Sunday Service: The Value of Spiritual Community

Swami Shantatmananda and the Dalai Lama

Week of March 30 – April 5, 2014

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to lose sight of the bigger picture.

The first president of the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Brahmananda, once said something to the effect that it is easy to reach enlightenment–but it is hard to stay there.

If only he were wrong! But he’s not.

From the moment we are born, we are taught how to live in this world. Spend any time with a parent and it becomes immediately apparent that childhood is a mediated experience for most children. Conversations are implicitly teaching moments, books direct children on how they should feel and think, and the very structure of the home imparts values.

This training is not limited to when we are children, either; we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us the right way to live and think. This is not just the media’s fault, it is baked into society because a community with no norms and common outlook is a challenging community.

Being told how to live and think becomes a problem as we advance spiritually, however. In a wholesome society, we learn ethics and how to treat others well. But even that training is a problem at a certain point, because it is dualistic.

The training from the world must be dualistic, must be “I” and “you,” because this is the common experience and the foundation of the problem that spirituality must overcome. The point of life and of spirituality in general is moving beyond the ignorance of me and mine, moving beyond duality. When we get beyond that ignorance, we have reached enlightenment.

If it were easy to overcome, however, everybody would know it and it would be like tying our shoe. But because it is not easy to get beyond duality, to reach enlightenment, our society sets the bar lower and reinforces duality.

So every day we are taught duality, every day we are pulled in the opposite direction of our spiritual goal because society is reinforcing the difference between you and me while the point of spirituality is reducing the difference between you and me until that difference does not exist.

That’s why it is easy to reach enlightenment, but it is hard to stay there. Even when we are lucky enough to feel one with everything and know it on an intrinsic level, we often regress to a dualistic point of view because that is how we have been trained our whole life to see the world. That is how we are taught to live, and that is how we see others living.

Even when we reach a high spiritual state, we are pulled back to a lower spiritual state the moment we let down our guard. This lower spiritual state is the well-worn groove we usually live our lives within.

That’s why holy company is so important. Most of the time we surround ourselves with junk food, with dualistic thinking that keeps us from our spiritual goal. But the more we are in contact with people who are not thinking as dualistically, the more we can counteract this unwholesome education from society and learn a wholesome understanding that will help take us to our goal.

Now it is hard to find holy company, but thankfully the internet can help. Through YouTube, it now is possible to watch wholesome video instead of just the unwholesome video that is offered on Netflix and cable TV. Even if we don’t live near many people who think in terms of oneness, we can spend time with them via YouTube. This is not a replacement for spiritual community, which is why we have a page with organizations we recommend. But it can serve as another ingredient in the process of moving toward enlightenment–and building habits that let us stay there.

American Vedanta now offers a YouTube channel where we highlight videos that will you spend time around more holy company.

This week we also expanded our local events to include events in not just New York City, but also events in Cleveland, Bangkok and elsewhere.

The best spiritual ideas in the world amount to little if they are not put into practice, and being able to put spiritual ideas into practice requires confronting our bad learning. The main goal of this site is enabling you to put spiritual ideas into practice, and that is made far easier if you are surrounded by wholesomeness and not just the unwholesome dualistic thinking that most of us confront every day.

Peter Kowalke


Spiritual ServicesThis Week’s Spiritual Talk

The Value of Spiritual Community

It is hard to overstate the value of spiritual community. Connecting with the divine is an inward process, completely free from external stimulus, but going inward can be tricky on an empty stomach—or when isolated and living in a world that is constantly, subtly promoting duality and distance from the divine.

While I advocate a nuanced view when it comes to gurus and spiritual guides—basically, always take responsibility for your own spiritual journey—I am not meaning guidance and community are not helpful. Guidance is vital for the serious spiritual seeker, even the “advanced” spiritual seeker (whatever that means).

So it is important that each of us tap into a community that directly addresses our spiritual path, whether our path is Vedanta, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, humanism or something else.

Now this is not always easy…

(read more)


GitaBook of the Month

Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

The Bhagavad Gita is unique among religious texts in its emphasis on the discharge of everyday duties, irrespective of their nature, as an effective discipline for the realization of God. The Gita teaches that if a man performs his duties, surrendering the fruit to God and discarding all selfish motives, he gains purity of heart and achieves ultimate liberation. It is knowledge of God that gives man the strength to face calmly and cheerfully the duties of life. The Gita shows the way to spiritualize life and illumine even its drab and gray phases with the radiance of the Spirit. It lays down practical spiritual disciplines which can be followed by all, irrespective of faith and creed.

It is common for spiritual giants to offer their own commentary on how best to interpret the Bhagavad Gita, and the famous social activist and Indian saint, Mahatma Gandhi, lends his interpretation in this edition.

(Learn more about the book)

Other books we recommend can be found in our Books section. We also recommend YouTube videos, audio lectures and web sites, among other resources.


Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

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