The spiritual path attracts all kinds of people, each endowed with some peculiar psychological strengths and weaknesses. The Bhagavad Gita 7:16 (see Four types of Divine seekers) speaks of four types of spiritual aspirants: those who seek refuge from worldly troubles, those who seek intellectual satisfaction in spiritual knowledge, those who wish to use the Divine strength to fulfill worldly ambitions and above all, those who synthesize devotion and knowledge and seek union with the Divine without expecting anything in return. In this context, Dr Ramesh Bijlani, who is currently affiliated with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi, has written a perspicacious article detailing some pitfalls that can be observed in young, over-eager spiritual aspirants. This rest of this article is excerpted from his blog.
“Among the visitors to spiritual organizations like Sri Aurobindo Ashram are some dead serious, sincere and intense young people who claim to be on the spiritual path but seem to be on the verge of losing their mental balance, if they have not lost it already. The question naturally arises what makes something as laudable as the spiritual path a risky road to walk on. The risk lies in a faulty approach to spirituality. Young people who become miserable as a result of their engagement with spirituality invariably treat spirituality as yet another worldly achievement. They go about searching for techniques that would take them to the peak by the easiest, shortest and fastest route. They treat spirituality like mountaineering. They want to climb nothing less than the Everest, and feel entitled to do so because they are ready to spend all their energy looking for and learning the best techniques. They may try several techniques simultaneously, or in quick succession, with great vigour. They may go straightaway to the advanced pranayamas, or meditate for hours or days at a stretch under the mistaken impression that if something is good, more of it should be better. Then they start looking for signs of progress. So obsessed are they with getting there as quickly as possible that they attach great importance to their ‘visions’, ‘dreams’ and ‘experiences’. They try to hold on to these real or imagined events, try to repeat them, improve upon them, and talk about them, either to seek approval and confirmation, or to impress people. But instead of getting the peace that may be expected on the spiritual path, they get only more and more disturbed. Unless they correct the fatal flaw in their approach to spirituality, they end up on the psychiatrist’s couch.
In order to understand how the approach of these sincere but misguided young people to spirituality is flawed, let us digress to an ordinary young person. He wants wealth, power, and prestige. In the pursuit of what he wants, he becomes completely absorbed in himself. Our young man on the spiritual path wants to reach spiritual heights. In the pursuit of what he wants, he also becomes completely absorbed in himself. Hence there is no fundamental difference between these two young men. They both want something badly. They are both afflicted with acute self-absorption. The desire in both cases is intense, and the impatience of the seeker is palpable. The difference lies only in what they want. In a sense, our spiritual enthusiast is the worse of the two. The seeker of wealth, name and fame may at least temper his pursuit because of ethical considerations and out of decency. But the one wanting spiritual victory may be blatantly egoistic because he does not feel any scruples are necessary in pursuing the noblest of goals. The result is that spiritual enthusiasts frequently find themselves entangled in one or more of the following deadly traps.”
Dr Bijlani goes on to cover a few traps such young and ambitious seekers fall into.
- The transactional trap
- The scholastic trap
- The signboard trap
- The school-leaving certificate (SLC) trap
- The misplaced curiosity trap
- The grandiose trap
- The greatness trap
For the rest of the article, see http://auromirayoga.blogspot.com/2010/12/obsessive-compulsive-spirituality.html
- Subtle forms of the ego – (transcending suffocation)
- Jnana Yoga : the ego blocks that have to be dissolved
- Developing discernment on which actions are spiritual
- Liminality or negative capability required in Yoga
- Interplay of faith and doubt in Yoga
- The spiritual ego
- Four types of Divine seekers