Following a Spiritual Path
“Becoming who we were meant to be” “Truth is a pathless land”
We are born into this world, we live for a short time, and then we die. What then is the meaning and purpose of our lives if everything disappears? Is there something deeper and more meaningful to being alive than just satisfying our desires, the pursuit of pleasure, and the avoidance of pain?
What is freedom? Is there a path to this deeper place, and how do I follow this path? At some point, all of us ask these kinds of questions. We can feel a deep longing to be free as we sense that our lives are too small for what we are meant to be. Usually, these kinds of breakthroughs and inquiries only happen in moments of pain or loss when we question the whole purpose of our lives. We feel a deep sense that we really don’t have a ground or centre to stand on in the midst of the storm of life. When things are going well, we usually take life for granted somehow and just float along with the sense that life is okay and there is no need to worry about anything. However, under the surface, we are all longing for freedom, love, and that which has deep meaning for us.
The Promises of the Modern World
In the modern world, we are promised that if we can just make enough money, have a loving partner, and “live the dream”, then we will be happy, free, and feel love. After all, this is what all of us are looking for: Freedom, Peace, and Love. But the reality is that these things that are promised by our modern life never really give us the satisfaction we are looking for. We just keep moving like a ghost in the illusion of hope: hoping the next partner will be the one, that when I make a little more money I´ll be happy, and that someday I can retire in my ideal lifestyle. These are all illusions created by the mind that promise much but never deliver. But we rarely stop and question this - and the moment we do is the time we start looking for answers.
Choosing a Spiritual Path
At some point, we might sense that we are much bigger than this limited self, bound by likes and dislikes and limited in time and space by the body and conceptual mind. This is the moment we turn towards a spiritual path to guide us. At this time in history, there are so many spiritual paths that we can choose from that it can become a dilemma.In the past, we were pretty much bound to the spiritual path of the culture in which we lived, but now the whole world's wisdom has opened up to us and we can sit on our computer and receive teachings from almost all of the spiritual traditions available. This is amazing and unprecedented in the history of humans. But in this enormous shopping market of spiritual paths, how are we to know which one to follow and whether it will help me to get closer to who I really am? It can be very confusing so I hope to clarify a few things to help you to navigate and find your true path to yourself (“Svadharma” in Sanskrit).
Following our Svadharma
The term “Svadharma” refers to our own unique path to find our highest potential to freedom. There are many spiritual paths and they all have a unique character and many are deeply embedded and coloured by the culture that they originated from. But we all have unique ways to find our true path - so how do we know where to start? In the beginning, it is good to try different paths, teachers, and teachings to feel how they resonate with you. This is sometimes described poetically: it is as if you are a bee who flies around seeking nectar from different types of flowers. This is a seeking stage, and when you encounter a teaching that really touches you and your life is being transformed by it, then you know you are on the right track. When you encounter a teaching or a teacher that you resonate with, dive deeply and fully into the teachings. Absorb them, question them, and apply them fully with diligence to see the result. Always keep your eyes open and never follow anything blindly. But don’t be half-hearted, be all in, and see for yourself if this is your way. It might turn out that you uncover your path at the beginning of your journey, but it is more likely that you will go deeply into a few paths. This has been my way, I have and still do follow teachings from many different sources, this is my Svadharma. But you are unique, nobody but you can say where you can find the truth and live the life you were meant to live.
Overcoming the limitations of culturally embedded spiritual paths
One thing we are sure to encounter on our journey is that the spiritual paths we encounter contain obstacles that we must go beyond. If we are to translate teachings that come from a different culture into our modern lives, then we need intelligence to know how to translate that path into our modern life. For instance, we are not going to become Tibetan if we follow Tibetan Buddhism, or become a Peruvian shaman if we follow that path. We will remain a modern person from our own culture, but we can still follow and practice these methods. So in each spiritual path, there are many things that we will have to translate in order to integrate them into our modern lives. Doing this requires wisdom, care, and experience, or we run the risk of translating the path according to our likes and dislikes - and then we are lost in our own fabricated spiritual path that does nothing but increase our ego-mind. This is a common problem in our society - we are spiritually 'shopping' based on our likes and dislikes rather than choosing what is waking us up! In this case, it is very useful to have a guide to help us along on our journey.
The role of a teacher in the spiritual path
We all have heard stories of the spiritual teacher that ended up being torn from his throne for different scandalous reasons, whether real or imaginary. It seems the 'West' is obsessed with guru bashing, so how do we know that our teacher is authentic and that we can trust the path they offer in this climate?
What is important to remember is that the concept of the 'guru' really means the 'spiritual guide'. As a teacher, it is his or her role to help the student find their Svadharma and be completely free. So the teacher is more like a mirror for us to see ourselves, a very important part of the spiritual path. I have had many teachers I call guru, and they all are the same. They have helped me come closer to myself and I honor them with the deepest gratitude for their precious guidance.
If you have a teacher that is guiding you on a spiritual path then you have to keep your eyes open and trust and apply what they say to your life. However, in the end, the real teacher is within you, so you must always listen to your inner voice as a guide. Check your teacher's credentials carefully if you want to follow them. See if their actions correspond to what they teach, and if you feel in your heart this is the right way, then you can trust them. Remember that in the end, the teacher is there to give you a method to follow. This method is something you have to do by yourself, you cannot depend on them for your spiritual awakening.
An authentic spiritual path vs made up New Age confusions and self-styled yoga methods.
This is a very difficult subject as the term “authentic” is problematic. If it works, then it is authentic, right?
This is true, but the so-called “authentic” spiritual paths can be very dogmatic and rigid as the students of this or that path think that their path is the best way, and all others are just second rate. There are also many so-called paths and methods that are just a mishmash of spiritual ideas, usually designed to increase the bank account of their founder. So we can see how it is important to keep an open mind while also checking the lineage of the path you are following and using your own mind to see what is real or unreal. Fortunately, there are many intact spiritual traditions with authentic teachers whom you can trust and follow, but there is also a lot of noise out there.
Simple is closer to truth
There is one closing thing I would like to say while addressing this enormous subject that we have only scratched the surface of: remember that the spiritual path is really very simple in the end. There are many yoga teachings and techniques out there, but they are all just techniques to point us to ourselves. When we use these techniques to reveal who we really are, then we can drop the technique as its job is done. This is the most important point: all paths and methods are only there to uncover and reveal the truth of who we are.
We are complete and whole, nothing needs to be fixed or attained, and our being is the light of the path.
“Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm, Without looking for the traces I may have left; A cuckoo's song beckons me to return home; Hearing this, I tilt my head to see. Who has told me to turn back; But do not ask me where I am going, As I travel in this limitless world, Where every step I take is my home”- Zen Master Dogen