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International Forum for Neovedantins

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Necessity and Problems of Holding on to Spirituality
"The aim of human life is to realize God." Sri Ramakrishna

Selfishness and Purpose of Life
Every individual has some inherent capacity to grow even in adverse conditions and overcome the difficulties imposed by external and internal factors related to birth, financial condition, society, culture, intellect, etc. One broad generalization, however, is applicable to all in his or her respective fields of endeavor: The genetic material one inherits compels everyone to seek more and more physical and mental comfort. This is because of the 'selfishness' inherent in our genes. With the progress in social ethics, some degree of unselfishness comes to surface as evolutionary necessity; for, in course of time, one becomes somewhat considerate towards one's family, clan, province, and country.

Because of such 'apparent unselfishness' (which is in fact brought about by social and economic compulsions, and is beneficial to the individual to maintain his/her selfishness) we at times fail to see through the deceptive nature of our 'selfish genes'. Therefore, one chooses, or is forced to choose, one particular profession, work, or service based on selfish motives, either covert or overt. The lawyers, the doctors, the accountants, the office-goers, the bankers, the politicians, the economists, the artists, the painters, the writers, everyone is either interested in money or in name and fame, or both. In short, the aim in life, the purpose of human birth today, is related to decorate, enhance, and/or provide either comforts to our senses or to gratify the demands of our emotions. This 'body-mind' orientation in undertaking any work, job, or service is the basis of interaction in the world, and that we can attribute to selfish human tendencies. What applies to an individual is equally applicable to a group, a society and a nation.

The Contradiction
This tendency is in contradiction with the real nature of human being. On the one hand, while a human being is capable of realizing his individual identity with Universal Being, on the other, the genes are so structured that they try to prevent the person from realizing his universal dimension. The stress we see and encounter around us and in our lives is because of these two forces acting against each other. In the long run the Truth must prevail; and willingly or unwillingly, therefore, the human being has to break the selfish bonds that obstruct his path to experience universal solidarity - breaking free from all the compulsions, pulls, and demands of body-mind complex.

Spirituality means to undertake this endeavor willingly, voluntarily, and consciously. Spirituality is a deliberate attempt to break from selfish stranglehold of our genes so that we can realize our true nature: Divine, all-encompassing, universal personality. This all may appear too simple to talk about, theorize, or to discuss, but to put this concept of 'potential divinity' into the practice for its full realization is really a daunting task. The physiology, social customs, family bonds, idea of duty towards others, all try to prevent us from undertaking such a journey on the road to Freedom.

Overcoming Selfishness = Spirituality
Mind plays the most crucial role in preventing us to become selfless. It offers excuses and explanations that appeal to us: "You are a householder, how can you be totally selfless? You must earn by rightful means for you and family." Such an explanation appears, on its face, 100% plausible and correct. Accordingly, our spiritual practice is also restricted to part-time pastime! "Whenever I get time, I render selfless service to the needy; I do worship, read about God, and even meditate." We proudly take such an attitude; and call ourselves spiritual, and even ask of others to recognize us as such. And indeed, such half-hearted spirituality forms the main body of every spiritual organization or movement. There is nothing wrong in such tendency, but one should introspect and understand that such practices or mind-set cannot be labeled as true spirituality. In course of time such half-hearted measures lead to formation of a religious sect at the best. Spirituality ends in dull rituals and moribund religious activities.

But the mind can also be our friend, if trained and controlled to discriminate, to detach itself from transitory and never-fulfilling pleasures of senses. Such an advice comes from time to time from prophets of spiritual harmony and knowledge. These saints do not come to earth as frequently as one might desire, but when they come a huge spiritual wave rises and leaves behind a vast treasure of spiritual knowledge for the few spiritual aspirants for centuries to come. In the glitter of such spiritual treasure, many an aspirant takes to self-realization as the goal in life fulfilling the purpose of the advent of the man of God. With passage of time, however, as it is natural, the treasure gets buried under the debris of arguments and tricks played by the mind (selfish genes) and once again the usual selfishness tries to establish itself in the society. The cycle continues. A wise man can see through the veil of deception and opt to go beyond the pleasures of senses and emotions by following the path shown by the prophets, and become free.
c s shah
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