The right understanding
In the absence of the right understanding, many spiritual concepts either get misunderstood or misused by both the New Age gurus as well as the seekers. Badal Suchak removes the layers of ignorance shrouding these concepts and brings to light their true meaning
It is a delight to see that nowadays, a lot of people, especially youngsters, are drawn towards exploring spirituality. They invest precious time, money, and energy to attend spiritual talks, workshops, and retreats. However, like in every field, one faces challenges on the spiritual path as well.
One of the challenges that I have faced is that at times, teachings get misinterpreted. I have struggled with getting the right understanding of vital teachings. The reasons for this could be varied, but primarily, it happens because words are mere approximations of spiritual experiences, and therefore, no matter how much a teacher with good intention teaches, he is unable to perfectly communicate his experience in words correctly. At times, the seeker has to pay a heavy price for such misinterpretations. Therefore, it is important to share your experience in order to generate awareness and initiate an inner dialogue leading to clarity.
Listen to your heart, not your head
Every teacher, from ancient mystical traditions to New Age gurus and even Sufi poets, says this vehemently: “Listen to your heart, not your head.”
It sounds so romantic! Young seekers love this teaching. They dance in abandonment at spiritual music festivals believing that they are following their hearts. They probably do not have much awareness or a deeper understanding of what is being sung.
What has God made the head for? Everyone keeps saying listen to the heart! I keep wondering. Why should thinking be shunned and only feelings heeded?
Raavan had ten heads, and they kept giving him unwholesome advice inspiring him to commit wrong deeds. He also had a wicked heart which made him desire and abduct another man’s wife. Neither such a head nor such a heart must be heeded.
Ram, on the other hand, embodied higher values and principles. His mind inspired him to take actions which were challenging but righteous. His heart was filled with love and compassion. His actions were wholesome. Such a head as well as a heart must be heeded.
Head and heart, both have higher as well as lower states. One could categorise them into sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic tendencies. One must listen to one’s higher Self, which inspires wholesome actions, and not the lower self, which tries to pull you down. Introspect and ask yourself: What makes you want to eat ice-cream, junk food, colas? Is it the head or the heart? Find out for yourself.
The human mind is so smart that it will cleverly justify whatever it wants to do. It can even justify a heinous deed like murder in the name of religion and make one believe that one has listened to one’s heart in doing so. It is the lower mind which, out of ignorance, wants to indulge in unwholesome actions, the permission to which is given by the lower feelings.
When a spiritual teacher asks you to listen to your heart and not your head, the underlying reason is that a novice’s head keeps generating options, whereas the heart is the psychic centre which intuitively knows the right path. How many of us are able to listen to our psychic intuitive self and chose the right path? Many a time, when we believe that we are listening to our intuition, we are actually listening to our fears or desires clouding our hearts and minds.
A consistent and sincere spiritual practice calms and purifies both the head and the heart. It brings about a balance in one’s being. It is best to avoid taking decisions when there is a conflict between the head and the heart. Wholesome decisions and actions are generated by a calm mind and a pure heart. Then there is no conflict—only clarity of thought and joy in action.
I’ve concluded that one must listen to a wise, mature heart filled with peace and purity.
Live in the present moment
Our minds generally tend to dwell on the past or the future. Dwelling on past mistakes generates guilt, whereas dwelling on past glories generates nostalgia. Dreaming of a positive future generates craving, whereas conjuring up a negative future generates fear. Neither of these states of mind: guilt, nostalgia, craving, or fear are wholesome in nature. Therefore, spiritual teachers recommend living in the present moment. This well-meaning teaching gets gravely misinterpreted.
A young person hardly has any burden of the past or worries about the future. So they say, “Live in the present. You only live once! Do what you want. Listen to your heart.” With hormones pumping and abundant physical energy, it is exciting to ‘listen to the heart and live in the present’ rather than plan for the future. So, they tend to indulge in hedonistic and irresponsible behaviour, unmindful of the consequences they will face of their current lifestyle in the future.
The misinterpretation of this teaching is not just limited to youngsters. Since the teaching is very subtle, even mature spiritual practitioners tend to falter. At a luxury spiritual retreat, a wealthy middle-aged lady dressed in designer yoga gear, wearing solitaires, and carrying an expensive handbag excitedly declared, “I always live in the present!” Her ‘present’ is definitely very cushy and so easy to live in as back home someone else is toiling to pay for her luxurious lifestyle. She was trying to comfort and advise another participant at the retreat who was having a difficult marriage and found it difficult to ‘live in the present’ as guided by the retreat facilitator.
In the current spiritual market, the demand for educated charismatic retreat facilitators is very high and the New Age gurus who are ambitious about scaling up their activities are quick to entice such students into the roles of retreat facilitators. Such facilitators, often do not know the depth of the spiritual teachings they mouth as they have only theoretically grasped them and not practically lived them deeply. They are merely trained to be charismatic and impressive.
In both the above-mentioned cases, seekers misinterpreted the subtle teaching of ‘living in the present’ and the facilitator was probably not equipped to give clarity. Truly, this teaching does not propound either living hedonistically, irresponsibly, or in a dreamy present. Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now is a spiritual classic on this subject offering valuable insights.
There can be challenges in the present moment and one has to deal with them by being fully present and not running away from them. By being fully present in the here and now, one is able to see with a wise heart and take the right actions. By not escaping from facing a painful situation or not indulging in a pleasurable situation, one refrains from creating new karma and sets oneself free. Therefore, being present as a witness to what is happening is important.
I’ve concluded that the right understanding of this teaching is to be fully present in the here and now with witness consciousness. The difference is subtle in the use of words, but the impact has a major energy shift.
It is not always easy to observe one’s feelings with equanimity and be present. It is relatively easier to observe one’s breath or bodily sensations arising in the present moment and develop equanimity as taught at Vipassana meditation retreats.
Have an abundance mindset
This is primarily a pitfall for the New Agers and not the serious spiritual seekers following a classical school of spirituality. Several young charismatic New Age gurus have sprung up in the past couple of decades, offering to teach one the secret of success and prosperity by changing one’s mindset. They have smartly marketed programmes which claim to help you create an abundance mindset.
Now, the good thing about them is that they help you get in touch with your inner calling, your Ikigai, the career path you must follow in order to be successful. These New Age gurus have clearly defined systems and processes to help you set goals, visualise successful outcomes, create a plan, define timelines, take actions, be consistent, and follow through until success is achieved. This is wonderful!
They teach you to visualise, emotionalise, and actualise a successful outcome. This is good in terms of bridging spirituality and the boardroom. They build a good bridge between spiritual knowledge and material manifestation.
However, from the perspective of a matured spiritual seeker, it is merely the manipulation of universal energy. In classical terms, it is developing ‘siddhi’ or spiritual powers of manifestation.
The glitch in the theory
These New Age gurus propound developing an abundance mindset saying that Nature has everything in abundance and you need to be open to it. It is correct from one perspective. One must surely not have a small mindset. One can achieve whatever one wants. So the New Agers visualise a super successful career, being globetrotters, living in luxury villas, vacationing in exotic locales, and all of that. Such videos are made and bombarded in the media to advertise workshops of ‘The abundance mindset.’ And it is commendable that some are even able to achieve it through their hard work.
From another perspective, this could be a ‘greed mindset’ rather than an ‘abundance mindset.’ It is true that everything in Nature is in abundance. However, someone has rightly said that Nature has enough for everyone’s needs but not enough for everyone’s greed. We have witnessed what human greed has done to Nature. It has destroyed forests, mined minerals excessively, polluted oceans, tortured animals, brought about global warming, and created pandemics.
This leads to a ‘guilt mindset’ in some and then the super-rich decide to go for philanthropy. Many a time, their philanthropic activities have hidden agendas of personal gains. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to respect Nature and care about the quality of life of their employees in the first place? Their ambition, fuelled by a misinterpretation of ‘the abundance mindset,’ drives their employees to overwork and the balance of Nature to be destroyed.
The classical teaching of ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ invites the seeker to develop an expansive state of mind and an inclusive heart. I think it gets gravely misinterpreted by New Agers as an ‘abundance mindset.’
Shuddhi over siddhi
As Morari Bapu teaches, ‘shuddhi’ is more important than ‘siddhi.’ A pure mind and heart are more important than the capability to manipulate energy for one’s personal benefit.
It is much easier to manipulate energy than to understand it deeply and live a wholesome life. It is also very attractive to the novice seeker as it helps them create the life of their dreams and is lucrative for New Age gurus offering workshops to this end.
For a genuine spiritual seeker, siddhis are just a stage in one’s path. Classical gurus recommend not getting caught in them and moving ahead toward the higher goal of Self-realisation.
I’ve concluded that instead of developing a misinterpreted ‘abundance mindset,’ it is more important to have a pure magnanimous heart.
My journey is still on, and I keep encountering new and old challenges which are not fully integrated and which I need to heal by developing a deeper understanding of them. It is important to tread this path with awareness and with the support of fellow travellers by sharing one’s understanding with them.
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