Obstacles faced when studying Spirituality


        Spirituality is not a subject to be understood at an intellectual level; instead, we need to practically follow it and obtain spiritual experiences. The individual undertaking spiritual practice and the God-realised soul acquire spiritual knowledge initially from the Guru and later within, that is, from the soul.

1. Confusion about terminology

        Several spiritual words have been used with different connotations in various Holy texts. For instance, Jagadguru Shrī Shankarāchārya has said that, the antahkaraṇ (The inner sense) comprises four components, namely, the mind, subconscious mind, intellect and ego. According to another school of thought, the antahkaraṇ consists of three components, namely, the mind, intellect and ego. The word ‘Ātmā’ is referred to as Brahman in some places and as Jīvātmā and as prāṇamaya-kosh (Vital energy sheath) or manomaya-kosh (Mental body sheath) in other places. Due to this confusion in terminology, often it becomes rather difficult and at times impossible to understand the subject. To avoid this, every word in the science of Spirituality has been defined and used in the same context, in all the volumes of Holy texts compiled by us.

2. Difference in the literal and implied meaning

        In Spirituality, an attempt is made to express verbally that which is beyond words. Consequently, there is a difference in the literal and implied meaning. That is why, as the spiritual emotion of a seeker rises according to his spiritual level, he comprehends the same point differently. In the worldly sense, the literal meaning, for example 1 + 1 = 2, never changes. In Spirituality however, it does. To cite an example, it is said that 1 (Guru) + 1 (Disciple) = 1 (Guru), because the disciple merges with the Guru.

        The following examples shall illustrate how understanding only the literal meaning can lead to confusion.

  1. Question: ‘How can we carry out worldly activities presuming that God exists everywhere’ ?

    Answer: What a question! We will realise the presence of God in everyone only after attaining spiritual knowledge. We should not make an attempt to realise His presence in everything simply out of emotion, as then we will have to pay obeisance even to the toilet ! If we wish to experience God’s presence everywhere, then we have to forget ourselves otherwise it will lead to confusion.

  2. Question: What is equality towards all?

    Answer: It is said in the Gītā that the learned view a scholar, a Brāhmaṇ (One who belongs to the first of the four classes, studies scriptures and imparts knowledge to the society), the chānḍāl (Progeny of an inter-caste marriage), a cow, an elephant and a dog with equality. Here, equality refers only to the God Principle and not to the gross form. If we understand otherwise, then we will have to marry off our daughter to a dog and will have to say that our father was a donkey! Hence, as long as we carry out worldly activities, we are expected to have an attitude of being able to distinguish between objects.

  3. The implied meaning of ‘Guru gave a good shouting’ is that He has destroyed the impressions of the past birth in the disciple’s mind’.

  4. Once Samarth Rāmdās Swāmī said to Manikprabhu, “Why are you keeping those ranḍīs (prostitutes) with you ?” He immediately left them. Here, ranḍīs mean ‘riddhi-siddhīs (Supernatural powers).

  5. The one who is affixed with ‘Shrī’. ‘Shrī’ means Energy, beauty, good qualities etc. It also means being a millionaire, billionaire etc.

3. Different meanings of words used in the worldly and spiritual contexts

        As a result of this, it becomes difficult to comprehend spiritual literature. A few examples are given in the table ahead.

Words Worldly meaning Spiritual meaning
A. Ignorance Absence of knowledge about worldly matters Believing that ‘I’ am the body or the mind
B. Knowing oneself Perceiving the physical and psychological qualities and defects in oneself Realising that ‘I am Brahman’
C. Success Aquiring respect, money etc. Making spiritual progress
D. ‘A’ cheats ‘B’ ‘B’ is cheated ‘A’ is cheated

4. Extremely condensed form

        In ancient times, since there were no amenities for writing, all information and knowledge had to be memorized. As a result, it was in a condensed form. For instance, Bhagawān Pātanjali has narrated the entire Yogashāstra in 195 sūtrās. In those times, the Guru would explain the meaning of this condensed form. However, in the intervening period of a thousand years since there has been a decline in the Guru-disciple tradition, it has become difficult to interpret the real (implied) meaning.

5. Absence of worldly suggestions

        Worldly suggestions are absent in most of the Holy texts. For example, Bhagawān Pātanjali simply mentions that yam-niyam (Restraints and regulations) should be observed, but does not specify how they should be observed or what will make it possible to follow them. (In ancient times, the Guru would impart this information).

6. Absence of explanation

        Some books describe the path of spiritual progress, while others do not.

7. Absence of comparative study

        A book on a particular path of spiritual progress elaborates only that path and mostly mentions that,

        ‘This path is the greatest’. We do not come across books which compare various paths, discuss their advantages and disadvantages and limitations.

        For comparison of various paths of Yoga, and to know the advantages, disadvantages, limitations of particular path, please read Sanatan’s Holy text ‘Introduction to Spirituality

8. Difference in terminology of western

psychology and Hindu psychology (Science of Spirituality)

        The perspective of westerners towards life is –

  1. There is no cure for birth and death, save to enjoy the interval.- George Santayave

    Whereas, the perspective of the Hindus is – ‘There is a solution to birth and death; hence, make use of this solution and go beyond the cycle of birth and death’.

  2. According to western psychology everything is perceived with the mind or intellect; but according to the science of Spirituality, the soul which is beyond the mind and intellect perceives (is the knower of) everything. Western psychologists have not yet reached this point.
  3. Westerners attempt to develop their personality, while seekers try to do away with their personality (the very sense of individuality).

9. Atheism and Meaningless intellectualism

        Only 10% of the world’s population does not believe in God. This has been the situation for thousands of years. ‘Spirituality is not my cup of tea’ is what most atheists feel. This is because they believe that spiritual progress is something related to God.

        Please read about it in the article Atheism

Reference: Sanatan Sanstha’s Holy Text on ‘Introduction to Spirituality‘ and ‘Spirituality

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