Is labeling yourself Spiritual more important than being a good person?
Recently, a reader of my blog made the comment that he had no idea what being spiritual meant. As I read his comment, I realized that I didn’t have a definite answer either. The ironic thing is that there was a time when I thought I knew exactly what being spiritual meant.
When I first started on my spiritual path, I thought being spiritual meant believing in God and the fact that there is a thing called destiny and that all the pieces fall into place. I used to walk around boldly proclaiming that I was spiritual. I would look down at those who did not believe what I believed.
When I discovered Buddhism, I thought being spiritual meant meditating and believing in karma. Buddhism made me realize the power that I had and helped me to see that I can choose how to see and create my reality. It helped me to recognize that life is a reflection of what I put out into the world. This awareness added more power and credibility to my idea that I was spiritual.
Like any new beginner to any path, I innocently thought that everyone who shared my same passions was going to have the same views that I did. I have no idea why I had this thought but I seriously believed that my fellow walkers on the spiritual path – whether those who were vegan or Buddhist, were going to be exactly like me.
Whenever I met someone who called themselves spiritual, I immediately thought there was this kinship and that this person and I would most likely speak the same language. Many times I was proven wrong but I held on to my belief.
Only when I went to live in India, did I come to see that spirituality or rather calling oneself spiritual is truly as descriptive as someone calling themselves a Democrat or a Republican. Spiritual means different things to different people.
For example, to some spiritual seekers, being spiritual means being poor. Many times I have meet people that consider themselves spiritual who seriously look down on anyone who earns money. I have seen people view those who have careers as being anything but spiritual.
Now the interesting thing is that I have never come across any book that says having money makes you bad or not spiritual. Yet to some, being in the world and making a living makes you somehow less spiritual.
Somewhere down the line, poverty became equated with being spiritual. Maybe it is because of the fact that men such as Buddha and Jesus wandered around and had no possessions. Often in life, people define who they are by what they own and that is not good.
For those of us who are not defined by what we own, are we less spiritual for wanting to be comfortable and have a roof over our heads? I truly cannot imagine having to defend myself in front of God or whomever after I leave this world because my shopping at Sephora made me lose some points from my karma account.
Another misperception about being spiritual is that a person has to be cold and unfeeling. The concept of detachment is mistakenly viewed as meaning that a person cannot laugh, or worse yet, cannot have a sense of humor. A person who is ultimately dead inside, yet spiritual?
My teacher laughed so much, I never could tell if he was laughing at us or with us. He often would find something so funny, he would get into laughing fits. Another monk who held a high position at the monastery usually glowed that I often wondered what did he use for his skin because it was impressive. And when he smiled, I swear it was like looking at a five year old as opposed to a 50 year old man.
Ironically, I have been at ashrams and temples where monks and students were as frigid as an ice cube and it was made clear that being happy was not allowed. If you are someone like me who tends to be happy, it is kind of hard to walk around and be miserable. Buddha, based on what I have read, did not seem to be some cranky guy walking around glaring at people.
Often detachment is mistaken as being unfeeling and having no emotions. The reality is that detachment means not being attached to labels and possessions. Nowhere is it said that a person must be cold and unfeeling? How can a person practice loving kindness if your heart rate is that of a snake?
Throughout history it has been quite common for society to give labels to things and yet the labels do not do any justice to the cause or the matter at hand. Often we give more power to labels than to essence and we often find ourselves being disappointed.
Being spiritual, in my mind, is just another label that has become quite popular and it is not my place to determine who is spiritual and what being spiritual looks like. I have met meat eating atheists who were more compassionate and loving than vegetarians who meditated seven days a week.
Being a good person, in the end, is what matters. How that goodness is expressed is up to the individual. The most important thing is that a person adds to the beauty and goodness of the world. Having an open mind and an open heart is simply the best way to be and has nothing to do with what religion you follow and whether or not you believe in reincarnation.