetrates deeply into religious concepts. It is an inseparable combination.
In india God, the Absolute, is a religious ideal. Prayers are addressed to Him. He is worshipped. Cults arise and ceremonies are performed in His name.
In Hinduism God is Ishwara. And Brahman is called Ishwara when he is thought of through the mind and the reason. Spiritual practices in ordinary life are addressed to Ishwara who helps us. Ishwara is the creator, protector and destroyer of the universe. His power is called Shakti. She creates, protects and destroys. Ishwara is invoked with humility and veneration. He is worshipped under different names and also under the names of divine Incarnations. Ishwara is very close to human nature.
The Hindu rituals and cults prepare the human mind for going beyond the boundaries of phenomenal nature, i.e. of ordinary life, for passing beyond the visible and attaining realisation and fundamental unity. Here is the domain of the Indescribable. We can only listen to the words of those who have realised It and accept them.
It is by the worship of Ishwara that one attains intense concentration. But this is not the only way, there are others; there are different yogas, like so many paths leading to the spiritual experience by which man succeeds in transcending phenomenal nature.
What is this nature we have to transcend? It is nature manifested in various forms in the whole universe outside us and also in human nature within us. Nature is the manifestation of Brahman, of the power and energy of Brahman. Our consciousness of ordinary life remains at the level of matter, the visible universe. We thus remain in ignorance of our true divine and spiritual nature. We have only very limited vision.
Vedanta says that in ‘this life our goal is the realisation of the Atman, or the realisation of Ishwara, or Liberation. One cannot distinguish between Liberation, Atman and Ishwara. We think we can, but we always reach the same point which is the need to transcend ordinary life, to attain detachment from material objects, whose acquisition cannot give us constant happiness and real love.
The great masters have advised us not to consider everyday problems only from the political and social point of view, but to try and obtain spiritual vision.
If ordinary life brings misfortune, it is because it is the product of our lower nature. At that level there are always conflicts of interest. Then we attribute an exaggerated importance to the three aspects of human nature: physical, vital and mental. These three aspects are good, they constitute in themselves the three elements of our physical well-being as we imagine it.
But it often happens that there is an imbalance between these aspects of a human being. A man living at the physical and mental level is never a complete being; he is not a perfect man. A sage sees the emptiness and deception resulting from ordinary life. What then is the solution to this problem?
The rishis of India see in ourselves our true immortal, divine nature. When we have realised it, we are united with the Atman, with universal consciousness of the Supreme, leaving behind us the physical, vital and mental levels. One who has realised the Atman knows how he has to live in this world and beyond. Truly, there is no more egoism in him, he has become an instrument of the Supreme, and manifests qualities which are latent in him. Such a person is calm and balanced, he will transcend the domain of the senses and will demonstrate a perfection not previously manifest.
The Upanishads affirm that realisation of the Atman transforms our life; a change is produced; it is not possible to compare this new life with our ordinary life at present. Bliss, happiness and peace are not words devoid of meaning; they express the state of a man who has attained the spiritual experience, who has made the discovery within himself. When he realises that he has come down from a higher state and a higher condition, he has to find this higher state again. The human being who is searching for spiritual experience does not think that perhaps he could become a prophet or a saint; he only tries to get rid of his faults and understand what his true nature is.
There is one more question to be clarified: what are the means to arrive at this blessed state?
There are several means, several yogas, different in their practice, but the goal of which is the same. Renunciation of ordinary life is a part of spiritual discipline. It must be understood that our attachment to material objects hinders our progress and even prevents it. The mind must be purified, i.e. freed from all attachment, to become capable of intense concentration. It is our mind that organizes the world about us, which builds our social relationships, which creates our various feelings and thus brings us experience of good and evil, Mind control is therefore a fundamental condition. The body, the senses and thoughts have to be controlled.
When our mind is attached to ordinary life, we are only aware of this material existence without any other consciousness. Spiritual discipline teaches us to become a yogi, by voluntarily stopping all relationship with the outside world, all the ideas we have of ourselves. At first there can be resistance to this, because the body, the senses and the mind do not accept the discipline immediately. The mind is the most difficult to master, but by following the discipline of well chosen and properly directed meditation, one succeeds in withdrawing his attention from outside objects and in concentrating it on a single point. One also learns to regard one’s own thoughts as a spectacle When the mind is no longer encouraged to see movement, it becomes cairn; then it sees no more mental images, there is no longer the idea of”?’ and “mine”.
The devotee sees God alone and the yogi, according to Vedanta, feels the non-existence of his ego. This discipline requires fairly long practice; it is to be under the guidance of a competent master, who directs his disciple. The Katha Upanishad says that this path is very difficult and as sharp as a razor’s edge; one can easily get lost by becoming caught up in psychic experiences. This is why control by a qualified teacher is necessary.
A person who is unbalanced, full of pride and attached to the world, cannot attain realisation A mind full of humility is required to accept the advice of a master and have the will to purify itself. We are very seldom conscious of our own defects. We have to want to find them and correct them. Then the purification of the mind brings an important change which makes us modify our way of thinking.
It is in following the advice of a guru and the disciplines of yoga that all this is possible. Then one looks for the Supreme Lord with all one’s love. It is by practising self-control and meditation that we uncover our true ‘Self”. One day we shall attain the Supreme Reality, we shall know that the Supreme alone governs the whole world.
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