When the term spirituality is used here it refers to one’s being as an ultimate essence of one’s self and not in the conventional way of connoting to one’s soul and finally realizing it. But in a way it has relevance to the current topic. In Patanjali Yoga Sutra, there are only two aspects to one’s existence, one is Purusha and the other is Prakriti. For the sake of easy understanding Purusha is termed as soul in common terms. Purusha and Prakriti together constitute this whole cosmos in singularity. For the current discussion, let us not consider the terms soul and god.
Stephen Hawking alluded that there is singularity of gravitational force in the cosmos. Infinity is the principal term that all physicists and cosmologists commonly use in defining theories about space and time. We can recall the famous Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein. Touching that infinite space and time is what spirituality means here.
In the Udana book of the Khuddaka Nikaya the Buddha speaks that describes the state that is unborn, uncreate, unmade, unfabricated; meaning that it has no beginning, has no end but a kind of continuum, all things weaved into one whole. In its essence it is akin to one of the Vedhic scriptures, Katha Upanishad using the same terminologies like unborn and unmade. It’s not even one because to see one there is someone to exist separately to feel oneness. It’s the state where there is none but only the Prajna, the experience without the experiencer and the experienced.
Buddha takes us one step further in the following lines of the same Udana, making us understand what he meant by a simple logic is ‘because of the reality of such state existing eternally there is precisely the current state of affairs being grasped, as I or self. The argument is so simple but having deep meaning, ‘if there is born there is surely unborn and if born could be discerned unborn could also be.
So the described state is accessible to each one of us. In fact, the access is never closed. It is always there, we are that, but for the sad part is that we do not realize it. We are so engrossed with the gross and now and then there is a glimpse of that state during one’s lifetime.
One can feel the expansiveness of our cosmos when someone feels excited when being engulfed by the clouds in the hilly regions, looking at the vast green paddy fields, the blue oceans, gazing at the night sky and so on. This feeling of spaciousness could also be experienced during deep meditations. This particular feeling of spaciousness is also documented in many scriptures of Vedhic in origin, the Buddhist meditative practices including Thereavada, Mahayana and Vajrayana schools. Ramana Maharishi, an exponent of ‘Who am I’ shared this expansiveness in one of his response to a question: The experience of vastness happens when one tracks down one’s own thoughts, where it actually gets originated and being in that state as it is. Furtherance of things will be taken care of naturally. Songs of Siddhas simply states that ‘what is in the cosmos is in the body and what is in the body is in the cosmos’. Therefore the experience of expansiveness or spaciousness is truly an incidence of tasting one’s real nature.
There is another kind of experience too, a feeling of emptiness. When someone loses one’s own loved one, let it be a human or animal relationship, one is immersed in total emptiness. It can be acute or prolonged, depending on one’s mind and intensity of the relationship. Though this is rather a disturbing or depressing experience, it provides a true glimpse of fickleness of this existence. If you are dejected, feeling alone, thinking that there’s none to count on, there you are on dot. In an effort to avoid that reality we tend to keep grabbing things, including money and materials, get occupied or keep oneself entertained endlessly. ‘One should be utterly frustrated to have one’s path turned towards truth’, said J Krishnamurti. This feeling of emptiness gives insight to ourselves, keeping away all our worries and expectations temporarily. And what we see is the other dimension of expansiveness or vastness. Again we come back to ourselves, identifying us with our body and mind.
The experience of vastness and emptiness can be tasted willingly through meditative practices. Mahamudra, Vipassana are some of the powerful meditative tools that could systematically reveal the beyond body and mind experiences. There is calming of body and mind followed by penetrating deep into one’s own existence, leading to the path of awakening. Awakening means waking up to one’s own true nature that is truly no-nature as per the principles of Zen. That awakening is liberation in itself. The paradox of our existence is well depicted through the Zen teachings, especially the Zen koans, where there are statements that should be self actualized such as ‘pathless path’, ‘sound of one hand’, ‘Abide where there is no abidance’, ‘effortless effort’ and so on. Those who are familiar with JK’s discourses can recall these kinds of phrases. Anapanasati is also a wonderful tool which is close to the Vasi yoga practiced by Siddhas. The experiential knowledge acquired through meditation takes us gradually towards the eternal reality of life. This is what happened to the Buddha under the Bodhi tree. The death experience undergone by Ramana Maharishi is also unique in the path of self realization, having tasted the eternality or infinity of our true nature.
But a question may arise, if that is our true nature why should it be concealed and one should make effort to realize it. It’s true in a sense. But the fact is it has never been concealed. But the way we are nurtured to fit to the society’s norms we gradually alienate ourselves from our true nature and eventually forget about it totally. You can recall the famous metaphoric imagery (or a kind of Zen koan!) of a person wearing necklace but searching for it anxiously thinking that it is lost and then realizes that it is always there hanging in the neck. So it is never lost and found but all the time present there. One of the Buddhist scholars, Andrew Olandski, rightly said, ‘it’s not that self tends to grasp things, but the mere tendency of grasping creates the self’.
Further it also prepares for the ever impending death of one’s body and mind. The taste of our true nature, be it a flash of experience, or a gradual actualization or being mindful at all times, makes one feel complete and be ready for the transition. It’s not mere birth, life and death. It’s a simple transition happening everlastingly. At the end of a one week retreat I asked my teacher, Patrick Kearney from Australia, while walking around the Kodaikanal Lake, ‘all our spiritual endeavors that we religiously follow amount merely a change of perspective’, and after a while the teacher, quietly nodded. ‘If it is just a change of perspective why should we toil so much as meditative practices?’ I further enquired. He calmly replied, ‘if it is that easy for you, try changing it right now’. It implied that awakening is a kind of change in one’s perspectives. And once it is established then one can very well live this life to its fullest possibilities, wherever one is, even in a crowded market place as hinted in the famous Ox Herding Zen story, which is nothing but a state of Sahaj Samadhi. Way back to Chennai, both of us remained silent throughout our return journey. And I organized the retreat once again in the following year!
It’s very difficult for a person to approach it intellectually, the way JK did, which could only show a glimpse of our true nature. Buddha took meditative efforts towards awakening whereas Ramanar made it effortlessly, living on Sahaj Samadhi all the time. There is surely a value addition in terms of physiological prompting through chakras by virtue of meditative practices. Through deep contemplations and meditative practices there is a possibility of stimulation of these chakras, an excited state, and a sense of utmost contentment can be experienced. It’s like the stars that collapse into its own gravity, due to internal thermal concentration, finally reaching a state of singularity of density as exemplified by Stephen Hawking. Accurate stages of these experiences are well documented in Vedhic and Buddhist scriptures. And one is cautiously reminded that achieving that state is not the goal but these experiences will facilitate pleasant journey inwards but the problem is that one could easily attach with those states of consciousness, and therefore it is better to ignore it with complete awareness and mindfulness. It’s a combination of neuronal and endocrinal receptor activations, prompting physiological energies within one’s body, probably the biomagnetic energy within, which is also available naturally in every square millimeter of this cosmos.
But there is nothing big about it. It’s a simple and direct practice to be in touch with one’s essence, one’s primordial source, which is interconnected with the universe. Based on this one of the great Zen teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh founded a concept of Sangha, called Order of Interbeing (OI). One of my friends, a writer and poet once told me that the moment he thinks of meditation an eerie feeling of termitarium growing on his head. It is because of hyping too much about meditation and spirituality. But ultimately it’s a very simple and ordinary feeling of being as stated well by Ken Wilber but as embodied by Ramanar. A dragon fly laying eggs on a puddle of water in hot summer implies the desire for existence. A loss of life implies the temporariness of existence. But the experience of vastness or emptiness prompts us that life is beyond this body and mind. The moment one is able to realize that state one is awakened to one’s true nature and at that moment one can see all those great sages like the Buddha, Ramana, Jesus, already living in that realm. All one need is to taste a glimpse of it and that will further you.