Spirituality in a householder's life:

Ayesha Gupta Sarkar

The Call Beyond
15 Feb 2020

When I joined the Course on Teaching Yoga at Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Delhi Branch, in August 2019, right in the first week I was told, “This course changes every individual who joins the course.” This prediction certainly came true for me, and what I have observed in addition is that the change affects not just the individual, but those who are around her too. This could be called the ‘ripple effect of spirituality.’

How to understand spirituality

Spirituality, spiritual, being spiritual, following spiritual practices…. There is a whole collection of words and phrases using the term ‘spiritual’. There is of course, the dictionary definition, but by exploring the individual’s understanding of spirituality, we can try and discover what spirituality is as a living, breathing practice; what it means to us as people, as individuals and as part of society. This naturally, leads to the conclusion that Spirituality may mean different things to different people.

What relevance does spirituality and the householder’s life have in terms of societal context?

From the moment we are born till the moment we leave this life, we are brought in contact with the Divine. When we visit a place of worship, when an elder blesses us, at the altar in the pooja room of the house, the little altar in an auto or taxi, the lyrics of a devotional song wafting through our busy, chaotic lives ... we are reminded of the presence of the Divine everywhere, all the time.

Is our understanding of spirituality defined by the relationships we have? For many of us the answer is, yes. It is our relationships in the spheres of home, family, extended family, work, friends and daily interactions with strangers in our everyday life that compel us to act, respond and react but without a script to prompt or guide us. We could however, say that our lives and we ourselves are Divine work, so the script is already written but we are not consciously aware of it. But how does this Divine work happen and what is spiritual about it? This work or change happens at the deepest levels of our being but it is reflected in the ‘external person’ we start to become. It is in our thoughts, our actions, our views and opinions, our attitude to the ups and downs in our everyday lives, and the language that we begin to use to express ourselves.

Strengthening the spiritual focus

Based on the Vedas, the Indian culture has identified four stages of life: the celibate student, the householder, the person who withdraws gradually from involvement in everyday life, and the renunciate, who leaves all worldly ties to see the Divine alone.

While times have changed, there is a general similarity in the direction our lives take even today to the stages described long ago. We start life, experience childhood, adolescence and youth as individuals who focus on ourselves. We then get married, start families and work to provide for the families we have created and for our parents. As our children grow up and start moving away, we focus again on gradually retreating from family life, and start preparing for old age and loneliness. The last phase is when we take time to reflect on our lives, how we have lived our lives, our actions, our lessons and we begin to focus on the Divine more and more.

Each phase of our life builds on the period before it. We gain wisdom from the lessons learned in each phase. Often, we are rushing through the motions of life. The lessons come only later when we find time to pause and reflect. This is when we begin to understand the significance of each experience, each challenge and recognise the opportunities for our own spiritual growth throughout life.

An example from my life is how I have matured in handling friendships. In my twenties, friendships were more about avoiding loneliness, being part of a group and trying to be ‘seen’ by others in some way. Now in my fifties, friendships are for finding shared values in life and accepting each other without judgement and seeing each friend as a fragment of the Divine.

In my early thirties, being an individual, being different from others seemed to be such an important focus in life and work. Now, I see myself as less separate from others. The boundaries created merge into a space of oneness and unity. I see that, in reality, there is little that separates us all.

There was a time when I felt that it was important to establish what was right and wrong, especially if I was ‘in the right’. My desire to create a fairer, more just, more correct view of life required that I shame those who were being unfair, not following their civic duties or being unprofessional. Now, I opt for a more ‘we’ approach rather than a ‘I vs. you’ approach and share my understanding of what I see as the ‘right action for all.’

This is also when our sadhana and relationship with the Divine changes. It grows and matures. We begin to understand what Spirituality means to us as individuals. If we define sadhana as our total relationship with God, rather than just time spent in meditation or prayer, then we see that the Divine has a lesson for us each step of the way. I have learned to look upon every challenge in life as an opportunity for spiritual growth. Even if the element of growth is not immediately visible or evident, I must trust that it is there.

As a householder, we shouldn’t push away personal ties, but we shouldn’t become attached to them either. We must never forget that the only Reality is the eternal presence of the Divine behind all of life’s experiences and we are mere instruments. When we find ourselves in challenging situations, we can ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Is our intention pure, selfless and born out of love?
  • What role is our ego playing?
  • Is our intention based on truth?
  • Will our intention result in an everlasting peace?

When we are able to answer these prompts then, we can believe that our action is the right action and is in the spirit of Dharma.

Life as it is, and the practice of yoga, make us more receptive to becoming more spiritual. Being present and aware of the divine purpose of life removes all social conditioning so that we can get in contact with that Supremely Intelligent Divine that has created this vast universe but also resides within the core of our hearts.

Ayesha Sarkar was a student in the Course on Teaching Yoga conducted by Sri Aurobindo Ashram – Delhi Branch in 2019. This article was submitted by her as an assignment during the course.

Since we have decided to reserve love in its full splendour for our personal relation with the Divine, we shall, in our relation with others, replace it by a whole hearted, unchanging, constant and egoless kindness and goodwill.

— The Mother (in ‘Four Austerities and Four Liberations’)