Yoga teaches us to detach from the material world. Of the primary yoga tenets, two focus on releasing ourselves from the ever-present materialism surrounding us. So, it was to be expected that Men in Orange* spoke about spirituality versus materialism in my recent trip to India.
Caundramauli Swami is an American monk and author of several books about the incarcerated. He spoke to our private group about spirituality versus materialism.
“Our independence is to choose between spiritual and material,” he notes. “We are all coming from the spiritual world. We’ve chosen to leave God, and enjoy separately from God. He doesn’t interfere with your independence (or free will). In the spiritual world, there is no past or future. Everything exists now. Learn from the past. Live in the future.”
Men in Orange, Parts 1-5, feature learnings from two other men in orange.* Shyamananda and Chaitanya Charan chose the Vaishnava monastic life 30 years ago.
Part 5 summarizes their chats on challenges that come when spirituality versus materialism is off balance.
“Many times we forgot what we signed up for.” Consider final exams at the university. Military deployment. Executives overseeing hundreds of employees. Marriage. Childbirth and child-rearing. The list could go on forever.
“There’s a gap between expectations and reality.” Unreasonable or lofty expectations in a materially-focused life lead to problems. We are trained to push ourselves beyond the limits. Or, we feel compelled to meet someone else’s expectations. The monks refer to these unreal goals as mental gymnastics.
For many of us, our childhood was about playtime. In the streets. No worries. Low supervision. Nowadays, kids are groomed for perfection. They begin music lessons, or competitive sports before they can read or write. The playfulness in physical activity, or artistic expression, is gone. The focus, too often, is to win. Or, to beat your prior record. Hence, it is no longer a release, fun, or healthy. Rather, it’s stress-inducing. Priming children for competitive nature throughout their lives.
When do you say enough is enough? Small kids may respond with a “temper tantrum.” More often than not, they sullenly follow their parents’ wishes.
Once in the adult world, we often get sucked into what we think is expected of us. Just like a child. We may have headaches. Heartaches. Nightmares. But, most of us follow like zombies on the road of materialism.
It’s important to recognize that any path which makes you lose your self-worth, is not the right path.
“The north star always stays where it is. You need to keep your head firmly screwed on your shoulders.” One of the hardest challenges is to not be influenced by people that may bring you down into the material world. That’s why association, or sangha, is so important. Find those that will build you up, spiritually, rather than tear you down. Plus, protect yourself from stress dumpers. These are people who constantly shed their own burdens on those around them.
“The love of the material world dries up quite fast,” states Chaitanya in his book “Science and Spirituality.” “Spirituality is not self-abnegation, it is self-fulfillment. The antidote for materialism is spirituality, which provides inner fulfillment and cures the exploitative mentality.”
Humility is not thinking LESS of oneself. But THINKING less of oneself.
Anjali mudra is almost an icon for yoga. The mudra, or seal, places the hands together, in prayer, at the heart. The thumbs press inward, to the heart. The remaining eight fingers point up. This mudra reflects humility. The “accusing finger” is together with the others, pointing upward toward the heavens, rather than out, or in. Not surprisingly, this is very calming to the body and mind.
On the other hand, think of how you feel when you point your finger towards someone, like an accusation. Or, how it feels to have someone point toward you with an accusation.
In many cultures, it’s a common greeting to place the hands at the heart in prayer and bow with respect. In India, bowing down to another’s “lotus” feet is an ultimate show of humility and respect.
The men in orange on my journey may be experts about spirituality versus materialism. Nonetheless, they exude humility — and compassion.
“Some of the most enlightened say, ‘I am nothing.’”
Mystics are not masochists. They aren’t advertising it.
The eight branches of yoga include introspection and contemplation. Raja, Dharana and Dhyana yoga. Nowadays, the buzzword is mindfulness. Which is not those three branches, but certainly is easy for most to practice.
Our life in the world is like a garden with flowers in full bloom. Time acts like a machete. It cuts the whole picture, and there’s lamentation. Nature affords you the luxury of oneness. You can forget your petty problems and appreciate the universe.
You may not be able to solve someone’s issues, but you can certainly address how to respond to your own. Focusing on problems, only enlarges the problem. The more we think about problems, the more we feel helpless. Powerless.
“If we turn to prayer, and connect with meditation, it leads to relief and calm. Don’t tell God how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big God is. When faced with problems, rather than focus on the problem, focus on God. Remembrance of God is like a shock absorber. In due course, (with mind on God), problems go away, just like the rain.”
“God is beyond the law of nature. God gives us gravity and can remove it.”