If you are part of this blog group, chances are high that you are a seeker of spiritual enlightenment. For me and I think most of us, spiritual growth is also a goal for us, not necessarily the solitary goal for life. Spiritual fulfilment is just one of the many desires that we express now and then depending on the mood. Multiple desires assail us and each day we usually flow from a spiritual plane to a material plane very easily. On other hand, it takes a huge effort to move to a spiritual plane from material plane. Of course, there are days when being in a spiritual plane comes very easily. Ever wonder when this movement to a spiritual plane is easy and how is it different from other days when despite best efforts to come to the spiritual plane, one is riddled with failure or at best a poor version of spiritual satisfaction that is gained on other days.
From a dear friend as well as from several wise men I have heard the advise that don’t resist to flow of life and if current day is tending towards materialistic tendencies, let it flow. This for me is a conflict. Not resisting the tendencies is equivalent of letting my desires run amok and push me far away from my spiritual goal. While I understand offering flow to the materialistic tendency for some time, I get jittery about allowing it total freedom. My past experiences has made me wise to the fact that such desires are ceaseless and they lead me to nowhere and usually take me away from that inner peace that I yearn for. Just to give a picture on what does materialistic tendencies look like – Materialistic tendencies refers to those urge from within that pushes us on errands contrary to us going inward. Primary premise of such tendencies being that “I am” not getting enough attention from people around – let me do those activities that will bring attention- This could mean earning more money, getting fame, or continuously looking outward for means to promote attention to self (In a way- this article is also a form of soliciting attention to self).
So here is the mental dilemma – do I flow along with the natural tendency and continue in materialistic plane or do I offer resistance and keep trying to practice moving to the spiritual plane despite the stiff opposition? If we are honest, then we will agree that often when we flow against these natural materialistic tendencies, the meditation that we may practice at such times also does not seem to bear fruits and feels false or dishonest internally.
This got me thinking – a lot! One word ringed within as a clue and I had to research on that word. That word is “Tapas”. The common knowledge available with Indians is that tapas means austerity or penance (Tapasya). Tapas a sanskrit word has its root in word “tapa” which means “to burn”. Deep dive into the significance was very revealing (couresy: Wikipedia). Seemingly, the root tapa relates to heat necessary for biological birth and the origin is traced to motherly warmth and heat provided by birds such as hens upon her eggs – a process necessary for hatching and birth. Wikipedia mentions that the Vedic scholars used mother nature’s example to explain and extend this concept to hatching of knowledge and spiritual rebirth. The Atharva Veda suggests all the gods were tapas-born and all earthly life was created from the sun’s tapas. Tapasya literally “produced by heat”, refers to a personal endeavor of discipline, undertaken to achieve a goal. Wow!
So armed with above information, can our efforts to continue with resisting natural flow of own day to day materialistic tendencies be likened to tapasya?? Another interesting titbit from Wikipedia that is relevant is that “The Chāndogya Upaniṣad suggests that those who engage in ritualistic offerings to gods and priests will fail in their spiritual practice while those who engage in tapas and self-examination will succeed.”.
To me, this means that insisting on just ritualistically going through the acts of meditation everyday also does not help. Incidentally, (again courtesy Wikipedia) texts by Adi Sankara suggests Tapas is important, but not sufficient for spiritual practice.
Now let me come back to resisting the natural flow of tendencies towards outward attractions and its related repercussions. Seemingly, this resistance is like a suppression and it has the potential of pushing back strongly one day or the other making us feel miserable again. That is why many wise people advise us to flow with life currents rather than move against it. So this looks like a catch 22 situation. On one hand, we need to do tapasya for spiritual progress, on other hand we may be subject to potential miseries and mental breakdown on later date!
Some of my personal counter to above that I share are rooted in my limited knowledge of yoga sutras. The word “Tapas” comes in the opening para of the 2nd chapter of Patanajali sutras. The first sutra says “Tapah Swadhyay Ishwar pranidhanani Kriya yoga” The sutra translated means that kriya yoga refers to the practice of Tapas (austerity), swadhyay (self inquiry) and Ishwar pranidhan(surrender to God).
Whether we should flow with our immediate desires and tendencies that takes us away from our spiritual endevaour depends on the intensity of the desire within. If the materialistic desire has too much momentum, it makes sense to sway and move along with it till the momentum is reduced to manageable limits. Yet at such times, it is important to continue with the other two practice of Kriya yoga viz. self-inquiry and surrender to god or higher powers. When we manage to do this, even if we have moved away from our spiritual goal, the chances of us getting back on track is definite and higher. In a stock market parlance, this would be the small pull-back before the next upswing.
However, for a person who thinks that just flowing with the desires is good enough and we will still get to the goal (spiritual plane), my logical mind tells me this thought is also right, but it is the longest possible route. Here I think, the tapas is in undergoing multiple births before spiritual bliss is attained. When we do a mix of resistance (once tendencies diminish to manageable limits) and acceptance of materialistic flow (when intense) and combine it with self-inquiry and surrender to god, we are on a fast track mode to spiritual bliss.
Tapas or spiritual heat is must for hatching of true knowledge and spiritual growth. We only choose either knowingly or unknowingly a “shorter” or “longer” route to spiritual bliss. This is a journey and I think that giving impetus to our internal “viveka buddhi”(power of discrimination) by continuous self-inquiry and surrender to higher powers combined with willful resistance to natural materialistic tendencies (when they are manageable) can hasten our realization of the ultimate truth. If you have read till here, I hope that my sharing helps you also find a better method to progress in your own journey to self-realization. God bless all of us!