Where is the Time for Spirituality?
Sri Aurobindo was unique among spiritual masters in being a perfect synthesis of the East and the West. That gave his teachings a refreshing and contemporary touch, free from any dogma and prejudice. While he was rooted in ancient Indian wisdom, his teachings have a global scope in today’s world. This article by Ramesh Bijlani is part of a series that celebrates the 150th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, which falls in 2022.
Life has to be lived in the present but can be understood only in light of the past. Indians lived a meaningful life for thousands of years without calling it religious or spiritual. For them, right living was a habit. There were scriptures galore, but the tyranny of the world was superfluous for a society that valued simple living and high thinking. But with time, things changed. India suffered a slow decline. There grew a dichotomy between worldly life and spiritual life. Spiritual life came to be seen as hard and demanding. Ascetic life meant for a select few who tore themselves away from all worldly responsibilities. For the rest, it was worldly life with all its problems and pitfalls. The result was neglect of material life on one hand, and moral degradation on the other, for both of which the country paid a heavy price. Sri Aurobindo was among the pioneers who saw through this tragedy, and made a powerful case for a life-affirming version of spirituality.
The basic thesis underlying life-affirmation is the Vedantic assertion that the world is a manifestation of the Divine. In other words, the world is a form of the Divine. If the Divine is real, the world cannot be unreal. However, although the Divine is perfect, the world is imperfect. The world is imperfect because it does not express fully its divinity. Man, however, is unique in having the capacity to express more of his divinity. He not only has this capacity, he also has the urge to do so. Using human life to address this urge is to live a spiritual life.
Spiritual life has three basic elements. First, doing one’s work with the feeling of being an instrument of the Divine. Further, there should be no attachment to the outcome of the work, and yet the work should be done to the best of one’s ability. Work so done becomes a source of joy. Second, making choices in life that are driven by universal and unconditional love, not by considerations of material gain and loss. Such choices bring immense joy and lasting mental peace. Third, seeing the ups and downs of life as opportunities for manifesting more of one’s divinity. This dispassionate attitude to fortune and misfortune gives unshakable equanimity.
What do these three elements of spiritual life tell? First, spiritual life does not require seclusion in a secret sanctuary. Second, worldly life itself provides opportunities for practicing spirituality. Third, there is no aspect of worldly life that is outside the scope of spiritual life. Therefore, when people complain that there is no time for spirituality, they misinterpret spirituality. To them, practicing spirituality means setting time aside for rituals or meditation. Finally, spiritual life is not a dull and monotonous life. Spiritual life is a vibrant life driven by love. Timeless wisdom has confirmed repeatedly that the formula for filling life with joy, peace and fulfillment is to love more. But human resistance to the formula makes it necessary for seers like Sri Aurobindo to repeat it in every age and epoch. Sri Aurobindo does it in one line in Savitri: “…to feel love and oneness is to live.”
Ramesh Bijlani, once a professor at AIIMS, New Delhi, is now a spiritual seeker at Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Delhi Branch.
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