Spiritual Practice – How much is enough?

I was reminded this Friday during a Spiritual Discussion about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule in his book Outliers. Gladwell guides that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials. Let’s take a look at what this looks for the casual spiritual aspirant and then for the serious spiritual seeker for them to achieve spiritual mastery. In the end, I will look at what other activities we can do to increase our hours to reach this 10,000 hour rule.

First of all, 10,000 hours is a guide. We may have to put much more hours in or we may have to put less hours. It is not that once you reach 10,000 hours, you will achieve spiritual enlightenment and all the secrets of the universe will be revealed in the most majestic fashion. Our honesty, intention, passion and sincerity will matter when it comes to spiritual attainment. So as I go through these scenarios for the casual spiritual aspirant and the serious spiritual seeker, I believe it is best to understand that these people are honest, compassionate, genuine, sincere and have good intentions. They are not fake in any way. To me, faith, devotion, worship and reverence means nothing if we do not have the basic decency of being honest and genuine.

Casual Spiritual Aspirant – 10,000 hours

The casual spiritual aspirant probably spends a couple hours a week. Let’s say they meditate for 30 minutes every day. They may attend a satsang or a spiritual meetup for 2-4 hours a week. They may do the occasional listening to a spiritual talk on YouTube or reading spiritual content for an hour in the week.

  • Meditation – 3.5 hours
  • Satsang/Spiritual Meetup – 2 hours
  • Watching, listening or reading spiritual content via social – 1 hour
  • Studying Scripture or Spiritual Texts –  30 minutes

The total will be 7 hours in the week. In one year, this will be a total of 364 hours. To reach the 10,000 hour level of mastery, it would take the casual spiritual aspirant around 27.5 years.

Serious Spiritual Seeker – 10,000 hours

The serious spiritual seeker will definitely be putting in more hours. Let’s say they meditate for 1 hour every day. They may attend a satsang or a spiritual meetup for 2-4 hours a week. They will most likely study scripture or read a spiritual text for a good 2 hours a day. Like the casual spiritual aspirant, they may listen to a spiritual talk between 1-2 hours a week.

  • Meditation session – 7 hours
  • Satsang/Spiritual Meetup – 4 hours
  • Watching, listening or reading spiritual content via social media – 2 hours
  • Studying Scripture or Spiritual Texts – 14 hours

This would amount to 27 hours in the week. In one year, this will be a total of 1404 hours. To reach the 10,000 hour level of mastery, it would take the serious spiritual seeker around 7.1 years.

These are basic scenarios and it will differ person to person and the above spiritual activities will be interchangeable for example, someone may meditate more or attend more spiritual meetups per week. Someone may be living in an ashram and that can change things dramatically. The below examples may be something they do instead of the activities I mentioned above.

Examples of Other Spiritual Activities

There may be other spiritual activities that I will now mention and can be added into the above examples too. For example, someone may do yoga but doesn’t do meditation.

  • Walking in Nature or Gardening
  • Being aware of the present moment
  • Jap or Kirtan – singing/listening to devotional songs or reciting mantras
  • Yoga
  • Contemplation
  • Volunteer work
  • Retreats – weekend, 3 days or 5 days
  • Writing in a journal like a gratitude journal

Consideration

As I mentioned earlier and I want to emphasize that one’s sincerity, honesty and humility is important when it comes to attaining anything spiritual. Our behavior is transformed and if we are still harboring hatred, if we lack compassion or empathy, I doubt we have attained much spiritually regardless of the hours we put into spiritual practice.

Some may even claim that they have attained the highest in spirituality because of some sacred knowledge and even if that is the case, I do believe there is still a refining process. Plus this individual would always be interested in spiritual activities so this would still apply to them. Spirituality is interwoven into their life.

Death needs to be considered here and our awareness of it. If I know that I can die at any time, then would my outlook change? Would my spiritual practice be more intense hence an increase in hours each day? Our understanding of death has a correlation with the hours we put in. If we believe we can do it in future lives, then we should consider it could take us an eternity. If we believe in one life alone, then how many years can be guaranteed that we will live to? If there is no guarantee, then all I have this moment now – so what do I want to be in awareness of during this moment?

Comments

Let me know your comments on this post below. What spiritual activities do you do that I may have missed? If you want, you can let me know how long it will take you to reach the 10,000 hours.

Can Wisdom Be Bite-Sized?

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

We love to have information on the go. We want to be able to understand something as quickly as possible. We prefer to listen to a clip of a podcast or grab a summary of a book. We do all these things so we can somehow remain knowledgeable and aware of current events and most of all, remain relatable.

Who wants to go out with friends or spend time with family and not be able to talk about the latest viral clip out there or the book that transports us to another world? Or discuss that self-help book that taught us one good thing and has dramatically changed our lives. The new diet that has worked when all other diets didn’t work. That new Netflix show that we binged upon. We all want to remain relevant and when technologies and social platforms are taking us in all different directions, there is only so much time, therefore only so much capacity to learn about everything.

The same is with spirituality these days. It desires to be relevant. You can see popular gurus and wannabe gurus (mainly the self-help types) give small clips of 5-10 minutes to capture their new and existing audience and gain new adherents. They also want to gain popularity on social media platforms with reels and TikTok videos, going viral is the next best thing for the Gurus, who wish to put thousands of pages of ancient wisdom in 30 seconds clips. They most likely have a media team that works on this content and who knows how many bots may have been bought to get these gurus featured on Facebook or Instagram. Some disciples share the clips of their gurus and make them viral too.  Some gurus may be completely innocent of the fact that they are now featured on a social media platform. The impossibility of sharing bite-size wisdom somehow becomes possible but with massive disadvantages.

Spirituality requires time. There is nothing instant. The only way to climb up a mountain is to use your hands and feet. If you take a helicopter and go from the bottom of a mountain to the peak, you cannot claim to have climbed the mountain. Sure, it is a shortcut and although the destination is the same, the journey is completely different. The person who climbed up the mountain can talk about the terrain, the view from each side of the mountain, the wildlife, the vegetation and the difficulties faced during different weather conditions. They can talk about the whole journey with confidence and interesting tales. But someone who uses a helicopter misses out on all of these sensory delights. Similarly, the clips we hear of these gurus is never enough. We need to engage with their longer talks or their books to understand their philosophy. We need to know about their experiences and so in turn, we are inspired to apply the teachings.

But like the person who took the helicopter, we listen to the gurus and project their achievements as our own. This is only noticed when we carefully observe our own thoughts, intentions, emotions etc. Better to look within and see what has transformed than sing the glory of a god or someone that we do not know. Just because you caught that Guru featured on Instagram that doesn’t mean you know what it is like to be a disciple of theirs. Bite-size wisdom will not work because it doesn’t provide true clarity. It doesn’t tell us of the whole journey. We get a sneak peak and that is all. But who is satisfied with a movie trailer? We rather watch the whole movie. Same with spirituality, it is better to learn and follow any methods than to just glorify a path that we haven’t taken a step in.

I understand that I may sound ‘traditional’ but I have learned more from the larger books that I have read and the longer talks that I have listened to or watched. I love Swami Sarvapriyananda of Vedanta NY’s talks. His explanation of the Upanishads and other texts probably span over several days and I have deepened my understanding of Reality! I love Yog Vasistha – a thousand page book on Hindu philosophy. Or the 500 page Vigyan Bhairav Tantra by Osho. I remind myself of the thousands of pages of poetic wisdom in the Guru Granth Sahib and the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita. I am not saying smaller books and talks haven’t helped, they have. The beauty of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran is both delicate and strong. The high wisdom of Tao Te Ching is on many levels unmatched. I am not saying that the length of a talk or book measures how much wisdom is contained. I am talking about the thinking, the silent pauses you take when you pause a talk, or put down the book and you begin to ponder as you grab new insights, as you infer your own experiences to the words just heard or read. A verse from the Tao Te Ching cannot be read mechanically, it has to be properly understood. It may take less than a minute to read but it may need a good 30 minutes to understand and comprehend. Trust me, 30 minutes isn’t enough but you get my point.

Wisdom may come in bite-size pieces but eventually, we need to understand things deeper. We need to transcend the potentiality of something become superficial. Once something is superficial, it can become rigid as a limiting belief and we open the gate for ego to enter and expand. Therefore, if we must utilize this bite-size wisdom phenomena that has become mainstream today, we must not lose the art of contemplation so that this wisdom can penetrate us and complete us.

The 4 Ways of a Spiritual Seeker

For the casual spiritual aspirant, where a few hours a week is dedicated to the Spiritual Path, then a spiritual organization is very necessary. It helps them with a framework that they can use to have a sense of purpose, to have the benefits (and pitfalls) of belief or faith, to remain dependent on an outside agency (like a deity, God, or Gurus) to help guide when errors or mistakes are made.

For the more serious spiritual seeker, that actively practices and settles at nothing but the highest attainment of moksha (liberation) then the path of the Mystics is important. The function of an organization, centered on an individual or a group becomes a massive hindrance along the way. Therefore, this seeker must carve their own path.

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Non-Dependency

A casual aspirant will not benefit from non-dependency, but the serious seeker will benefit the most. The seeker doesn’t depend on their own experience nor the experience of others. All experiences are fleeting and this whole world is transient. They understand that nobody can guarantee anything without one’s own effort. The spiritual aspirant, with their few hours will depend on the good graces of the philosophy, ideology, group or figurehead and will always dance according to that tune. It is even alluring that you do nothing but grace is given. Now, the spiritual seeker cannot understand why we should depend on that grace alone. When we have to get rid of duality, then why add more to that duality with the other? It is better to focus on the One alone and upon our own effort. No need for anything else. Yes, right now for the seeker, duality feels real but they understand that what feels real is actually transient. I don’t like to use the word ‘false’ because this world is beautiful and isn’t wrong or a mistake. In every quark, there is the essence of the most beautiful yet, Formless Ultimate Reality.

The seeker instead goes up the levels of reality, where they see their life and everything connected to it as a transactional reality and they are not to depend on any transaction. They are to work through these levels of reality until they reach that Reality where there is no difference, no separateness and is a complete, perfect Oneness. In fact, if the serious seeker does depend on anything then it is the Formless Ultimate Reality or the Self alone.

Philosophy or Ideology

For the sake of this discussion, when I mention philosophy, I am containing both philosophy and ideology in this. For the serious spiritual seeker, they cannot do with a fixed philosophy that someone else has developed. They always seek to deepen any existing philosophy or look to develop their own. Their efforts and their experiences leads to a higher state of being where they start noticing the ‘devils in the details’ and cannot adhere to such conventional thinking. They then choose to transcend those details and conventions much to the disappointment of the group that they belong to. The group of casual spiritual aspirants or the figurehead may look at the philosophy as a great template from afar. But even the genuine figurehead knows the conventional wisdom template needs to be erased and written with the seeker’s own wisdom, therefore, they truly give that seeker the freedom to develop. This has always been done and the reason why we have Mystics like Rumi and Kabir.

As much as a philosophy is a great starting point, it is not the means and it is not the end. The seeker recognizes this and moves forward. They spend time analyzing every philosophy, their own thoughts and continue to evolve. This is why I admire Hinduism as a religion for its amazing diversity of philosophy – you can be a theist, an atheist, an agnostic and still be called a Hindu. You can even reject Hinduism and that is still a very Hindu thing to do! The Buddha rejected the Vedas and is still considered an avatar! For the Hindu sees evolution and celebrates it. For this reason, Hinduism has created a strong philosophy called Advaita Vedanta, which is now being considered as aligning with Science on the basis that reality is non-duality or a unified field. What the mystics found within, scientists are finding with their equations and formulas. Hindus accept that philosophy is not meant to stick around but it is meant to be molded and created into something new. In fact, each individual is a religion in their own self. For this reason, there is neither dependency nor one single philosophy. The seeker must find their own.

Universal Mindset

Even though, a group may claim that they have a universal approach to spirituality, you will find a nuance in their thinking. Only their approach is universal, anything else is not universal. What is really funny is that most spiritual organizations claim the monopoly of having the only way. They are the chosen ones with the Chosen One to lead. They have been picked out of the billions for this sacred journey that they dip their toes in once in a while.

Even though, they may claim to be open-minded, but anything that is different to the Group’s philosophy is rejected and considered to be false unanimously by everyone. Like I mentioned, whenever we start to think that we have a better path than everyone else, we automatically close our minds to the universality of wisdom. The wisdom that we start to associate with becomes incredibly narrow and is never the focal point anymore. Hence, we start worshipping one god, guru or group only and cannot go beyond that scope.

To be truly open minded is to transcend all associations to an organization. Yes, we can belong to a group but we should never feel alpha about our group compared to others. We should have the humility to see the similarities and bond over that. Where there are differences, we should accept them as someone else’s journey and findings that are just as valid. Then again, I expect only a serious seeker to understand this and be able to differentiate on whether a difference in philosophy is based on experience or mere tradition. The more casual aspirant will want to stick to their way because it is the best way and the only way. It is comforting but not ego transcending.

Convenience

We can get too comfortable and start becoming lazy with our spiritual journey. Whenever dependency arises, the sense of comfort sweeps in and imprisons us. The spiritual seeker is not spiritual for their own convenience or comfort. They seek to disturb the current worldview that they hold. They look to dissect their ego to what it really is and to check if the ego actually exists! Spirituality in the truest sense is an inconvenient Truth. It doesn’t care about your feelings, your thoughts, your intentions, or what you want reality to be. It shows you reality and then you have to learn to deal with it and work accordingly to It.

When the spiritual aspirant get comfortable and lazy, we prefer to do the easy things that gives us the cloak of doing something spiritual. It helps our ego to think we are doing something towards seeking a Higher Reality. It fools us. It puts us in shackles and gives us the illusion that we are reaching great progress. Therefore, it is important to check if we are settling in the Ultimate Reality or are we settling in our ego that we have fashioned into some God or Higher Being.

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The Possible Dissonance

There are some serious spiritual seekers that function within an organization/group and may also follow a figurehead. There may even be a deep reverence for the group and the figurehead and will share the collective teachings according to their understanding or findings. However, there will be a marked difference and that is they follow what is right according to their own being. They will not simply accept any idea, thought or action and they may even challenge anything that they disagree with. It is then dependent on the group or the figurehead if they want such a person. They may find that such dissonance is not welcome and it is with that understanding that I go back to the central idea that within each one of us is a religion waiting to be born.

Be a Spiritual Seeker

What you want to be is truly up to you. But if you want to enter spirituality, then there has to be a seriousness to it. I do believe that being a serious spiritual seeker is super fun and is a thrilling journey like no other but I can see how it isn’t for everyone. For some, the minimal effort is all they can do and they have other priorities which is fine. For them, a framework set by another, whether an organization or figurehead, does suit them and their lifestyle so why go further? It does help them at least live a good and moral life.

For the more serious spiritual seekers that understand that Liberation or Moksha is the ‘end’, they need to put some serious work. This spiritual work has to be done all on their own, after they have exhausted the help of others and all philosophy. This path is less traveled and no compass, no GPS can help because the GPS will always re-route you back to where you are and the compass will always point back to you.

Readiness for the Truth

There are times when I feel I am going round and round in circles for the Truth. Despite knowing how near It is, how close It is, I still feel like I haven’t got there. It is like the nervousness one feels in the stomach before you arrive at some destination that you were travelling to. Even if it is a place you go regularly, there is always a nervous feeling.

I often wonder on days when I feel that I am going round in circles about what more do I need? Do I even need to do anything more? Why can’t I just get it? What makes others so convinced but yet their arguments or their findings don’t resonate with mine? Am I just not ready for the Truth? How can I get ready for it? How can I be best prepared for it?

I don’t know if there is an answer. If you have one then please do share it with me. All I know is that the Truth feels so close, yet so far at the same time. Sometimes I feel I have grasped it and sometimes it sifts through like sand in my clenched hand.

I wonder whether it is the feeling that I am eternal that has become the hindrance. You know, nothing ever dies and that energy simply transfers. Or I would get another opportunity in my next life. At times, knowing all that isn’t enough for me and I begin searching again.

Is it that I think too much or am I not focussing on this Truth enough? Am I not enquiring into who I am enough? Do I need to make it a do or die type of event? I simply don’t know but somehow I feel I have to do this all alone. Nobody can take me there, they can get me to do the door and they can even open it. It is I that has got to walk through and the Truth is such that nobody can push you through to It either, it requires your own admission.

Instant Enlightenment – Other Factors

Yesterday, I discussed whether instant enlightenment was a myth or not. Summing it up in a couple of sentences, it is a gradual process that needs time, discipline and effort. Nobody gets enlightenment just because they recognize the Truth, it is much more than that. It simply is when you become the Truth.

There are two other factors that I thought about when it comes to the topic of instant enlightenment that people from the neo-advaita scene or neo-bhakti movements can counter argue with me. That is the Guru and/or Grace. These two factors may have a great impact on a disciple. So let’s explore this together and see if Guru or Grace causes instant enlightenment.

The Spiritual Guru

What is the role of the Guru? What is the impact of having a Guru? Is it enough to be without a Guru? Does our whole life need to center around the Guru? This is dependent on the seeker and their experiences. Here, I will discuss my views and responses to those questions.

The role of the Guru is to simply show the way, give the pointing, pass on the mantra or give the initiation. They can guide but they can’t walk the path for you. You have to respond to your own calling. The role of the Guru is also very personal. We need guidance in our day to day life because we live in the world, we have a family, we have a job or business, we go to school or college. We may need help on how to interpret the teachings according to our living experiences or need guidance during a difficult time. It is the Guru that will offer guidance but again, their role is to give you the path to enlightenment, whether it is instant or not, is dependent solely on the seeker and their readiness.

The impact of the Guru depends on how much they are invested in your spirituality. If it is simply listening to sermons or reading their books, there is only a certain impact that the Guru will have. If like I mentioned before, the Guru guides you during difficult times, the Guru is there for you, the Guru supports you very personally, the impact will be strong. Whether it is a positive or negative impact again is dependent on the seeker. From the genuine Gurus that I know, they seek to take you away from conflict. They will never break a family, gather money for their personal gain or control your lifestyle. They offer a path to you but don’t demand you to walk the path. They are both involved but also take a step back at the same time. They offer the seeker the freedom to act.

Can we advance in spirituality without a Guru? I don’t know but I have hugely benefited from having a Guru that was there for me and who guided me personally with my spiritual journey. If I was feeling helpless with a spiritual conundrum, it helped me immensely to have my Guru’s guidance. Sometimes, it was knowing that I had someone to fall back on during difficult times that gave me the strength to advance spiritually. I know some friends who do not have a physical guru but to be honest, they may follow the teachings of someone that lived in the previous century or thousands of years ago. We all have someone that inspires us, so their guidance is great. The more personal, the better.

So does our life need to center around the Guru? No, it doesn’t have to center on the physical being of the Guru. Not at all. We are to enjoy the presence of the Guru whenever the opportunity arises. We are to take advantage of this for sure. However, there needs to a life centered on the Teachings. My Guru would give the biggest smile if I told Him about how a particular teaching helped me. This gave Him more joy than simply following Him wherever He went or even praising Him. It is important to have the presence of the Guru but priority is with the Teaching.

I know some friends, who are devotees to different gurus and have become disenchanted. They followed someone and then found that their Guru did not live up to their title, they came across someone who was greedy, angry, or extremely controlling and authoritarian. However, those very friends tell me about how the teachings of the Guru helped them but they simply couldn’t follow that guru again with the same devotion to the physical form.

Concluding all these questions, instant enlightenment may not be given by having a Guru or being in the presence of the Guru. It is following the Teachings that bring a gradual growth that can lead to enlightenment. Sometimes, it is the silence of the Guru that helps and we find the answers to everything within because that Presence guides us to find our own inner Guru. The Teaching has to be Supreme and maybe when we consider this, enlightenment can be instant as an Inner Guru will always be there for us.

Grace

Grace is help by some divine intervention. Out of nowhere, we find that somehow our spiritual growth has increased tenfold and we can’t explain how. This genuinely happens and I have found that in my own life and experiences that some things are unexplainable when it comes to excelling spiritually.

Grace is like being dependent on chance. If you receive it then you are lucky. If you don’t then you are not so lucky. If you are a good devotee then you may get grace or you may not. There is no definitive way to attain Grace and that is the biggest argument against it in causing instant enlightenment.

However, Grace can be interpreted as the culmination of practice. The more sincere we are, the more honest, the more we apply the teachings, the more we feel that element of Grace assisting us.

I do believe Grace helps but it isn’t something that provides instant enlightenment. Grace does give you awakenings or satoris but that is it. That internal movement towards enlightenment can be called grace but again, momentum is only achieved through practice.

Practice is the answer

As we have briefly discussed the role of the Guru and the role of Grace, as much as they may be beneficial, I am doubtful that they cause instant enlightenment. I doubt the first look of the Guru will cause instant enlightenment. I doubt that Grace appears and you are suddenly enlightened.

Guru’s presence and the concept of Grace are necessary to help progress in your spiritual journey. Sometimes accepting experiences as an element of Grace helps to keep the momentum going without getting into the details. Sometimes, it is easier to explain such experiences as Grace and it definitely helps us to avoid spiritual pride and grounds us to humility. Which is beneficial for effective spiritual practice.

Also, there is nothing bigger than the Guru’s Teachings. Every scripture is the Guru and every physical presence that helps you spiritually is the Guru. We are to commit to the Teachings, yet enjoy the physical presence of the Guru. Infact, the Guru’s Teachings awakens the Guru within you. This is available to everyone and it is something great sages like Ramana Maharshi attest to.

The more we practice the Teachings, the more clarity we get. The better clarity, the more we are open to enlightenment happening in a more gradual, consistent and grounding way.

Thank You and Goodbye 2020

2020 has had it’s fair share of challenges and gifts too. Nobody could guess that a pandemic like Covid-19 would bring the world to its knees and it seems that most of the world hasn’t been able to stand up again.

My mum from the UK was able to visit us in the US and spend time with us. It was before the pandemic and she returned to the UK before the world came to a standstill. It was wonderful for her to see my life here and it was nice to have her blessings! I just wished I worked from home more at the time.

This year has allowed me to move to a new position at my workplace which I am grateful for. My new team is great and I appreciate them a lot. Earlier in the year, I was facing redundancy due to a restructure but my new manager saw my skills and brought me onto his team.

Working from home has allowed me to become healthier, take care of what I eat and has also given me the time to meditate more, read more, exercise more and most of all, spend time with my wife Manisha ji more. We watched films, TV shows together and read (different) books together. We cooked together and I loved those moments, I felt like I was in the first year of my marriage again. It has also allowed us to spend time with our niece, Ekta, who is an absolute joy to be around. Spending time with the extended family has definitely been important for us.

But a bigger shoutout to my wife, who is on the frontline as a nurse. Not only is she working in a critical time, she is also studying for her Master’s and the way she has balanced this is truly remarkable and inspirational. She is an absolute gem and looks after me a lot. She also allows me to be lazy at times, which I definitely appreciate. Most of all, I love making coffee for you in the morning because I see the joy that it brings to you!

I have gained new friendships in this time and strengthened existing friendships . Two new friendships have been one where spiritual concepts are looked into deeply and we try to discover ways to further our spiritual journey. These conversations have been beneficial for me. In fact, overall my friendships have got stronger as we focus on spending time with each other. Before the pandemic, we could be together but our phones would be in the way. This time, I noticed we talked more, we interacted more, it was more personal. I really value all of my friends.

Let me thank you all for reading my blog, reading my work on Instagram, I truly appreciate your support and may this community grow stronger.

But 2020 has had it’s challenges and one of the challenges for me was when my youngest brother in the UK was in the ICU with a rare lung infection, he was on the brink of death. Being here in America, it was tough to not be there with my parents, my brothers to deal with this. Positive thinking did help but I was also ready to face the reality if my brother didn’t make it. I am thankful for the healthcare workers, the doctors that put everything into saving him. Thankfully, my youngest brother is at home and we have weekly catch up calls, which never happened before. So even though this was a challenging time with ups and downs, we made sure that we got the best of the situation. I am so thankful that my youngest brother recovered and is alive and well.

There have been deaths this year, some people I knew personally, some whom I didn’t know but my friends or family had lost someone and I felt the pain of loss that they were going through. This was definitely a difficult year in processing death. Losing people is hard enough but in the midst of a pandemic, we have had to evolve our ways in saying goodbye. I take this moment to pray that anybody that has lost somebody in their family, in their friend circle, may they be given strength and acceptance. I also encourage them to seek professional help if needed and to let go of any taboo that surrounds it.

So as we go into 2021, let’s start it on a powerful note. I started this morning with listening to the Gayatri Mantra and spent some time contemplating on this.

Aum
Bhuh Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat

Aum,
Physical, mental and Spiritual existence,
That, which is Radiant Light and most Beautiful, 
I meditate upon That which is Illuminating and Divine,
Enlighten our intellect. 

To understand the above, let’s dwell on it. Aum symbolizes the Ultimate Impersonal Reality – Brahman. So in the beginning of the mantra, this is what we focus on. Then we acknowledge that Brahman has It’s existence on the physical, mental and spiritual dimension. As we contemplate on It’s Fullness, we see That as the most Beautiful and Radiant Light. It is referred to as Tat (That) so it remains Impersonal, it remains Formless. By acknowledging It’s radiance and beauty, we lead ourselves to meditating on That, which illuminates everywhere and is divine in nature. We then ask Brahman to enlighten our intellect so that we can embrace wisdom. It is wisdom that enlightens our intellect and that wisdom itself is Brahman.

With this prayer, I thank 2020 and welcome 2021.

Toxic Positivity

Can positivity ever be considered negative? Simple answer is YES! I know, wait a second, let’s understand what I have just answered. Am I saying that it can be negative to be positive? Yes, I am exactly saying that. What are my reasons? Well, let’s dwell on this.

Have you ever faced a time in your life where you feel sad? Or you are going through a traumatic time with an illness? Or you feel trapped in a relationship? Just had a break up? Lost your job and been out of work for months? Got bad grades? You decide to tell somebody about it because you want to be listened to, you want to be heard. What is the response? You may have had the following responses:

  • There must be something good in your life?
  • Don’t worry, you will get better, be positive.
  • Be positive, at least you are in a relationship.
  • Look, there are more guys/girls out there.
  • Don’t worry, you will find a new job, stay positive and keep applying.
  • You can ace the next exam, be positive and keep working hard.

I know that I have said the above to people in the past and it is only recently, that I realized that maybe I am not being helpful to people when I say such things. Okay, I may not be in the ‘stay positive’ or ‘positive vibes only’ crowd but I am guilty for sometimes saying something uplifting when someone only wants to talk. They just want me to listen to them deeply, without judging, without thinking about what to say, just being absolutely present with them.

The most powerful responses I have ever received have come from people who stay quiet for a good, few minutes and then they offer some advice or sometimes they just give me a hug. Sometimes, that is all we need or someone else needs. We don’t have to coat our every advice with positive statements or affirmations, we can sometimes just state things as they are and deal with it as it is. We can advice according to the situation and work out together how best to deal with the situation.

The toxic positivity crowd has grown with social media. We now have social media personalities who spew out how positivity is everything and if you aren’t having a good life, it is because you are not positive enough. They talk big but life shows that it delivers flatly. Trust me, I have read my fair share of self-help books, followed self-help gurus on social media, followed their advice somewhat and realized I haven’t been helped at all. Everything I am doing is based on my circumstances and my analysis of my circumstances. I take time to look at what I am going through and meditate on what the best response is. Yes, it may not be the approach of anyone that wants fast results but sometimes, being slow and steady helps us to address the problem or issue fully. It is best if you allow that feeling of positivity to arise within you naturally.

Sometimes, we are told that we aren’t grateful enough and that gratitude is the best attitude. But if I am feeling stressed, I am not going to be grateful for anything else. Am I to be grateful for my stress? How does that make any sense? So this is what it goes back to, we have to face what we are dealing with and really look into it. See the root of it and observe the root of it. We need to spend time on what disturbs us, and then we can direct our minds to find ways out of it. We need to allow each thought, positive or negative, to flower completely, to travel with the thought so it can express itself completely. If we end up cutting that thought short, we may be repressing emotions or thoughts that may lead to a greater sadness or depression later on.

Tomorrow, you may listen to some positive thought and it helps you tremendously. And a few days later, you face a situation and to overcome it, you use that same positive thought and it doesn’t help anymore. Don’t ever put yourself down if that positive thought isn’t working. Whatever you are going through has become bigger than that positive thought. Life gives us situations so that we evolve, so we see the deeper truths of life and if we mask it with positivity, it is still a veil. Therefore, find new ways of dealing with issues or problems, most of all, try to understand the problem.

What I want to emphasize is that if you feel sad, I am here to look at the sadness with you. If you are happy, I am here to look at the happiness with you. Whatever you are feeling, whatever you are going through, I am here to go through it with you.

I believe we should look at our thoughts and our emotions as they are and deal with them as they are. Yes, some thoughts will be painful to look into but sometimes it is that looking, that observing that helps us to drop that thought. This is what has helped me in my life.

Motivational quotes and sayings may be nice to look at and nice to hear but do they transform us? Do they really make you get up to conquer the world? How about we aim more locally and look to conquer our minds. This can only be done, if we spend time and go through the process with our undivided attention.

Ultimate Reality

The highest wisdom known is to understand the Ultimate Reality. This Ultimate Reality has no form, no shape, no color, no dimension, no sound, no space, no time, indivisible etc. The biggest question is whether we can call this God, especially when a personal god is more or less invoked in the traditional aspects of religion?

The personal god is not just in traditional religions but has found its place in spiritual circles. You may call it the universe, it is still the personal god. To this god, we place our faith, our devotion as long as whatever we want is received. If it isn’t then there are two options. One is that we lose faith and become atheist sand settle in the belief that there is no god, or second is that we say we don’t have enough faith and that is why god didn’t give it to us. In fact, we make god into a transactional deity where He, the patriarch dishes out rewards and punishments. Why do some get more or less? Well, build up your faith is always the clarion call!

So back to the original question, can we call this Ultimate Reality – God? I don’t think we can. It is interesting that in Hinduism, they see the need for the personal God so this is called Ishwar or Saguna Brahman. The Hindu mystics were smart enough to understand that the majority will not have time to contemplate, to wonder, to pay attention and to focus on what Reality is but in fact, they are drawn to their primal fears and desires – therefore, Ishwar or Saguna Brahman deliver this. But remember – Sat Chit Ananda (Truth Consciousness Bliss) – cannot be experienced here! The Truth or the Reality experienced is only a part – it isn’t the whole. Saguna Brahman is also subject to destruction as it is part of the Universe. Consciousness is experienced by all, but here we are talking about Pure Indivisible Consciousness as the Ultimate Reality. This is only partly experienced. Therefore, bliss cannot be attained with the completeness of Truth and Consciousness. We can experience happiness, extreme happiness but not bliss.

So the ones who contemplate on this Ultimate Reality, who wonder about it, who want to see it as it is, without our interpretation, without our thoughts, without our emotions, we find that they experience Sat Chit Ananda. This Ultimate Reality is referred to as Nirguna Brahman and this means Brahman without attributes. This is the Purest of the Pure. Right now, I can feel It’s presence that seems infused into everything, yet distinct from everything too. I can feel that there is bliss and if I must use the analogy of the ocean, I am only at the shore, and haven’t gone to it’s depths yet. Some of you, may have gone there and are there right now and can feel the uncreated, unbreakable, undiluted bliss. This Ultimate Reality cannot belong to any religion and can only be personally experienced, therefore a spiritual group or organization will not be able to contain such a Force. It’s impossible because once the spiritual group loses focus on this Ultimate Reality, which it inevitably will because people are too attached to primal fears and desires, they will lose focus on where to direct their contemplation. This Ultimate Reality doesn’t care for praise or criticism – therefore It doesn’t negotiate. So we cannot win this like we can do with the personal god. This Ultimate Reality is always here, within us, we just need wake up to it. It doesn’t need to do anything, we need to discover it by contemplation, by inquiry, by discussion and by meditation.

So, after discussing this with you, I find that Nirguna Brahman cannot be referred to as god because that will give it unrealistic expectations that It will not follow. This can only be referred to as the Ultimate Reality and is literally defined as having no form, no shape, no color, no dimension, no sound, no space, no time, indivisible etc. If we are to truly experience the essence of spirituality, it is only with understanding and knowing this Ultimate Reality without any duality within us – the observer.

Is your Teacher the Best?

Since yesterday’s post on Critical Spirituality had a lot to digest, I thought it would be nice to share this Zen joke that I read on Psychology Today.

One Zen student said, “My teacher is the best. He can go days without eating.”

The second said, “My teacher has so much self-control, he can go days without sleep.”

The third said, “My teacher is so wise that he eats when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired.”

Spirituality has to be grounded in common sense and needs to be practical. Although, I am a huge fan of reading ancient scriptures from the East, I do analyze teachings to see if they apply today. There is no need to follow something that doesn’t make sense to follow in this day and age. We have to use our critical thinking to understand this.

Going to the joke, it is rather simple to understand. A True Teacher, as I mentioned yesterday, would make every attempt to have the disciple excel in their spirituality and to become independent with complete realization. If not, we have to ask whether the Teacher we have has the qualifications to bring us to enlightenment. If they don’t, then should we still follow them. If they do, isn’t it best to adhere to their words based on Truth? Therefore, the True Teacher will tell you to eat if you are hungry, drink water if you are thirsty and will understand the needs that you or I have. They will not guide us to do the opposite.

The other take is don’t compare the greatness of your Teacher with anyone else. Let others discover it themselves. You can surely let people know about the Teacher and how much they have helped you. However, the moment we compare that our Teacher is better than someone else’s teacher then we are entering into foolishness.

I remember reading a book by Osho, where he said very beautifully that Spiritual Masters have no problems with each other, it is the disciples who have problems because they compare and bicker with one another.

Every Teacher may not be qualified to guide someone to the Ultimate Truth, but at least a Teacher can guide someone to walk a few steps forward. Even that is good enough.

Critical Spirituality

Today I read an article published by the Vice on Conspirituality and how the Wellness Industry has become a loudspeaker for QAnon and misinformation about Covid-19, the US election, the Covid vaccine is thriving, along with its boundless support for Trump, who is seen as the Messiah. It is worth a read and I recommend that we all take some time out to read this.

I regularly listen to a podcast called Conspirituality, where a lot of the conspiracy theories that are infiltrating the Spiritual scene is debunked with facts, evidence and reputable studies. I recommend that we listen to these podcasts to take our critical thinking to a higher level.

I have seen smart and/or spiritual people on my social media feed fall to conspiratorial thinking. It has definitely shocked me enough to write about this. For quite some time, I thought only I was seeing this from people on my social media feed. When I started seeing people fall in love with Trump, then share their ideas about 5G radiation, even Pizzagate, I was wondering how did it all get to this? This is where the Conspirituality podcast really helped me and some amazing people on Facebook openly spoke about the rise of conspirituality. It shocked them and they had to address it.

For me, spirituality has to be one that is balanced with facts based on science and personal experience. It is understanding the fine line before we end up going towards wacky thinking or fantasy. Science has been a boon, most of the time, for the upliftment of society. Science has helped us understand our place in the universe, it has helped us understand the laws of Nature. Then there is the spiritual journey, where we seek to find God or Truth through whatever means, this shouldn’t interfere with the material world. This seeking should purely be kept to spiritual development alone. Yes, it is true that our spirituality will seep through to our material life, it will shape our views and will be the foundation to how we interact with the world, however, it should never get in the way of absolute truth. For example and this may make my point more clear, my spiritual views should never interfere with the fact that the Earth is a sphere.

Even when it comes to spirituality itself, how many of look at our journey with a critical eye? How many of us are just happy to go along with whatever the crowd is saying? If the crowd repeats a quote, slogan, or a story, how many of us just repeat it without thinking of the deeper philosophies behind such stories, slogans or quotes? How many of us inquire within to see how much time do we live in the awareness of a deity or our true Self? How many of us are willing to call out our our laziness in practicing spiritual values like compassion, love, honesty, understanding etc? Until we start becoming more critical about our own spiritual progress, then the collective spirituality will always be at a loss.

If you truly want to be your best self, then you have to understand that the whole crux of spirituality is understanding that there is no-self. In fact, what we call God is something beyond self and non-self. This is difficult for me to express and people may disagree with me here. New-age movements with there emphasis for a great ‘you’, really isn’t about ascending your true self to something higher. It may help to give you self-esteem but its just giving you another layer of ego, another layer of identity and can even create a narcissistic mentality. Why do I say this? It’s because I have gone through it myself. I have experience how these self-help books only expanded my ego and it didn’t help me attain a higher degree of spirituality.

I feel that people like Tony Robbins are not great people to follow either. Many people I know have attended his events and they feel fired up in the beginning and I appreciate that he gives people confidence. But how long does that confidence last? Not long. I haven’t seen anyone who followed Tony Robbins become an equal to him, forget exceeding him.

This is also applicable to Spiritual Gurus too. If you cannot help your disciples be equal or better than you then how effective is your teaching? Many people follow popular Spiritual Gurus with their catchy clickbait titles on YouTube and not one person who has watched all their videos has achieved enlightenment. In fact, most of it is ran like multi level marketing (MLM). If you liked the video and want to go deeper in spirituality, then buy this course. You buy that course then you are told this isn’t enough, you need to do this other practice so you make that purchase, only to be told once you completed that course that there is a 7 month program that you guarantees success and you end up in a cycle that will never end until you find your bank account has gone slim or your credit cards are maxed out. Of course, it is the whole carrot and stick analogy. The main question I want to pose in this section is where are our Swami Vivekananda’s today?

We can say that maybe we aren’t being decent disciples and not committing ourselves to practice so something has to change. Either disciples understand discipline or Gurus separate the wheat from the chaff (and the wheat isn’t the highest bidder). We have to take spirituality seriously, if we are to save it from entering a territory that Great Teachers like J Krishnamurti and Alan Watts never expected.

Let me know what you think in the comments because maybe I need to add more context behind something I have written and I can dedicate a post to it. We all have to be critical to our spirituality, if we are to evolve our respective Gurus or religious/spiritual organizations.