The Spiritual Life, the Religious Life and the Ordinary Human Life

Ordinary human life is essentially driven by response to outer circumstances, and is based in the desires, needs and reactions of the ego-personality. The interaction between people in a society, whether in the smallest groupings such as the family, or larger groupings of community, country or international relations, is essentially a widening of this same principle. In order to mitigate the effects of the underlying principles of a self-seeking for self-aggrandisement or defense, human society has developed concepts we call morality. At some point, people begin to awaken to the idea that a life focused entirely on survival and enjoyment has no intrinsic significance and they begin the search for meaning, which takes the form of individual seeking or adoption of a body of concepts and practices intended to reveal the deeper meaning of life, which we call religion. For the most part, however, the actual experience of a deeper truth is reserved for those who have undertaken a vision quest or who have undergone some life-changing event or recognition. The rest of the people try to maintain the force of the initial experience, or repeat it, through following the tenets and rituals that become associated with that religion.

In the end, however, the practice of religion is also seen to be insufficient for those who have a deeper calling and they take up the quest in what we call spirituality. This is essentially the turning of the being toward the deeper truths of existence for direct, individual experience. We see in today’s world a change as more people leave their religion behind and take up a spiritual seeking. This is a sign of the deeper aspiration that is driving humanity toward its next great stage of realisation and progress.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “The spiritual life (adhyatma-jivana), the religious life (dharma-jivana) and the ordinary human life of which morality is a part are three quite different things and one must know which one desires and not confuse the three together. The ordinary life is that of the average human consciousness separated from its own true self and from the Divine and led by the common habits of the mind, life and body which are the laws of the Ignorance. The religious life is a movement of the same ignorant human consciousness, turning or trying to turn away from the earth towards the Divine, but as yet without knowledge and led by the dogmatic tenets and rules of some sect or creed which claims to have found the way out of the bonds of the earth-consciousness into some beatific Beyond. the religious life may be the first approach to the spiritual, but very often it is only a turning about in a round of rites, ceremonies and practices or set ideas and forms without any issue. The spiritual life, on the contrary, proceeds directly by a change of consciousness, a change from the ordinary consciousness, ignorant and separated from its true self and from God, to a greater consciousness in which one finds one’s true being and comes first into direct and living contact and then into union with the Divine. For the spiritual seeker this change of consciousness is the one thing he seeks and nothing else matters.”

“Morality is a part of the ordinary life; it is an attempt to govern the outward conduct by certain mental rules or to form the character by these rules in the image of a certain mental ideal. The spiritual life goes beyond the mind; it enters into the deeper consciousness of the Spirit and acts out of the truth of the Spirit.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, The Integral Yoga and the Ordinary Life, pg. 15


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