One of the demands of a spiritual life is steadfastness on your path. There are ups and downs. There are doubts and deep experiences of clarity. Through it all the consistent, steadfastness is significant.
निश्चल तत्वं जीवन मुक्ति
Nischala tatvam jeevanmukti
Unshakable Steadfastness leads to liberation (Sadhguru explains this line here)
In today’s cosmopolitan society this aspect is affected.
Earlier when people of similar communities (religion/caste/ethnic roots) lived together, the cultural and religious path inculcated into them would be in harmony with the people around them. Everyone more or less would be following a similar path. And there would be many community events too, which brought everyone together within the common framework of their religious / spiritual path.
If there would be an influence from another religion or spiritual path, then there will spring literature, sayings and groups of people who try to completely defame that religion. They suggest the worst about the ‘other’ paths and proclaim that our path is the greatest.
This aspect (a kind of enmity) is inevitable when a spiritual path is at risk of losing its essence. But more so, these elements which suggest that this path is the ONE, is actually also very relevant for the spiritual seeker, because, through it, they are emphasising very clearly about the significance of commitment to this one path. Steadfastness.
Deep dedication, commitment and steadfastness – they ARE very much needed for the spiritual seeker.
But these qualities are at the razor’s edge – on one hand, they are very much needed for the spiritual seeker and yet, on the other hand, there are problems.
Firstly, these qualities can lead to a fanaticism which may not help on the path. Where you fail to question basic tenets of your path, and thus you fail to realise the true purpose of them. Leading to a mindset, an impediment to spiritual flowering….
Secondly, especially to the people of the world, it may seem like fanaticism (even when it is not) or division or separation and hence not spiritual. Because especially in today’s cosmopolitan world, the ideal of harmony means, everyone intermingled and living happily together. But as usual, these lofty ideals fail to see a simple reality – the cultural demands and need for unshakeable steadiness while walking one’s spiritual path, don’t really allow for such intermingling. And there is nothing wrong with this, in fact, for the spiritual seeker, it is invaluable.
And this is where the basic difference between ancient Indian wisdom and modern ideals begin. In general, ancient Indian culture and practices were deep rooted in a very comprehensive understanding of spirituality, while modern ideals are not. Here comprehensive is the key. Because even for the modern ideals, the people promoting these ideals like equality, justice and so on, probably did have a spiritual experience which prompted them to change their life from the barbaric/materialistic one to a more higher one. BUT ‘a spiritual experience’ is not comprehensive understanding of the same. A comprehensive understanding means that every method of spirituality needs to be understood. Which seems to be the case in the mad chaos of Indian culture and religion but not in the west.
And so modern ideals are usually lofty ideas of how an ideal society should be. And that is why they often seem so hard to reach because they are solely based on the world outside. While the Indian culture is more about individual inner balance and well-being. Working on the individual person’s inner situation and thus, a better world.
Coming back to the topic,
And so, unshakably steady on the spiritual path – how does this work in a cosmopolitan society?
Chatting With Devotees of Different Paths
When I chat with an aunt who is strictly Jain, I am thoughtful when I talk to her. We discuss spirituality or the inner journey… there are sometimes some differences, so I usually don’t go into those. Because anyway Jains are told not to poke their heads into other paths, not visit other temples etc… and I know why they say this. The unshakeable steadfastness is needed. So what is the point of highlighting differences based on a path that she has no need to poke into? Usually, if I talk with people on another path then I share any insights I have on that path. Or politely inquire about some aspects that I find curious. Also, most paths have some common tenets, so I may also chat about these common tenets.
What I don’t do is, have a conversation like “Dude, what you are following is wrong. My path says this. This is right.” (except sometimes with really close people with whom I just share whatever I am thinking :p ). My agenda is hardly to convert someone.
But typically in India with the advise problem (everyone wants to give advise), often the person on the other side doesn’t understand this, so they try to advise me. But I can manage that. 😉
And because of this,
Importance of Sant Sangati
The sant sangati, devotees on the same path are considered essential and invaluable on the spiritual path. And I am not even talking about the Guru. I am only talking about the fellow devotees. It is also these people whose insights would be the most insightful and relevant on my spiritual path.
त्रिजगति सज्जन संगति रेका
भवति भवार्णव तरणे नौका
Trijagati sajjan sangati reka
Bhavati bhavarnav tarne nauka
Sant sangati provides the boat to cross the ocean of life and death
(Also from Moha Mudgire)
Cosmopolitan v/s Community-based Living
I am from a metropolis city and so have lived in a fairly cosmopolitan city. Growing up, most of my friends were not Jain, nor Gujarati. I have also in my travels lived with specific groups of people, like in an ashram where everyone is following the same path. Then in communities with similar language, religion and culture. And then also some international communities and Buddhist retreat (where I don’t follow that path)
So all in all my understanding is this,
for spiritual growth IF one identifies with one specific path (which is LIVE and potent spiritual path, and not fallen in to dogma over time) then living in that ashram/community leads to faster progress. I have often mentioned that my fundamentals and base of spirituality was formed in the one year I spent at Isha Yoga Center.
However, the spiritual path is not usually a straight, well paved, 6-lane, ocean road. It is a rather unique, convoluted ride for us all. So, it is possible that at times you may want/need to live in other communities. And that is also fine.
Staying in another community like the Buddhist retreat was also very interesting for me, cause I love delving into the spiritual roots into Indian religions (the religion soup that got created in India – Sanatan Dharma, Jain, Sikh, Buddhism…. ) It is amazing how similar they all are and yet the differences. So in this way, Buddhism was interesting. But the place offered a lot more to other Buddhists and not to me.
The problems with a Cosmopolitan Environment
It leads to questions and confusion which is not necessarily useful or relevant to our life.
Like for example,
Being a Jain I am strictly vegetarian and also avoid onion, garlic. Now because I am from a ‘cosmopolitan’ city like Mumbai, I cannot tell you the number of times I was told, “Oh, but don’t you want to try some non-veg” Or just something equally irrelevant about my food habits.
And this comes from a fairly foolish and usually harmful attitude prevalent in Indian urban youth.
See if I wondered deeply on my own “Why don’t I eat non-veg?”, that would be fine. Because we must look deeply at the tenets of the path we are following and also question them. But the urban youth aren’t asking the questions with this depth at all. They are asking with disdain or a similar shallow attitude. They have seen some negative sides to Indian religion and so they have written the entire culture off. And they think they are gaining something great by eating non-veg.
But my question is,
what did you gain by it?
And as a spiritual seeker one can see that nothing is there to be gained by eating non-veg.
(And this is not about veg or non-veg food. The question is do fundamental, intrusive questions about my basic life habits by outsiders of a different cultural background help? Or does it just cause needless distraction, intrusion and possibly even anxiety?)
My point is, in my younger years a lot of these different cosmopolitan influences caused a clash between the family and other social groups, and they leave us very confused. And does this confusion majorly help? Do we end up making more intelligent choices because of this? Or are we just aping the attitude and culture of our friends over our family? I think it is the latter.
Overall I am in preference of a community-based living (maybe within a cosmopolitan environment). I don’t think every single cultural aspect needs to be questioned and judged – and that too, not because there is a more intelligent life being led by others around but just because others around you are doing something different.
Especially, in a place like India where all diverse communities are deep rooted. These are not cultures of a few hundred years. Our stories, traditions, culture date back thousands of years. And the depth of the religion and tradition is immense IF we delve into it.
So, I find it prudent to continue the culture as much as seems reasonable in today’s times. Some aspects clearly need to change and I believe if the youth actually care about the culture (not approach it with disdain), they would be able to bring about the necessary change with ease.
Currently, certain groups within society become very resistant to change because of the disdain thrown at the entire culture and then they become overly defensive.
People Accept My Solo Life
This is the reason I have found that, I usually face less resistance to all my mad cap, solo adventures. People keep asking me “your parents allowed you to travel solo?” or “don’t your parents insist that you get married?”.
The reason I manage through these things well is because I have my core spirituality in place. And that has always been of paramount significance in Indian culture (all Indian religions). And so because I communicate this clearly, “look, all my basics and fundamentals are in place and in line with culture. I am just changing my activity in society”. Then it becomes way more palatable to even the very traditional people I meet on the road.
And most importantly, since my friends and family actually see this in my life, they are very accepting of my choices. #phew
Living in close knit community-groups (like a small village)
For me personally, as an urban person, I imagine it would be tough to live in a small village, bound in cultural rules and life roles. But I think that is just me – the urban. For the person in the village, I believe they are more content in general because they don’t have to deal with the confusion of your fundamental cultural beliefs being questioned (and judged) at all times. Their biggest problem (in India) is of course, economic. And this is also what causes the migration to cities and the eventual ‘mingling’ of culture.
The Advantage of Cosmopolitan Society
The biggest advantage I think, is that there are a few people who may feel like misfits in these small, community groups. But I believe with better economic situation they will sort their lot out. They can always move out. Same for atrocious, exploitative practices – economic well being will improve the lot significantly for these groups. But, economic well being need not be at a cost of giving up culture.
A lot of lofty ideals (and activities) towards harmony amidst different communities comes from a history of war and strife. But NOT from an understanding of spirituality. So, for a spiritual seeker, none of this needs to matter.
Evaluate your internal situation and gauge the best situation for you. But sant sangati is of paramount importance – understanding other paths is not.
In fact, poking your nose in other paths is something that should only be done once your mind is sufficiently trained. When you can evaluate and look deeper into an opposing idea with careful attention and not end up with some internal jumble.
And if internal jumble happens, it is then your unique, convoluted way. hahaha.
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