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Misunderstanding Spirituality

If you mention the words “Spirituality” or “Enlightenment” to the average person in the street, the chances are that you’ll be laughed at. At least over the last couple of decades, the concept of spirituality has become contorted into a huge money making racket full of self-help books, good luck charms, incense burners, healing crystals, mind-altering drugs, and a plethora of bogus gurus who promise enlightenment through performing meaningless rituals or sitting for days on end doing nothing but meditate. Hardly anybody takes this stuff seriously anymore, and even those who do can find themselves trapped in the same confusion of vibrant images, misleading lifestyle choices, and loud voices all screaming for attention and the money in their wallets until they give up in frustration and disappointment.

It’s not that people don’t want to be spiritual, “enlightened”, or improve themselves, but something has gone horribly wrong with a way of living which was supposed to be easy and pure. Maybe it’s simply a difference in Western thought processes, socialisation, the evils of capitalism, or education, but for some reason many people get hooked on a quest for enlightenment where they are always chasing and never finding. Some of them spend their whole lives frustratingly tantalized or trapped in this new form of ascetic drudgery. It is far too easy to become fixated on labelling ourselves as spiritual and then misuse the concept of spirituality as a pretentious excuse to selfishly remain separate and alienated from other human beings.

No wonder being “spiritual” has gained such a bad reputation and been written off by those who only see it as something which can be attained. But with so many still trying and failing to reach the coveted stage of “enlightened”, is it simply because none of them truly understand what enlightenment is? Maybe they don’t know what it is that they are looking for in the first place? And then, even if they find enlightenment, what exactly are they supposed to do with it?

Enlightenment is a term which has so gained so many meanings in Western culture that it is hard to decipher what it really means. Many believe that it involves meditating alone in a cave for many years until an awakening of some kind occurs; an idea which is not entirely without reinforcement from the media. However, in his book Meditation in Action, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche asserts that working to become enlightened or “higher” is futile because pure consciousness cannot be expanded or shrunk. In Tibetan Buddhism, the Western construct of the ego–the selfish “me” or “I”– has no validity. The ego simply does not exist, and we should not believe that it does. Consequently, there is nothing anybody has to do to reach enlightenment. None of that hocus pocus matters. All you have to to is be.

Enlightenment refers to discovering our own being or what it is that we truly are. In other words, it is the Delphic maxim “Know thyself” rendered literally. All the spiritual teachers from Tibetan Buddhism through to the Upanishads refer to it as “Self Realisation”. It is understanding that we are not our body nor our reasoning mind. We are not our emotions, feelings, loves and hates, but rather the awareness of all these things without being them.Enlightenment is consciousness; awareness being aware of itself. Because we are already aware of ourselves and each other, we are already enlightened. We are already there, so there is nothing more to attain.

But now that we have defined what enlightenment is, what do we do with it? Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche poked fun at the Western way of thinking about spirituality when, in one of his talks, he asked, “So you’re enlightened… what now?”

It’s a valid question. If our actions come from the same place as the realisation that we are all made of the same essence despite our various masks, the only thing we should need to do is treat each other the same way. The well known Christian commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself” is paralleled in the words of Zen master Shunryu Suzuki: “Everywhere I go, I meet myself.” Thus, differences are meaningless, and the whole concept of otherness is rendered void.

According to Shunryu Suzuki, “Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, only enlightened activity.” This fits precisely with what Ram Dass’ Hindu guru said to him when he asked how to become enlightened. Maharaji replied, “Love everyone, feed everyone, serve everyone.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Jesus of Nazareth preached a similar message. In fact, underlying the teachings of most sages and mystics is that you must become humble and surrender yourself completely to the whole. Helping and healing those in need can only be achieved by stepping out of the comfort zone of social norms. While many dismiss spirituality as an undesirable contrivance, do we actually do anything to change this perception? We need to forget about furthering our own careers, bills and bolstering our self-image, and surrender to the greater good, help our families, friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers. After all, we are all the same anyway. There are many disenfranchised people struggling with health problems, loneliness, bills, or living in such dire poverty that they can barely afford to eat. These are people in our very own streets who would benefit from our generosity, and you can bet that none of them care about how long we spend meditating.

To be spiritual, you do not need to be constantly working on yourself through meditation. Service to others, relieving suffering, and connecting to other beings without desiring reciprocation is more important than recognition.

Source: Collective Evolution 

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