What is spiritual life? What are its aims and what does it incorporate?
Life can be divided in two categories: physical and spiritual. Physical life can be jada or chetana, insentient or sentient, and it is an evolving process. Sentient physical life begins with an amoeba and according to vedic thought, evolves through eighty-four hundred thousand yonis or life forms, reaching its apex in the human form.
Human life is the culmination of evolution of physical life just as a masters degree is the culmination of education or death is the culmination of life. However, certain aspects are common to both human beings and other life forms. One is hunger. All living forms require nourishment. An insect eats, an elephant eats, a pig eats and you eat. The second is sleep. For a certain time the consciousness of every life form moves into the delta state whether it is a dog, monkey or bird. Even the wind goes to sleep!
The third common aspect is fear. Every living being experiences fear and insecurity. In human beings fear can range from fear of death, disease, slander, punishment to criticism and so on. Bhartrihari says in Vairagya Shatakam (v. 35):
Bhoge rogabhayam kule chyutibhayam vitte nripalaadbhayam.
In sensual pleasures there is fear of disease, in status that of downfall, in affluence of administrative action.
Psychology defines various categories of fear. I will face slander is one kind of fear. What if my daughter runs away with someone! is also a kind of fear. There is no limit to fear and everyone faces it.
The fourth instinct common to all living creatures is copulation. The sexual instinct is the same in all living beings; no one is free from it. Forget about Kabirdas or Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. They were not human beings, they did not belong to the human species. They belonged to the spiritual species, which is what we are talking about.
When you enter spiritual life, many changes come about. You riss above the natural instincts of hunger, sleep, fear and sexuality. As long as you are under the control of the laws of nature, they go on manifesting in you and that is material life. When you follow the laws of nature, you are living a material life, a worldly and limited life. However, Mahamaya, the power of manifested nature, has bestowed a unique gift upon human beings. It has been said:
Jnanam Narayanam ekaha visheshaha.
The ability to know God is the special attribute (of human beings).
This is a special right that has been awarded to you. Jnanam means knowing. Knowing what? I am. Knowing that you and others exists; that yesterday was, today is and tomorrow will be; that a certain person is your father, your grandfather or your great grandfather; that you are speaking, hearing and understanding. Jnana is the knowledge of this process. It is the knowledge of time, absoluteness, past, present and future. Jnana is I know that I know I am.
You are able to understand what I am saying, but a dog does not understand it. He looks at someone and barks, but he does not know why he is barking. The behaviour of all the different creatures of the world is influenced by their innate instincts. We also behave and act through our instincts. Our tears and laughter are influenced by our swabhava, innate nature. However, what defines us as human beings is that we can change our behaviour through the inspiration of knowledge.
Spiritual life begins with a question: Who am I? You begin to ask: Where have I come from? Am I the body? If so, I will die at a certain age, I will no longer be. Am I then perishable? The Upanishads say, You are indestructible. How am I indestructible if I can die? They say, Your body is not indestructible; you are indestructible. Who am I then? Shankaracharya has written in Mohamudgar (v. 22):
Kastvam koham kuta aayaatah kaa me jananee ko me taatah; Itiparibhaavaya sarvamasaaram vishvam tyaktvaa swapnavichaaram.
Who are you, who am I, from where have I come, who is my mother, who is my father? This is the gist of everything. Give up this dream-like world and think about this.
This is all spiritual life is. Rituals and worship do not constitute spiritual life. That is religious life. Spiritual life means knowledge of the third eye that God has given to you. With that knowledge, find the jewel of the atman hidden within you.
You will have to participate in material life. There is no other way. You will have to go through instinctual life, but ask these questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? What is the path of my arrival? What will be the dock of my departure? After assuming the human form, ask these questions. That is when you will enter spiritual life.
Material progress and spiritual progress are two sides of the same coin. The way you cannot separate the two sides of the coin you can only indicate them as heads and tails, you cannot separate material and spiritual prosperity. Two different terms have been ascribed to them, but in reality they are dependent on each other. It is usually believed that when material progress obsesses a person, it causes his downfall. However, I believe that if a person is able to undertake a task through the power of wisdom, will and dedication, it will not allow him to fall. If a person practises yoga nidra, dhyana, any other anushthana, fixed course of sadhana, or tapas, austerity, he increases the power of his mind, and then whatever he undertakes benefits the human race. In this process, he may earn money, achieve fame and become a historical figure, but it does not matter.
After all, the person who discovered electricity did immense good for humankind. The person who discovered that sound waves can travel benefited the human race immensely. The objects of our daily use have been created by individuals. How high must the mental awareness of those be who gave these things for our well-being! Therefore, we cannot denounce material life. To excel in it requires a spiritual consciousness, and that benefits all.