Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Asking Bigger Questions: Spirituality and Religion at Work

I am not one to encourage religion at work. I believe that religion is a very personal tool, and should remain so. Nevertheless, after much thought, I agreed to setup a meditation room within our office, complete with a consecrated energy form AvighnaYantra (Sanskrit for machine that removes impediments).

I have seen and heard many, otherwise sensible and intelligent, people of diverse religions and cultures, share deep personal experiences of how their financial, physical and psychological impediments to peace just disappeared when they came into the sphere of influence of the Avighna Yantra. I am personally convinced of the genuineness of these experiences, and want similar positive effects for everyone in my office.

There are also other simple benefits of having a meditation room at work:
  • Being quiet and disengaged for some time
  • Switch off work issues for a while
  • Not carrying stress home
Nevertheless, in an office with many people (staff and visitors), one should expect to face reactions ranging from silent discomfort to not-so-disguised disapproval of a seemingly religious symbol like the Avighna Yantra. Every staff member needs to feel comfortable in an office, so I feel obliged to explain my rationale for agreeing to keep an Energy Form at work.

The rationale, to me, starts with the difference between spirituality and religion. Many great people explained this difference - I may be allowed here the indulgence of providing my own explanation.

To me, spirituality is asking bigger questions. Being spiritual is deeply, wholeheartedly asking questions like "why am I here on this planet?", "why is the world the way it is?", "why do people (including me) suffer?", "what is my essential nature?", "is it not possible to be happy all the time?", etc. Such questions, I believe, are fundamental to being human. They are in fact universal. Different people may ask them at different points in their lives, but eventually everyone is likely to encounter quandaries like this. The context of the questions, and the path to the answers, are deeply subjective. One needs to personally experience the answers; just knowing the answers is of little use. In other words, the questions are universal, but answers can result only from deep subjective seeking.

Religion, on the other hand, provides packaged answers to bigger questions. Religion has to assume that there are answers applicable across whole groups of people, that people in these groups ought to accept the answers given to them. Based on the specific answers it provides, each religion distinguishes itself from the others. Packaged answers no doubt give quicker solace at times. My problem with them is not that they never work; my problem is that packaged answers can stop the act of asking bigger questions, the act of seeking itself. That would be a disaster. For this reason, I believe that packaged answers of established religions are easy, perhaps effective, but dangerous, shortcuts. They could make you live under assumptions and hence ignorance.

Furthermore, I feel that no sets of packaged answers, no existing religions, can survive this millennium of irreverent, diversity-seeking, individualistic, border-free generations of people. A better means to find solace in this millennium is to cultivate genuine questioning, genuine seeking, in as many people as possible. In fact, I believe that this is a requirement of this millennium.  Homes and work places alike should invest in setting up environments that cultivate & encourage deeper questioning, subjective answer seeking & existential clarity.

There are multiple mechanisms to set up such environments - through libraries, through debates & discussions, through service to fellow humans, and through energy work. The meditation room in our office is an example of energy work. We also respect and practice the other mechanisms, but energy work impacts positively many people in its sphere, even without conscious effort.

It is not easy to draw the line between spirituality and religion in energy work - the problem being symbols. If we keep spirituality fully devoid of symbols, then perhaps, we can clearly differentiate between spirituality and religion. However groups of people that attempted to do this historically ended up being the most vociferous religious groups on the planet. I believe that it is not the fault of any group, but that it is inherently very hard to remain symbol-free in seeking. A lot of us have to evolve through symbols into a symbol-free environment.

Let me also dare to describe here my understanding of the symbolism of the Avighna Yantra. Seeking or exploration can be at different levels within a human being. One way of thinking about this is as different “chakras”. From a simple sense of ego, individuality &survival  (“Muladhara chakra”), one's exploration progresses all the way to universal oneness (“Sahasrara chakra”). The progression is not a jump; it's a journey, similar to energy rising in a conduit. Some significant milestones along the way are desire & reproduction (“Swadhistana chakra”), hunger & sustenance (“Manipuraka chakra”), love & compassion ("Anahatha chakra"), power & leadership ("Visuddhi chakra"), etc. I also personally visualize this progression as a pyramid of evolution - many more people are at the ego & survival stage than those at love & compassion and universal oneness stages. Everyone is travelling to the top of the pyramid, at their own subjective pace, with their own halts and impediments.

In the Yogic tradition, which is older than all religions on this planet, for thousands of years,“chakras” have been shown as different types of lotuses, and energy progression upwards as a snake raising itself from a coiled state. In addition, it is argued that the best shape to hold large amounts of energy is the “Linga” (oblong spherical shape). See the Korean nuclear reactor in this picture.

Avighna Yantra includes all these elements - lotuses, snakes, geometrical shapes, and an energy powerhouse in the form of a solidified, consecrated mercury Linga, the Linga Bhairavi Devi. So, to one who sees it as an energy form, the Avighna Yantra is far beyond any religion.

Before concluding, I should also express that I believe it is important that symbols survive. Symbols are like ladder steps. After a person climbs to a certain level, they won’t need the lower ladder steps, the earlier symbols. But while climbing, those steps are essential.  

Seeking, questioning and subjective evolution into blissful, intense human beings needs to be fostered at work places. Installing a meditation room at our office is our humble effort to seed this transformation in each and every one that we work with.