What Does A Spiritual Person Do?
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
In our Vedic Spiritual Studies program, we are currently studying the Bhagavad Gita verse by verse. Recently, our teacher Acharya Shunya Ji taught on chapter 2 verse 54 - when Arjuna asks Lord Krishna: “What is the description of the man who has this firmly founded wisdom, whose being is steadfast in spirit, Oh Lord Krishna? How should the man of settled intelligence speak, how should he sit, how should he walk?”.
This question seems a little simple and maybe willfully obtuse. In the context of a discussion of higher consciousness, why is Arjuna asking about the dull body? Questioning about the physical habits of a supremely rational spiritual aspirant (what is known as an adhikari in Sanskrit) seems a little naïve. It seems like the question of a child. Arjuna, why are you focusing on these small insignificant details, when the goal is supreme consciousness?
I think it’s actually the perfect question for a beginning student to ask, and for a new student to hear. I like this question because it is so very human. Thousands of years ago, a competent leader, respected by his family and community, tasked with a supremely difficult ethical choice and battle in the tangible world, is challenged to look beyond all of his worldly competencies, set aside his ego and his preconceptions and learn a completely different way of Being. A way of Being that is steadfast and firm in knowledge, fully connected to Self and God. How can we conceptualize what our daily life would be like, if we aren’t constantly pursuing sensory input, chasing after our preferences, avoiding things we don’t want, getting distracted by our attachments, losing our minds (deliciously) to overwrought emotions, getting hung up on our righteous indignations and our resentments? What would that even look like? When everyone around us is so engaged fully in this world of the senses, in pursuing pleasure and survival, how can we be fully established in our higher Self and still participate in the world?
What follows is Lord Krishna’s essential teaching on the journey of the Adhikari, through the Sadhana (spiritual practice) of Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga, to ultimate Self realization.
The question itself has been a powerful source of contemplation for me.
I also have had this question – and it stems from the same concern of a student semi-committed to spiritual enlightenment, while holding on to an old life with one hand. At its core, this is the fear of the ego at being lost and rudderless in the waking world. What identity will I have if I am not pursuing material aims or sensory pleasures? Will I still be me?
My ego is like a child in its thinking, and that makes sense – it was developed from the thought processes and experiences of the child I once was. This fear that arises comes from my inner child, who looked at the world and interpreted it through the input of the senses and what it learned from other unconscious actors – society, parents, teachers etc. This material world spins a weave of illusion (maya) that feels very real. The logic of the ego is predicated on the belief that this constantly changing/aging/dying experience of life is real. That this one life is it, that our whole lives are about scarcity and disconnection. Whether in regards to material objects, or relationships, or even time, everything I have experienced up until now is finite. So I hold on, clinging in fear, my attachments like suction cups to what inevitably will end. What then will come if I stop holding on?
Arjuna is asking the same questions I do – trying to wrap my mind around rationalizing what can only be known by Consciousness itself. Crossing that divide from fear to faith is for me, the hardest step I have had to take in this journey to Self realization.
I have spent 10 years studying Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta - listening intently, contemplating extensively, integrating partially. In subtle (and not so subtle) ways, I’ve been treating this like a lesson to be learned (by my mind-ego) and one future day implemented. Life circumstances have required me to implement the subtler teachings on a fast track. From the several deaths of loved ones that I faced, to family obligations, seva responsibilities, and changing life roles, all required I engage fully in Karma Yoga. Lots happened! I grew spiritually very quickly.
But recently, there have been some “leftovers” that have started to show up. Old patterns of thoughts and behaviors that were formed very early on, are being revealed as I keep contemplating what is real and unreal, what is eternal and what is the nature of this temporary life of the senses. What is showing up for me as my ego feels the pinch of change is a little bit of resistance and fear, a little bit of agitation and controlling behavior, a little bit of unmet needs, a little bit of unacknowledged desires, a little bit of resentment and ambition, and also...a little bit of self judgment for having these unmet areas at all. After all, isn’t a “spiritual” person past this?
As Arjuna asks - what does the spiritual person DO? What does a spiritual person look like? How does s/he walk in the world? It is Arjuna’s small-self ego, his inner child, crying out “will there be anything left of me?” My inner child is asking these same questions, and through Lord Krishna’s teachings on the practice of Yoga, my teacher is guiding me with compassion and wisdom.
Lord Krishna lays out a clear path through Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga to become stable and disciplined in our mind, with the promise that if we manage this we will attain a lasting peace, not swayed by the circumstances of the world.
Like Arjuna, I can make a choice from a space of trust - that in following these directives my mind can change and my whole perspective will shift. The question arises from fear, the answer comes from divinely revealed knowledge, and the practice starts with a single step fueled by faith. The ego says - what if it doesn’t work? My higher Self (Atman) says - what if it does?
Thank you Arjuna, for asking these questions – your transparency has gifted us modern seekers with the whole of the Bhagavad Gita.
The author Aparna Amy Lewis is a long-term student of Acharya Shunya, and served as the Dean of Vedika’s Spiritual Studies program.
Learn from Acharya Shunya by tuning in to her LIVE Global Satsang held on the first Sunday of every month on YouTube.