One of the important points that I always make when explaining spiritual development, is that that it’s not helpful for people to feel that they have joined a team or a group of some kind ~ as in for example, ‘I’m a Christian now’ or ‘I’m a Buddhist now’ or whatever.
There may be some nice things about being a Christian or a Buddhist but according to yoga teachings, our true nature lies beyond the limiting nature of such superficial labels. Our real identity is spiritual, and our natural position in the greater order of things, is that we are all spiritual sparks or offspring of the Supreme Spirit. This sweeping understanding truly takes care of everything, and so we really don’t need to get caught up in various kinds of labelling activities, which in so many cases, do nothing more than create unwanted divisions among the peoples of the world.
This does not mean that we can’t have associates and close friends with whom we share our spiritual journey ~ that is perfectly natural. And of course it’s also natural that if we are interested in spiritual development, we will seek out a teacher who can help us in that quest.
When we do this however, we need to be aware of the danger of falling into the ‘I’ve joined the right team’ mentality. I was recently talking about all this with one of the people who comes regularly to my meditation sessions, and she correctly pointed out that even if a person has a good teacher, (and let’s say even the best teacher), that doesn’t necessarily say anything about their own spiritual standard.
Just like in a classroom in some school somewhere ~ twenty people may be in the class and although they may have the best teacher in the world, that doesn’t mean they have all graduated. So although the students may be legitimately excited about having a good teacher, and although there will be some natural camaraderie with their classmates, they shouldn’t get lazy and assume much more than that. Their progress will depend on their own efforts – not the efforts of the other people in the class. The class does not graduate as one.
This very same understanding applies in the field of spiritual development, but unfortunately great numbers of people don’t seem to get it. They oftentimes think ‘Oh I’m a Catholic, I’m on the right team ~ I’m saved’, or ‘I’m a this or that, I’m on the right team ~ I’m saved’ etc, etc. This is a huge mistake. If we are to make real spiritual progress, we will have to find the gear that takes us beyond superficial declarations of allegiance.
It was nearly forty years ago that my spiritual teacher wrote a nice song about the superficialities of joining a group, and the lyrics ring just as true now as they did all those years ago:
It’s easy for me to change my space, to go from here, to another place.
And it’s easy for me, to change my looks, or to memorize a new set of books.
And it’s easy for me, to grow or cut my hair, or to bow to someone, my allegiance declare.
And it’s easy for me to know that I’m right, and for my cause be anxious to fight.
And it’s easy for me to say that I’m saved, to point at others, and say you’re depraved.
But it’s not easy, to change my heart.
No it’s not so easy to change my heart.
For that I’ll need your help Lord, I’ll need your help Lord, Lord.