Questions and answers about practical spirituality
Question: Is spirituality practical in our fast-paced, modern, twenty-first century life?
Answer: The practical purpose for all our activities, even in our fast-paced modern life, is to achieve happiness. Spirituality points to the best form of happiness a happiness that can never be taken away from us. The Vedic texts explain that as souls, we all have an eternal loving relationship with the all-attractive Supreme Lord. In loving and serving God, we can relish supreme and everlasting happiness. The more we love God, the happier we become. The scriptures of great religions like Christianity and Islam also describe love of God as the ultimate goal of life. Hence love of God is the nonsectarian, universal, spiritual goal of life.
Love for God certainly directs our vision to the other world, the eternal spiritual world beyond the temporary material world. But this otherworldly goal does not make us lose sight of our responsibilities in this world. Rather, it builds the most solid foundation for us to live practically in this world. Just as when we flip the master switch in a house all the lights in the house automatically turn on, love for God results in love for all living beings. We realize that we are all brothers and sisters in the one universal family of God. When we love all living beings we no longer desire to exploit or manipulate others for our selfish interests. Instead, our love for God inspires us to love and serve each other. This creates a culture of warmth, trust, and service, which encourages moral behavior. This contrasts sharply with the modern culture of alienation, suspicion, and exploitation, which fosters immorality.
When we follow a genuine spiritual path, even in its early stages it triggers our inborn value system. We intuitively realize that God is our greatest well-wisher and that the rules He has made for us are in our ultimate interest. So we voluntarily and lovingly choose to lead a life of moral and spiritual integrity, as ordained by God.And as we find inner happiness by loving God, we become free from selfish, lusty, greedy, and egoistic drives. No longer do we feel we are missing something because of our morality. Morality ceases to be the “difficult but right”choice. Rather, morality becomes the natural path towards spiritual growth.
The most comprehensive yet concise textbook for gaining spiritual education is the Bhagavad-gita, and the easiest yet quickest spiritual practice to awaken our dormant love for God is the chanting of the holy names of God like the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Thus the process is practical and easy, and the results too are practical and beneficial. So let’s rid ourselves of this misconception that spirituality is impractical.
Question: What is the most practical way to practice spirituality?
Answer: Mantra meditation, the prayerful chanting of the holy names of God, is the most practical and powerful method of spiritual advancement for our current age.
Out of His love for us, God manifests Himself as His holy name. The Padma Purana declares, abhinnatvam nama-naminoh “There is no difference between the name of God and God Himself.” So the holy name is no ordinary sound; it is God Himself.
Here’s an example to illustrate how a thing can be much more valuable that what it appears to be. A mother tells her four-year-old child to tear and throw into the dustbin all paper he finds on the floor in their bedroom. The child gleefully gets down to work, tearing and throwing away the papers. Suddenly the mother notices a five-hundred-rupee note that had fallen from her husband’s pocket as he rushed to office that morning. The child also notices that note and picks it up to tear it. The mother screams in alarm, “Stop!” Taken aback, the child asks, “Didn’t you tell me to tear all the papers lying on the ground?” The mother hastily takes the note from his hand, keeps it safely in her purse, and replies, “But this is not ordinary paper.” The child appears surprised. It looks just like the papers that he has torn. Seeing his incredulity, the mother says, “With this piece of paper you can get five hundred chocolates for your birthday.” When the boy actually gets some chocolates from the shop, then he realizes that the five-hundred-rupee note is no ordinary paper.
Similarly, those with undeveloped spiritual consciousness think that the holy name is just like any ordinary sound. But when they chant the holy names themselves and experience profound peace and immense joy, they understand that the holy name is different from any ordinary sounds. For no ordinary material sound can bring such joy, just as no ordinary paper can purchase five hundred chocolates.
God, out of His unlimited love for us, makes Himself easily available to us in a portable form that we can literally carry on the tip of our tongue. Srila Prabhupada would say that when we chant the holy name, the Lord dances on our tongues.
Not only can chanting make a huge difference in our own lives, it can make a significant difference in the world too. There are a significant number of criminals,
Addicts, and others habituated to self-destructive behavior who want to become better human beings but don’t know how to change themselves. If they could be taught to chant, they would be able to overcome their lower natures and become better human beings, and thus help make our world a much better place.
Question: Chanting the holy names of God like the Hare Krishna maha-mantra involves doing the same activity repeatedly. Isn’t that boring?
Answer: No. Let’s understand why.
Most people’s daily life is boring. In fact, people often watch TV not because the TV programs are so interesting but because their daily lives are so boring. Why does life seem boring to us? Because we are intrinsically spiritual beings and our most essential need is love. The experience of loving and being loved is the ultimate foundation of all happiness. To the extent love is absent in an activity or a relationship, to that extent it becomes either boring or a burden. Even if we somehow invest love into what we’re doing, there is often a lack of adequate reciprocation, and that disappoints us. That’s why we continuously try out new things: new video games, new gadgets, new clothes, new cars, new houses, new foods, new jobs even new spouses. Though all these new concoctions disappoint us eventually, we are addicted to the intoxicating pleasure offered by their novelty. Due to our addiction to newness we assume that doing something repeatedly, like chanting, will be boring.
But this assumption overlooks something essential: love.
A mother offers her breastmilk to her baby hundreds of times. Does she find it boring? Obviously not at least not when the mother loves the baby. When the mother offers her love through her milk, the more the activity is repeated, the deeper her love becomes and the greater her fulfillment.
Similarly, when we chant the holy names of God, do we find chanting boring? Certainly not at least not if we chant lovingly. When we offer our love to Krishna by chanting His holy names, He reciprocates by flooding our hearts with His unlimited oceanic love. So every instance of chanting takes us deeper into that delightful ocean of divine nectar and thus the more we chant lovingly, the more we find chanting relishable.
The mother-baby analogy illustrates how a repetitive activity doesn’t have to be boring. But, like all analogies, it has limitations. By chanting, we don’t nourish God; he nourishes us with His supreme love. Also, intensity of the mother-baby relationship dwindles as the baby grows up and needs other food, and as the breast-milk stops. The intensity of the soul-God relationship, on the other hand, becomes ever-increasingly intense as our devotion for God deepens.
In fact, when we develop a taste for the divine love that becomes accessible by chanting, we can find inner delight in all situations including deadly boring situations. Then we realize that chanting leads not to boredom but to freedom from all boredom.
Caitanya Carana Dasa holds a degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune. To subscribe to his free cyber magazine, visit thespiritualscientist.com