Spiritual life is a life of meaning and purpose. It is a life that finds meaning and purpose in selfless love. Spiritual life is not necessarily an ascetic life. An ascetic renounces worldly life, and seeks solitude in a cave or the Himalayas. But worldly life itself can be spiritualized. An essential pre-requisite of spiritual life is an intense and sincere aspiration for spiritual growth. However, the aspiration is not enough – it has to be followed up with action. The first step in the action is to strengthen the instrument of action, akin to sharpening the axe before cutting wood. The instrument that God has given us is the body-mind complex. We should work towards making ourselves physically fit, emotionally stable, and intellectually agile. The second step is to find a field of action; for example, the woodcutter’s field of action is the forest. The work that we do, the circumstances in which we live, and the events that we experience in life, together constitute the field of action. Theoretically, any conditions in life can be an opportunity for living a spiritual life. We can live a spiritual life doing small things or big things; we can live a spiritual life in a monastery or a morgue; we can find opportunities for a spiritual life in success as well as failure. To some extent, we create our own field of action – for example, when we choose our career, or our partner. But our control over the totality of the circumstances that we get in life is very limited. The third step is to actually live a spiritual life in the circumstances that we get. Living a spiritual life involves making the right choices. Whenever there is a conflict between the directions in which the head, the heart and the soul are trying to take us, choosing to act on the voice of the soul is the essence of spiritual life. In other words, the situations being the same, the choices that we make determine whether we are living a spiritual life or not. For example, does a doctor go strictly by the patient’s interests, or does he drug the patient unnecessarily in order to win favours from the pharmaceutical companies? Does a teacher teach to the best of her ability, or does she neglect teaching in order to get students for the tuitions that she gives privately? The head may pull the doctor or the teacher towards a choice that leads to worldly gain. But the soul always guides us towards the best choice. The soul directs us towards selfless love. Selfless love expresses itself through compassion, empathy, sharing, caring and giving. Selfless love does not distinguish between my needs and somebody else’s needs – it just looks at which need is greater, not whose need it is. The soul keeps us away from negativities such as arrogance, greed, and revenge. The soul helps us in rejecting negativities, and replacing them with their opposites. For example, arrogance is replaced with humility, greed with reduction in desires, and revenge with forgiveness.
Another characteristic of spiritual life is the attitude to work, events and circumstances. The attitude to work is that of gratitude to the Divine for giving us the abilities and circumstances that enable us to do the work. Secondly, the work is done without a sense of being the doer. We are merely instruments in the hands of the Divine. Thirdly, there is no attachment to the outcome of the work. We accept happily the outcome, whatever it may be, as an expression of the Divine will. Finally, we do the work to the best of our ability because only then would it be fit to be offered to the Divine. In short, spiritual life need not be outwardly different from ordinary worldly life. The difference lies in the inner change that the seeker is constantly working on, and that is reflected in his outer life only in very subtle ways. For example, the others around may feel that this person is very efficient, does an excellent job, works with a smile on the face, does not easily lose his temper, and is kind and compassionate. But the secret behind these visible features is known only to the spiritual seeker himself.
The attitude to events and circumstances is to treat them not as good or bad, but as opportunities for spiritual growth. It is possible to grow through good fortune as well as misfortune. Good fortune gives us an opportunity to be grateful to the Divine, and it gives us an opportunity to share our good fortune with our fellow beings. Misfortune gives us an opportunity to be grateful to the Divine for the stimulus that would keep our soul awake. If a person had everything going well in life, pleasures and comforts of life could become so absorbing that he may forget the very purpose of life. If a person had only things going wrong in life, he may become either bitter or so depressed as to lose all interest in life. Therefore, for life to be a vehicle for spiritual growth, we need both highs and lows, and hardly is there anyone who does not get something of both. Thus, to a person living a spiritual life, there is nothing like good fortune and misfortune. He looks upon all events and circumstances of life dispassionately as merely the conditions that the Divine has given him for spiritual growth, which is the purpose of life.
It may be asked why a person should be interested in living a spiritual life if it is possible to acquire wealth, power and prestige even by living an ordinary worldly life. Is it only because religious and spiritual traditions have identified spiritual growth as the purpose of life? This question is easy to answer. No, we do not have to live a spiritual life only to respect the authority of these traditions; there are better reasons for doing so. Although a spiritual seeker does not expect anything, spiritual life has many valuable by-products. First, whenever a person listens to the voice of the soul rather than the head or the heart, he gets a sense of joy, which is far richer than ordinary fleeting pleasures. Secondly, with time, he starts living in a state of inner peace that is shockproof and event-proof – something very valuable because of the erratic and unpredictable nature of life. Finally, he gets a sense of fulfillment that money, name and fame alone cannot give. However, all these are by-products of spiritual life. If spiritual life is lived for the sake of these by-products, not only will life become less than spiritual, even these by-products would evaporate. The only permissible joy of spiritual life is the joy of finding a job with the Divine, a job that ensures an intimate relationship with the Divine.