What is Desi Indian Hindu Spirituality?
As the global community becomes increasingly capitalistic, the quest for spirituality grows in urgency. India, its people, its infrastructure, and indeed its very soil, encourage and breed Spiritualism, allowing religions to thrive, flourish and prosper.
India boasts the presence of every major religion in the world, as well many of their off-shoots and facets, all being supported, nourished, and living in comparative harmony. Many of these religions were conceived in India, and others have come to India seeking a safe haven from persecution after being created in their own lands. The age-old environment has always supported such freedom of belief. We will thus find Judaism, Islam, The Bahá'í Faith, Christianity, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism amoungst the major religions being practiced in India, together with a variety of The Lesser Known Religions.
Since religion is the most enduring preservative of social customs, architecture, diet, thought and way of life, you will consequently find an unparalleled variety of customs, architecture, diet, thought and way of life in India.
Whether you define spiritualism as "having something to do with the spirit or soul" (for example "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us"), "caring much for things of the spirit or soul", (such as "men are they who see that spirituality is stronger than any material force"), or "having to do with spirits; supernatural" ("Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen"), you will find all of your senses saturated by spiritualism in India.
The diversity of India's cultural heritage is demonstrated by the fact that apart from Hindi and English being the main languages of the country, there are an ADDITIONAL 17 languages recognized for official purposes: Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu - (just take a look at an Indian bank note!)
Spirituality and mystical charm have always drawn people from all over the world to India. As the world becomes increasingly capitalistic and materialist, the quest and urgency for spirituality grows more and more. The traditional Indian way of life has helped in the evolution and growth of Spiritualism. Numerous cultures and religions have thrived and flourished together for ages and resulted into the unique Indian way of life.
At different points in the history of our civilization numerous spiritual leaders and saints have delivered the message of peace, brotherhood and co existence that is so very well rooted in our culture. Arts like Yoga and Ayurveda coupled with religion have played an important role in the evolution and existence of spirituality in India. Through the ages, various Ashrams and centers of excellence came up in different parts of India. These centers have helped in spreading the message of compassion, care and positive living.
Thus, Indian spirituality is all about showing respect to all living beings-animals trees, rocks and even water and lead a positive and healthy life. It is believed that the supreme Creator has put each one of us in this world for a purpose and that purpose is to be compassionate, caring and loving to one-another. As mentioned earlier, the great Indian spiritual personalities and gurus have played an important role in spreading the message of love, care and the need for positive living all over the world.
New Belief in God is an inseparable part of the Indian philosophy. Intertwined with its sheer spiritualism, Indian philosophy stands as an emblem of ultimate consciousness. The very presence of the metaphysical God, ideally unifies with the absolute reality in Indian philosophy whilst reverberating the aura of spiritualism in the most eloquent way.
The inviolate Truth about spirituality in the form of God or Ishvara is imparted in the Bhagvad Gita, the Ultimate Literature of Life, as it has been reckoned. In Gita, the words of Lord Krishna, echoes the authentic aura of spirituality, which delicately defines the Indian Philosophy as a "spiritual journey". The presence of God as the supreme power, the concept of "Omnipresence of the Omnipotent" therefore finds a divine dimension amidst the concept of Indian philosophy. Indian philosophy suggests that all that exists in this universe is the ultimate manifestation of God. The words of Krishna further support this. As Krishna says:
"I am the original fragrance of earth and the heat of fire. I am the life of all that lives and I am the penance of all seekers. I am the consciousness of all who have developed their consciousness. I am the splendor of all which is fine."
This is the part where Indian philosophy ultimately offers a definite contour to the term "Spirituality". As this is when, finally the emergence of that Ultimate Consciousness of the Greatest Knowledge happens which leads one towards felicity and towards that eternal bliss. This is the very halo of spiritualism in Indian philosophy, which finally binds the religiosity and the phantasmal elements with that sheer thread of tenet and feelings. Indian philosophy is therefore a religious tradition. The pride of the Indian philosophy again lies in that magical blend of the concept of reality or in that absolute reality with that of the existence of personal God which ultimately leads to a meaningful life. This immense fusion further crafts Indian philosophy as the most tolerant religions. Ishvara is the very core of Indian Philosophy.
Ishvara in Sanskrit means, the Lord. In Indian philosophy therefore Ishvara is reckoned as the ultimate Ruler , the supreme power and is indeed the preternatural Being of the Cosmos :
"The whole of this Universe is pervaded by me in my Unmanifested form (Avyaktamoorti). I am thus the support of all the manifested existences, but I am not supported by them" - this eternal law is the very basis of Indian philosophy and is also the main concept of spiritualism in India.
God is the creator, the preserver and the destroyer of the cosmos. He is the divinity and this very idea is the crux of Indian philosophy. The concept of Brahman in Indian philosophy again offers a rather spiritual facet to Indian philosophy; as according to Krishna " . ...Into Brahman I plant the seed giving birth to all living beings..." Brahman therefore remains as the logo of the Divine essence of the cosmos. The reference of Brahman is there also in Mundaka Upanishad, which structures the base of the Indian philosophy.
The ideal harmonization of spiritualism and religiosity in Indian beliefs makes the Indian philosophy a never-ending journey in understanding the "Knowledge" of that perpetual contentment. God is the ultimate reality; the unchallengeable, the huge, the brightest light who is there almost everywhere - even in the green grass, in the bight fire, in the living air, in the round ocean, in the blue sky and finally in the mind of man. To experience His immortality, to feel His presence and to sense His enigmatic immensity the pious man plunges into the ocean of consciousness whilst praying.
"Lead me from the unreal to the Real. Lead me from darkness unto Light. Lead me from death to Immortality."
Out of the varied values of Indian culture, those based on spiritualism have contributed a lot -harnessing the spirit of the Indians throughout the ages. With the result, the spiritual-minded Indians have succeeded in maintaining their Indianness which could not have been possible otherwise. It has been also possible due to the fact that the Indian life is dominated by the temperament which is well marked with spiritualism.
Consequent upon that, the Indians have developed various thoughts of philosophy and spiritualism and gave to the world maximum number of systems of spiritualism in the form of philosophical thoughts such as Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Yoga and Vedanta. The Vedas provide spiritual orientation to the Indians giving them the basics of spiritual and moral life. Hence, the Vedic rishis should be acclaimed as the earliest spiritual masters on earth as their mantras resound with the kernel of spiritualism, and the Indian nation as the cradle of spiritualism. In India, spiritualism is not an obsession of the human mind, rather, it is a heritage as well as a continuous tradition.
For, right from the Vedic times, India has enjoyed a rich spiritual tradition. The Indian scriptures also throughout covering a gamut of every human emotion and aspiration have made a sublime contribution to Indian spiritualism. Due to which, India has always attained reverent place in the world. The evolution of Indian spiritualism can be traced back to the vedic age, which was spiritually coded and the same spirit was further nurtured by great spiritual thinkers like Yajnavalkya, Maitereyi, Gargi and Nachiketas.
Thus, in this form, the Indian spiritualism be termed as a form of philosophy, darshana or sight, and the Upanishads be held as proper sources of Indian spiritualism. As, these representing the high Himalayas of Indian spiritualism determine the height of the country's wisdom. As to the question what is spiritualism, the answer would be it is the inner quest; a pathway for reaching the higher truth in life; a composite thinking for enlightening the realities of life, for considering challenges of life, human values and their evaluation.
However, under the purview of spiritualism are also included queries regarding the nature of God, about the creation of the world; essential values of a human being and his ethics. The last constituent of spiritualism is ethics reflecting the fine side of Indian culture, which emphasises unity in diversity, and treating the entire universe as pervaded by one Almighty Brahman.
In the terminology of the Bhagavad Gita, it be called Buddhiyoga or the Samatvarupayoga. Some treat spiritualism as identical with religion, religious cults and practices. Spiritualism is also considered as an experimental aspect of religion and not merely a ritual or theological. Basically, spiritualism differs from religion. As the religion affirms a faith or belief about God's supremacy over the beings and the matter, and also enjoins man's faith in the rituals and cultic practices.
Whereas spiritualism exhorts his faith in the collective reality of the world and imparts knowledge of oneness of the God with the whole world. Hence, spiritualism should be treated as a theoretical approach to truth; and religion as the practical approach to the same goal. As spiritualism also deals with some religious practices, that way according to some, even the Fine Arts - music, dance and painting - are also part of spiritualism, since they also represent the experimental aspect of the religious spirit.
Spiritualism is also defined as the science of soul or adhyaatmavidya, the higher knowledge which helps man to rise above the worldly agonies; knowing which everything else of the world is known. It is also believed that a person bereft of spiritual knowledge can never bring any worldly activity to success. Thus, there is great importance of spiritualism in Indian life.
The Indians prefer spiritual pursuits to other pursuits of human life - artha and kama - which are much subordinate to it, as the same leads them to attain moksha, a state of existence of a jeevanamukta or a liberated soul. Hence, in India, spiritual wisdom, which has gained an upper hand over material prosperity, inculcates practising such attitudes that man is divine by nature, since the Vedas extol him as the offspring of divine - amratasya putra - that the divine being resides in every being high or low, big or small; that every human being carries within him divine potentiality.
Spiritualism in India is a complete philosophy of human life, the correct way of living and right way of thinking. A spiritual man is one who is detached from the dual effects of karma (success or failure); who is devoid of self-interest, egohood and sees God everywhere, permeated in all the beings; who keeps himself in continuous communication with God, and hence is messenger of God and the benefactor of mankind.
Spiritualism, a philosophy of values if adapted at large by people, would usher in civilisation that is socially just (satyam); emotionally integral (shivam); and aesthetically beautiful (sundaram). No wonder, if the age-long spiritual formula of India claiming creation is full so the creator, the individual is full equally, the absolute is full, turns out as the highest watermark of man's spiritual speculations about the supreme power.
"I'll say a special prayer that's guaranteed to get you a husband. Just 1,000 rupees. OK, 2,000 if you want kids too." Squeezed in the middle of a crush of worshippers, women in flame orange and peacock blue saris and men in shiny white shirts, in the temple's tiny inner sanctum that felt hotter than Satan's armpit, it seemed like a good time to move away from the priest trying to empty my wallet. But while I may have fled from the Kolkata temple supposedly devoted to the worship of Kali, the feisty Hindu goddess of destruction, over the next year, 750,000 Brits (1.2% of the population) will run towards India every year.
As the days get shorter, and our moods become as glum as the weather, many of those trips will be navel-gazing yoga retreats or spa holidays. The pursuit of happiness is stronger than ever, and now even Europe's politicians appear to be taking our psychological wellbeing seriously. Last year, both Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said they wanted to measure their country's happiness.
Searching for inner peace in a world where the Earth and the economy seem to be screeching into apocalyptic meltdown is understandable, and finding that peace elsewhere seems the obvious answer.
India has long been an ad man's dream, with a spiritual brand firmly embedded on the global consciousness. But this myth not only reduces a complex, capable country to a giant spa with cheap food, people travelling there in search of salvation lose out too. It's time to set the record straight and let you in on a secret: Indians are no more spiritual than anyone else.
That religion doesn't always equate to spirituality in India has long been evident. India has a ghastly talent for crimes committed in the name of religion, and the centuries-long volley of attacks and counterattacks between Hindus and Muslims continues to play out in increasingly grim ways, whether its blowing up trains, or gunning people down in public.
Where the country's ancient temples were once gorgeously carved stone structures intended for quiet contemplation, its new temples are often heinous marble and gold behemoths that resemble giant shopping complexes - appropriate perhaps for a country that increasingly worships at the altar of commercialism.
The nation's naked economic greed isn't just visible in the dollar signs glinting in the eyes of corrupt politicians. It plays out in the increasingly brash behaviour of the middle and upper classes in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, all of whom desperately try to outdo each other in the number of cars they drive, the designer clothes they wear and the expensive cocktails they drink. Any criticism of this increasingly decadent lifestyle invariably invokes the tedious argument that Indians should be allowed to enjoy the joys of capitalism as much as those in the west. Well of course Indians have as much right to the basics (clean, running water; reliable electricity) and luxury (high-quality clothes, electronics and cars) as anyone else in the world. But the idea that coming later to economic prosperity means that Indians have the right to keep gulping down the planet's resources is utter madness, especially given what we now know about global warming. If nothing else, this delirious spending is pretty sickening in a country where a staggering half a billion people live on less than a dollar a day.
Now, in an awful confirmation of the fact that money doesn't buy happiness, all the signs are that Indians are increasingly scrabbling for ways to find inner peace themselves.
The ones who are really laughing in all of this are those peddling a ticket to India's patented brand of nirvana, and Indians have jumped on the bandwagon too. Yoga may have long been squeezed dry of much of its spirituality, but that hasn't stopped the new breed of super-lux spas from springing up around India. Ananda spa in the Himalayan mountains, supposedly a favourite of Kate Moss and Sadie Frost, those well-known spiritual mavens, has this on its website:
Where on earth are these Indians? Sure, some do visit the country's hill stations, but most Indians, if told that you were planning on hiking up the mountains, would laugh and ask "What for?".
Shreyas, an eye-wateringly expensive spa near Bangalore, describes itself as "a place where you can come in touch with the rich and vibrant Indian spiritual tradition that encourages us to search for meaning and purpose of our existence by looking into the depths of our souls".
This holistic hogwash may temporarily soothe the souls of those who visit, but surely people would be better off trying to find meaning closer to home? Without a doubt, many Indians are spiritual people who try to be good human beings and give to those less fortunate. There are also hundreds of temples that, unlike the one in Kolkata, are sanctuaries of stillness that even an agnostic like me can appreciate. But what should be blindingly obvious is that people everywhere, both of faith and without, are as capable of spirituality as anyone else. Indians don't hold the secret to inner peace. Nor does any other nationality for that matter. As with most things, the answer is a lot closer to home than we think. One Hindu mantra, that you'll recognise if you've ever been to a yoga class, is "om, shanti, om", which loosely translates to "peace everywhere". Amen to that.