What is Being Spiritual?

Via Nadia Ballas-Ruta
on Jul 27, 2009
get elephant's newsletter


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.


About Nadia Ballas-Ruta

Nadia Ballas-Ruta is a former attorney and almost took final vows as a Vedanta nun with the prestigious Ramakrishna Order. She has traveled the world, lived in India and so much more. She currently is working as a freelance writer and photographer. The focus of her work as an artist is to help people recognize their inherent Divinity. She is also a regular contributor at Think Simple Now.


11 Responses to “What is Being Spiritual?”

  1. swati jr* says:

    labels mean nothing. the proof is in your actions- or nonactions. 😉

  2. […] Click here to read my newest article, What Is Being Spiritual, at Elephant Journal. […]

  3. Reid says:

    I enjoyed this article. I subscribe to the idea of spirituality as an expression of goodness. I was also reminded of a teacher at Naropa who describes his idea of Spirituality as "Living the Questions" as opposed to feeling we need to have "The Answers". This was the first article I opened on my first visit to Elephant Journal. thanks!

  4. Syam says:

    RE: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.

    Buddha Says: "You will not be punished for your shopping but by your shopping".

  5. It does no good for us breezily to write off such thoughts by thinking that we "cannot imagine" answering to God for how we spend our money. In saying this, we limit who God (or whomever) is or might do by our own imagination. We make spirituality merely a matter of our own personal preferences and desires for creature comforts. Such a mentality will surely keep us from any kind of personal transformation or any chance of moving closer to a higher power.
    Finally, why shouldn't God be concerned for how we spend our money? Consider the words of Jesus of Nazareth (who was surely a spokesman for the Divine, whether or not we agree with the Christian view that he was the "Son of God"): "For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…. whatever you did for one of the least of these…. you did for me."
    That doesn't make life much easier for any of us, but meditating on it and seriously considering how we must then live might just make us more spiritual.

  6. You noted: "I have never come across any book that says having money makes you bad or not spiritual." You might consider the books "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" by Ron Sider or "In His Steps" by Charles Sheldon.

  7. You also noted: "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." I cannot be entirely sure how you meant this statement, but it suggests a common laziness of spiritual thinking. I want to be comfortable–more than comfortable–as much as the next person, and I have good taste in wine and clothes and food and many other things. But we have to take time to think that through. Does my being comfortable hurt others? Could money I spend all too freely making myself "comfortable" give someone else a chance simply at life? Many of the people of Laos, for example, live on less than $1.50 (US) a day. Isn't there something spiritual in recognizing that my willingness to be a little less comfortable, perhaps to give up a trip to Sephora or wherever else, might make me able to provide for someone much less fortunate?

  8. Laura Dunn says:

    great article. Check out this link for more information on spiritual materialism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_materialis

  9. Let me tell ya, if u really into this stuff, u should check out this Hypnosis & NLP course

  10. Just posted to "Weekend Wisdom" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  11. […] What Is Being Spiritual? […]