In our last article we mentioned that if we want our plant of spirituality to grow strongly, then just as in the growing of ordinary plants – we need good soil, regular watering, regular weeding and also some careful protection for our spiritual growth. Good soil can be compared to peacefulness and soft heartedness, and if we have these attributes, then this will certainly be conducive for strong spiritual progress/growth.
We also talked about the harmful effects of intoxicants, and how they can disturb our peaceful condition. Various kinds of gambling are another sure fire way to remain stressed and always in anxiety – and if we are always in anxiety, how can any successful meditation take place? For this reason Yoga teaching advises that we refrain from gambling and taking intoxicants.
Another advice is that we become vegetarian. One of the qualities of the genuine spiritual character is soft heartedness – and not just towards our fellow humans, but to all living beings. However much humans may feel to be more ‘civilized’ and superior to other living beings, we should nevertheless respect the fact that they too have their own lives to live. That respect is what will make us truly civilised. Just as we humans would not appreciate being ‘dinner’ for some supposedly more ‘advanced’ species, we should show some basic courtesy for animals in that regard. In this way we are not only doing the animals a favour, but we are doing ourselves a favour by becoming more softhearted, compassionate, and thus fitter for spiritual development.
Another advice of Yoga teaching is that we be a little caring and respectful in our relationships with others. This is another quality of a softhearted person. Being caring and respectful in our relationships means being responsible for how we see and treat others. We should see others as spiritual beings, not just bodies – pieces of meat, to be whimsically used and then dumped after we have satisfied ourselves. How many relationships have been destroyed simply because people no longer found their partner physically attractive? I don’t like the way you look anymore – bye bye. Or perhaps there may be some other superficial reason for breaking up, oftentimes leaving the other person emotionally wounded, sometimes to the point of full on heartbreak. If there are children involved, they usually suffer even more deeply than the adults involved, and for longer periods of time. So we are advised to be caring about others in this regard – this will keep our hearts soft.
In summary, these four simple principles can help us create and maintain the soft, warm and fertile soil that is required for spiritual growth. Refraining from intoxicants and anxiety filled gambling help us to be calm and peaceful, while refraining from killing/eating animals and maintaining a high level of care and respect for others helps us to become more softhearted.
So now we have our spiritual seed planted in soft, fertile soil. What’s next? It requires regular watering, which can be compared to regular meditation. When the seed of spiritual desire is regularly watered, it will surely grow very strongly, but oftentimes something else will grow strongly alongside it – weeds. These are the weeds of arrogance – becoming proud of our newly found ‘spirituality’, and feeling superior and judgmental toward others. If these weeds grow unchecked, there is not only the chance, but the absolute certainty that they will choke our spiritual creeper and it in its place – a perversion of genuine spirituality will arise. Ongoing and vigilant introspection will help us deal with these weeds. If we simply become aware of our arrogance through introspection (and/or sometimes with a little help from our friends), and we accept it as a reality, then under that glaring spotlight of awareness, arrogance will automatically shrink in embarrassment.
Next, our plant needs to be protected. When we begin to grow spiritually, most people will at some point have to protect their spiritual garden. From what? From the cynicism and the slurs that will sometimes be hurled our way by ignorant people. If we let these slurs pass, it can be compared to letting someone stomp on or poison our plant. So sometimes we are advised to keep our plant covered and hidden, especially in the early stages of growth when we may not know how to properly deal with these slurs.
So to summarize all these points: Our spiritual desire (seed) needs good ground to grow in. That ground is provided by four main guidelines. Steer clear of intoxicants and gambling which will create all kinds of anxiety and instability. We can also keep our hearts soft and warm by having respect for all living entities. Respect animals by not treating them cruelly, and not carving them up for our food, and maintain a high degree of respect for other people by caring for them in all circumstances, and not whimsically using them, and then just as whimsically, dropping them when they are no longer of any ‘use’ to us. One of the characteristics of genuine spiritual growth is humility, so we should constantly strive for this by being vigilant in the matter of unwanted weeds (arrogance). Regular watering (meditation) is also essential, as is the protection of our soft young spiritual plant. As we grow spiritually and become stronger, we can more easily protect ourselves, but if we are a young and fragile plant, we should avoid any situations where we or others are likely to be criticized ( poisoned or stomped on) by those who lack any appreciation for the ways of spiritual life.