Jill, a student at a local college where I sometimes lecture, is typical of many people I meet: She considers herself spiritual but not religious. Her spirituality doesn't include God, she says, at least not God defined as "the Supreme Being."
"I don't want to be told what to believe," says Jill, who doesn't identify with any religion. "I want to discover the truth myself."
And she wants more than just faith.
"I want a spiritual experience," she says. "Then I'll know."
I asked her what a spiritual experience would feel like. Would the joy she feels on a beautiful day count? The delight of seeing a friend's smile? The satisfaction of saving the rainforests?
Keith, another student, says it all depends on how you see these things. Your attitude determines whether you're living spiritually or not.
"You know – just feel spiritual."
But is that it? Attitude? Does thinking you're spiritual make it so?
I prefer one of the Bhagavad-gita's insights: "Seers of the truth have concluded that . . . of the existent there is no cessation." Spiritual means existing eternally. A spiritual experience connects you with the eternal.
We're eternal, so it shouldn't be too hard to have a spiritual experience. But it is hard, because our consciousness drowses in these temporary bodies in a temporary world. Absorbed in temporary concerns, we rarely think about the eternal.
I suggested to Jill and Keith that they try chanting Hare Krsna. Srila Prabhupada traveled to the West to teach spiritual truth and give out spiritual experiences. "Just chant Hare Krsna," Prabhupada told us, "and you will realize your eternal self."
The sound Hare Krsna is not part of this world; it's a direct, personal appeal to the all-spiritual Absolute Truth, the source of everything. Krsna is eternal, we're eternal, and our exchanges of love with Him are eternal. Those exchanges, known as bhakti,are the highest spiritual experience.
Srila Prabhupada decried vague definitions of spirituality. The Truth is one, he would point out; you can't whimsically claim that your good thoughts, your golf game, and your romances are spiritual.
Krsna tells us that even in the present body the eternal soul can realize spirit in one of the three aspects of God: His unlimited spiritual energy, His form in our heart, and His original, personal form. To see God in any of these aspects takes many years of purification, of curing our consciousness of its addiction to matter. We have to follow an authorized process under a spiritual teacher's guidance. All aspects of Krsna are pure spirit, so to touch them to have a spiritual experience we must also become pure.
For spiritual seekers like Jill and Keith, to be honest with themselves is important. After speaking with them for some time, I felt comfortable suggesting they consider whether they're really looking for the truth, or only for what appeals to them.
Many seekers stop short of the full picture of the truth and end up with a conception of spirit without personality. To think we're getting spirituality without having to submit to God may be temporarily satisfying. But if we want a full spiritual experience, we'll have to fill in the picture with the Supreme Spirit, the Personality of Godhead.