Being Spiritual in Cities and in Chaos

When you think of a major city, what is the first thing that comes to your head? Traffic, pollution, money perhaps, fast food outlets, politics? Cities have a huge list of things to offer, but what about spirituality?

How can a place contributing to the rat race filled with ego and greed churn out someone spiritual or is it easy for someone to be spiritual in the city by giving up these desires with temptation lurking at any corner?

Become the Lotus in a Pond

If you know that Gautama Buddha escaped from the chaos to meditate deep inside a forest, most spiritual souls have been know to escape to mountains, hills, forests to sit under trees for years lost in themselves.

EnlightenmentIn the last few years of his teaching Gautama Buddha gave us the Lotus Sutra, after observing how a lotus grows in ponds of filth and radiates its beauty among unclean waters he said one does not need to escape but can be beautiful even in the midst of turmoil.

How is this possible, how can you and I be calm when we are stuck in a traffic jam for hours together and packed like a bunch of sardines in a train? There is a way, so simple and beautiful that can help change the way we interact with each other in a more positive aspect.

It’s good to know that a chaotic city like Bombay (India) churned out a spiritual guru, Nisargadatta Maharaj, who after Ramana Maharishi, is the next follower of the philosophy of Advaita.

What is Advaita?

Advaita is the identity of the self and the whole, it is often called the monistic system of thought which consists of three levels of Truth.

  • The transcendental or the Pāramārthika level in which Brahman is the only reality and nothing else. (Brahman is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe)
  • The pragmatic or the Vyāvahārika level in which both Jiva (living creatures or individual souls) and Ishvara (Controller or the Supreme controller, God) are true; here, the material world is completely true.
  • The apparent or the Prāthibhāsika level in which even material world reality is actually false, like illusion of a snake over a rope or a dream.

About Nisargadatta Maharaj

Maruti Shivrampant Kambli (Nisargadatta), was introduced to his Guru Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj in 1933, this is Nisargadatta’s quotes on the meeting, “When I met my Guru, he told me: “You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense ‘I am’, find your real Self.””

Nisargadatta MaharajI obeyed him, because I trusted him. I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence. And what a difference it made, and how soon! My teacher told me to hold on to the sense ‘I am’ tenaciously and not to swerve from it even for a moment.

I did my best to follow his advice and in a comparatively short time I realized within myself the truth of his teaching. All I did was to remember his teaching, his face, his words constantly. This brought an end to the mind; in the stillness of the mind I saw myself as I am — unbound.

I simply followed instruction which was to focus the mind on pure being ‘I am’, and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the ‘I am’ in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared — myself, my Guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained and unfathomable silence.

So people in the midst of turmoil and chaos, can find themselves in the I am philosophy, Nisargadatta Maharaj has left us with some wonderful sayings from his book, I Am That,

“My advice to you is very simple – just remember yourself, ‘I am’, it is enough to heal your mind and take you beyond, just have some trust. I don’t mislead you. Why should I? Do I want anything from you? I wish you well – such is my nature. Why should I mislead you? Common sense too will tell you that to fulfill a desire you must keep your mind on it. If you want to know your true nature, you must have yourself in mind all the time, until the secret of your being stands revealed.”

How I applied the “I am” philosophy in a Mega City

If you have ever visited or heard of Bombay or Mumbai you would know that its one of the most populated cities in the world. The trains here are packed like a can of sardines, except sometimes people actually fall out of the train because they are so full.

For nearly half a decade travelling in these trains need a bunch of preparation, from entering it, to finding a place to sit or stand, to avoid the sweat of other people falling onto you all can take a toll on your emotional state, and it’s quite common to see fights taking place.

Every time I was in the train I would close my eyes and vanish. I used to have my music in my ears and I was no longer in a train where its jam packed and hot. I used to imagine myself on the mountains with cool breeze blowing, I used to be in a trance like state.

The philosophy of “I Am” had really struck a chord with me, to question where each action  stems from, with is this who “I am”. Instead of loosing my cool like some of the others, instead of the pushing or shoving, I used to find a corner by the and just stay still through my 40-minute journey every day.

Adopting the “I Am” isn’t easy, especially in testing times, when you’re loosing your cool you really don’t want to internalize at that point of time. So to start of with easier choices that you aren’t very emotional about.

To be extremely honest Nisargadatta Maharaj’s “I Am” is far more and deeper than what I have stated here. To get a more wholesome experience of the philosophy I found this video that will give you a wholesome idea of his teachings.

This video on Nisargadatta Maharaj will help you stay spiritual in cities and chaos:



Quotes by Nisargadatta Maharaj
Nisargadatta Image Source
Lotus Pond Dew

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