QA on humility 7 – Is spirituality meant to make us feel good. Or does spiritual growth require us to feel bad?

by Chaitanya CharanJanuary 22, 2024

Answer Podcast


Question: Is spirituality meant to make us feel good or does spiritual growth require us to feel bad?


Interviewer: So, thank you so much, Chaitanya Charan Prabhu. I think most of the questions were very nicely answered. I just want to summarize the section on humility before we move to the next section.

So, you gave two wonderful definitions of humility. You said humility should lead us to the glorification of Krishna. That is the “trinad api sunichena” verse. That was very powerful and all the examples that you gave actually fell into that particular definition. The other definition that you gave is, humility is not to let our ego come in the way of our mission. So, these two definitions actually kind of solved all the other issues that we all asked.

And then in terms of practical applications, you mentioned that keep small things small, overlook provocations, have forgiveness in your heart, like keep forgiving people, stand up for yourselves, and when it comes to social media, we can understand if they are their mission and Krishna is not their mission, then that is not humility. So, thank you so much for a comprehensive view of humility. Now, I just want to talk about the other section on feel good, feel bad.

Let’s talk about one simple example of Arjuna. Krishna told Arjuna to fight, but the same Krishna told Uddhava to renounce, and in both cases, they both felt good.

Chaitanya Charan Prabhu: Krishna told whom not to fight?

Interviewer: Krishna told Arjuna to fight and Krishna told Uddhava to renounce.

Chaitanya Charan Prabhu: Okay.

Interviewer: Yeah, so in both cases, both Arjuna and Uddhava felt good by Krishna’s advice and that was of course Krishna, but when we go and do our outreach, we always have this problem. Sometimes we tend towards purification and sometimes we tend towards affirmations. We say that no, you have to get purified or sometimes we say no, it’s okay, whatever you’re doing is fine. So, this conflict always exists. Sometimes we just focus on saying that change your actions and sometimes we say just change your thinking.

In fact, most self-help tools, most self-help talks these days is focused on change your thinking, but don’t worry about your actions. Whereas in our movement, we focus on change your actions and it doesn’t matter about your thinking. So again, there’s this dichotomy.

So, in the next section of our discussion, if we can talk more about should we feel good, should we feel bad about these things, how do we balance it? Because sometimes when somebody says it is necessary to say that you should get purified and that person takes it as a good thing. He feels good. But the same advice, if you give it to another person and say that you just have to get purified, then that person might feel bad.

Chaitanya Charan Prabhu: Yeah. I see.

Interviewer: So, how do we know when to say what, when to feel good, when to feel bad or spirituality is beyond this and so on. So that’s the next section.

Chaitanya Charan Prabhu: This is actually a big subject and I suspect that we might need to have a separate discussion for this because our discussion on humility went quite far, but maybe I’ll address the specific issue that you raised and then depending on how many more questions are there, we could decide whether we want to have a separate session.

So, with respect to our practice of spirituality in our daily life, sometimes we may feel good, sometimes we may feel bad, and in different situations, different directions are given. So how are these to be reconciled? Well, I would say two or three different things are going on over here. First is that, I find it often very helpful to consider the mind to be like the body. It is a domain of reality in itself. At the level of the body, if somebody’s sole purpose is to be comfortable or even the sole purpose is to be safe. Now, safety is important and certainly we don’t want to trivialize, be casual about safety.

But somebody could argue that just going out in a car on a street increases the probability of an accident as compared to staying at home. Yeah. So, does that mean one should always stay at home? Safety is important. Safety is basic and we could say it’s important, but more than that is comfort. Now, physical comfort is… nobody in itself wants to be uncomfortable, but sometimes to grow physically, we need to be ready to put ourselves in some kind of discomfort. So, if somebody wants to be healthier, they need to do some exercises and doing exercise itself is not always comfortable. Just as there is the comfort of the body, there is the discomfort of the body.

It’s a problem when both become ends in themselves. If somebody thinks comfort is the only end that they seek in their lives, then their life will soon become meaningless because often doing something meaningful, doing something worthwhile requires taking some amount of discomfort. But on the other hand, if somebody makes discomfort itself a virtue, just see how much discomfort I’m putting myself in. Well, to make yourself uncomfortable is not the purpose of life. It is that we need to have something worthwhile to do and while doing that worthwhile thing, we try to avoid discomfort as much as possible, but that doesn’t mean that we have to avoid comfort also. The idea is that the body needs a certain level of comfort, and as much as possible, we create a comfortable situation, but creating a comfortable situation is not the purpose of life. The purpose is that physically comfortable situation is meant to help us focus on a purposeful life.

The same approach we can have toward our emotions also, that on an average, we don’t want to have disturbing emotions within us. We don’t like to feel worried. We don’t like to feel angry. We don’t like to feel confused. There are various kinds of emotions which make us feel bad. At the same time, if we want to do anything meaningful in our lives, it means investing ourselves in something that is not entirely in our control. As soon as we invest ourselves in something that is not entirely in our control, all these emotions will come up. Sometimes when something important for us is going wrong, there’ll be fear. If sometimes we don’t know what to do about a particular situation, there’ll be anxiety, there’ll be confusion rather, and sometimes when something goes opposite of way we want, there might be resentment, there might be anger. So, if one makes it the goal of their life to avoid these things, then they will never be able to do anything.

Life involves confronting uncomfortable emotions also, but we don’t make cultivating uncomfortable emotions the goal of one’s life. It’s that for doing something meaningful, if sometimes some uncomfortable emotions have to be confronted, that’s fine. So, say for example, ___840 spirituality. One extreme of spirituality, as you mentioned, is that we just want to feel good about ourselves and that’s why feeling good about ourselves means just have positive, uplifting thoughts. So, for example, some people in the name of affirmations, they will say, “I’m strong, I’m powerful, I can do whatever I set my mind on. I have all the abilities that I need.” This kind of affirmations could be healthier than just if our mind is constantly having a negative script, “you’re worthless, you will never amount to anything.” The second kind could be damaging. The first kind could be beneficial.

But if somebody gets caught only in affirmation and then there is no action following that affirmation, there is no meaningful action, no purposeful action, then what is the point of all that positive thoughts if there are no proper actions that are there. So, in spiritual life for spiritual growth, there are times when the bubble of our ego needs to be burst. If we are too full of ourselves, we need to get out of ourselves. But at the same time, spiritual life is not so much about feeling good or is it about feeling bad? It is about feeling a reality bigger than ourselves. In fact, feeling the ultimate reality. We want to connect with Krishna and in that sense we want our feelings to be free from ourselves.

If there is too much of self-congratulatory an attitude, then our feelings are caught in congratulating ourselves and then they’re not available for focusing on Krishna, on connecting with Krishna, on serving Krishna, on thinking about Krishna at a basic level. We don’t want that self-congratulatory attitude.

On the other hand, if there is a self-condemnatory attitude, I’m constantly beating myself up, then also my emotions are caught in myself and then also I’ll not be able to focus on Krishna. So, in that sense, we need to have a balance. Again, if we keep the purpose in mind, I want to have positive thoughts so that there are some positive actions, that I am able to do something worthwhile, something meaningful. So, we don’t make a fetish of feel good or of feel bad.

One major problem with spirituality as it is seen in the mainstream world is that spirituality is seen more as a shock absorber than as a life transformer or more specifically a purpose or a goal transformer. I want to do what I want to do and while I’m doing what I want to do, I want to feel good about myself also. That is a very utilitarian understanding of spirituality where we see it as a means to feel good. But that’s a very, we could say, a diluted or almost a distorted understanding of spirituality. Spirituality is much, much more.

Spirituality is meant to be a goal transformer. It reveals a higher reality to us, a higher reality of who we are, what the nature of the world is, what we are meant to do and it transforms that goal. Once it transforms the vision of our world, transforms our goal, and then when we are pursuing bigger things in our life, then sometimes we may feel bad because there are challenges, sometimes you may feel good, but that higher purpose is what consumes us, that is what absorbs us and that’s the essence of spirituality.

End of transcription.

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Chaitanya Charan