Appeared in The Free Press Journal, Guiding Light column, 14th February 2020

What is the difference between spirituality and religion?

6 Lessons for a spiritual student in a relationship

Recognising human love before divine love

The pursuit of happiness

Who is a successful person?

I am the most important person in my life


From religious intolerance to religious acceptance

Religious intolerance comes from the belief that my religion is the only right one and other religions are wrong, and it is my job to correct them. This thinking creates the problem of me v/s the others with whom I am in conflict.

If God is one as all religions claim, then all religions become forms of worship/relating to that One Being. Therefore all religions are valid and one need not change the other but only learn to live and let live.

As one does with individuals in a group or family one has to, first of all, acknowledge that differences exist between all religions. We cannot say they are all the same. I have attended too many peace meetings where speaker after speaker said that all religions are the same. At the end of it, the audience walked off with the Hindu participant thinking, ’How can I be the same as the beef eater?’;’ the Muslim participant thinking, ‘How can I be the same as the idolater?’ This school of thought that all religions are the same is an attempt to paper over genuine differences that exist. This leads to a confusion in the people’s minds because on one hand, they hear about the sameness of all religions and on the other hand, experience all the differences. At best they are confused. At the worst, they reject outright what they have heard. Therefore, the first step will have to be one where I acknowledge that differences exist. That by itself need not be a problem – in fact in this acknowledgment, there can be a feeling of understanding since one is willing to see the other as the other is.

This is not enough but has to be followed by ‘acceptance’ of the differences. This does not mean I have to follow the other religion but accept the fact that what the other does may be right for him as what I do for myself. All religions are meant for the enhancement and growth of the human being. Hence, the basic humanness cannot be done away with. Therefore, human values are the basis over which religious growth is built upon.

Religion adds to human values and does not negate them. This understanding will ensure that sincerely following my religion and way of worship will not lead to trampling on other religions. After all, mutual respect of rights is a fundamental value. If human values are respected and religious differences are acknowledged and accepted, it would be easier to move into an understanding of not only one’s own but also the other’s religion. This can lead to more than mere tolerance and create a multi-religious/cultural society. This would be a responsibility that every one of us has to shoulder if one wants to live in a peaceful society. This cannot be left to the politicians alone.



6 Lessons for a spiritual student in a relationship

“Swamiji, I want to be a monk like you. Will you accept me as your disciple? “ The speaker was an intense young man who had been coming to my spiritual classes for a couple of months.

Too early to make such a decision, I thought. “Well, you are already my student. If in time we think that being a sadhu is the right step for you, I can help you with that.”

In the meantime, “have you ever fallen in love? “I asked. ‘No  Swamiji, never, I keep away from all that.” he replied. Then beta, you are not yet ready. How can you be a monk without learning the lessons that love has to teach you?

Spirituality is not life denying but life inclusive.  Spirituality is as much for a person in the thick of life as much as for a sadhu in the Himalayas. The latter is on the fast track because he has learnt the lessons life has to teach.

So, what does a loving relationship have to teach ?

  • A healthy and loving relationship helps to open up our heart and our lives to another human being.  If one has not learnt to love another human being, how can one love all of humanity? Spirituality is about feeling oneness with all of humanity.
  • A healthy and loving relationship is about accepting the other person as the person is. At the same time, being proactive with the changes one wants. Spirituality is about accepting my whole life and the world around me as it is without losing my sense of proactivity.
  • A  healthy and loving relationship can teach one the joy of surrender. Surrendering to another human being in love can be an uplifting experience, freeing ourselves at least temporarily from the narrow bounds of our ego.  Spirituality is about surrendering to a higher altar and discovering the freedom which is more permanent.
  • A  healthy and loving relationship also teaches one to remain independent in spite of the surrender.  To love somebody is different from being emotionally dependent on the person. For a healthy relationship one has to maintain a sense of individuality and relative independence.  Spirituality is about total independence and freedom.
  • A relationship can also teach one about dealing with longing and pain and being comfortable with the longing when the beloved is away. In one’s spiritual pursuit, one has to be comfortable with the spiritual longing pending spiritual wisdom.
  • A broken relationship can teach one about dealing with the intense pain of loss and learning to let go and get a closure. Spirituality is a lot about letting go in life.

So, I told him, “ Get into a nice, loving relationship. Either you can get married and be happy and continue being my student like the others here. At the end of it, if you still want to be a monk, you will be far more qualified to be one. “



Recognising human love before divine love 

“I don’t think my husband loves me,” she said. “We care and do things for each other, but there is no love.” I looked at her quizzically. She was smart, intelligent, effortlessly balancing the roles of career woman, wife, mother and homemaker. I knew her husband to be a caring, loving person even though a little uncommunicative.

“How did you come to that conclusion?” I asked. “Well, we don’t do anything romantic. He never sends me flowers or surprises me.” “I am sure you will find that is not true and he loves you deeply.” I responded.

Soon enough a small incident the following week made her rediscover her husband’s love for her. One night, her husband was relaxing in front of the TV after a particularly stressful day at work.  She was heating dinner when a tiny drop of oil splashed on her face. Her startled cry brought her husband into the kitchen. He found her splashing water on her face, dismissing it as nothing important. He noticed a tiny blister and, without a word, walked out of the house.

She was surprised at his behaviour. He was back in a few minutes with a tube of Burnol, which he insisted on applying. She was really touched by his caring gesture. She knew he was exhausted, but still had rushed to the chemist to get her the medicine. It is easy to say ‘I love you’ three times a day,but more difficult to express that love in meaningful action. 

All of us have an idea of romantic and other forms of love. We would also feel special if we were loved the way we want to be loved. However, the other person can generally love us only in the way he or she knows. If we cannot acknowledge the love that comes to us from others, irrespective of the manner in which it comes, then we may feel unloved and isolated. We may be more demanding in our relationships and accuse the other of not loving us enough. They would mostly tend to withdraw in hurt, leading to strained relationships.  

One has to recognise the love that others have for us, even though it is not expressed in the way we would like it to be. Only then would we feel loved and validated. This will also strengthen the relationship and enable us to ask for love in the manner we would like it to beexpressed. The other, in turn, feeling accepted and loved, would find it easier to respond in the way we would love. 

If we look at love in this manner, then we are very likely to find a lot of love and fulfillment in our lives. This recognition of human love is the foundation on which we build our recognition of divine love. Only after we have recognised human love, can we be ready to recognise the love of the divine that envelops all of us. 



The pursuit of happiness

Almost all that one does is for oneself, not out of unhealthy selfishness, but out of healthy enlightened self-interest. To explore this idea further, it may be good to examine what gives us happiness. It is evident that when one achieves what one values, one, naturally, would be happy.

In this, I would like us to see the difference between fun and happiness. Happiness can and does include a certain amount of fun, but fun may not and very often does not include happiness. For example, compare the fun in a wild night out with beer buddies vs. the happiness gained from the successful completion of a project; the fun of going to a party with a whole lot of people vs. the happiness gained in bonding with a few close friends over dinner; the fun of casual sex vs. the happiness in a committed relationship. Juxtaposing these situations may seem that one is supposed to choose one over the other. That may be true in some cases. As I have said earlier, fun can be a part of my overall search for happiness

Please be clear, I am not taking a moralistic stand and saying that seeking fun is bad. Seeking fun is a problem only when it is at the cost of my long-term happiness. In fact, that is the real difference between fun and happiness. Fun is immediate, sensory, with a short-term focus and may be healthy or unhealthy. Happiness is long term, healthy, raises my level of self-esteem and may improve my relationships and efficacy at work. This improved functioning further contributes to sustaining my happiness.

When we are happy, naturally, we can be better at what ever we do – be it professional or personal. When we manage our professional and personal lives better, we generally manage to eke out a better level of happiness. This is the paradox of happiness, as we know in the world.

Most of us are happy by chance when things go our way or when our minds are arrested as when we see a beautiful scene. For example, a sunset on the beach. So, we put off happiness as the end product of some accomplishment or numb our minds to be happy. In the process, we forget that purposefully working towards all our goals can itself give us a degree of happiness. If I can see that most of what I do on a day-to-day basis is leading towards my goal, then to that extent, I am happy and satisfied. In short, human happiness is a result of purposeful living. This would imply that I am clear about my priorities in life and I have set up my goals with respect to the different areas of my life . Like for example professional, health, family, spiritual etc. That means I am not drifting in life but have a clear focus of where I am headed.

Happiness is not only in the achievement but also in the process. The goal as well as the path is both happiness: like a trek in the Himalayas! Not only is Gomukh, the source of Ganga beautiful, the path too!

To live fully, joyfully, pursuing my goals is to be truly happy. You may say that this lifestyle does n ’t seem like much fun. That would be true only if I am going after my goals in a serious, rigid and solemn manner.  Here, what we are talking about is to pursue our goals in a realistic, optimistic manner, enjoying the pursuit as it leads me to my goals.  And I can have all the fun too!



Who is a successful person?

If true happiness comes from fulfilling what is really important to us, how do we know what is really important? Or what really matters to us?

Most of us are only aware of our desires and not the underlying priorities. We are only aware of our priorities in the sense of prioritizing our work! Many of us may not be fully aware of our life priorities. What are these? Since we are aware of our desires, that may be a good place to start.

A priority is a need behind the desire or ‘the need behind the need’. Like all of us may have a desire for money. What is the need behind that desire?

It may be at a simple level: fulfilling the needs of food, clothing, shelter or at a more deeper level, economic independence, financial security, social standing, etc. The simple level is common to all human beings. The second level is where the differences come in, in terms of one’s priorities. This is what is meant by the need behind the need! Thus the underlying priority, expresses itself as a desire all the time.

For instance, one may have a desire to marry a particular person, the underlying need could be emotional companionship, fulfillment of physical needs etc. The above desire with regard to a particular person may or may not be fulfilled. However, the underlying priority of say, emotional companionship can definitely be fulfilled through another healthy relationship. This does not mean that you are substituting one person for the other but realizing that even though my particular, specific desire was not fulfilled, the underlying need still can be taken care of.   This is not a compromise either but moving on in life instead of being stuck like Devdas!

No human being can fulfill all of his/her desires. Let us look back in our own life: How many desires have we managed to fulfill? As a child, we may have had a million desires, a few were fulfilled and the others we grew out of . One or two may have remained. The giving up of these unfulfilled desires was not always painful, like the marbles were given up for the cricket bat; the cricket bat was given up for a corporate job. One does not regret that one cannot play with marbles anymore!

If one identifies the underlying priority, one finds that they are fewer in number. Therefore, one can fulfill all one’s priorities even though many desires may remain unfulfilled.  The recognition of this fact can make us calmer, more purposeful and focused in life.

This fact of life is not often recognized because it is snowed under the media messages that heighten the belief that, ‘ I am less successful as a person if I don’t go all out to fulfill these desires.’ The advertising media also contributes to creation of desires. However, if one carefully looks at these advertisements, one finds that they tap into one’s hidden priorities. The priorities are connected by the media with whatever is being advertised irrespective of the fact whether they are logically connected or not. Example: Cigarettes to the spirit of adventure!

‘A successful person is one who has fulfilled most of one’s priorities.’ This is what leads to happiness and fulfillment in life. This is easier said than done! Identifying one’s priorities requires a lot of self-awareness. It requires to think for oneself, independent of peer group influences, social pressures, ‘doing what everybody else does’. It is only when I think  independently, can I be true to myself and my real needs. It is far easier to follow the beaten path and live with a herd mentality rather than stand up for what I am. This does not mean that one is mindlessly rebelling nor is it the simple opposite of blindly going with the herd.

To live life without this priority clarification is to go through life like a rudderless ship without direction or purpose to be pushed around by the wind of my desires and the undercurrent of my fantasies. This is not ‘going with the flow’ that philosophers talk about. To live guided by my fantasies is to do a lot and achieve little – to run around like a headless chicken!

To live my priorities means to be clear in my thinking, to look into myself and the society that exerts its influence on me and decide rationally of what I should do with my life.



I am the most important person in my life

We are not selfish or self-centered. We work hard for the sake of our company, to earn enough for our families. We take care of our parents; give the best possible education to our children. We also give charity and are involved in community welfare.

Therefore, others are very important in our lives.


By no stretch of imagination can we be called selfish/self centered. We certainly are warm, caring individuals.

At the same time ALL that we do is done not only for what it offers others but also what we gain from it.

These actions give us a lot of happiness, a sense of achievement, self-respect and satisfaction that we are doing our duty. These are some of our strong motivations.Therefore, all actions for ourselves, our work, our families and our community is ultimately for our own fulfillment and happiness!

Even our ancient spiritual literature says that we love someone not only for what they are but what we are when we are with them. We love people in whose presence we feel good about ourselves, hopeful and happy. On the other hand, if we were to feel unhappy, resentful or angry most of the time with the same people, we would find our love drying up…

Then, ‘I love you’ becomes ‘I allow you – You go your way, I go mine.”

But I do things for people even when there is no great love in spite of feeling angry and upset. What about that?


There are cases when we act in caring ways in spite of not being happy with them. Such actions come from our own values of loyalty, a sense of duty etc. We feel good/self righteous when we live by our values and fulfill our duties. So, even in such instances, we act to feel good about ourselves!

What about an extreme case of someone risking one’s life to save a child’s?—Is n’ t that purely unselfish?

Certainly, it is.

However, here our value structure is involved. How can we stand by doing nothing when a child’s life is at stake? Feelings of helplessness make us uneasy.  How can we face ourselves living the rest of our lives knowing we could have done something but we were too cowardly or not caring enough to act? Supposing we do not act and later justify ourselves by denying that we could have done something. Here too, we do it to avoid our feelings of guilt and shame! For ourselves!

Does this mean that there is only selfishness in all I do?

No—a lot of our actions are caring and unselfish. At the same time, it is important to recognize what we gain from these actions. There is some amount of healthy enlightened self-interest in all our actions including the unselfish ones. This awareness can paradoxically help us live in a more caring and effective manner.

Therefore, the original statement stands.—“I am the most important person in my life”

At the same time one pays little conscious attention to oneself. We almost take ourselves for granted and live life in a mechanical manner doing the same thing day after day. Not a wonder in spite of having things that we want like a secure job, reasonable pay and perks, a nice family, we feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction and restlessness in our lives.

We will look into who THE PERSON really is . The aim would be to find greater happiness and fulfillment through a voyage of self-discovery.