Developing Our Spiritual Nature - A Spiritual Primer

Developing Our Spiritual Nature

So long as our priorities focus on the material aspects of life, we will remain frustrated and dissatisfied inside. We will achieve real balance and lasting happiness only when we rearrange our priorities taking into account our spiritual nature, and then act on those priorities. Even this first step is difficult for us because we base our priorities on our faulty perceptions of who we are.

We think we are the body. We identify ourselves with our physical form because it is the easiest part of us to see. But we need to reflect for just a moment: simply because we are in the body, does it mean we are the body? This body is changing all the time. What do we have in common with the child we were 10, 15, 25, 40 or 60 years ago? Not much. Not even a single molecule from that time is left with us. Yet we cling to the idea that this is who we are because all day long we keep our attention focused upon the sights and sounds of the physical world. The fact is that though we are in the body, we are not the body; and though we are performing certain roles in the world, we are not those roles.

If we assume that we are only physical beings, we will naturally arrange our lives, goals and priorities according to that perception. Our priorities will then mostly centre around how to acquire money, higher social standing, material security, physical beauty, better health and a host of similar external things. These priorities arise from our limited sense of who we are and limit our all-round development. All human limitations come from the one great human weakness of ego. The ego stems from the idea that we are our external personality, a physical being, the centre of everything. Ego is our self-centredness, our obsession with ‘me, myself and I’. It is the ego that always wants to control. It is the ego that wants to possess. As long as we identify ourselves with our ego, our suffering and limitations will continue.

Mystics tell us that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not human beings having a spiritual experience. The difference has tremendous implications and its realization helps us redefine our concept of who we are. We are spiritual beings on the path of eternity with duties to perform on the physical plane. We are not mere earthlings who will cease to exist when we die. If we realize that we are spiritual beings, then we will set our goals accordingly and our priorities will automatically fall in line.

Our ego is the one barrier separating us from our spiritual nature. To develop spiritually we must learn to put our ego aside. This doesn’t happen easily. We have to remove so many layers of greed, desire, fear, anger, selfishness and ignorance – bricks of our strong wall of ego – before we can know who we are. Ego is our major handicap. It is the bogus luggage we have accumulated on our travels, and it is by simply letting go of it that we can discover the spiritual beings we are.

A person was once admiring the sculptures of Michaelangelo and approached him in this fashion: “How can you make such exquisite sculptures?” Michaelangelo replied: “It’s not difficult. I just chisel away whatever is in excess. The figures are already there.” Likewise in spirituality, if we get rid of the heavy and gross layers which conceal our spiritual nature, we will become more subtle, light and free. It is not that we have to acquire any new qualities. We already have them. We just have to remove the coverings and let our spiritual nature come to the fore of itself.

For those who succeed in overcoming the dominance of the mind, their spiritual dimension becomes their singular reality even while living on this earth. As long as we remain engrossed in the panorama of the world, we cannot go beyond the stress and anxiety that is so characteristic of our modern life. As long as we let our senses drive us, we will keep moving away from the real treasure that exists within. As long as we continue chasing happiness in the outside world, we will continue to be frustrated. Spiritual development redirects us inwards. The expansion of consciousness will take place only when consciousness is directed inwards and upwards. The mind’s habitual tendency is downwards and outwards. If we do not change its orientation, its natural inclination will continue to pull us down and into the outside world.

Saints draw attention to the spiritual and material extremes of human behaviour to help us choose where we want to go. It is for us to shape our future and to choose what we want to be. If we want to obtain a happiness and contentment that does not keep changing, saints guide us to direct our attention inwards and experience inner joy. If we want the superficial excitement which is bound to end in confusion and ultimate pain of constant change, then we can put our energies to the world around us and let ourselves be ruled by our senses. Saints call a spade a spade. They do not spare their words when describing the implications of the choices we make.

Captured by the world

On the one hand saints say there are people who roast in the fire of their desires and cravings. They are restless and dissatisfied victims of illusion, looking for happiness in what is temporary. Attachment and aversion, desire and anger, eat at their vitals and eclipse their spiritual nature. Self-gratification and repulsion keep them constantly moving back and forth between what they like and what they hate. They are driven to extremes at the goading of vanity, hatred, sex or greed. Their hearts are empty and they are constantly frustrated. Like beggars they run from one door to another and yet their hunger is never appeased. Nothing seems to awaken them to reality, not even the death of others around them. They see only the cloak, the outer covering, the body; and since the body apparently ends in a handful of dust, their lives seem to be meaningless and superficial. As far as they are concerned, their spiritual nature does not exist. The thought of developing it does not even arise, though it is the one and only thing that could make their lives better, for they have totally suppressed the most positive aspect of their nature under a multitude of heavy weights of their own making. Who, ask the saints, can possibly alleviate their secret agony, restlessness and anguish?

Enraptured by the spirit

On the other hand, saints point out that there are people who, while living in the world and carrying out their duties, remain detached. Being always aware of their spiritual nature, they remain constantly in touch with it. They live in the midst of illusion and are not deceived. They are profound and yet lead simple lives. They look down upon no one. They do not think ill of anyone nor do they deceive their fellow beings. Their thinking is crystal clear and they are efficient at whatever they do. Their hearts are open to everyone. They bear true love for all living beings. They have realized the full potential of the precious gift of the human form. They do not merely exist but live a life full of meaning, purpose and joy. They have achieved perfect balance between their worldly and spiritual duties and have escaped the stress and misery of the world. They are people who have made spirituality their number one priority, and by living the saints’ teachings, they have merged their consciousness with the power behind all life.