Stay, release, transform

In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year … Continued

In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, writer Elizabeth Gilbert gives up her entire way of life to spend a year traveling the world, finding spiritual enlightenment along the way. Julia Roberts, who plays Gilbert’s character in the movie version out this week, apparently found enlightenment of her own through the role, revealing that she has become a practicing Hindu.
As Joan Ball asks in a Guest Voices post, “Is it possible to live a life of deep, transformational faith without dropping everything and hitting the road?”
In your tradition, what is the aim of the spiritual journey? 

Every journey–spiritual or mundane–necessarily implies a departure and a destination. Some may speed along that journey, blinders on, looking only at the road ahead, while others may enjoy the odyssey, seeking beauty and texture in the roads travelled, sights seen and people met. Human life, replete with potholes, speed bumps and other setbacks, often seems to be a labyrinthine journey–all the more difficult if a destination with profound meaning or salvation eludes.

The great paradox of human life is that the many faiths describe just as many road maps for life’s journey, and it seems, sometimes, that nearly as many different destinations are offered to the traveler. One must seek out the path that resonates, that gives meaning and, yes, seems rational.

Julia Roberts finds the journey of Hinduism to be the best map for her and her family to travel. For Hindus, moksha, is the way out of that repetitive reality of birth and death–the very banality of human life.

The question posed here is if it is possible to live a life of transformational faith without dropping everything and hitting the road. It is truly a binary question with a dual answer. For liberation from birth and death may be attained without hitting the road; but only if one were to drop everything. The aim of the spiritual journey in Hinduism is to transcend the ego and realize one’s own inherently divine nature.

However, merely focusing on the outward journey trivializes the true inner journey. At its best, the outward journey makes the need for the inner journey clear and points to a path that the seeker can follow. Elizabeth Gilbert, and numerous other Westerners who have sojourned to India over the decades, did not find peace and tranquility because of wanderlust that takes them through Europe and the East. Leaving behind material possessions and attachments, slowly detaching from the emotional matrix of a turbulent relationship and mindful awareness prepared Gilbert to reach India in a state of vairagya–Sanskrit for dispassion and renunciation–where knowledge of transformation focused her life.

Such a transformation can just as well be accomplished in the absence of an outward journey. Millions of Americans have taken to Yoga purely as a physical practice in their own homes and studios. However, they soon discover Yoga’s Hindu roots, and it opens them up to a deeper spirituality that changes they way they live, think and act, which is the real inner journey.

Dharma religions privilege the path of sannyasa–that of detachment and dispassion–at some point in a life lived completely. Either after worldly responsibilities of raising children are fulfilled, or as a monk early in life. Sannyasa once meant retreat into the forests, living a life of collecting alms and possessing nothing. A 21st century sannyasa does not necessarily afford forests or begging for alms; but renunciation is to transcend the world while living within it. As the great 20th century Hindu saint Ramana Maharshi said, “Sannyasa does not lie in giving up possessions…but rather in giving up the possessor”.

Yes, life can be transformed in the here and now. Swami Vivekananda, the revolutionary Hindu monk celebrated as the first to bring Hindu philosophy to the West, offers the key to that realization in the words to the Song of the Sannyasin:

Strike off thy fetters! Bonds that bind thee down,
Of shining gold or darker, baser ore;
Love, hate; good, bad; and all the dual throng,
Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free
For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind;
Then off with them, Sannyasin bold! Say –
‘Om tat sat, Om!’
(Song of the Sannyasin, Swami Vivekananda, 1902)

Written by

  • 7891

    “Sannyasa does not lie in giving up possessions…but rather in giving up the possessor”. I’m so glad the Indians, with the connivance of American business, have helped us give up both our possessions and jobs by pirating away the American IT industry. The usual modus operandi of the Indian software pirates usually follows a pattern: First come the infiltrators, H1-B visa holders who manage to get into American IT departments either as employees or contractors. Over time, the employers come to appreciate the Indians, not because they are in any way better or more competent than their American counterparts, but because they are cheaper – much, much cheaper. So the idea takes hold, urged on by the Indian software pirates, that entire departments could be dismantled and the work shipped “offshore.” A cadre of H1-B troops remains to control the flow of work to and from “offshore” where Indians labor in their cubicles at the fraction of the cost of American IT specialists.I had the opportunity to observe how a major California insurance company devolved its entire IT department and laid off hundreds of analysts, DBAs, programmers, and support personnel while the Indian software pirates scurried home with their booty. Many of the people who lost their jobs had 20, 30 years’ experience in the business but they had one defect – a single, deadly defect: they earned too much money, too much for the liking of the business owners. But never fear, the invisible hand came to the owners’ rescue. Not the cavalry, but the Indians who lassoed all the wild horses and rode off into the sunset.But then the Indians compensate us by helping us “leav[e] behind material possessions and attachments, slowly detaching from the emotional matrix of a turbulent relationship and mindful awareness …” Aren’t we lucky to get such wisdom dumped on us? And it only cost us our jobs. A steal, if you ask me.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Aseem, you know, blogger 7891 has a point. What is your spiritual destination? Capitalism the Unknown Ideal?The Dalit, Aseem.

  • farnaz_mansouri2

    Aseem,For God’s sake, show some courage. The Dalit thing is going to explode, in case you haven’t noticed.And then there is your own soul. What kind of journey can you undertake riding on the backs of tens of millions of slaves?Look at your last thread. Grow up, Aseem. It’s time.

  • 7891

    Yeah, you talk a lot of crap about Oooommmm, Oooommm, shankara, “to transcend the ego and realize one’s own inherently divine nature,” and other airy, superstitious b.s. but it really means nothing – just the usual “wisdom of the Orient” stuff, elephant gods and all the rest.So why are you here, Shukla? Why aren’t you working in India? Why not work as a doctor in places where people live in cardboard boxes in the slums? Are there not enough sick people in India to keep you busy, or does it have something to do with the fee schedules in the United States compared what you would make in India? I am willing to bet that “do you have insurance?” supersedes one’s “inherently divine nature.”In the end, when the rubber meets the road and the thinkers of lofty thoughts get worried for their rice bowls, they call the police. They always do. For all the cant and hypocrisy about inherently divine natures and other self-aggrandizing nonsense, the deity, in the end, always requires the assistance of the police to set things straight.”The great 20th century Hindu saint Ramana Maharshi” could have had a career in politics. “Sannyasa does not lie in giving up possessions…but rather in giving up the possessor” – yeah, sure. Keeping those possessions while pretending not to, that’s politics. Pretty cunning of the old fox but you Indians are smart, no denying that. Aren’t you lucky to have received an English education which enabled you to move here and make a good living, just like your compatriots who use their education to pirate our work away to India? We were much better off before we were enriched with your “wisdom.”That, and a big, fat Ooooommmm to you.