As religious people, we are involved with a certain amount of traditional, ceremonial, and dogmatic behavior. We do it automatically, because when we were children, we were simply told to behave and even think in a prescribed way. But do we really experience Spiritual Growth when we visit a church, do a good deed, pray, believe what others tell us to believe, belong to a belief system, grow beards, meditate, get circumcised, wear turbans, etc? To answer this question, we have to know first what constitutes spiritual growth.
Spiritual Growth simply occurs when the Spirit grows and the ego shrinks. Any Spiritual Growth happens only in direct relationship to a shrinking ego: without a shrinking ego, there is no Spiritual Growth.
Examples of Spiritual Growth versus a growing ego:
· If we do a good deed selflessly without the slightest consideration of the rewards or fruits, as a result, we grow spiritually. If we do that good deed and feel proud or even simply good, we strengthen the ego. Tricky but logical, is it not?
· Likewise, if we meditate and reduce our thinking, we uncover more of the Spirit. But, again, if we feel proud of our accomplishments as a result of otherwise proper Meditation, we have not really accomplished anything at all.
Spiritual Growth has to continue until we rest without remaining wishes, attachments, dreams and thoughts. Pure Awareness (God) is where we rest in eternal peace and bliss. Once this is understood, the mind will still resist and state that it is not yet ready for such a permanent condition. That might be so, but such thinking is simply the result of having lost awareness of this superior condition of the Soul.
Sometimes we still hear about the necessity to fear God, followed with the usual biblical quotes. However, this idea must have been taken out of context and is mostly used by people who already fear God because of their own perceptions and a general fear of the unknown. There should be no need to go into any lengthy theological argument or discussion - the first commandment extols the opposite of fear, clearly stating that one should: "Love God with all your heart, mind and soul."
You don't really fear anything you truly love and there is no need for it. Moreover, since God can only be found within, God and our own Pure Being relate in quality like the drop of water relates to the quality of the lake. In that sense, any fear of God would amount to nothing less than fearing one's own Self.
Instead of fear, the right attitude should rather be one of curiosity - a curiosity that can only be satisfied when the result of its inquiries are found. Other qualities include patience, persistence, harmlessness, and in general following the rules and laws set out in the scriptures of the Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others. The most important attitude, of course, remains interest and curiosity, because whatever we treasure most usually grabs all of our interest.
Luke 12:34 - "For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also."
In contrast to the more popular belief, all Religions agree that God can be found now as opposed to later. They even make it our most important task (Matt 6:33 - "First seek the Kingdom of God....")
But most religious people believe that direct knowledge of God can only be gained after death as a reward by following a set of rules. Jews and Christians call their set of rules the "Commandments", and the rules laid out by other religions are very similar, if not the same.
The Commandments may in fact be much more than a set of authoritarian rules. By comparing the slight differences in wording between the Gita and the Bible, we gain an even more precise understanding of the commandments and realize that following the First Commandment is instead self-rewarding and self-punishing (not a system of reward and punishment imposed by God after death).
This commandment, shared by Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus and Others, can be summarized in one sentence: Love God with all you Heart, with all your Soul, and with all your mind.
An equivalent commandment from the Bhagavad Gita might be: "Regarding Me (God / Brahman) as the Supreme Goal, practise steadiness of mind and fix your Heart constantly on Him."
All major Religions agree in essence, but only when we bother to look deeper for the real meaning. If God, as omnipresent Awareness, is at the Heart of our Soul, then it stands to reason that we stand a better chance of discovering this pure Awareness through an act of pure Concentration than by bothering with religious ceremony and tradition (wearing hats, shaving heads, growing beards, drinking wine, circumcision, etc...)
When we look past ceremonies and symbols, religions are not so different in their Path to God after all. The first commandment requires Concentration. Loving God with all our Heart, Mind, and Soul really leaves very little room for any other thoughts. And it is only during these moments of steady tranquillity that God, who is our very own Self at the Center of our Soul, reveals Himself. During such a condition there are no questions like: Did you cut off your finger? or Did you grow a beard?
For confirmation of these statements see the following selections:
Psalm 46:10 - "BE STILL and recognize that I AM GOD."
Psalm 4:4 - "Commune with your own Heart..., and BE STILL."
Bhagavad Gita 6:27 - "Supreme Bliss comes to the seeker whose mind is Completely Tranquil and whose passions are Quieted, who is free from stain and who has become ONE with God."