Spirituality is the discovery that Oneness is our true reality. We are One, not just with each other, but with the Creator as well, and with every atom of creation.
When asked to define a subject as vast and uncircumscribed as spirituality, most would balk. What exactly is spirituality, come to think of it?
Like most truly big questions, the answer is different for each person, and it even changes for the person as he or she progresses along the path. So, let’s begin with a few definitions that may help us to understand the subject when we know nothing about it.
Here is a commonsensical definition: Spirituality is the understanding that the world and all that it constitutes of is made of spirit and not matter. That matter is, in fact, nothing but energy vibrating at such a rapid speed that it appears to be solid and dense.
Well, this changes everything, does it not? If you and I are spirit and so is the laptop on which I type this, and the table on which the laptop sits, we need to rethink our entire identity and our understanding of the world. If we are spirit and not matter, then Einstein has already proved that energy never dies. It just changes shape. This means we actually are immortal. And so too is the laptop and the table. It just keeps changing form, that is all.
Recognizing ourselves as spirit and not matter makes our identity far more spacious, by pointing to realities that are beyond matter. If everything is energy, surely we can connect with the energies of those who have gone ahead of us and possibly of those coming behind us? Surely this means there is an Afterlife, and that one life is not all? This naturally brings us to reincarnation and karma, which is the agency that keeps us on the cycle of birth and death.
And from there to the possibility of escaping this treadmill, through the attainment of enlightenment which essentially means freeing ourselves of the ego, the sense of false identity which is one of the many illusions we are wrapped in. And how do we free ourselves of the ego? Through ongoing inner work that will heal us of the thoughts, feelings, and resistances that feed our ego and sustain it.
The purpose of life then stands revealed as nothing but this, the inner work, which alone will enable our liberation. Our life on Planet Earth is not to make scads of money or grow in fame and power. It is not even to marry and have children. It is only to attain freedom from the ego. The recognition that we are spirit also brings to us the possibility that God exists and that this spiritual or energetic Universe is a purposeful creation and not a random cosmic accident. This definition, if pursued to its logical end, can actually open up the whole smorgasbord of spirituality to us.
The recognition that we are spirit brings to us the possibility that God exists and that this spiritual or energetic Universe is a purposeful creation and not a random cosmic accident. This definition, if pursued to its logical end, can open up the whole smorgasbord of spirituality to us.
Another portal to spirituality is through religion: Spirituality is a movement from religion’s narrow limitations of creeds and doctrines to a free-spirited exploration of who we are, who God is, and what the Universe is. All three can be explored simultaneously because all three are made of the same stuff. This definition positions religion as the framework from which we transition to this independent exploration of ourselves. It is through this self-inquiry that we get all our answers.
As we become more familiar with our inner world, which means our world of thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, we begin to understand ourselves better. We become aware of why we go ballistic when made fun of, why other people’s achievements and successes make us feel less, why we don’t feel good in the company of some people, while thoroughly enjoying the company of others, why we feel compelled to put others down or to tom-tom our achievements. And this puts us in touch with concepts like self-esteem and self-love. And we recognize that it is the lack of these that causes us to forever compete with others and creates that sense of lack within us.
The more we understand ourselves, the more we understand others. They too are operating from the same dynamics as we are. They too have a need to feel good about themselves. They too are constantly comparing themselves with others. They too like you are forever flitting from the past to the future, recalling and regretting the past, fearing and anticipating the future.
This journey of self-understanding also throws up many insights that further fuel our growth. We become aware, for instance, that we create our own reality by the thoughts we think and the emotions they create within us. For instance, we wake up one morning after a fitful sleep and with a terrible headache. Grumpily we climb out of bed and discover that we have only half an hour to get ready for work. In a panic, we rush through the routine only to find the geyser is not functioning. As frustration and resistance mount, we conclude that today is going to be a horrible day. And sure enough, unless we dismantle these thoughts, the day truly does become a dismal one, because our mind will create it. Extrapolate it to life and you will find that our lives are a reflection of our belief systems, which, in turn, are created by our habitual thoughts and feelings.
It is quite a revelation to discover that this life that we are living is not the creation of God or that mysterious entity called Fate but of our own thoughts and feelings. And even though it is disheartening to be bereft of someone or something to blame for the mess our life is in, we gain a tremendous sense of power. If we have created our problems, then we can also uncreate them by the same methodology – our thoughts and feelings.
Another stunning discovery we make about ourselves is that the person we have thought we were – the one that loves strawberries and hates papaya, enjoys watching and playing cricket, is excellent at caricature and clowning, that tears up at movies and while reading books, that goes ballistic when cheated, that person is not really us. Who we are is still not clear, but that person we thought was us is nothing but a construct made of conditioning, we realize.
Recognizing ourselves as spirit and not matter makes our identity far more spacious, by pointing to realities that are beyond matter. That leads us to consider the possibility of an Afterlife, bringing us to reincarnation and karma, which keeps us on the cycle of birth and death.
Dismantling of the illusions
This then is the heart of the spiritual journey – a steady dismantling of the illusions that we had about ourselves and life, and a discovery of the truth. This is what makes the journey exhilarating and thrilling. It is also a journey of ongoing self-empowerment. We alone determine our destiny, and we can truly create the life we wish to lead. And of course, we are not alone on this journey. One of the early discoveries we make is that in an odd way, the Universe seems aware of the questions in our heads or the insights we are in search of. Through the agency of a book, an article, or a conversation with a friend, the answers emerge and pave the path for the next step. Step by step the path unfolds, and it is wonderful to feel our lives taking on a greater coherence and shape.
And then, of course, there are the miracles, the showers of grace that cocoon you in love and care. A sudden healing of a chronic ailment, a friend who points you towards the perfect job, traveling to a strange place and finding your soulmate, walking alone on a lonely street at night only to meet a friend coming from the opposite direction. This kinship with the Universe, this knowledge that you are not alone is one of the biggest rewards of this journey you are on.
Eyeball-to-eyeball with reality
As my understanding deepened, I crafted one more definition of spirituality. Spirituality is an eyeball-to- eyeball confrontation with reality. What did I mean by that? Only penetrating all the illusions that we are trapped in will help us see the truth. And we are then obliged to live this truth. You cannot be on a spiritual path if you are wrapped in a dream world or live in a world of thoughts that swings you from the past to the future and back again. You cannot retreat behind comforting excuses and rationalizations to explain away your actions or soft-soap your motivation. You are spiritual to the exact extent that you are in touch with the truth of things. You cannot conceal from yourself the knowledge that you gave your maid an extra 200 rupees in her monthly salary only so she would come to your house first, or the reason why you simply could not smile at your colleague was because you were jealous of the rapport he had with your boss.
Another definition presented itself as I began my journey of deconditioning myself. It was extremely hard to see myself as I showed up to be. No focus, no concentration, no memory, no self-esteem, and other minuses. All of this filled me with anxiety, and I became very conscious of my actions and exchanges, wanting to make sure I did not goof up. Spirituality, I decided, was a movement from unconsciousness to self-consciousness to consciousness.
The spiritual journey is a steady dismantling of the illusions that we had about ourselves and life, and a discovery of the Truth. It is also a journey of self-empowerment. We alone determine our destiny, and we can truly create the life we wish to lead.
Today, my understanding of spirituality is reduced to its ultimate Truth. Spirituality is the discovery that we are One. That Oneness is our true reality. We are One, not just with each other, but with the Creator as well, and with every atom of creation. Period.
Nevertheless, I would like to end with Lord Buddha’s definition. Spirituality is the journey towards self-transformation. Forget everything else and focus only on changing yourself. The Buddha asks: If you were gravely ill and a healer came to you, would you waste your time asking about the provenance of the healer and of his medicine, or would you simply apply the medicine? So, apply the medicine. Forget about defining spirituality. Just work on changing yourself and everything else will be shown to you.
Her earlier post you can read here: From Christianity to spirituality