Nearly everytime you talk about spirituality or any related topic people tend to cringe and jump to the conclusion you are discussing religion. Much of the literature on spirituality does not help either by calling it the Big "S" word. I remember this from the material I thumbed through while writing my thesis on Yoga in the Indian School System. And since Yoga is historically attached to spirituality it became a 'meaty' topic to fill up a few chapters (no vegetarian pun intended).

My thesis discussion was mainly focused on what does spirituality refer to? And how to re-educate parents, children, administrators and in general the entire Western educational system from placing religion and spirituality in the same pot. (I know a bit pretentious to think the entire system could be revamped, but not without merit.) Getting back to the point, however, when we talk about "spirituality" what do we mean or not mean?

As per my 'lecture for today' during the meditation class I asked the students what thoughts and ideas come to mind when they hear the word 'spirituality'. Here’s what came up:

Internal Energy
Related to religion

Generally in this culture (re: North America) we have tended to equate spirituality with faith, devotion, a type of religion and the church. But is this how Yoga sees it? Is this how the Great Yogis have explained it? As an aside when I refer to the Great Yogis I am talking about human beings who went beyond the asana (posture) stage and toward the deeper and higher realms of consciousness. In the asana world these people are hardly known or in some camps of Yoga they might not be known at all!

One man who comes readily to mind is Swami Sivananda: a great man who pretty much stands in his own class. For those not familiar with him he was a medical doctor before renouncing both family and wordly life. He dedicated the remainder of his mission on earth to healing the sick, caring for the needy, building ashrams, sending his disciple Vishnu-Devananda to the West and wrote over 300 books on spiritual life. He also created the Divine Life Society.

Sivananda's view and definition of spirituality is very different from what most of us have been conditioned to understand as spirituality. He said spirituality is eradicating and lessening the negative qualities (the asuric aspects) of our personality. These negative qualities are irritation, depression, envy, jealousy, competitiveness, anger and pride. He also went on to say that no one should ever believe they are even remotely close to that goal. By reducing the negative tendencies the following arises:

Ego (less sense of “I”)

This, he said, is the meaning of TRUE spirituality. Frankly speaking I wished I had read or rather understood this sooner. I could have cut to the chase earlier while doing my thesis research.

Bringing forth this definition is really interesting, because no where does Sivananda say anything about God, church, religion, having faith and/or devotion. The latter may arise after lessening the negative tendencies of one's personality, but no where does he state you HAVE to start with it. Taking this point a bit further, Swami Vivekananda also remarks in the Raja Yoga that you should not believe in anything blindly. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase Swami Vivekananda's words he felt one should get out there and find out for themselves. The Buddha also talked about this in that one would be better off learning by "direct experience"; a similiar viewpoint taken by Sage Patanjalim in the Yoga Sutras. That is, direct experience alone is the only truth. (Yoga Sutras: Samadhi, Verses 7-13.)

In one of Sivananda's letters he wrote on spirituality: Remember what it means.

Less Ego

Hm, maybe someone can use this for their sermon in church on Sunday!


Hildo said...

very interesting view

Heather said...

Sivananda's view is always very interesting...

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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