3. Spiritualists don't own | Spiritualists aren't owned
Spiritual and material are at polar opposites. The natural conclusion may then be that the spiritual journey veers away from the things of this world. People often think that spirituality requires one to give up affectionate relations, physical possessions and cherished aspirations. And even if it doesn’t, they fear that the philosophising of spiritualists may cause them to lose all ambition in day-to-day affairs. As our spiritual interest grows, we often find that friends and family become visibly concerned – “Don’t become too spiritual,” they opine “otherwise you’ll lose interest in life!” Can we embrace the spiritual path and continue as functional, inspired and contributing members of society?
These confusions are carried not only by uninformed observers, but also by immature practitioners. Arjuna, who’s in the process of digesting Krishna’s words of wisdom, still has thoughts of leaving the battlefield, abandoning his worldly duties, and fully embracing his spiritual calling. He can’t see the compatibility of pursuing a spiritual life and simultaneously honouring his day-to-day roles and responsibilities. To him, they’re mutually exclusive.
In Chapter Three, entitled ‘Karma-yoga,’ Krishna expertly recalibrates Arjuna’s vision. Real renunciation, Krishna says, is not in abstaining from the day-to-day world and distancing oneself from the ‘material.’ Rather, it’s about giving up the greed, selfishness and envy that causes us to utilise ‘material’ things in self-centred and exploitative ways. The insightful wisdom of the Gita opens up the opportunity for someone to connect ‘material’ things to a higher spiritual purpose, and thereby utilise them in a way that brings spiritual progression. Everything in our life, be it our work, wealth, family or possessions can be integrally engaged as part of our spiritual growth. Those same things, when inappropriately used, bind us to misery; the house becomes like a prison, wealth becomes like chains, and all assets become a heavy burden weighing us down. Instead of owning things, we become owned by things.
An interesting anecdote about two monks offers a deep insight. Once, upon reaching a riverbank, they saw a beautiful lady who was stranded, unable to cross the knee-deep river. The younger monk ignored her and quickly paced across, cautious not to compromise his strict vows of celibacy. The older monk, however, politely went over to the distressed lady and offered a helping hand. She requested him to carry her across since she lacked the strength to contend with the river waves alone. Without hesitation, the old monk allowed her to climb his back, and he dutifully carried her over, after which they parted ways. The younger counterpart stood aghast, yet refrained from commenting. After hours of walking, still disturbed by the incident, the young monk broke his silence – “How could you, a shining emblem of celibacy, carry a woman on your shoulders?” he challenged. The older monk, hearing his immature estimation, looked straight back and replied – “I carried that woman for a few minutes across the river for an essential purpose. You, my boy, have needlessly carried her in your mind for the last few hours!” The message was loud and clear: real renunciation is within.
“Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.” (Bhagavad-Gita 3.4)
3.1 – People mistakenly think of spiritual life as inertia or retirement from public life.
3.7 – One should function in the world and connect his activities to the spiritual cause.