I have met many people on the spiritual path and during the initial period, they are very sincere about meditation, mindfulness etc. They follow the techniques with great diligence. Talk to them a year later and the common comment is that spirituality promised dramatic changes in their lives, which did not happen. They say, “During meditation, we have sometimes experienced peace, but the peace hardly extends beyond the spiritual half hour to the rest of that day. As soon as we get back to our daily routine, all the tensions come back.”
Is there a problem with spirituality? The core spiritual principles are not fads, but truths. We have seen deep harmony in many monks and a spiritual aura in many worldly people too. This is a validation of the spiritual principles. Could the problem then be with the implementation and the techniques used?
Every spiritual thought and religion have people who renounce worldly life and devote their life to the search of Ultimate Truth (whatever be the definition!). Though they are called by different names, such as sanyasis, bhikkhus, sadhus, or monks, their basic approach to life remains the same. They live with the fundamental assumption that worldly life is an obstacle to spiritual growth. The monks renounce family, relationships, society, and wealth because they are considered to be obstacles on a spiritual journey. The resultant lifestyle is primarily that of contemplation. Therefore, the practices like meditation, mindfulness, prayer, and silence, are perfectly suited for the contemplative lifestyle of a monk.
Our (worldly people) conflict with the lifestyle of a monk starts due to the difference in our fundamental assumption. We do not consider worldly life as an obstacle because we wish to live in harmony with our family, jobs and with society. Though we do not have time for the deep reading of spiritual texts, we have heard that spirituality is the ultimate tool for deep harmony and peace. Since spirituality has been the domain of the monks for so long, we seek expert advice from them. They suggest that we meditate, be mindful, remain silent or pray.
However, the fundamental conflict leads to major dichotomies. Some of them are:
- Materialism is perceived to be at loggerheads with spirituality. The monks tell us to drop our desires, which if we do, we will not be able to sustain our family. It is the desire to give them the best that motivates us to earn money. We need to have a strong desire for material wealth without which we cannot provide happiness and security for our family.
- We rarely hear stories of worldly people progressing spiritually. The celebrated stories are of people like Buddha, Mahavira, and Shankaracharya – all of whom have chosen to be monks. The feeling that family and material possessions are obstacles to spiritual growth, get thereby strengthened
- The monks live a contemplative life and the spiritual techniques of meditation, prayer, and mindfulness are also contemplative in nature. Our worldly life is action-oriented and I realized that being contemplative is only the first step. We need action-oriented spiritual practices.
Haven’t we seen monks in ashrams who spend months in silence? Could we even think of attempting something like that? The monk’s spiritual practices are recommended to us, and we find that they do not fit our action-oriented worldly life. With a job to keep and a family to feed the practices become a burden, and are shelved.
Can’t we adopt the core spiritual truths to the life of a worldly person; to our lifestyle? Moreover, the practices have to include society, family, and profession, because that is where we spend most of our time. When they become part of our spiritual journey, we can aspire to be spiritual at all moments. Just like the monks, spirituality becomes an integral part of our daily life. We do not have to allocate separate time for spiritual practice. When we are spiritual at all moments we experience peace for extended periods. Our relationships and careers cease to be ordinary. They become authentic and we become fulfilled.
The philosophy of Vedanta expressly talks about how pursuing anything impermanent will lead to unhappiness. So does Buddhism. Happiness is ephemeral and the pursuit of happiness will lead to misery. It is a core spiritual truth. But how do we adapt it to the lifestyle of a worldly person?
We do not reject desires, but we have to SAY NO TO HAPPINESS. It is a paradigm shift to reject happiness as our goal and the difficult part is the emergence of a sense of purposelessness. Even though happiness seemed elusive and illusory, at least it existed for a purpose. Man cannot live without a goal, otherwise, he will switch back to ‘happiness’ as his goal. This purpose vacuum needs to be filled with an alternate goal. This alternate goal is further described in the book SAY NO TO HAPPINESS, along with spiritual practices that go beyond meditation.
The approach of ‘SAY NO TO HAPPINESS’ is about creating authentic leadership, relationships, parenting, spirituality – in short, every aspect of our life. It is a counterintuitive approach to living a far more authentic and fulfilling life and is founded on my personal experience of jumping out of the happiness paradigm.