There seems to be confusion among spiritual seekers about what the spiritual path is all about. So let us get back to basics. The purpose of the spiritual path is liberation.
All of humanity is striving for freedom from fear and suffering for themselves and others. They strive to improve their material, social, political, economic and even psychological conditions so they may have happier lives. This is all well and good and a worthy work, but this is not liberation. Liberation is an inner condition of consciousness that is not dependent on these factors. It is the final stage of development of the individual soul; it is the goal of the spiritual path. Liberation is the true and lasting freedom from the endless variability of life, both inner and outer, both good and bad.
Liberation is found by the turning of one’s attention away from the outer world’s endless enticements, distractions, demands, compulsions and turning inward, toward the inner being. When we train our consciousness to do this we become more and more fulfilled, tranquil, at peace with ourselves and the world. We discover the ability to be calm and detached in ways we never imagined possible before. Change, loss and turmoil, both outer and inner lose their influence; we become serene, stable, enduring. With liberation we become connected with all life. We become loving, compassionate, wise, patient and strong. A liberated being is not affected by outer circumstances or swayed by inner moods or “bhavas”, that endless swing up, down and sideways. Fears dissipate like mists before the sun and we discover how to truly enjoy and live effectively in harmony with all of life, materially and spiritually.
The spiritual path is the way to liberation. The mystic or inner traditions of all religious and spiritual traditions describe this way to liberation. They tell us to renounce or relinquish our identifications, attachments, desires and ambitions and to turn inward. They suggest simplicity: own less, have fewer outer activities, be quiet and still. They give techniques for doing this such as prayer, chanting and meditation to strengthen one’s connection with the inner self. They teach selfless service and doing good in the world. These are universally true and necessary if we desire liberation.
Of course many people think they want liberation but really just want a better or happier life. This is what creates confusion. It is true that all the above will make us and our lives happier. Spiritual practices are actions that move us into alignment with universal truths. But it will not bring liberation. It will bring less suffering and more happiness, relative for each person. But even then it will come and go, like all things in life. True liberation takes us beyond this kind of changing happiness. Liberation is when one finds the core Truth or Reality that is eternal and unchanging. We then become “That”, we merge with it. Only then do we cross this ever changing ocean of experience, filled with fear, misery and suffering, forever.
True liberation requires a burning aspiration, a fierce commitment and a kind of ruthlessness that breaks the old ties and ways of our past. If you have these then be sure you are a very developed soul and now is the time to dedicate your life to spirit. If not don’t be discouraged. These qualities are evidence of the work of past lives and grace. They will come when we are ready.
Liberation is not for everyone. There may be something you still want in this life; a relationship, an accomplishment or some thing. If so, the best thing to do is to pursue these with all your heart and mind because they will prepare you better for liberation than any spiritual technique can. These arise from existing karmas and their need to be completed.
It may be that you are destined for liberation; the desires and ambitions you have may not be your own. You may have inadvertently picked them up this life, inherited them from your parents, been influenced by the culture or certain people in your life. If this is so they will reveal themselves soon enough. Sooner or later you will become deeply miserable; you will become dejected. This will throw you onto the spiritual path and the aspiration, commitment and ruthlessness will arise within you. So do not worry, pursue your desires and dreams, but pursue them vigorously, with all your heart and mind. You will find out soon enough if they are true. If they are, you will feel that your life is on track, that you are living your dharma, your purpose. If not, the misery will throw you out and with a little luck, you’ll find your true life’s purpose.
Life is a bit of a crapshoot. Not everyone finds their path, be it of the material world or the spiritual. There are no guarantees. Anyone, especially those destined for liberation, can lose their way. Indulgence in body and sense pleasure can create uncontrollable cravings, perversions and addictions. Sex, food, drugs and alcohol can cloud us, as well as many other things like resentment, distrust, anger, lust and greed. If we can avoid being swept up by these and find a middle way with our pleasures and preferences, then we have a good chance of progressing in this life, be it in the world or towards liberation.
There is cause for hope these days. We are living in extraordinary times. The force of consciousness is rising in the collective; the forces of light, love and truth are expanding. Although this creates more than normal turbulence and confusion it is also making it easier for all of us to find our way.
It is also possible to find an enlightened being. This is always a great boon, in any time. Their force, love and light can show us the way and even intervene in the karmas that we were destined to go through in this life. If you feel you have found such a being then cling to him or her. It will assure your progress in either case.
Liberation is the culmination of many lives. It does not come quickly or easily. But when it comes it endures forever.