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Spirituality And Ethics

In a capitalist society, the lure of money deals heavy blows to the practice of ethical and moral values in everyday life. At the same time, excessive stress on and indulgence in monetary pursuits results in a sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness at heart, a discontent that drives one to seek spiritual solace. In a money-obsessed environment, spirituality becomes identified mostly with matters related to yogic healing, healthy dietary habits, and moral preaching. But spirituality per se is much more than mere ethics and morality: it is about inner transformation. Maintaining a healthy body and observing good social behaviour are not the aims of spiritual life, though they are necessary preliminary requirements. The goal is much higher than mere concerns about a healthy body and mind.

Spirituality is about self-realization, the sacred relationship with the supreme cause, the identification with the cosmic whole, the ultimate reality of one existence. Possession of a sharp intellect with vast knowledge of the material world does not necessarily reflect a spiritual bent of mind. Spirituality is about experience of the inner truth and not merely knowledge of scriptures or religious practices of one or more religions of the world. It is a turning from outer experience to inner vision. It is an extrasensory perception, revealing a reality that is at once intuitive, beyond reason and argument, self-illuminating, timeless, and all-embracing.

As the Upanishads say, it is something after knowing which nothing remains to be known. With such a lofty goal, would it be right for anyone to limit the scope of spirituality to mere concerns about body and social interaction? No doubt, the vehicle is important to its occupant, yet the ideals and goals of the occupant have a different dimension than the mere mechanics of movement. The destination is determined by the occupant. Let not obsessive involvement with the vehicle obscure the purpose of possessing it. If the destination is forgotten, the vehicle will be useful only for aimless wandering and occasional accidents—and the consequent suffering.

Just as a vehicle is important for ease of movement, body-centric thinking is relevant to maintaining a healthy body for trouble-free pursuit of higher goals. A healthy mind is important for a healthy
body. The practice of yoga asanas and ethical living contribute to physical and mental health. But
for spiritual growth, these are essential aids and not the goal. It is like finding the first oasis in a desert and making it one’s permanent abode, completely forgetting the onward journey to the ‘promised land’. It is a sign of weakness of purpose to rest at the first opportunity for comfort. In any purposeful journey, there are always temptations that need to be resisted if one is to move forward. The weak will always find excuses to justify the termination of a journey short of the desired goal, particularly when the journey is difficult and the goal difficult to envisage. That is why it is said in the scriptures that one in thousands embarks on the journey, and out of these only one in thousands reaches the goal. But the result is worth the journey.

Ethics and morality, leading to good conduct in society, become the predominant theme of many religious streams, specially the ones in which enjoying heaven after death is considered the goal of life. These streams help to keep alive a value system that aims to reduce the tensions and stresses of everyday life and emphasizes love and compassion as universal values. Good personal and social conduct is indeed the ends and means of many a religious thought, and very rightly so. But for those who aim higher than heaven, and wish to seek and unite with the ultimate reality—to experience it directly — good conduct is only the beginning of a long journey of hard struggle. For them, ethical conduct and healthy body are only prerequisites for internal development that leads to intuitive experience of the ultimate reality. Again, ethical living is necessary not because of social pressures, or a controlling authority that oversees people’s behaviour, but because it promotes a tranquil and peaceful mind. Unethical behaviour is disturbing, makes the mind agitated and tense, and
renders one unfit for spiritual life. Even in one’s day-to-day work, one needs a cool and contented frame of mind to make proper decisions. Ethical living is therefore necessary for right thinking and right action. Ethical action must be embedded so deeply in one’s mind that it becomes a routine and involuntary response to all behavioural inputs to one’s personality. Only then can one be prepared adequately to embark on the journey to self-realization.