Faith came into being with Man thinking deeply of matters relating to Birth and then the inevitable end, Death. The immediate insight was that everyone born should die one day. Death has always been defying understanding and it shall remain an enigma forever. This led to the belief that there must be something, which is beyond surmise, which would perhaps be understood intuitively with some kind of deep and committed envisioning.
When Good and Bad are posited, primarily the sense of right and wrong through a specific sense we call religious sense, the Divine Supreme is posited. With that Good and Bad came to be understood in depth leading to the insight that in after-life, that is life after death, the being which has had a span of life would be assessed by his/her deeds in the broad and never ‘scientifically’ defined’ categories, Good and Bad. We the ordinary people think these are just relative terms but the seers knew intuitively they were not and left judgment to the Supreme Being.
Great sages and seers, ‘drashtas’, as they are called in Devabhasha, language of gods, Sanskrit, wrote out long and inspired visionary experiences to reveal to us what they envisioned in an inspired effort to illumine what is dark in the likes of us. They invariably believed in a Supreme Being and showed time and again in their envisioned narratives what should be viewed as Good and what its dangerous opposite is.
Belief and Faith are aspects of Theism. Theism is a dynamics of thinking, which believes in these intriguing concepts, intriguing because of lack of basic understanding. This cannot be served on a platter and this is where the concept of intimate one-to-one relationship with God through a mental state and contributory way of living called Bhakti emerged.
When bad is done, wrong is committed, it would be brought to book. It would be punished. This belief acts as a deterrent to bad deeds. While asking people to cultivate belief and have faith in God, the sages and seers went on to explain the consequences of bad deeds, also called evil-doings. This is what we now call a two-pronged approach to instill Faith.
While detailing the fruits of right action and good deeds they also told us with deep concern how evil would be ‘punished’. In our languages we have ‘punya’ and ‘paapa’. The western world has near equivalents like "merit’ and ‘sin.’
Spirituality is a quality of mind, and a way of thinking, specially given to a human being. Exercising this faculty, man tries to mull and find the relationship between a human being, himself, and the Supreme Being. This attribute of mind leads man to a quest, a search, with yearning to delve deep into the complexities of life and existence. Man is unique in creation in that he is bestowed with discrimination, judgment and capacity to choose between several courses of action. Spirituality surfaces in man when he intently wishes to know the purpose of human life. When he is befuddled and is intent on trying to understand the declarations and caveats of his elders, teachers, the wise and the knowing ones, he is led into spirituality.
Right from his early childhood he finds himself presented with alternative courses of action and even belief. There comes a time when he mulls as to why things should be so, why there should be joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain and all the dualities. Religion, Faith and things like that appear to answer the many riddles in the mind. Discretion, judgment and reason are there to help him make choices according to the situations and conditions he is paced amidst. Either with his own inner resources or with the exposure he has, one begins to be drawn towards things subtler than reason like faith, god or spirituality. Thus spirituality boils down to a faculty, a stance, a condition of the mind. This spirituality is either imbibed or intuited instinctively with the stage and condition of one’s own inner evolution.
The lamp of jnaana is essential both for physical welfare and spiritual well being and the soul’s journey upward. When worldly desires and turbulent physical pleasures suffocate the psyche all around and all along, there would come a day when the individual is confronted with questions like ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Does life end with the burning ghat, the crematorium or the burial ground?’ Answers to every one of these questions have to be found by the individual all by himself or herself. It is at this juncture that the lives and teachings of great sadhakas, seers, saints and mahatmas help us to find a little light for the mind groping in darkness. It is only with a sincere effort that we can realize the greatness of our forefathers, the seers (drashthas), sants and munis. Jnaana, knowingness, is gnosis as opposed to praxis, action. This is wisdom, a state of fruition. Distinct from this is knowledge. Reading and learning about things in various subjects, acquiring skills, scientific information and so on gives knowledge. But wisdom is independent of knowledge. A mere knowledge of even the Vedas does not guarantee the acquisition or possession of wisdom. Knowledge acquired should reflect in one’s own deeds and actions. Wisdom is a matter of ripeness of the thinking, of intuitive understanding.
Spirituality has higher goals than mere acquisition of knowledge or skills. The goal of spirituality is just one according to our Hindu tradition: the release from bondage, the freedom from the birth-death-cycle. Spirituality in Hinduism makes it clear that acquiring liberation, salvation, mukti is possible only when the jeevi, the living being merges with the universal spirit; when jeevatma loses itself in paramatma. How can one achieve this merger or unification? We are given a route map to travel towards that goal. The Vedas Upanishads and our eight and ten puranas subtly suggest the ways.
Bhakti is a part of our tradition and there is no single word equivalent for this emotive word in English. It is a condition of elevated and enlivened consciousness, largely flowering as faith in the Supreme Being, the Absolute Reality or Parabrahman. C. Rajagopalachary, while introducing Adi Shankara’s Bhajagovindam to listeners, explained it in detail. Bhakti is an awareness of the Self as part of the universal spirit. It is the way of devotion not very different from jnaana, knowingness. “When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the mind, it becomes wisdom. When wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action, it becomes Bhakti.” Bhakti and music are closely related in that both are the states of elevated knowingness suffused with faith. The ebullience of Bhakti gives rise to harmonious expression in devotional song. Saint Thygaraja (Thyaga Brahma), Purandara Dasa, Meera Bai and many others sang the praises of their godheads setting them to mellifluous music. Thyagabrahma, who belonged to a much later age on the wide arena of music in Andhra, composed a keertan starting with the lines: “sangeetajnaanamu bhakti vinaa sanmaargamu galade manasa!” Rhetorically, he asks ‘Without a knowingness of music and bhakti, is there a path of goodness and rectitude, O! Manasa, Mind-heart?’ It is as much the music as the composer-musicians’ bhakti that keeps the compositions ever fresh and ever elevating.
Sage, saint, ascetic, renunciate - all are names given to the great aspirants and saadhakas of diverse distinctions. Yati and avadhoota are similar names that great saadhkaas got. Teertha is unique in that it is a suffix to the name of a saintly person. This is the suffix the Guru adds to the ascetic’s new name he gives. This is done only after the Guru is convinced that his disciple has successfully subjected all his passions and become a jitendriya, one who subdues all his sense organs and keeps them under strict control and becomes a devotee in the highest sense.
There are many exemplars of spirituality in this our land, aryavarta, where the most civilized and the most meritorious moved. The sages and seers have always come to the rescue of seekers, the aspirants, sadhakas to make their journey fruitful. There have been men like Bhishma Pitamah, an exemplar of spirituality at the highest level or incarnations of the divine as human beings like Sri Rama of Ayodhya and Sri Krishna of Gokul. There have been any number of these exemplars right from Adi Shankara right up to Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to name just two. Basically these are all sublime minds who are divinely inspired and blessed for their spirituality, sadhana and setting an example for all others to follow with devoutness and determination. There may be slight variations in their practices but all have an intense sense of spirituality.
Spirituality is not a matter of birth or one’s own station in this worldly life. In fact voluntary poverty is almost a precondition to spirituality. We are reminded of Jesus telling his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Celibacy, uprightness, a sharp sense of morality, a rare degree of equipoise and equanimity mark the spiritual exemplars. The monks in the order of Si Ramakrishna Paramahamsa stand testimony to this. Adi Shankara taught us the simple but grand truth: arthamanartham, Money is Evil. Spirituality is not a matter of physical beauty or social status. Kubja, the devout devotee of Sri Krishna and the maalaakaara, the garland maker, Sudhama are cases in point. The prayer he sends up to Krishna is highly elevating: He asks the Supreme Being to bless him with limitless, immeasurable reverence and compassion for all living beings. His is a personality permeated with the highest spirituality. Kubja is a hunchback and a servant maid to grind sandal paste in Mathura, Kamsa’s kingdom. She draws the love of no less a personage than Sr Krishna. What makes her dear to Him is her simple and absolute devotion. Self-effacement in Bhishma Pitamah coupled with his sense of duty and high moral sense makes him realize the divinity in Sri Krishna who hails from a family of cowherds.
We read so much, learn so much, earn so much, and spend so much but not many of us go anywhere near real spirituality. This attitude of mind is a culmination of hard, painstaking effort. It is truly God’s gift. Service, Simplicity, Rectitude and most importantly, Prayer, these are the means to deserving and obtaining this superb and splendid gift from the Supreme Being.