There are so many different ways to increase your spiritual growth as in essence, everything we all do is in one way or the other, connected to our spirituality.
However, to help you in every day practical terms, I want to highlight 4 different paths you can follow to help you with your daily spiritual practices.
- Performing Daily Rituals
- Developing Patience
- Reading Books
- Practicing Celibacy
Practicing Daily Rituals
There are so many habits you can implement into your daily routines, but in the Vedic tradition, the most common ritual called a “puja,” where an individual will close their eyes and offer a prayer of hope to the divine, so all their desires may be taken care of.
Though people may pray in differing ways (depending on the gods they worship and the rituals they observe), every thought is ultimately directed to the same consciousness or omnipresent soul called the “Atman”).
“Puja” is actually a sanskrit word meaning “to be born out of fullness.” When the soul feels a complete connection with the divine, it becomes unshakable in its nature, and blossoms with uncontrollable bliss.
The act of “puja” (or worship), though undertaken by an individual, is actually performed by the divine himself, since through intense devotion, there becomes no difference between the object of worship and the devotee. In reality, though, we offer blessings to a higher god; and in return, the blessings become directed back to our very self.
Taking the above concept a little further, during any “puja” the mind is supposed to be very quiet and only contemplating the divine. Most people speak too much in asking for a higher power to fulfil their dreams, but this becomes an immature form of worship.
Whatever we ask for is the result of whatever our individual mind has experienced during the working day. However, if our desires are limited to our own experiences, surely, we are limiting the blessings we actually ask for during any prayer.
Thus, a more cultured approach to any prayer should be to actually ask for nothing, and instead, go deep within and simply listen to what the divine has to say. All the answers to any given situation in life are already residing within us all.
A fundamental belief of yogic wisdom is that no problem will ever be given to you, that you do not already have the internal resources to cope with. By silencing the mind, and listening to our inner voice, we allow the answers to unravel themselves and guide us through our daily lives.
A highly symbolic act during any “puja” is the “arti,” where a circle is usually made by moving a candle flame around in a big circle. The fire in a circle represents the light of consciousness that surrounds our entire being; where there is light, there can be no darkness, and thus, only bliss can prevail.
The fire moving in a circle also symbolises nature working tirelessly around us to give us everything we need. The sun, moon and skies all circle our being, the earth supports us from the ground, the water refreshes our body, the air and ether sustain our existence.
Mother Nature is continuously blessing us from every direction with complete sincerity and devotion. In the same way in a “puja” when we move a lighted candle around in a complete circle, if a lighted candle is turned upside down, the flame will still continue to rise upwards; the flame can never move down.
This is Mother Nature’s blessing and signifies that our consciousness may always be raised during the day and always move towards our innate higher bliss.
Every “puja” is an intimate act of worship and a beautiful reminder for us all about the latent powers hidden deep within us. There are numerous rituals that may be observed during any given worship, but the most important aspect to realise is your own connection with the divine, and also to remember never to ask the divine for anything, but to merely listen with full faith and conviction.
However, you perform your own conversation (or “puja”) with the divine; may the infinite blessings always be bestowed upon you.
One of the most profound and sincerest of habits you can develop to increase your spiritual progress is the ability to increase your patience.
It is natural for all us to wish for an immediate return for any efforts or hard work we put in, but nurturing the ability to let things happen in their own time, is a powerful force to aid your growth.
A diamond may be kept in a dark room for fifty years, yet as soon as the doors are opened, how long does it take for the diamond to receive the light?
It happens instantaneously! The same can be observed when we look at our very own spiritual growth.
Scriptures dictate that enlightenment can never be gained; it is something that inherently resides within us all.
It is only our lack of awareness of this dormant energy which gives us the illusion of having any spiritual deficiencies.
All the practices we undertake: meditation, yoga, pranayama, breathing, etc, are mere tools to help guide the mind inwards and connect with the reality of our true selves.
The time it takes for us to reach the essence of our true being, is merely dependant on how quickly we can remove our own ignorance. In fact, the Buddha commented beautifully on this topic when a few days after reaching an enlightened state he was asked, “Does it feel now you have gained the highest state in life?” To which the Buddha replied, “To reach the highest state I have gained nothing, but lost everything.”
The depth to the Buddha’s message was extremely profound: in losing everything, Buddha was referring to finally shedding all traces of ego and possessions from his mind. In doing so, he connected to the ultimate source of energy which flows and connects every aspect of our lives to the universe.
Some sincere seekers may attain enlightenment very early on in their lives; others may take a while longer. The important aspect to remember is we will all get there in the end. Time is not of the essence; we literally have all the time in the world.
The Vedas suggest enlightenment happens when our minds are fully ready to comprehend the ultimate powers we have within. Until we get to that point, stay persistent with your practices and enjoy the inward journey taking you back to your true self.
You never know when your doors will be flung open and allow the light to come in. A split second is all the time it takes for the awareness of our enlightenment to dawn upon us all. Use these thoughts to stay persistent in your spiritual practices and continue to keep the faith in everything you do.
Our Vedic scriptures describe four pathways for each individual to reach their highest spiritual goals.
Karma Yoga is the path of action, Raja Yoga the path of Meditation, Bhakti Yoga the path of love and devotion and finally Jnana Yoga the path of Knowledge.
Books, articles, scriptures are all an essential component of Jnana Yoga, and thus, reading is a crucial pathway to increasing your spiritual growth.
Knowledge is naturally prevalent within us all. Deep down inside, we all intuitively know what is right from wrong, but whether we follow our judgements is another matter altogether.
The fundamental beliefs of yogic wisdom are centred around the notion that all of us as individuals, collectively belong to a higher divine consciousness from where we originate, and ultimately, where we will all return. The source of our very being is the source of all wisdom.
Knowledge can never really be gained, it can only be discovered from the depths of our minds. Think about it; whenever you read an inspiring piece of literature or dwell upon an enlightened master’s words, do you not feel a sense of recognition with the words they speak? It’s almost as though these gurus have articulated exactly what is already in our mind.
Whenever words resonate within, we become attracted to those words and feel inclined to read a little further. We can only recognise beautiful literature because that same natural beauty is already manifested within us all.
In fact, to illustrate the above, there is a beautiful story as to how the origins of Ayurveda came into being. One day a student asked an ancient Rishi a question with regards to the human health and how it should be maintained. The Rishi then gathered all the spiritual teachers of the day, and they sat together in deep contemplative meditation.
Whilst in meditation, the question of sustaining the human body was asked, and they all drew upon their internal depth of conscious knowledge and began speaking the answers they were uncovering from within. The student who asked the initial question then began to scribe whatever these saints were saying, and thus, the original texts of Ayurveda were first born.
Books, when written from a sense of belongingness, can communicate straight to the reader’s heart. The texts written by earlier masters were written from a heightened state of consciousness and therefore, carry a lot of weight and profoundness in each, and every single word. These energy vibrations reverberate within us all, whenever we read their works with a calm and open perspective.
Many of today’s scriptures (in all religions) have been rewritten or misinterpreted over the centuries, and thus, the essence of their value has been lost in a mire of confusion. The result is a world where many people kill or fight in the name of the teachings of various Gods, yet if all of these Gods were to sit in a room and talk through any differences, can we honestly see them fighting or killing each other?
It’s a sad indication of how their beautiful knowledge has been completely distorted by lesser mortals over the years. For this very reason, it is not only important to read the right books, but the right version of each book as well. All spiritual saints will advise their students to be highly selective of the words they read, stressing the importance of only reading books written from a highly developed mind.
In my opinion, the ability to read is perhaps the greatest gift the divine has ever given us. I truly believe this divine blessing separates us from every other species on this planet. Living in the age of mobile phones, satellite televisions, 3D cinemas etc, sometimes it can be easy to forget about reading books, or indeed, dismiss them altogether.
To deprive yourself of the time to read a powerful book is perhaps depriving yourself of one of the most amazing experiences you can have in life. Even if you were to start reading one page a day of an enlightened book, I guarantee you will surprise yourself at how quickly your spiritual growth will rise.
Celibacy is perhaps the most confusing topic for many spiritual aspirants with so many conflicting views and interpretations being given on this very basic subject.
Read the following passage to help you gain some clarity on this issue and to actually see how celibacy can greatly enhance your spiritual growth.
Our nervous system is made up of seven chakras (energy centres) that run down the spine of our skeleton body.
The first chakra is located in the root of the spine, with the seventh chakra being located on the top of our head.
Each chakra has a specific purpose and is responsible for releasing various emotions and feelings into our psychological system. The second chakra (located behind the genitals) has one of two purposes: to inspire one to become creative or to give rise to sexual urges.
The interesting fact to note is that these two conditions cannot exist at the same time; meaning when you feel creative and inspired, your sexual urges will disappear, but when you feel dull and disinterested in life, that’s when the yearning for sex and lust will arise in the forefront of your mind.
The innate nature of the mind is always to look for happiness, but when delving into spirituality, we need to take a closer look at the different states of happiness that can exist. Satvic happiness is of the highest forms and is observed when our prana (energy levels) are raised through a good diet, positive mindset and solid spiritual practices.
Rajasic happiness occurs through restless activity that ultimately tires us all out after a short period of time. The third type of happiness is tamasic, which is actually born from dullness and fatigue. Such happiness is instantaneous, short-lived and depletes our energy levels in a very short period of time.
When in a satvic state of mind, the second chakra releases a huge amount of energy within our system, which flourishes our creative forces and fuels our life with vigour and enthusiasm. The more we extend our creativity, the more energetic and passionate we become, thus, our energy levels rise higher to release the next chakras as well.
When in a tamasic state of mind, creativity does not exist, and so, our mind looks for immediate substitutes for short-term happiness. Sex and lust immediately come into our minds, hence, the necessity to fulfil these urges become strong and desirable during these uninspired moments.
To apply this knowledge practically, think about the moments in your life where you have been at your most creative and inspired; moments where you have felt absolutely complete within yourself and filled with internal happiness.
For example, the first time you held your baby, or scoring a winning goal for your football team or even travelling to a dream holiday destination.
During these inspired moments, sex did not enter your mind as it’s a psychological impossibility. Now think back to the moments in your life when you have been low on energy, uninspired or unsatisfied with life, say whilst sitting on the couch flicking through various TV channels, or going through the motions in a routine job.
At some point or another, where creativity is at its lowest, thoughts of a sexual nature will enter your mind to keep your spirits engaged. Once again, during these moments of lustful thoughts, creativity cannot enter your mind.
Both forms of the second chakra (creativity and sex) will give rise to happiness within you. The only difference being, that creativity will be of a satvic nature and continue to give rise to further energy releases within your spirit, whereas sex will be of a tamasic nature and, ultimately, deplete you of any further release of energy.
Again, to help make this knowledge practical for you, imagine how exhilarated you would feel after painting a glorious picture on a blank canvas, and how inspired you would become to produce another masterpiece.
Now, imagine how energetic you feel after any sexual act you may have performed with a partner or by yourself. Yoga, through the analysis of our chakras, has a scientific explanation for all these states of emotions.
Nowhere in any yogic scriptures does it say that sex or sexual thoughts are bad. In the realms of spirituality and the highest knowledge, we move beyond good and bad or right and wrong. However, to spiritually progress, each of our chakras needs to be released through intense practices and lifestyle choices.
Continuous sex will deprive your second chakra the opportunity to rise and release the energy levels in the subsequent chakras higher up the spine, and so, our spiritual experiences will be severely limited. In addition, the release of semen from the bodily system takes away a subtle substance called ‘ojas’ from our internal system, that is responsible for much of the energy we have conserved within us.
As each chakra within our spine becomes released, greater energy levels are observed with our mind-body complex, until ultimately, we release the highest forms of energy once the seventh chakra has fully blossomed.
It is said, the ecstasy experienced once the final chakra is open is equivalent to 100 times the climax you feel during sexual intercourse. Also, the seventh chakra gives rise to this experience for a prolonged period of time, sometimes forever, when you become fully enlightened.
The desire for the ultimate happiness and spiritual growth is the main reason why our scriptures advise a seeker to abstain from sex. However, the control of one’s emotions has to come from within and can never be controlled by strict rules or philosophical doctrines.
Like everything in yoga, the ultimate guru lies within, and we must all listen to the internal voices that govern us all. However, through the study of the scriptures, we can begin to learn more about how the mind works, and how certain behaviours can affect us in certain ways. Once given all the information, the choices as to how you should lead your life to have to come down to you.
The goal for most spiritual aspirants is to move beyond sexual thoughts and lust, however, caution needs to be observed here.
By resisting what our mind constantly ponders on, the thoughts not only persist but also grow in strength, and can potentially manifest in more destructive modes if not adequately addressed.
The mind and ego are but two facets of our being, and perhaps the areas where most seekers seem to get stuck.
Transcending the mind is the goal of meditation, although different paths are laid out for different individuals. Yoga tradition has stipulated four main routes to treading this narrow path Karma Yoga (path of action), Raja Yoga (path of Meditation), Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion) and Jnana Yoga (path of knowledge).
Sex is just one small aspect of the mind-body complex, but whether rightly or wrongly, it’s where most people today seem to focus their attention and awareness. Sexual promiscuity is thrust upon us from a young age through films, music, advertisements, the age of celebrity, and has become a prominent part of 21st-century lifestyle culture.
It takes a skilled mind to be able to overcome these thoughts and remain firmly rooted in the spiritual path. For some it happens naturally; for others, it may take a little more time.
As mentioned earlier, there are so many different pathways to increasing your spiritual growth, but the 4 ideas mentioned above are a great place to start. Each habit is very different in their own right and really is up to you, to decide which practices you wish to implement.
The most important thing to realise is whatever you do, make sure you are comfortable and make sure your pathway feels natural to you. When something feels natural, it will be much easier for you to maintain and thus much quicker for you to see the growth in spirituality which you truly desire.