By Swami Tejomayananda
When you convert your duties into acts of worship, you imbue your daily life with spirituality, says Swami Tejomayananda
Most people think that spirituality involves renouncing everything, going to an ashram, doing penance, sitting at the feet of the teacher, studying the scriptures, reflecting and constantly meditating. Others consider spirituality to consist of doing japa, puja or going on pilgrimages.
Family life, on the other hand, is associated with various roles such as being a daughter, husband, wife, sister or brother. Since family life is generally busy, most people feel that it leaves no time for spiritual sadhana.
Attitude and action
There are two aspects to spirituality. One is our action, and the other is our attitude toward that action. Actions can vary from person to person but the attitude, the spiritual attitude, can be practised by all people, at all places, at all times and in all relationships. This is where the practice of spirituality in family life comes in.
The essence of spirituality is not in activity, but in the outlook and attitude that we can adopt in life, whatever the activity. For example, suppose one builds a temple for devotional reasons, but the underlying motive is to make money through the project. Then, in reality, even this professed religious action is commercial and materialistic in nature. On the other hand, if one carries out one’s business with a spiritual attitude, the business activity becomes spiritual.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “My political activities are also meant for God-realisation”. In those days, political life was hectic and dangerous. It meant fighting against British rule, suffering and imprisonment. But even though Gandhi was totally engaged in the freedom struggle, he was fully conscious of his spiritual goal and made use of his involvement in the freedom movement to get closer to God.
Hence, it is the attitude that makes an action materialistic or spiritual. If we study the life of great devotees and saints, we find that most of them were householders engaged in different professions. We can find a gardener, farmer, cobbler, tailor, barber, a weaver like Kabirdas, or a wise and just ruler like King Janak.
What is spirituality?
Spirituality is a quest for truth. When we start questioning whether there is something more to the mundane existence that we are leading, and start seeking spiritual knowledge, we have made our move towards the truth.
Initially, we are convinced that more money, more possessions and greater sense indulgence leads to greater happiness. But as we go through life, acquire countless objects and experience the pleasures of the world, we still feel incomplete. We then realise that something is missing. There is a gnawing emptiness that cannot be understood. These thoughts can come to any person, at any age _ man or woman, young or old, educated or illiterate. Spirituality has to be understood as a quest to comprehend the deeper meaning of life. And such a quest, such a seeking, can certainly be part of a householder’s life.
The spirit of seva
In family life, we have to play various roles. A woman plays the role of a daughter, mother, wife, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law and so on. In the office too there are other roles to play. Similar is the case for a man. We have different roles and distinct duties with regard to various relationships. What is the common factor in all of them?
Remember, by performing our duties, we are really serving our mother, husband, in-laws, or the children. The duties may be different, but the spirit of service (seva) is common. With this perception, there will be no compartmentalisation, no conflict. We can ask ourself, “How did I perform the action?” If the action was performed with the attitude of duty, then the spirit of seva was brought into that duty.
Everything is seva, only priorities change. For instance, if one’s child is sick, the role as a mother takes priority over other duties and responsibilities. We would serve the child _ take him to the doctor; shower him with love, and help him to recover quickly. So, despite the diverse roles, activities and duties, when perceived as seva, they become one. There is no conflict of balance; just a change in priorities.
Spirituality has another aspect. In the vast ocean, among multitudes of waves, every wave has a fundamental and basic relationship with the ocean. Each wave is related to the ocean without which he has no existence. Its relationship with other waves is not fundamental; only ‘relative’.
Similarly, we all have a fundamental relationship with the Lord. Our first and foremost relationship is with God. Worldly relationships are secondary; they are fleeting and relative. That is why, family members are referred to as ‘relatives!’ The relationship with the Lord is eternal and absolute. Everyone else, with whom we are associated, also has a fundamental relationship with the Lord. Therefore, when we serve anyone, we must keep in mind, we are worshipping God.
Here the action remains the same, but something extra gets added to it. Duty itself is a seva, and that seva is also worship of God. If a man serves his mother, seeing in her only his mother, then he is performing the duty and seva of a son. But, if he does it as worship, then even though the work and duty remain the same, the action becomes divine and spiritual. It becomes bhakti; it becomes worship.
This is called spirituality. This is what we need to bring into our lives. We do not have to do anything special, different or new. As we continue to change our attitude, we gather a new vision, and start becoming spiritual.
So long as no electric current passes through a wire, it is ordinary; it can be easily touched. But the moment electricity passes through the wire and one touches it; one will immediately know the difference! The ordinary wire has now been electrified. Likewise, an action minus the attitude of service, is an ordinary action. But the same act performed with the idea of duty, service and devotion, becomes a loving worship of God _ it becomes spiritual.
If a chef cooking in a restaurant has the attitude that all his clients are different forms of the Lord, his cooking will not just be a profession; for him it will become a form of worship infused with love.
It is, therefore the attitude that makes an action spiritual or materialistic, a relationship worldly or spiritual. Can we not practice this attitude and so remove the conflict between family life and spirituality?
About the author : Swami Tejomayananda is the Head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide.
He will discourse in Delhi – from 16th to 22nd October, 2016, 6.30pm to 8.00 pm at Siri Fort on: The Bhagavad Gita – For All Times and People.
Entry free. All are welcome to attend.
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