I received a question in regards to how we can bring our material and professional life into greater alignment with our spiritual goals and lifetime purpose. Before I talk about techniques and methods to bring this about let me firstly point out that in the very question there is already an implied separation between material and spiritual life. This separation is indicative of Western philosophy and society, which has always defined matter and mind as a duality, as two different things or planes that do not come together. I did not encounter this separation to such an extent during my visits to Asian societies where whatever you do and wherever you are is more often seen as a worthy expression of spirit, or by whatever term it is called.
This contrast is beautifully expressed in Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, where the main character, named Siddhartha, is unfulfilled wherever he is and whatever he does. He starts out as the son of a Brahmin whose main occupation is to chant the Vedas. Why some modern Western yoga students would have seen that as an ideal starting point to a spiritual quest, Siddhartha remains unfulfilled and leaves his Brahmin father to become an ascetic practicing austerities in the desert and the jungle. After some years he also finds this pursuit lacking and moves back into the city to become a wealthy merchant, which enables him to have a sensual relationship with a famous courtesan. Although their relationship culminates in having a child, Siddhartha is ultimately frustrated and cannot find himself in either of these varied environments and activities.
As he again sets out on his spiritual quest into an unknown future he crosses the very same river that he crossed between each of the previous stages of life (avid observers may have noticed that the four stages roughly resemble to four Hindu ashramas although in a modified order). During each river-crossing Siddhartha is ferried by the same old ferryman, Vasudeva. During the first crossing he barely notices the humble, old man but on subsequent crossings he begins to interrogate and challenge him, as Vasudeva with his contentment, simplicity and lack of drive is a complete antithesis to Siddhartha’s driven-ness and desirousness. When asked whether he had no desire to go anywhere, seek or learn anything, Vasudeva replies that all that could be learned could also be learned right here at this spot simply by listening to this river.
On the final crossing upon entering the ferry Siddhartha needs to only briefly glance at the old man to see that something has changed in the demeanor of the old man. Although he has never gone anywhere and done anything but taken his ferry across the river, Vasudeva has found, he has arrived. And he, Siddhartha, although he has studied the holy books, chanted the hymns, mastered the most ridiculous practices, has mortified his body, then attained fabulous wealth, found his soul mate, enjoyed tantric sex and fathered a child, he Siddhartha had not found. He is still a stranger within himself and to himself.
Siddhartha at this point asks Vasudeva to accept him as his student but we need not concern ourselves with that. The important point is that Vasudeva became a master of life simply by listening to that what was present right where he was. The river here is a beautiful metaphor but if we go deeper we see that the river of life, the river of experience is always flowing right there were we are. Nothing else is required but to listen to it. You need not go anywhere, you need not do anything, and you need not become somebody else. Life is right there where you are.
In other words, with whatever activity you perform right now, how ever lowly and insignificant it may seem (a ferryman was considered very low), you still perform an important contribution for spirit and society. I have met several Indian masters who first served as soldiers, bankers or accountants and seemingly on the side followed their spiritual pursuits. Once retired from duties they then became full-time spiritual masters. At no point was there a disconnect, a break from their previous life. They never thought that previously they had done something unspiritual. They realized that the world does not currently function without these professions and that’s why they constitute valid service.
Today of course, we don’t want to stay where we are. The media and education system instill in us discontent and the desire to become more, to become something bigger, to become rock stars, master chefs, real estate tycoons, derivative traders, or other glamorous jobs. But while sowing such desires in all of us may drive Gross Domestic Product, would a society solely consisting of these and similar “sexy” professions actually work?
In the Gita there is an important statement where Lord Krishna says, “Better your own duty (svadharma) performed poorly than somebody else’s really well”. We must then ask ourselves whether we are already performing our own duty, whether we are already on the right path. And many people may rightly answer in the affirmative, although it seems that compared to ancient society less and less people seem to be content with where they are, with what they are doing. And more and more people seem to be estranged and discontent with their place in society.
If we feel we are in the right place and are doing the right thing then we need to only, like Vasudeva, become better and better at listening. Again listening here is of course meant metaphorically. It is metaphorical for cultivating the visceral experience that there is one common intelligence expressing itself through you (ferryman), through the whole world of manifestation (the river) and all beings (those that you ferry across). This common intelligence that simultaneously expresses itself through everything in ancient societies was called by many names, including God, the Divine, the Dao, the Brahman or Great Spirit. But we need not name it. In fact by naming it, often something is taken away. Once we give it a name, a label, we also dupe ourselves into the belief that we have understood a phenomenon that is ultimately beyond understanding. More important than understanding is that we “feel” that and how it works through us and as us.
Let’s suppose now we are not currently in Vasudeva’s situation. Our life seems to be working well enough but there is this nagging voice of discontent and it almost feels that we are living somebody else’s life, not our own. We just cannot “feel” the spirit breathing through us. How then can we change that and come to a point where we truly live our own life?
The most powerful way of opening yourself up to the greater life is to daily take time to state sincerely to the Divine/spirit that you wish to be of service and that you are available as a conduit through which It can work and express itself. In an unconscious way this is already taking place. In an unconscious way we all, all living things, are nothing but avenues through which spirit lives, moves, acts and experiences itself. But when this unconscious process becomes conscious it becomes the most incredible thing possible to a human. It is at this point that the seemingly impossible may become possible to us.
For those of you who have difficulties with the concept of a spirit that works, moves and lives in, through and as everything, here is another way of looking at it. In order to be truly alive, in order to live the greater life we need to bring our conscious, subconscious and super-conscious minds into alignment. Most individuals are completely driven by their subconscious programming. By emulating our parents and later our peers we accepted a more or less robotic programming that makes decisions largely automatically. We come to a point where we believe that our thoughts, emotions and even our life is happening to us, rather that self-authorized.
The next step up from this is to use our conscious minds to re-program our subconscious minds. We do this by taking active responsibility for our thoughts and emotions and by continually doing this our subconscious will eventually accept our chosen patterns rather than those that we have been programmed with during childhood. The problem with this state is that life paths are often chosen based on egoic phantasies, of wanting to become wealthier or more powerful than others. To evolve from here it is imperative to let the conscious mind receive its inspiration and vision from the super-conscious mind. Like the subconscious so is the super-conscious mind largely outside of the field of our conscious perception. The super-conscious mind is that part of our mind that connects us to this super-intelligence that expresses itself simultaneously as infinite consciousness, the world and all beings. Your super-conscious mind is your highest potential, your higher self and your noble-most aspirations.
To look at it again from a more spiritual perspective it is what the spirit/the Divine wants to become as you. When I am talking to super-conscious mind I am asking, “How can I serve and as what?” This is of course not a one-off but an ongoing process. Once we have made it a regular habit to ask the next step is to hone our ability to listen. It is only through our inability to listen from the bottom of our hearts that we do not hear the messages of the Divine. Practicing listening to the Divine is the key. The message is at first faint as the voices of the ego and the subconscious will be louder. But with practice we hear the voice clearer and clearer.
When you have become used to hearing the messages and acting upon them you will notice an absence of inner dialogue. There is no nagging voice saying you are in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, living somebody else’s dream or life. It is this state that is known as svadharma (own duty) and Krishna called it “acting for Me rather than acting for reward”.