The Three Pillars for Spiritual Growth
The Three Pillars for Spiritual Growth
Twice a year I go to New York City, where my teacher, Sri Chinmoy, lived. He moved to the neighborhood of Queens from India in 1960s in his mid 30’s. Gaining many followers over the course of a decade, these disciples, from all around the world, gather in the neighborhood of Queens for a spiritual festival which Sri Chinmoy called “celebrations.”
The concept of a spiritual festival is different in India than it is here. In the Western culture, our ceremonies or spiritual events are most often held inside places such as temples and churches, but in India it’s not uncommon to be walking down the street and encounter a big parade or spiritual festival. The whole town gets involved.
There were about eight hundred people in attendance at this past meditation retreat. The main location is called Aspiration Ground, which was an old dead end street that was turned into a tennis court and meditation ground. The activities for these spiritual retreats are scheduled so that all day there is something to do. In the morning, sports are played in a park not too far while Aspiration Ground is open for personal meditation. Then, at 10:00 a.m., we gather for a group meditation followed by musical and singing performances. After a quick lunch break, the performances resume. I would usually cut out here and go play golf or have lunch with friends in Manhattan. In the evening, everyone gets together for the final group meditation of the day, and afterwards, there are plays, skits, and music till 10 or 11pm.
I always return home from this meditation retreat feeling a huge boost to my spirituality and it got me thinking, “Why is that?” According to the Buddha, there are three things that are essential for spiritual growth: genuine spiritual teachings, community and personal effort.
Spiritual teachings come should come from a genuine spiritual teacher who doesn’t necessarily have to be living for you to benefit from. My teacher passed away in 2007 but I can still study his teachings and find guidance through them.
The second aspect is community, which I think this is integral to spiritual awakening. It is important to be surrounded and encouraged by others who are also actively involved with their spiritual lives. Being in a group working towards a common purpose can do wonders for your spiritual growth.
Lastly, your own dharma, or what you do for your own growth, rounds out the Buddha’s triad of pillars for spiritual growth.
Take a look at what spiritual teachings you get guidance from and what type of community you have to support your aspiration. Where can you go in your own life to be nourished by spiritual teachings? Do you have a source of knowledge you can rely on? Where do you find your spiritual guidance and then what community supports this?
I think the biggest challenge lies in finding a teacher or lineage of teachers that you trust and feel secure with. My Christian upbringing helped me to know what to look for in a spiritual teacher. The life and teachings of Jesus as conveyed in the New Testament offer a good example. I researched and studied until I felt I could discern an authentic teacher. Ten different meditation groups and twenty books later, I met mine.
Speaking of meditation groups, attending meditation or yoga classes can be a great way to find community. You’ll be with other similarly minded people seeking peace in their lives. Try also to become aware of how much life energy you put into your meditation and spiritual practice. It’s not just a matter of showing up; your heart needs to be in it too.
If you can get these three things going in your life: community, teachings, and your own personal effort, then you have a good, solid foundation for spiritual growth. In that subtle state of meditation there is an openness and honesty with one’s self so that you can clearly see if this foundation is present in your life. If not, I suggest sincerely meditating on what you’re missing. You’ll find that the universe will bring you what you need.
Sujantra McKeever has practiced meditation since 1980. He began studying with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy at age 18. He is the author of five books on meditation and spiritual philosophy which are available on Amazon. He the founder of the online yoga studio PYO.yoga. His writings can be found in Elephant Journal and Huffington Post.