During the recent live-streamed event – yoga philosophy and meditation teacher Acharya Das defines spirituality, explains how life is a symptom of spirit, and delineates the qualities of living a spiritual life.
What is Spirituality?
If you do a quick Google search on “spirituality,” says Acharya Das, you come up with this very unsatisfying definition: “Spirituality is a broad concept with room for many perspectives. In general, it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves and it typically involves a search for meaning in life.”
“I’m not very satisfied with that definition,” he states. “Because we could be looking at somebody in a political party, in a social revolution, a political revolution, a member of the Nazi party.” Acharya Das feels that this definition lacks value. It does not help to provide a foundation for our understanding of spirituality.
However, he feels the dictionary definition works much better. Spiritual: not composed of matter. This definition clearly outlines the spiritual as anything other than the physical.
Nature is physical. The body is physical. Does that mean that we can’t have a spiritual experience with nature, or with our bodies?
“To be completely in tune with nature,” says Acharya Das, “to be completely in tune with this world, to be in tune with my body, is not inherently spiritual. What is taught and promoted within the Vedic [yoga] scriptures is that we will come into contact with only two fundamental energies within this world. One energy is spiritual and one energy is material,” Acharya teaches. “Spirituality, then, is defined by my quest to actually come to learn, to appreciate and become absorbed in, that which is spiritual.”
The opposite of spirituality is materialism.
Of course, most people would agree it’s not good to be materialistic. But materialism doesn’t just mean that you attach your worth to nice things or a good job. “From the Vedic perspective, the foundation of all materialism is the misconception that I am material,” teaches Acharya Das.
If you’re asked the question, “Who are you?” what is your immediate response? Is it a job title, a list of characteristics, an age, a height, weight, hairstyle, gender? “So, the foundation of all materialism is the idea that this body that I have on is me. It’s who I am,” Acharya Das says. “The foundation of all spirituality is this very famous Vedic aphorism or mantra, Aham brahmasmi, I am spirit.”
In order for something, some experience, to be spiritual, you must have the foundation and the understanding that you are a spiritual being temporarily existing in a material body. You are not the body. You are the spirit.
Then what is life? Life is a symptom of spirit.
“Matter does not possess life. It does not have life. When we see life, it is because of the presence of this spiritual energy,” Acharya Das says. “When life is in the presence of matter, matter begins to change the way it behaves and appears to take on the quality of life.”
Acharya Das acknowledges that this can be very confusing if you are still under the impression that the body is the person. “It is not usually until the moment of death, when someone actually leaves that body, that we’re struck with this whole new reality that this body lying in front of me is actually not a person.”
We realize at death that the body was simply taking on a living state because it was inhabited by the life particle, the spiritual existence that was associated with it. Once that life particle leaves the body, the physical body is no longer a living thing.
Understanding this helps us further understand human behavior.
“In this world, all living beings search for happiness, and we search for happiness because it is the eternal nature of the soul, of the living being, the spirit soul, or what is accurately described in the Vedas as the atma, or self,” Acharya Das explains. “My eternal nature is to exist in a state of happiness.”
“So, when I am embodied, when I am inside this body and completely identifying with it, I will attempt to seek to fulfill my desire for happiness, my quest for happiness, with this body, through this body, in relation to this body, in the hope (and it’s a vain hope) that I will actually experience true fulfillment.”
Acharya Das says that when you are completely identifying as your physical body, “…you will experience constant insecurities, frustrations, fears, because everything that you are doing is… trying to feed the body and neglecting the spiritual person within.”
You are living a material existence. “And for this reason, we experience unhappiness.”
How can we have a spiritual experience?
“In the Bhagavad-Gita, there are three verses which describe a truly spiritual condition as opposed to a material condition. It describes that, ‘In the stage of spiritual perfection called samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by the practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self.’”
When you reach a transcendental state, you are no longer affected by the material world.
“Being situated in such a position,” says Acharya Das, “one is never shaken, even in the midst of the greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact. So, the spiritual experience, the spiritual realization, the spiritual perspective, makes it so that even while we live within this world and within this body, it completely alters three different things: our view of this world, our view of others, and our view of our self. It is this understanding of my true spiritual identity that creates spiritual understanding, and creates the opportunity to live a spiritual life.”
“So, how does a yogi view the world?” asks Acharya Das. “They see the world as being temporary, changing, and it is not my home.”
He explains that the yogi sees the world as constantly changing, a temporary abode, and that matter is all “…fundamentally the same stuff, just in different shapes and forms.” No matter how you try to manipulate matter, how you try to use it, or if you try to own it, material things here on earth will not provide you with a true sense of happiness or fulfillment. Why? Because these “atomic particles do not contain the quality of ananda, or blissfulness.”
The yogi also understands that he cannot own this world. “It was all here before I showed up in this particular life and it will all be here when I’m gone,” says Acharya Das. “The idea of laying claim to it as mine is going to be an enormous source of anxiety and difficulty for me.”
It is the feeling of ownership of material things, of the physical world, that creates a sense of inequality and unrest. “In relation to all others, it is very simple,” teaches Acharya Das. “In the Bhagavad-Gita, there is a wonderful verse that states, ‘He is a perfect yogi who by comparison with his own self sees the true equality of all beings, both in their happiness and in their distress, O Arjuna.’ With such a perspective, one lives with a profound feeling of respect, of compassion, and of care.”
The Bhagavad-Gita also describes two characteristics of real spiritual vision in relation to others, says Acharya Das. These two characteristics are: non-violence, and compassion for all living entities. By this, it means that you cannot claim to be a spiritual being, and yet act violently toward others or show little compassion. Acharya Das agrees with the Dalai Lama, who said, “If you want to experience happiness in this life, two things are required: you must have purpose, and you must serve others.”
“This is the key to happiness,” agrees Acharya Das. “This is an eternal spiritual principle.”
While it may seem like human nature to want to be on top, to want to be the winner at all costs, that is a temporary material happiness which will eventually leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled. Why? Because that is not our true nature. Our true nature is to serve others, and our purpose is to go on this journey of self-discovery.