Spirituality is the timeless quest of the human soul to go back to its source, which is called by various names in different traditions as God or Brahman or Allah or Nirvana. It is the unceasing desire of the finite to merge with the infinite. It is seeing God in everything and everywhere. It is all inclusive and all encompassing. It is a struggle for direct perception - experience of the spiritual truths, in contrast to mere intellectual belief. It soars above the material world and seeks God alone. Spirituality is not talk, nor doctrine, nor theories. It is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes.
India is the land of spirituality. From time immemorial, men and women have lived a life dedicated to higher ideals in this holy land. Indian culture is spiritual in the sense that the entire scheme of life is oriented as a gradual progression culminating in the realization of the Ultimate Reality or Mukti. The beauty of Hinduism lies in its catholicity. There is a path to suit every temperament and a form of God that appeals to every nature. There is no one particular time or place or a method to call on God. The cell of a monk is as good a place for realising God as that of a humble hut of a householder. Human birth is highly valued and considered a great blessing, because it is in the human body, the higher evolution of a person is possible. In our culture, a human birth is for fulfilling four purusarthas - Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.
Sanatana Dharma received a fresh impetus and a dynamic makeover through the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) in modern times. He put the stress on leading a God oriented life and harmony of all religions. Mahatma Gandhi writes in his foreword to the book, ‘Life of Ramakrishna’: ‘The story of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s life is a story of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face to face. No one can read the story of his life without being convinced that God alone is real and that all else is an illusion.’
Sri Ramakrishna taught that:
(1) The Ultimate Reality is one - it is personal as well as impersonal.
(2) Every religion is a path to this Ultimate Reality.
(3) The goal of human life is the realization of the Ultimate Reality, which alone can give supreme fulfilment and everlasting peace.
(4) God realization is possible for all. The householders need not renounce the world; but they should pray sincerely, practise discrimination between the Eternal and the temporal and remain unattached. Intense longing (vyakulata) is the secret of success in spiritual life.
How to lead a spiritual life in the world? Sri Ramakrishna’s advice is to live in the world, but not to let the world live in you. The boat will be on the water; that is the right place for the boat; but the water should not be in the boat. If water enters a boat it will either sink or gradually decay and become unfit for the purpose for which it is meant. Similarly, if worldliness enters a man- he becomes stagnant at sensory level of existence.
His chief disciple, Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) preached his master’s teachings in India and abroad. He considered his life’s mission is to preach the inherent divinity of the humanity and make it manifest in every walk of life. He defines spirituality beautifully as follows:
“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within, by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy -- by one or more or all of these -- and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details”.
Vivekananda’s concept of ‘potential divinity of the soul’ gives a new and ennobling concept of a human being, leading to what may be called as ‘spiritual humanism’. In this, every person is a worshipper, and the reality in every person, is the object of worship. It establishes the equality of all human beings and raises the dignity of every person. The only God to worship is the human soul in the human body. If you cannot see God in the human face, how can you see him in the clouds, or in images made of dull, dead matter, or in mere fictitious stories of our brain?, Swamiji asked. It is not difficult to imagine the positive benefits that arise out of divinising human relationships. Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can destroy all our miseries and wants forever. All character qualities like strength, fearlessness, freedom, equality, shraddha, and other virtues that we highly cherish are but the manifestation of this inherent divinity.
Swami Vivekananda is the champion of a dynamic spirituality that has the twin emphasis on man-making and nation-building. Be and Make was the motto he placed before the men and women of his country. Renunciation and Service are the two main strands in the ideal character that he envisaged. He gave a human face to the spiritual quest through his teaching of ‘Shiva jnane jiva seva’ – Service to Man is Service to God. It is the practical manifestation of the knowledge that it is God alone who has manifested Himself as the world and created beings. He is both immanent and transcendent. This teaching of the oneness of all existence is the basis of all ethical and moral virtues. Serving man, knowing him to be the manifestation of God benefits both the server and the served. Vivekananda said that while survival of the fittest may be true for the animal world, at the human level ‘a greater manifestation of the Soul takes place through education and culture, through concentration and meditation, and above all through sacrifice. … The highest evolution of man is affected through sacrifice alone. A man is greater than his fellow man in proportion as he can sacrifice for the sake of others’.
The real glory of a human being unfolds with the manifestation of this inherent divinity. As Vivekananda said, “Teach yourselves, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when this sleeping soul is roused to self - conscious activity.”