Misconceptions about Spirituality


  • 1. Misconceptions about Spirituality
    • 1.1 Fear
    • 1.2 Ignorance
    • 1.3 Blind faith
    • 1.4 Misuse
    • 1.5 Cheating
    • 1.6 Inflated ego
    • 1.7 ‘Of what use is it to us?’
    • 1.8 Secrecy
    • 1.9 Misconceptions about spiritual practice
    • 1.10 Misconceptions about priests
    • 1.11 Misconceptions about seekers
    • 1.12 Misconceptions about Sadhus (ascetics)
    • 1.13 Misconceptions about those teaching Spirituality
    • 1.14 Misconceptions about the Guru
  • 2. Reasons for misconceptions about Spirituality
    • 2.1 Misguidance by ‘prominent’ members of society
    • 2.2 Spread of ignorance through the media
    • 2.3 Opposition to the spread of spiritual knowledge by universities
    • 2.4 Spread of ignorance by universities
    • 2.5 Indirect resistance from the government
    • 2.6 Expression of unilateral opinions
    • 2.7 Ignorance and blind faith of rationalists
    • 2.8 Pessimism
    • 2.9 Unscientific superficial literature
    • 2.10 Unrealistic claims

1. Misconceptions about Spirituality

Most people specially the younger generation, have a lot of misconceptions about Spirituality. So let us first understand what these misconceptions are, that is what is not Spirituality.

1.1 Fear

30% of the population feels that if God and Saints get enraged with them, they will be harmed. Many people as directed in letters which they have received in the name of Saints or God, send twenty-five to fifty copies of them, with the fear that if they do not comply then they will incur a great loss. Similarly, people give alms with the fear that if a person in the garb of a mendicant is hurt, then he may wish one ill and may even curse. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to harbour such fears. However, due to the fear that if we err, we will be committing a sin and will be punished by God for it, at least 30% people from society refrain from making mistakes. This is an indirect benefit of this school of thought.

1.2 Ignorance

No matter how educated a person is, from the worldly point of view, he may be totally ignorant about the science of Spirituality. In fact approximately 80% of people from each of the following groups – illiterate, those with primary education, those with secondary education, graduates and post-graduates are ignorant about Spirituality, as they have no formal education in it. An example of such ignorance can be seen in the article, ‘The Ganesh idol from the aesthetic point of view’ which appeared in a local daily. In this article a famous artist writes, ‘The traditional Ganesh idol is considered as one of the most beautiful sculptures. I feel like congratulating the anonymous sculptor, the first to materialise this innovative idea into reality’. That Ganapati (Sri Ganesh) is an idea, is ignorance by itself. Deities like Ganapati are not imaginary, they exist in reality and even have a form. This is what the poor writer does not know.

  • A. H.H. Dr. Athavale was once invited to deliver a discourse on Spirituality at Mumbai. The organisers inquired if they should provide Him with a chaurang (a small square stool used during ritualistic worship) instead of a chair, whether the table needed to be covered with a saffron cloth and if a samai (oil lamp) was required beside Him. They were unaware that Spirituality does not lie in external decoration but in painting one’s inner self saffron [with vairagya (detachment)].
  • B. Sexuality and ignorance about Spirituality

1. On one hand, you advise me to practise Spirituality and on the other, ask me to lead a normal sexual life and not to ‘refuse’ my spouse. Is this not contrary to Spirituality ?

2. A woman suffering from depression, thought that her sexual desire had decreased in accordance with her age. In reality, it can decrease with advancing age, depression and spiritual progress.

  • C. ‘Those following the Path of Spirituality differentiated between Spirituality and the universe. They therefore ignored the universe considering it as Maya (The Great Illusion). Hence the very zeal for living was over. People became helpless and inactive and led a life devoid of activity under the pretext of attaining Moksha (Final Liberation). This is not true Dharma (Righteousness).’ – Sri Aurobindo (The life of one following the Path of Spirituality should be beneficial for all creation.)
  • D. Those believing in destiny : It is incorrect to consider one believing in destiny, a coward. He alone is the true brave one and has the potential to become a Saint.

1.3 Blind faith

From the example given below one can realise how deeply blind faith is harboured by Bharatiyas. Vrundavan, a place in North India is considered sacred as Srikrushna lived there. The residents of Vrundavan believe that if we die in such a sacred place then our embodied soul gets liberated. Hence in Vrundavan, faith prevails that the residents of Vrundavan shall not be afflicted with any problem due to dissatisfied ancestors’ souls.

The point to be noted here is that, if this were true then every corrupt person, a dacoit, a murderer despite committing numerous sins would finally get liberated ! It would be injustice to others. God is impartial towards all. The statement that if we die in Vrundavan we can attain liberation, is true only in the case of a devotee or a sinner who is totally repentant and not others.

One comes across 20% individuals in society who harbour blind faith. Although there is a loss of 10% to the society because of this; yet there is 20% benefit as at least some people refrain from doing bad deeds out of blind faith.

‘We consider a cat crossing our path as a bad omen. So should cats never be seen on the road ? If a lizard falls on someone, he feels distressed.’ These are not superstitions but are premonitions. If they do occur then the affected person should chant God’s Name.

1.4 Misuse

About 5% of people make money under the garb of Spirituality for instance by starting a ‘yoga’ or a ‘pranayam (controlled breathing exercises)’ class. At one such ‘pranayam’ centre there was a choice of eighteen separate courses of pranayam for improving health, improving concentration, personality development etc. Names of the eighteen courses were printed in their pamphlet merely to attract people. In reality the same pranayam was taught in every course !

1.5 Cheating

95% of the so-called ‘holy men’ are fake. They make money in the garb of a mendicant. One such Sadhu (ascetic) would prescribe yonipuja (worship of the genitalia) as the sole remedy for any sort of complaint that a woman had. He would then have intercourse with her as a form of  treatment !

Some Gurus advertise through newspapers that they will give initiation with a gurumantra at a particular time ! [More information on the Guru is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 4 – Path of Guru’s Grace (Gurukrupayoga)’.] These fake holy men should realise that rather than roaming about adorned with gandha (sandalwood paste) or tilaks, they should behave virtuously. Only then will people worship them with gandha and tilaks and will they make at least some amount of spiritual progress themselves.

1.6 Inflated ego

About 5% of people in society try to educate the masses about Spirituality pretending to be very well versed in it when in reality they know nothing about it. For instance knowing absolutely nothing about Sriram one wrote, ‘Ram was never ideal. He can never be the seat of one’s faith….. The concept of God itself should be uprooted’ etc. Yet another said, ‘Now let us ensure that God retires !’

1.7 ‘Of what use is it to us ?’

55% of the people feel ‘Let those who have a liking for Spirituality study it, of what use is it to us ?’ They do not know that in the life of an average individual only 20% of physical and psychological problems are caused due to reasons other than spiritual factors in kriyaman karma (wilful actions). The remaining 80% problems are caused by spiritual factors alone. In other words, out of every five distressed individuals, four can acquire happiness merely by undertaking spiritual practice; so four out of five individuals from among one’s family, relatives and friends definitely need Spirituality. Spiritual practice enhances our ability to endure destiny. All this of course is from the worldly point of view. To attain Moksha, however, there is no substitute for Spirituality.

1.8 Secrecy

Some people feel that secrecy has to be maintained in Spirituality. Why do people following the Aryadharma observe secrecy in Spirituality ? In this regard a Saint, Sri Gulabrao Maharaj says – ‘Only those who feel that there is nothing in the Vedanta other than idle talk say this. When there are trade secrets even in business, why should we feel that there should be none in Spirituality? Besides, we cannot understand the true meaning properly, despite voluminous writings in the holy texts. Secondly, knowledge from holy texts goes into the hands of people who have no authority over it. Thus a genre of people is generated, who impart knowledge to others merely by reading holy texts without totally following the Path of Spirituality. When knowledge is revealed in such a manner, people feel that worldly life is alone more valuable than Spirituality.’

1.9 Misconceptions about spiritual practice

  • A. 45% of the people know that Spirituality is useful, yet 50% of them say, ‘We will undertake spiritual practice when we grow old’. There are four errors associated with this statement.

1. When there is no guarantee that we will survive till old age, deciding that we will practise Spirituality then, is incorrect.

2. Good physical and mental health is required to undertake spiritual practice. In old age since both these weaken, it becomes difficult to undertake spiritual practice.

3. Just as it is difficult to learn any new skill in old age, so also it becomes difficult to learn to undertake spiritual practice then.

4. The number of impressions created in the subconscious mind goes on increasing with age. In Spirituality, however, one aims at eliminating all these impressions.

  • B. Undertaking spiritual practice of our favourite Deity or a Saint according to our intellect : 80% of those practising Spirituality fall in this category. Just as when ill, we do not take medicines on our own without the advice of a physician or do not argue in court on our own without a lawyer, so also it is pointless practising Spirituality according to our intellect. When such spiritual practice does not bestow much benefit, our faith in Spirituality and spiritual practice begins to waver and we conclude that all this is fake. If Spirituality actually means forgetting oneself, then how will we benefit if we undertake spiritual practice according to our intellect ? Hence doing spiritual practice after studying Spirituality or under the guidance of an evolved person proves more beneficial
  • C. 30% of seekers feel that if they want to make spiritual progress they should not get married. However this is incorrect due to the reasons enlisted below.

1. If we do spiritual practice whilst living in society then we make faster spiritual progress. If we renounce the world and retire to the Himalaya mountains, we are not tested enough unlike when living in society where we are tested at every step.

2. Destroying the mind, rather causing its dissolution is the very essence of Spirituality. Thus if we practise it, we should not make decisions using our intellect. So deciding to remain unmarried is wrong. Besides, if we are destined to get married then we cannot avert it. In such cases, a seeker may feel dejected that he was unable to observe even this restriction of remaining unmarried.

  • D. Some feel that if ‘they repeat (chant) God’s Name as spiritual practice then they will not be able to fulfill their other worldly duties’. Such a feeling is absolutely ill-founded. Nowhere in the history of mankind has there been a case where anyone has incurred a loss due to chanting of God’s Name. On the contrary, chanting of God’s Name increases the power of concentration, so we are able to accomplish worldly duties in a much better way.

Detailed information on misconceptions about spiritual practice is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Chapter 3 – Practice of Spirituality’.

1.10 Misconceptions about priests

Some priests who perform rituals feel that they know everything about Spirituality. In reality however, a majority of them know only about karmakand (ritualistic worship) and they are ignorant about the science underlying the rituals.

Those who deliver spiritual discourses (pravachan, kirtan) speak a lot on Spirituality without having any spiritual experiences. Some people consider them as Gurus and undertake spiritual practice as advised by them thus wasting several years of their life doing inappropriate spiritual practice.

1.11 Misconceptions about seekers

A lady seeker’s husband was murdered. When she accepted it calmly, the police thought that she must have committed the act. Some felt that she was not bereaved because she did not love her husband or presumed that she loved someone else. Some thought that she would grieve later with the passage of time !

1.12 Misconceptions about Sadhus (ascetics)

  • “It is shameful that even after almost 45 years of Independence, ascetics are determining the fate of the nation.” – Jyoti Basu, the Chief Minister of West Bengal (December 1992)
  • Some people equate Saints who are sthitapradnya (those with a steady intellect) with psychiatric patients who are emotionally blunted however a sthitapradnya is not emotionally blunted he is only unaffected by external circumstances / emotions.
  • Some think that since schizophrenics are emotionally blunted they are highly evolved spiritually.
  • That answers obtained through meditation can be hallucinations
  • Misconceiving the ability to foresee the future, as a mental disorder : ‘If one deeply studies the psyche of those believing that the world will end, one will find that there is depression in their lives. According to Professor T.K. Umen, Head of the Department of Sociology of Jawaharlal Nehru University, they have accepted such a prediction due to this depression. Mr. Parvin Chopra, the editor of the periodical ‘Life positive’ claims that self-proclaimed Gurus sprout in order to exploit such depressed and escapist people. The organisations established by such Gurus are generally loyal to them. These Gurus then either lead them onto the path of self-destruction or exploit them financially or sexually. Many a facet is common in such groups, e.g. a singular charismatic male leader, detachment from the rest of the society and deployment of bizarre modalities for protection of the group. The Om Shinri Kyo sect of Japan, the Dravidian sect of U.S.A. and the Kalki sect from South India, believe that God will incarnate to destroy evildoers. Organisations such as the Brahmakumari and Sanatan Sanstha proclaim the theory of evolution which shall destroy human race. Some other groups like the “Heaven’s Gate” believe that flying saucers shall destroy the evil tendencies in the human race.’ – (Doomsday prophesies from Insecurity, Times of India, 13th October 2000)

1.13 Misconceptions about those teaching Spirituality

Misconceptions about H.H. Dr. Jayant Balaji Athavale – ‘Doctor makes use of hypnosis more than Spirituality; that is why a larger audience attends his discourses / workshops’.

1.14 Misconceptions about the Guru

Some harbour the misconception that the Guru will eliminate their worldly obstacles. The Guru has no relation with worldly obstacles but is concerned solely with the spiritual progress of His disciple.

2. Reasons for misconceptions about Spirituality

2.1 Misguidance by ‘prominent’ members of society

We should generally not speak on a subject on which we do not have adequate knowledge. Despite this rule, several prominent personalities from other fields in society talk on Spirituality even when they have had no spiritual experiences. Some of their listeners especially the younger generation not realising that their opinions should not be taken seriously, get misled and misconceptions regarding Spirituality are created in their minds. A few samples of quotes on Spirituality by such ‘prominent’ personalities are given below. This may also be called idle talk !

  • A. A famous astronomer said, “In the adhik (intercalary) month of the Hindu lunar calendar [ideal to undertake vrat (vowed religious observances)], we can perform the following rituals – blood donation, donation to a society dedicated to teaching the physical sciences, participation in a cleanliness drive, visits to hospitals to comfort patients, visits to places of historic importance, social work, etc.” He probably is unaware of the importance of vrats, the benefits of which are dependent on the sankalp (resolve) made by Sages. Then how will these modern observances be fruitful without the resolve of a person with an authority in that field ? (For more information on vowed religious observances refer ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 10 – Holy Festivals, Religious Festivals and Vowed Religious Observances’)
  • B. ‘My mother-in-law neither forced me to perform the rituals of Satyanarayan or Mangalagauri nor imposed her opinions upon me. I consider myself fortunate to have such a good mother-in-law.’ – A quote by a famous political leader. Now we will have to redefine a good mother-in-law as one who does not teach any religious principles !
  • C. ‘So long as we do not step out of this whirlpool of thirty-three crore Deities and casteism, we will not be able to make any progress’, said a former Chief Justice of the Mumbai High Court. This implies that instead of corruption, bribery etc. it is God who hinders our progress !
  • D. At a symposium on eradication of blind faith, the speakers were an industrialist, a senior politician, two scientists, a writer and a chief minister. None of them had any knowledge on religion, faith etc.
  • E. ‘How long will we continue to sing the glory of Ram, Bhim, Arjun and Hanuman ?’, asked a senior politician. No matter how many praises we sing of an icon of Sat (Absolute Truth) like Sriram, they will always be far too little. However people who have spent their lives in the asat (untruth) will never realise this.

2.2 Spread of ignorance through the media

We have already seen how ignorance spreads through newspapers. The radio and television too project repeatedly that things such as casting an evil eye, black magic like bhanamati, possession etc. are all fake when these actually do exist.

2.3 Opposition to the spread of spiritual knowledge by universities

We had written to the executive committee of extra mural education of the University of Mumbai to include the subject of Spirituality in their curriculum to help eradicate the misconceptions about Spirituality. In a letter dated 27th June 1988, the University rejected the request. Our universities will probably awaken once the study of this subject commences abroad!

2.4 Spread of ignorance by universities

In a television documentary produced by a university it was said that Astrology, the science of mantras, kaul (answers sought from a Deity through the medium of flowers, leaves etc) are all fake.

2.5 Indirect resistance from the government

A television serial depicting factual incidents beyond the comprehension of the intellect was discontinued by the government due to pressure from so-called rationalists. However Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ which also shows a ghost was allowed to be telecast !

2.6 Expression of unilateral opinions

‘The upliftment of the lowest caste of people and tribals will bring back Ram’s rule of Ramarajya (Righteousness) to our country, in the real sense….. The heads of all ashrams (hermitages), mendicants and Saints should leave their ashrams and go into the world to serve these people’- the quote of a well-known Swami. One having true spiritual knowledge even to a small extent will never make such statements. Such statements usually stem from a desire for cheap publicity.

2.7 Ignorance and blind faith of rationalists

  • A. Intellectuals give ridiculous challenges to the omniscient and omnipotent Saints ‘to perform a miracle and win five lakh rupees’. Miracles are not like movies to be watched by buying a ticket. To witness a miracle we need devotion bhakti (devotion) and bhav (spiritual emotion). This is precisely what these rationalists do not realise. They talk about money following the illusory doctrine of the West that everything can be bought with money. This is akin to a chaste woman who will not pose in the nude even if offered millions.
  • B. Also, they do not realise the simple fact that with the intellect we can comprehend only phenomena pertaining to physical sciences and not those beyond them. Existence of God cannot be proved with logic which is a science based on the intellect, we get the spiritual experience of God only after dissolution of the intellect.
  • C. They are unable to undertake a study like the theosophists and researchers at the Psychical Research Society at England who have studied phenomena beyond the intellect.

‘A well known pioneer from the Theosophical Society, Mr. Leadbeater has authored two books, viz. ‘The Astral Plane’ and ‘The Devachanic Plane’, based on the nether region and heaven respectively after undertaking research. In these books, at the very outset he says – “We have taken due care to ensure that the information in these books should be flawless. We have not included even a single new or old point which has not been independently experienced by at least two of us experts in this research field and which is not verified by an authority more knowledgeable than us, in these books.”

H.H. Dr. Jayant Athavale had included the above excerpt in the first edition of his book written about 20 years ago. Today, He can reiterate that the research from the last century, in the first edition is correct and flawless as He has experienced its veracity everyday for the past several years….. In short, He does not consider it necessary to alter any of the matter written in these books then.’

  • D. That which cannot be understood by intellect can be perceived only after practising Spirituality. However rationalists are not prepared to undertake the necessary spiritual practice. They are unaware that the spiritual intellect does not get activated without spiritual practice.
  • E. Rationalism of atheists and theists : The rationalism of atheists is based on human intellect while that of theists on the intellect of God !
  • F. Why does research have to be done repeatedly in science ?

1. A researcher puts forth a doctrine through his experience.

2. Thereafter the data (eg. case papers of patients) from which the conclusion is derived, is thrown away.

3. After several years, people ask for the authenticity of that doctrine.

4. Then the research is carried out again on the same subject by another researcher only to arrive at the same conclusion.

The only way to put an end to this vicious cycle, is by accepting the researcher’s word as the authority. Only then will researchers be able to march ahead.

2.8 Pessimism

Question : ‘Why is there so much pessimism about studying Spirituality ?

Answer : First and foremost it is the absence of appropriate education. Secondly, people are not imparted information about this subject in their day-to-day life. It is but natural for people not to develop a liking for Spirituality, as no one provides true knowledge about God. Formerly preaching, prayer and the sacred and venerable holy texts and religious books were closely associated with life. Today due to the growing materialism, they have lost their importance and value in the life of the common man. Money itself has become the Dharma (Religion) of the new era.

2.9 Unscientific superficial literature

It is such literature which makes readers lose their faith in Spirituality. For example, a book authored by a famous spiritualist says – ‘Sri Ganapati is fond of red flowers. Red colour signifies revolution. Leaders and philosophers like divine revolution’.

2.10 Unrealistic claims

An example of this is illustrated by the following news item from a daily. Recovery from asthma by performing yogasans (yogic postures) ! : It has now been proved that one can get relief from asthma by totally avoiding mental stress and performing simple exercises like yogic postures. Dr. M.P. Mani, of the Kerala Science Convention has proved this through his research. He says that there is no need for any expensive medication to be cured of asthma.’

When we experiences the falsity of this statement, we lose faith in spiritual literature.

Some rationalists consider the renunciation of the body by Saints like Saint Dnyaneshvar, when still embodied, as suicide !