And let there be light…

Eminent spiritual leaders bust some of the most common myths about spirituality

I should first rid myself of all sin and be pure to grow spiritually.

woman illuminatedNot quite so. Without the knowledge of what we truly are, we will always find it difficult to rid ourselves of sin. In the opinion of Brahmakumari Sister Shivani, to rid ourselves of sins and then grow spiritually is like healing ourselves first and then seeing a doctor. She says, "Spirituality is healing. It is the journey of shifting our focus and thereby our behaviour from body consciousness [ego of all the acquired labels in our lifetime] to soul consciousness. It is then that we return to our true consciousness of a pure being." Sadhvi Bhagwati, an American who adopted sainthood and devoted her life to serving mankind 14 years ago, feels that it's only after we embark on a spiritual path that we grow aware of our innermost qualities and divine nature. And it is then that we shun all wrong deeds. "It is then that true transformation happens," she says.

I can't be spiritual if I am still interested in gathering material possessions and making money.

"Blessed are those who have material wealth for they have the opportunity to help the poor and needy," says Swami Ramdev. Spirituality is a way of being, thinking and interacting. He adds, "To say that the rich and affluent are not spiritual is wrong. I know many who are more enlightened and Godly than many of us. A person should not be greedy, miserly, overambitious and too money-minded." The essence is to not run after wealth. In the words of Sister Shivani: "We earn, buy and use but not for pleasure but physical comfort. We understand that everything material is designed for the comfort of the body, but our happiness is our creation and it is independent of anything or anyone outside. This means that we don't earn them so that we will be happy, but we are happy while working to earn them. Money or no money, if this aspect doesn't disturb our state of happiness, there is no problem with amassing wealth."

To err is human, to forgive is divine.

Spiritual master Osho believes that to err is human and to forgive is also human. Osho's philosophy is, "If forgiving is divine then you are raising the level too high, beyond human reach. Bring it within human reach and learn to forgive." As per Sri Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living Foundation, it is important to respect a bad person. "There is a saying in Sanskrit: durjanam prathamam vande sajjanam tadanantaram. First worship the bad person and then the good one. The bad man is falling and giving you an example, 'don't do what I did.' Do not hate a prisoner because he's a criminal. Consider him to be an embodiment of God. He has done you a great service. Don't ever hate a drug addict because he has given you such a beautiful lesson, and he has been given that role. He is just performing his role," says Ravi Shankar. It doesn't matter what happens, regardless of the nature of the event or the sharpness of the words intended to insult, our response is always our own creation. "When we forgive someone, we actually do ourselves a favour because through forgiveness we release all the negative thoughts, emotions and energies that we are holding onto in our anger. By replaying the moment again and again in our mind, torturing ourselves in so many ways, we hurt ourselves more than anyone else does. This is a deep realisation," says Sister Shivani. It's never them, it's always me is a deep realisation indeed!

I need to be a calm, compassionate person to be spiritual.

You don't need to be any of this to be spiritual. You end up being all of these and more, once you become spiritual. When we are not hurt by what others say or do, then compassion, patience and calmness come naturally. Says Yogi Ashwini of the Dhyan Foundation, "Only he who is spiritually inclined is humble, polite and compassionate. We have to grow aware of our divine nature first to learn to accept our faults and begin accepting others as they are."

Spirituality teaches us that the divine is within us. "True knowledge wipes clean the dust and dirt of ego, pride and desires, thereby making us compassionate and calm," says Sadhvi Bhagwati.

Spirituality is about finding God.

This sentence holds true if you understand that God resides in you. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar puts it aptly: "God is not somebody with a big white beard, sitting in heaven. God is love. He is space. God is to be felt in the depth of your heart. This wanting to see God as separate from you is an illusion. God is not an object of senses, but the feeling of feelings, the presence of presence, the sound of silence, the light of life, the essence of the world and the taste of bliss." Swami Chidanand Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan opines that spirituality is about finding God within ourselves. "Spirituality is about realising that what we think are isolated drops of water, scattered about the world, are actually part of the ocean. When we realise this unity between us and the divine, we simultaneously realise a unity with everyone else on the planet," he says. As for Yogi Ashwini, spirituality is not about finding anyone or anything but true knowledge. "We have to know first what we are finding to be able to find it. With so much of ignorance around, the problem is that most of us neither understand God nor ourselves. Spirituality simply opens up the doors to divine knowledge. It helps us understand the basis of our creation. Finding the right guru to guide you on the right path is the most important aspect of spirituality. Sadly, many people go wrong at this basic stage," says she.

What I eat or drink doesn't affect my spiritual progress.

Spiritual scholars claim that alcohol and non vegetarian food does slow down our spiritual progress. "Avoid use of eggs and meat in your diet. The Almighty has made us vegetarian. Meat eating suppresses kindness, compassion, love, sympathy and dedication. Man turns into a demon. His stomach becomes a crematorium," says Swami Ramdev. Sister Shivani affirms that food has a direct effect on the mind. "If the food is pure and high energy [satwic food], it will help to have a satwic or pure mind. Conversely proportional is low energy food or tamasic food that has a depleting effect on our spiritual journey." Explaining the medical aspect of non-vegetarian food Swami Chidanand says that when an animal is about to be killed, like humans, its body also gets flooded with several stress hormones. "When we eat those tissues, we are ingesting those hormones. Thus, our own bodies become flooded with adrenaline and other fight or flight chemicals. This makes us even more prone to simple survival instincts. When we have hormones in our blood that tell us our life is in danger, it is no surprise that we are angry, restless and anxious," he says.

Loving oneself is selfish.

Loving oneself is loving God. Sadhvi Bhagwati explains this beautifully through a simple example: "If your child paints a bad picture for you, you will still love the painting. You will hang it on the wall and tell everyone that your child painted it. The sheer fact that your child made it, has rendered an inestimable value to the painting. In the same way, God has created us. To love ourselves is to love and respect His creation." As per Brahmakumaris philosophy, when we love ourselves, we heal and empower ourselves to heal others. "When we are at peace within and we have no expectations from others, we are able to empower them with positive thoughts and energy. We cannot love, respect or empower others unless we love ourselves," says Sister Shivani. Here, it's important to know the difference between divine selfishness and human selfishness. Divine selfishness is about listening to your heart and following our conscience. Saying 'yes' when we want to say 'no' and saying 'no' when we want to say 'yes' makes us compromise our truth and disturbs our state of calm. It is this disharmony between our thoughts and actions which leads to disharmony in our relationships. To love others, first learn to love yourself.

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Shilpi Shukla is a writer, spinning features for publications in the US, UK, Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore and India. Based in New Delhi, her eight year stint as a journalist has had her work with major publications. Shilpi loves to pen articles on her frequent travels, celebrity interviews, health, fashion, films, real estate and any other topic that catches her interest.

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