Is Vedanta Really Practical?
As an acharya of Chinmaya mission, I am often approached to speak on topics like ‘Practical Vedanta’, ‘Spirituality in daily living’. And every time I receive such a request, I smile inwardly—smile because there is no other science as comprehensive or transformational as Vedanta elevates our vision. With our thoughts raised, our actions match suit. The final outcome of this chain reaction: more peace for ourselves. Actually there is one more link in this chain reaction: the peace is contagious; our inward peace spreads outwards to all around us. The next time people ask for practical Vedanta, I am going to ask them to teach what is not practical about Vedanta.
Nonetheless, with the incessant pull of the finite world upon us, we have been deceived to believe that matters of the world are simple and matters of the spirit are complex. To save us from such deceit, we often need tips on how apply Vedanta here and now. Fascinatingly, as these tips are shared, all those listening or reading come to appreciate the fallacy of their request for practical Vedanta. They too come to smile inwardly acknowledging that Vedanta = practical, and practical = Vedanta.
Utility of Vedanta
The first tip to becoming more spiritual today is to become more aware of the utility of spirituality. Quite often our ego prevents us from acknowledging the joy we derive from engaging in puja or reading Gita or listening to Upanishads or just being quiet. Our ego tells us we do not need spirituality, that spirituality is for the dejected and aged, that there is no joy in spirituality.
If we could temporarily detach from the ego and accept that spirituality is the means to the spirit and the spirit is unconditional joy, we would slowly replace finite joy with infinite joy. A method to detach from the ego is to attach to the spirit. Every morning before we go to work or school and every evening before we sleep or study, we should read a spiritual text for 15 minutes. This sravanam should be followed up with a 15-minute walk sans a cell phone, head phones or people phone, to encourage mananam. This simple practice will fill us with inspiration each morning and evening, allowing us to embrace the challenges of our work and family affairs. Every day we fill our cars with fuel and our stomachs with food. So why is it that we do not regularly fill our minds with inspiration? We should!
Receptivity to Vedanta
The second tip to becoming spiritual today is to keep our minds open and make ourselves more receptive to spirituality. There are endless acharyas, granthas and sadhanas available to all of us. Add moksa to the equation and we are utterly overwhelmed. In this state we end up simply discarding the spiritual path as not available for us. But if we choose one acharya, one grantha and one sadhana, we will understand that the only roadblock on the spiritual path was ourselves. With all the spiritual teachers available to us, we have to follow the one who brings us the mosit long term solace. We should be open to and accepting of all the other reachers, but what our Guru says goes. In the same way we should be open to, accepting of all scriptures, but resort to a sastra which offers us the most intimate guidance.
Many people tell me they are unable to study the Gita. If we aspire to study the whole Gita today, we will be unsuccessful. But if we study one sloka of the Gita every morning and one every evening, within a year we would have studied this most popular Vedantic scriptures. The same goes for sadhanas. We are exposed to mauna, puja, vrata and many other disciplines. If we are able to take up just one discipline sincerely, we are set. Consider the discipline of japa. It can be practiced any time, all the time. This means while we are eating, driving, exercising and any other time when our full mental attention is not required for the activity on hand. In the Bhagavatam lord Krishna says the by chanting beyond sorrow. With the right attitude, we will comprehend that spirituality is not far from us, but in front us.
Creating time for Vedanta
The last tip on how to become more spiritual today is to make time for spirituality. Each and every week we have 168 hours. What are we doing with these 168 hours? If we took the time (no sarcasm intended) to analyse our schedules, we will discover inefficiencies. Whether it is sleeping too much, eating too much, socialising too much, this is a compromise on time we should be dedicating our inner world, rather than the outer. Think about how much time we invest on ourselves, beautifying the body for instance, in comparison to how much time we invest in ourselves to beautify the mind. Even more shocking is how much importance we give to appointments with our timeless self. Our relationship with our self is even more intimate than our relationship with god.
If we still find reasons not to ‘go’ to spirituality, then we have to ‘bring’ spirituality to wherever we are. And this fits in perfectly with the famous quote: “a spiritual person does not do different things, rather he does the same things differently.” Instead of engaging in karma, let us practice karma yoga. Every day, before we begin any activity, whether it be cooking, operating or studying, let us reflect and remember the basic tenets of karma yoga: 1) We do not control the fruits of our actions. 2) We do control our actions. 3) We should not be attached to the fruits of our actions. 4) We should not be attached to inaction.
With this knowledge on how to act effectively, we will be dedicating ourselves to the divine present moment. Through a simple change in attitude, actions which bind us will serve to liberate us. Even from a worldly perspective, if we can discover happiness in the action itself, then we have the control to bring happiness into our lives here and now. Those who do not practice karma yoga are forever dependent on chances of happiness at some other place and time. Slowly and steadily we have to make right thinking our lighthouse for guidance on the unknown spiritual path.
In our search for practical Vedanta, we have discovered three secrets on how to be more spiritual: 1) recognising the utility of Vedanta; 2) becoming more receptive to Vedanta; 3) creating time for Vedanta.
Often, at the end of a prakarana grantha like Manah Shodhanam or Upadesha Sara, the author tells the readers: “If you are unable to follow any of the instructions given, surrender to the Guru and God, and all the virtues will accrue to you.” In the same way, if anyone finds any of the tips shared difficult to follow, then simply by engaging the satsang and seva one can gain the benefits of the daily practice of Vedanta. Through satsang we learn that we are all one. Through seva we put this learning into action. Satsang gives us knowledge; seva gives us wisdom. The more we will appreciate the benefits, intimacy and timeliness of spirituality. As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no science more comprehensive or transformational than Vedanta.
By Acharya Vivek