Two things are certain in our lives: birth and death. Everything between those two events is uncertain. Yogis tell us that we bring our past-life karma into each new birth. And that our attitude and the choices we make along the way determine the circumstances of our future births. We can’t do anything about the past but accept it and learn our lessons. But we have a great deal of influence on our future. That influence is affected by how we think and what we do now, in the present moment.
The Many Paths of Life
A path is the direction and accumulation of thoughts and actions over a period of time. Our lifetime may encompass several paths during its course.
For example, we wake up each morning, knowing what we need to get done that day—and we choose activities, the path, that will help us get those things done. If we’re in school, we know there are subjects and classes we need to study and tests to take, so we can graduate. In early adulthood, we might choose to marry and have children following the path of social convention. Or we may choose a distinct career path. All of these paths have stepping stones along the way, like taking classes to complete a degree.
A spiritual path is directed inward, with the intention of achieving enlightenment. The spiritual path is not unlike other paths that we might choose throughout our lives. It may start simply as a subject of interest, like science or language. Sometimes being on the spiritual path is a natural extension of our family’s religion. My earliest memory of spirituality was my first childhood Sunday-school class. The subject of the class was angels, which I had never heard about before—I was amazed, intrigued, and hooked!
Where Do We Start?
How does a person take their first step on the spiritual path? It usually begins with a vague feeling of wanting something better or more than life seems to offer. The constant search for happiness eventually becomes dry and unsatisfying. Then it leads us to introspective questions:
- Where am I going?
- What is my purpose?
- Who am I, really?
This is an inner calling of the soul to the Soul. When these questions arise in one’s mind, answers begin to appear. From the New Testament we read, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) When the door is opened, and we step through, we are on the path.
So, how do we find the path that’s meant for us? First, it’s important to realize that all paths are valid. I’m not referring to the modern creations, but to the older, time-proven spiritual paths. You should seek a path that has actually taken people, real human beings, to its ultimate goal of spiritual enlightenment. Quiet Karma will introduce you to many of those people in our Master of the Month blog series.
Second, consider that your path may have already chosen you, so to speak. You might have been raised since childhood in a certain religious tradition. If that tradition still resonates within your own heart, then there’s no reason for you to go elsewhere. All religions, philosophies, and spiritual paths provide a lifetime of enrichment. They all have the goal of enlightenment, although they might have different terms for it. As we grow and mature, our original studies and beliefs are seen with different eyes. Understanding deepens with time, patience, and dedication to one’s chosen path.
Finally, if you were not raised with beliefs, or if those beliefs no longer feel right to you, then it’s time to consider other paths.
The Spiritual Smorgasbord
Choosing your spiritual path is one of the most important life decisions you can make. An aspirant should give careful thought before accepting a new belief system. The philosophy should be appropriate to their lifestyle and personality. A good fit is important for success.
In today’s world, and especially with the Internet, there’s no lack of spiritual options. I call this the spiritual smorgasbord, and it’s mind-boggling. A person could spend an entire lifetime digging through the options. They could taste bits and pieces of many religions and philosophies. But they would not make any real progress by following spiritual paths in this way.
My Guru tells a story to illustrate the futility of this kind of spiritual aspirant. They’re like a farmer who’s trying to dig a well to water his crops. The farmer digs in one place, but loses faith in that spot and moves to another and then another, never digging very deeply. After a long time, his land is riddled with unproductive holes, and his crops die. If the farmer had just continued to dig for a long time in one place, he would have found water. His crops would have flourished.
Many traditional yogic texts refer to the importance of committing to a single spiritual path throughout one’s life. “One God, one religion and one faith are the highest means.” (Guru Gita 168)
The spiritual smorgasbord dilutes our energies, focus, and direction. Little actual progress is made when we jump from one belief system to another. We never really gain any depth of experience or understanding. This is like the proverbial story of the farmer who riddled his land with worthless holes.
If you’re unclear about which spiritual path is best for you, here is my suggestion. Choose one that you feel an attraction to and practice it exclusively for an extended time. Remember, the goal of all spiritual paths is enlightenment. No effort is wasted. As you tread your chosen path with devotion, your mind and heart will develop. If another path is more appropriate for you, that understanding will come clearly from within.
Yoga as a Spiritual Path
When I first started taking yoga classes in the 70s, I wasn’t looking for a spiritual path—I was looking for peace of mind and happiness. I took yoga classes for the physical benefits. Fortunately, for me, meditation was a part of those classes. The idea of a spiritual path, or enlightenment, had not even entered my mind. But the philosophical teachings in those early classes struck a chord within my heart. Before long, I was practicing meditation seriously; peace and happiness developed from within. My path had chosen me.
Yoga philosophy and practices have been around for thousands of years. Many people have become enlightened through this path. I do, of course, recommend it, and that’s why Quiet Karma was developed. Yoga may be thought of as a set of techniques, a philosophy, or even a religion—or any combination of these. But the important thing to note is that many have achieved enlightenment through yoga. It’s a true and proven path.
Preparing the Way for Yourself
There is a common saying in the spiritual community: when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This is true, also, for your own spiritual path. Whether or not your path is clear to you, now is the time to prepare for the journey. That preparation should include a commitment to both your physical and mental health. A dedicated meditation practice strengthens and purifies the mind. A healthy diet and exercise program supports a meditation practice.
Every day, for some period of time, sit quietly and contemplate the questions mentioned earlier: Where am I going? What is my purpose? Who am I, really? As you seek, you will surely find.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.