This was posted by me in 2001. I am still searching for an answer.
Sometime back a friend of mine asked me a question that set methinking. He asked me about a person who we all knew to be a person who bore malice towards one and all and more harm he did to people around him the happier he felt. His wife deserted him being unable to stand his cruelty.
He was thoroughly disliked by everyone. But this man used to visit the Temple everyday, perform Poojas, even used to deliver lectures to the public on Bhagavath Geeta. He was also quite successful in his career.
We see nowadays a lot of people who have become famous and rich by selling religion and more often Vedanta to top executives in posh hotels. I had attended a couple of programmes on Stress Management, which included sessions on Vedanta and Meditation.
On the face of it this looks very bad to a serious Devotee and a Spiritual aspirant. But the question is it so?
To find an answer we have to see what is religion and what is spirituality.
Religion is a set of beliefs and practices. To put it better it is a set of practices based on a set of beliefs.
People tend to be religious for a variety of reasons.
To get something done with divine help. To attain Moksha or Heaven. To attain happiness. To get spiritual elevation.
The meaning of Spiritual is given in the Oxford Dictionary as "of the spirit or soul, of religion, not of material things." The most important thing here is the meaning not of material things. This meaning that spiritual is not of material things is universally accepted.
Now if we say that only people who give up material things are spiritual, we will be totally wrong. It is not the acquisition of material things, which is wrong, but attachment to them.
But do we stop here? If all spiritual people give up their worldly attachments and go off into the forest or Ashram how does it benefit humanity? I believe that having been born a man we have an obligation to do something for the betterment of humanity. That is why we talk about doing good deeds. I would consider a person to be spiritual only when he not only gives up his worldly attachments and but also does something to spread happiness in the world and also does not do any harm to his fellow living things. Bagavan Sri Ramakrishna was born intothis world for two purposes. One to prove by personal example that the real Hindu religion is the acceptance of all religions and two to guide his Disciples who will change the entire face of the world with their messages.
But the question here is between either being spiritual or religious. As I said people tend to be religious for four reasons. But if we are religious for getting material benefit, to attain Moksha, to achieve Happiness for ourselves, Nirvana and realise parabrahman (I do not know what this means. It is beyond my comprehension) then we are
religious and not spiritual.
But if we do something for the good of others, not harm other living things, spread the knowledge around then we become spiritual. Fortunately the world has been blessed with a lot of such good Samaritans. I do not know how many of you have heard of Dr. Dooly an American Doctor who was born into a rich family and who one fine morning decided to throw it all away and go to Laos, live in miserable conditions and serve the poor people. Dr.
Dooly was spiritual not religious. Now a Sannyasin may give up his worldly attachments and go into the forest and attain Moksha. But he is not spiritual since he has not served humanity.
The only saying of Swami Vivekananda, which I always remember is "Service to Humanity is service to God".
Am I saying that being religious is wrong? No. All of us cannot be like Dr. Dooly. Practice of all religions especially Hinduism makes a person progress towards spirituality. Having been a Hippie (The flower people of the sixties) and having moved very closely with many of them (from materially advanced nations), I know what materialism
can do to your soul? But does it mean rejection of material comforts? Definitely not. As long as we think materialism is not the end of all of our life, there is always hope for us. The very fact that we come to the internet and discuss spirituality means that there is a yearning in us for doing something.
Talking about giving up material things, even Sannyasins find it difficult to give up two things. One is fame and the other hearing others praising us. That is why find great Gurus vying with each other for Fame. Then they get trapped in the praise of their Disciples and get caught in the Maya and forget the purpose of their life.
I was talking about a religious person earlier. He became successful because of his Bhakthi. He conducted courses in Bhagavad-Gita because it brought him fame. But even then he might become spiritual because of the benefit the others got because of his lectures in Bhagavad-Gita, if he stops harming others. The Swamiji who gives discourses in posh hotels to the rich and famous thinks that he is doing a great service by trying to turn them spiritual. May be he is right.
The entire purpose of writing this posting is to make you think. We may be Bhakthas, Saadhaks, Saadhikas, Tantrics, Mantrics, and Siddhas. But until and unless we do good to others and stop causing harm to other living things we cannot consider ourselves to be spiritual.