Spiritual growth is an inner ripening or maturing in which we gradually develop greater mental poise and harmony in the face of outer challenges.
We matured naturally as we grew from childhood to adulthood. To continue growing inwardly as full-grown adults, we need to put in our own efforts to purposefully mature in our responses to life.
What’s wonderful is that as we do this, we become happier and wiser.
When I think about the people who embody the highest expression of spiritual growth, the Dalai Lama and the Buddha come to mind. Don’t you admire the Dalai Lama’s cheerful nature; or the Buddha’s tranquility and ever-present half-smile?
Great spiritual masters are the way they are not because of how good their lives have been but in spite of the trials and tribulations that they had to face.
They had to put in tremendous efforts to cultivate positive qualities within themselves and transcend their lower, selfish tendencies to become the spiritual giants that they are.
A mind that is naturally quiet and composed is the result of spiritual growth. It is cultivated through conscious effort and not an accidental gift.
How can we hasten our spiritual growth and gain inner serenity and happiness?
The 3 types of influences in the mind
Since we experience happiness and sorrow in the mind, it’s key to understand it and learn how to re-educate it.
Right now, our minds are busy, restless, and wavering, seldom staying on one thing for long. Our emotions change constantly taking us in a turbulent sea of conflicting waves. Sometimes we feel happy, satisfied and optimistic, and sometimes we are anxious, worried, fearful or depressed.
Just as outer atmospheric conditions cause differences in temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind, there are some internal influences that direct the type of thoughts and feelings that we entertain.
If we can be aware of these influences, we can strive to maintain the optimal mental conditions that will generate happy, positive thoughts and feelings.
We can think of these influences as the moods of the mind. According to Vedanta, there are three types of moods and they are conducive to:
- Knowledge or Thinking
Recognize the moods
Sattva: The mood that gives rise to traits arising out of knowledge or thinking is called sattva in Sanskrit. The traits are clarity of thought, creativity, concentration, goodness, purity, love, sensitivity to others, patience, forgiveness, self-control, compassion, enthusiasm and peace.
Rajas: The mood that gives rise to traits arising out of activity is called rajas. Rajas is characterized by ambition, passion, desire, dynamism, haste, anger, greed, jealousy, impatience, stress, restlessness and worry.
The influence of rajas gives rise to hasty decisions, speech and actions; strong likes and dislikes, undue anxiety about the future, and looking back at the past with regrets.
Tamas: The last mood is called Tamas. It gives rise to laziness, carelessness, forgetfulness, sleepiness, brain fog, violence, thoughtless actions, fear, and coming to wrong conclusions.
All three influences are always present in the mind. However, one usually predominates at any given time while the other two yield to its power.
We usually cycle through these three moods of the mind in the course of the day. For example, if we’ve rested well at night, we are generally fresh, alert, and have clarity of thinking early in the morning. This is when sattva predominates.
In a few hours, rajas becomes strong and prompts us into excited activity. By the late evening, tamas takes over and we are overcome with fatigue and sleepiness.
The goal is Sattva
To hasten your spiritual growth, you must be aware of your mind’s moods and the thoughts and feelings you have at any given moment.
The goal is to maintain a predominantly sattvic mind. This is the sign of an evolved seeker.
You can do this at four levels of your personality—your rational intellect, emotional temperament, speech and actions.
Intellect: As a spiritual seeker, it’s important to be very careful of the quality and type of information and knowledge you are consuming every day. Take some time to fill your mind with positive vibes and inspirational literature daily.
Unless you take some time out for spiritual reading and reflection, worldly news, concerns and attractions clutter up your mental space.
Meditation is a sattvic activity that helps to cultivate qualities such as detachment and concentration.
Emotions: As much as we think ourselves to be rational, we often act on impulse. For example, we are often unaware of the rising of anger, greed, jealousy, or impatience.
Learning how to slow down, breathe into the present, allowing our emotions to be guided by higher goals, kindness, and a feeling of oneness with others will sublimate our lower impulses and bring us a better ability to manage our emotions.
Speech: Being able to control what we say and how we say it is surely a desirable life skill. The three guidelines for speaking are succinctly described in the ancient Sanskrit scripture, the Bhagavad Gita:
It says that speech must be truthful, pleasant and beneficial. Notice that all three are sattvic qualities.
Truthful: While telling a lie or a half-truth, we say one thing while silently knowing or meaning another. This creates an internal conflict in the mind—or rajasic disturbances that in turn create fear, worry and hasty thinking and actions. Read What is Nobler Than the Truth
Pleasing: When we have to tell an unpleasant truth, we are advised to say it in a kind and pleasing manner so as to not cause harm to others.
Beneficial: This means that we speak only when it’s necessary or beneficial. This effectively rules out gossiping, speaking behind another’s back and unnecessary conversation.
Actions: Actions must be guided by sattvic values such as oneness, kindness, doing good for others without any selfish motive or insistence on any particular result.
Everyday duties associated with our roles and responsibilities can also help to promote our inner growth. This happens when we dedicate our actions to a divine altar, higher cause or to benefit others.
Sattva hastens your spiritual growth
Life brings us disappointments, unpleasant changes, challenges, and unexpected blows. To be able to be poised and calm under all circumstances is indeed a worthwhile goal.
Once you understand the three moods of the mind—sattva, rajas and tamas, you can begin to reflect on your own mind and choices.
These are the first steps toward infusing your intellect, emotions, speech and actions with a sattvic vision and goal.
Once you do, your efforts will surely hasten your spiritual growth.
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