spirituality is undergoing a renaissance

Should we become ascetics to seek spiritual fulfilment?

Spirituality could mean different things to different people. It doesn't require one to renounce the world or choose a path of suffering.

Are you one of those disenchanted people disillusioned with your worldly responsibilities, and seeking an alternative? Is discovering your spiritual path the alternative you have in mind, but the strictness and discipline it requires is making you think twice? For centuries, people have chosen a life of austerity, renouncing the comforts of life to attain spirituality, but you are not prepared for it. Even in the 21st century, some of us renounce worldly desires to lead a life that may seem difficult to the rest of us.

Is it necessary, though, to become ascetics to be spiritually fulfilled?

Traditionally, asceticism and spirituality were mutually inclusive. Ascetics voluntarily chose to train under adverse conditions to find peace and connect with their higher self. Especially, since it is common knowledge that hardships enhance mental strength and resilience. They make people fearless even in the most debilitating circumstances. The practice of asceticism was studied by French psychiatrist, Jacques Vigne. In his blog, Psychology of Asceticism, he writes, “A simple explanation of this propensity to attach oneself to suffering as such can be inertia, what is called ‘tamas’ in Indian psychology and ‘simple conditioning’ in behavioural psychology…. Sometimes, it is more ‘peaceful’ to quietly remain in one’s hell.”

Inner peace is the destination of a spiritual journey. The desire to find this peace, even in the most infernal conditions, is one reason why people turn to asceticism. With the aspiration to experience o explore the limits of this consciousness, many have sought ways to transcend and enter an altered state of consciousness. An excerpt from the book The Mystic Mind: The Psychology of Medieval Mystics and Ascetics written by psychiatrist Jerome Kroll and historian Bernard Bachrach goes: “All societies recognise and bestow an elevated status upon religious and mystical forms of altered states of consciousness, and their immediate and long-term effects… Each society determines the specific conditions, induction techniques, rules, and particular types of altered states that constitute legitimate religious ritual and ceremony.” The authors list methods used by ascetics to get into an altered state of consciousness—meditation, prayer, chanting, whirling, dancing, drumming, isolation, fasting, sleep deprivation, alcohol, drugs, and even self-injurious behaviour.

However, the meaning of spirituality goes beyond asceticism. So, how does one tap into their spirituality? Clarifies mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in his blog: “Spirituality is something that you do within yourself. What you do on the outside is your choice. Whether you want to live in a relationship or alone, whether you want to live in the city or in the mountains, is an individual choice you have to make according to your likes, dislikes, and needs. It has got nothing to do with the spiritual process as such.”

Each one of these has the potential to become a spiritual experience, depending on your attitude towards life.

Buddhism, too, propagates that earthly desires lead to enlightenment. Your struggles, needs and frustrations are mere catalysts that help you attain spiritual enlightenment. A Mahayana scripture of the Lotus Sutra says that desires are an essential part of life, and if used correctly, they can fuel your inner strength and liberate you from the sufferings caused by them. In short, earthly desires and spirituality can coexist in life.

Walking the path to spirituality can be as simple as learning to love oneself and the world around us; discovering our life purpose; overcoming our fears and unleashing our full potential. To some, spirituality may be equal to becoming mindful, living in the present, going for a walk, listening to music or taking care of their wellbeing. To others, it may be about surrendering to nature, God, a higher power, or discovering their true self.

Spirituality could mean different things to different people. It doesn’t require one to renounce the world or choose a path of suffering. In his blog, spiritual guru, Osho writes, “Your life is already layers of suffering upon suffering—you need not go in search of it.”

Life, in itself, is a training ground for our spiritual growth. With every curveball life throws at you, you come one step closer to becoming stronger and fearless; with every mistake you make, you get one step closer to discovering what’s right; with every companionship and relationship you forge, you discover more about yourselves. Each one of these has the potential to become a spiritual experience, depending on your attitude towards life. In the modern age, spirituality is undergoing a renaissance. It demystifies the ancient tradition of asceticism and upholds spirituality as an integral part of the chaos of life that seeks a little more—more happiness, more love, more peace and more calm.


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