Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Orientation of Spiritual Practices

Yeshua said to them, “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits.
When you go into any region and walk about in the countryside, when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the sick among them.
After all, what goes into your mouth will not defile you; rather, it's what comes out of your mouth that will defile you.” …
……..Saying 14 Gospel of Thomas

One has to understand the times and the culture in which Yeshua speaks these words. It was a time when the law was the ruler of the spiritual domain. What Moses intended for the Israelites to be a set of code of conduct and ritual practice to unite the twelve tribes of Israel, degenerated into pure ritualistic and inflexible set of dos and don’ts. This situation had to be corrected. The words of Yeshua, seen in the context of first century Judaism, echo this message loud and clear.

Fasting, as a ritualistic cleansing, when made into a recurring and external practice without the involvement of purity of intention, does nothing more than bring affliction to the health of the body which is the temple of God. Fasting was an exhibition for the Pharisees and Sadducees due to wearing sack cloths and smearing themselves with ashes. It was an ego trip. This is why it is a sin.
The mode of temple worship was riddled with overtones of political agenda and division of the devotees. Hebrew Bible attributes this agenda and establishment of division to King Jeroboam I, who led the northern secession from Judah around 930 BCE to establish the independent kingdom of Israel. To prevent northerners from making pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem, we read in 2 Kings 12, Jeroboam built new temples at Bethel (on Israel’s southern border) and at Dan (on the northern border). At each of these shrines, he set up a golden bull calf, calling them Elohim, the gods who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. The biblical text frequently refers to this reinterpretation of the Exodus story the “sin of Jeroboam”.
There was no spiritual element in the act of worship it was downgraded to pure ritualistic act during the time of Yeshua. The Golden calf was replaced with the Ark but every other aspect of worship remained the same. This was no different from the act of Jeroboam and hence is to be condemned. Authentic prayer must be egoless and should be reflected in our daily lives.
The act of charity was also purely seen as a perfunctory exercise in Judaic spirituality. A giving of a portion of ones wages to the temple and there ended charity. Though increasing emphasis came during the period of Rabbi Hillel the Elder towards a ‘love of man’, it was still an idea which fell outside the realms of spirituality.

Yeshua was great admirer of Hillel the Elder and the first part of this saying in the Gospel of Thomas reflects the philosophy of Hillel.

The next part of the saying ratifies the importance that must be given the inner spirit rather than the outer practices. Kosher food and other ritualistic practices when taking food were installed at a totally different socio-cultural context when the Israelites were in the desert for forty years or they were subject to occupation. The polluting element of food was more to do with the physical body rather than the nourishment of the spirit. Conforming to the saying “When in Rome do as the Romans do”, Yeshua admonishes his disciples to partake of whatever that is offered when they are in any region or countryside. The final admonition stamps His authority on the essence of spirituality. What really defiles a man is what comes out of the mouth of man, the words that reflect his inner state of being. Here we see the reflection of the principles of the application of the ‘Three Golden Gates’ rule.

Do we not see what Yeshua saw two thousand years ago as what is happening today? Spiritual exercises are reduced to mandatory exercises. Life and spiritual practices are two separate dimensions of human life. It is time that we heed to the words of Yeshua and aspire to integrate spiritual practices into a life empowering tool. The most important aspect of this adaptation is that the spiritual practices have to be individually tailored. The role of a Guru or Spiritual guide is very similar to the tailor who stiches your garment that suits you perfectly.

Love to you all


  1. I do agree, Compatibility of our Spirituality with life is very important. Otherwise we are like whitewashed tombs!

  2. Sir,
    that was a deep message-Our Master Patriji used to always insist that fasting - is fasting the mind - nir vichar more than nir ahhar!abstention from food may at best be denial ; and denial is just denial -neither virtue or otherwise- He used to emphasize self regulation and moderation in eating and speaking as a necessary step in spirituality.

    With Respects


  3. Thank you Francis for your sharing.

  4. Venkat, all great spiritual masters talked of this differentiation between intention driven action and pure ritualistic action. One of the best example is the 'Middle Path' recommended by 'madhyamā-pratipad' in Buddhism.