Two summers ago in Lyon, I was walking in a flea market with an elderly French couple who have known me since I was in school. Knowing that I had embraced the spiritual path, they had quiet concerns which were sensed but not spoken. While browsing through the scattered items, they suspiciously pointed to a book with ‘La Spiritualite’ embossed on it’s cover. My own curiosity led me to flip its pages which were filled with strange sketches, inscriptions, rites and religious text. I kept the book down, realizing that spirituality could be approached differently in different countries. The couple’s concerns were understandable. Each individual responds differently to the subject based on how they are conditioned to see it. Even in India, where the culture once recognized spiritual growth as the highest occupation of a person, there is confusion over the subject.
‘The spiritual dimension’ says Sadguru, ‘is what lies beyond the five senses of touch, smell, sight, taste and sound’. And even though it is as simple as that, the fact that this dimension is unseen, intimidates us, until it turns into an experience. It is only then we realize that nothing is more intimate to our very composition. In fact, it is not our physical but our spiritual being that allows us advantages of a human birth over other life forms. Exploring the spiritual dimension allows us to align ourselves to the force behind our own existence. Enhanced clarity, heightened perception and blissfulness are all consequences of activating our spiritual dimension. Something within knows more than what we think we know. So, in other words, spirituality has to be experienced, and no amount of reading will bring the true knowing.
There are some countries whose people have inherited a spiritual legacy that lets them respond to life with deep acceptance. For instance, poorer Indians have a far greater capacity to be cheerful in their unpredictable, deprived and disorganized lives, than those provided with all kinds of safety and amenities in other countries. Transcending the resistances of the mind is very difficult to attain for most people conditioned by a materially prosperous society. Given all the comforts and distractions today, spiritual seeking is no longer a natural calling for most and often relies on a trigger for motivation. Ironically, the trigger could even be a prolonged state of intense misery and despair, as in the case of Master Eckhart Tolle. In fact, so complete and intense was his misery, that a single moment of clarity enlightened him. However, most people don’t experience a complete immersion in an emotion without a break, but a disturbing life event can provide the sharp nudge to turn inward. Even then, to wait for a trigger to explore the spiritual is to wait for an excuse to love.
There are two classic ways through which the spiritual dimension is consciously pursued in India. Meditation is definitely one of them but also very challenging to the mind. The other, is an intricate scientific technology called yoga that works irrespective. This is because yoga is practiced through precise instructions that involve the breath and the body to produce the necessary results. A little child with a severe brain impairment was inducted into the yogic path in the ashram about seven years ago. Today she is a serene young girl who manages to do everything on her own. This only shows what yogic technology can do for the human system and just how deeply it has studied it.
When I started practicing yoga initially, I found it extremely exigent. I was learning it the traditional way, in its purest form, where there was no home to return to at the end of a class. The ‘class’ was an ashram where discipline was gracefully made into a way of life. The early hours, the freezing dips in consecrated waters, the clean diet, the intense practice and the daily service left no time for rest. Hitting the pillow at night to sleep for a few hours was the best it got. But after continuously breaking these resistances, the seemingly impossible happened. The discipline became the rest. Or in other words, removing myself from the usual physical comfort and breaking the compulsions of my body and mind, set me free from my own captivity. And only when I reached here, did I realize just how enslaved I was to my own thought process. Many people find it foolish to put oneself through such ‘torture’, but vigorous discipline is what people follow to succeed. The nature of the discipline depends on the field you want to succeed in.
Despite being very lazy, I repeated my yogic discipline many times over by going to the ashram regularly because I thought I was doing it for my health. But the truth was, my entire being was addressed. Initially, I enjoyed some simple benefits like better energy levels and a feeling of lightness and greater joy within. But the passing years brought even greater benefits which included better health, heightened perception and the very unexpected thing called bliss. I feel that bliss is the very purpose to study yoga, and more importantly, to be yoga. Because yoga is so much more than a study. It is a state of oneness. Yoga means union that one often encounters in a blissful state.
To experience bliss ought to be one of the most amazing experiences to have as a life on this planet, which means there is a mechanism within us that is responsible for it. When one is permanently in bliss, it is called ecstasy but I wouldn’t know about that. I have heard enlightened beings speak about it and it sounds like the quintessential happily-ever- after ending. I am more of a struggler on this path, but because the struggle is interspersed with moments of bliss, I don’t mind it. When we trek, I’m always happy to trail behind because then I can close my eyes and let the tears flow. The sweetness of absolute oneness with nature cannot be contained beyond a point.
It becomes bliss, a deeply, deeply pleasant emotion. It has everything to do with how our own chemistry works with the life around. Two colors merging on a petal, a simple blade of grass, the silent presence of a tree, an unpainted vast sky, anything and everything can fill us up with that feeling of merging with something. And suddenly it feels we have lost our outline, that we are part of everything, even if briefly. Imagine (or maybe don’t need to) you have a lover with whom you share a great chemistry and the experience of your love-making is so intense that you feel you are one. Now imagine the entire existence as your lover with whom you share a great chemistry. Yoga makes this phenomenon possible.
So now, the reason why I struggle on this path. It’s called compulsion. Seen from a practical angle, to reach the pinnacle of yogic benefits, one must also be willing to work really hard and overcome one’s compulsions. Compulsions make us slip over and over but we must continue the climb because that is the only way they shed. I have a compulsion to sabotage myself for some reason because I consciously break all rules of eating, exercising and sleeping. I write in the night, I eat when I write and I forget to exercise. To top it, when my practice gives me just enough results to feel healthy, I slacken the discipline. So this is where the Guru and the ashram come into the picture. The Guru stands as a constant reminder of the highest possibility and sustains the seeker’s willingness at any cost. An ashram provides the right environment to enhance that willingness. This is one way to explore the spiritual realm, and a highly reliable one.
A Guru is everything on the yogic path. He initiates you into the practice and guides you throughout your life. To explore the path without a Guru is to swim an ocean looking for a shore. There is only one hitch- the Guru should be an authentic one. So tarnished is their reputation due to some fakes that you can’t avoid a tight-lipped reaction on the mention of having one. Thankfully, the tireless effort of many enlightened Masters is making it possible to live in a time of spiritual revival once again. Which means, there should be no fear to benefit from them and do what has been done for thousands of years as a human responsibility. The need to turn inward is more urgent than ever before because human awareness is melting in the heat of its own material success, while its mind sits on a tiny little branch of the universe, holding tightly to itself, giving too much importance to its name, and coming too much in its own way.