The popular conception of India pictures it as a land of religions or mysticism or yoga but without any clear understanding of these terms or the distinction between them. But most of the spiritual adepts of India have consistently held that spirituality is the essential genius of India. And some of the modern spiritual masters like Sri Aurobindo made a clear distinction between religion and spirituality.
Spirituality and Religion
So what is precisely the nature of the spiritual genius of India? In brief, spirituality is the path which leads to the discovery of a spiritual Reality beyond Mind. In practical terms spirituality is Yoga, which is the systematic, scientific, psychological and spiritual discipline by which we can enter within our own self and come into direct contact, union or identity with this spiritual reality which is the deepest and innermost essence and self of our own being and the universe. The pragmatic result of this realisation is all that follows naturally and spontaneously from living in direct contact with the very source of our inner being and fountain of all knowledge like wisdom, creativity, freedom, unity, love, well-being, perfection and whatever other higher ideals we can thinks of. So in practical terms, the “core competency” of India is the discovery — and the potential capacity for rediscovery and reformulation — of the inner psychological and spiritual discipline of Yoga which leads to the perfection and fulfillment of the inner being of man.
We can see here that there is a great difference between the way of organised and popular religion and the way of Yoga and spirituality. The difference is between seeing the photo or the picture of someone we love and coming into direct personal contact with him or her in flesh and blood. To put it in simple terms, while Religion stops short at worshipping the symbols of the divine Reality, Yoga or spirituality goes far beyond, toward a direct inner contact or union with the spiritual Reality. This is the reason why in some of Indian mystical literature, the union of the individual soul with the universal spiritual Reality is imaged in the form of sexual union in order to bring out the sense of directness or concreteness of the experience.
But Indian spirituality does not deny or belittle the utility of Religion in the moral and spiritual development of the individual and the community. Religion can be a means and preparation for the higher spiritual life. And for most of us who are not yet ready for the spiritual discipline, religious forms and symbols are the windows through which we have approach the spirit. For religious symbols have an evocative power and when they are used with insight, they can help us towards coming into contact with the spiritual truths they represent.
So, if the essential genius of the West may be described as a rational pragmatism turned towards the perfection of the outer life, the essence of Indian genius may be described as an intuitive spirituality turned inward towards the perfection of the inner being of man. This brings us to the central core of Indian spiritual genius: Inwardness. But here again there is much misunderstanding, especially among the secular, rational mind, regarding -the nature of this inwardness of the Indian or eastern spirituality.
One of the very common conception or rather misconception of Indian spirituality is that of a world-negating asceticism turned exclusively towards the inner realities of the spirit. A yogi sitting in Himalayas in a deep trance Samadhi oblivious of the world is the image which comes immediately to our mind when we think of Indian yoga or spirituality. But the problem here is that a powerful technique of yoga is mistaken as the very essence and aim of Yoga. Samadhi is a potent yogic technique by which a yogi can enter into the depth of his being and come into direct contact with the spiritual reality. But the Samadhi inwhich the yogi looses the consciousness of the outer word is only a method or a technique and not the aim of Indian Yoga. The aim is to establish the deeper, inner and higher consciousness in his whole being and life, especially in his waking life.
In Bhagavad Gita, a well-known Indian scripture, the divine Teacher asks his disciple in the thick of the battle field to be in a state of yoga and fight the battle. What does this rather enigmatic conception signify? It means that we can be in a state of yoga or inwardness, in the deep spiritual consciousness, in a state of waking samadhi as it were, and fight a battle, or do business, politics or science or what everyone is doing, perhaps with a much greater efficiency, creativity and dynamism than what is possible in our so-called “normal” consciousness. For in Indian spiritual conception, the universal, unconditioned and blissful consciousness of our spiritual self is our normal, natural and true self. The limited and conditioned consciousness of our ego-bound self with all its sorrow, strife, struggle and effort is an unnatural, abnormal condition, a state of perpetual neurosis. So the aim of Indian spirituality is so startlingly simple. It is to be what we are in the deepest essence of our being and regain our true, natural and normal self. So in some of the Indian Yogic schools the nature of the spiritual consciousness is described as Sahaja, which mean natural, spontaneous, inherent to the self.