Duty is action towards Truth, and Truth is God.
That to me is the root of what I hold to be spirituality. I think this discussion is important, if only to make us pause and reflect on what we really prioritize and ethically value in life.
Duty to me, is a righteous path, and is known through our conscience. It is the actions that we perform towards actualizing truth. Societal etiquettes can seemingly blend with duty, but are not duty. Duty is found in obedience to our conscience. We do have a duty to act harmoniously, as far as possible with others as well.
In our conscience, we touch the moral laws that govern us as a whole, as one human family. Our conscience serves as our own faucet, our own way to tap the universal well of our inescapable Oneness. And it is there that we experience and know our true equality with one another. For we are not these bodies made of clay – we are the activating FIRE, the life within them!
If we look behind every duty that we conceive, we see an ideal. These ideals are found in our hearts, what we deeply cherish as being important for us all. Peace. Love. Compassion. Justice. Honesty. Fearlessness. When we contemplate our ideal, the means to do our duty becomes clarified. Through our conscience, we guide ourselves in our walk towards actualizing these ideals in our lives. A dutiful Mother. A dutiful Wife, and dutiful Father, dutiful Husband. A dutiful son and daughter.
There is the duty of a true friend, and that of a disciple, a student. Of an employee, and a boss. In every relationship conceivable, it is bound, defined, known, through duty.
Even things have a duty, a dharma, a righteous path. When the children were small, as we cleaned the house, I would explain the importance of keeping things in order: the role of the rug is to lie clean and flat. It's maker put a fringe on it, so that that fringe would also add to its beauty, so following the intention of the maker, we know how to treat the rug...duty can be known and described in so many ways.
The Home can be our greatest teacher of Duty, of Art and Beauty. Of all ethical qualities. It is when the family unit is impregnated with the love of duty, as Oriental family life is, that society moves with more functionality. I say Oriental, as family members, in the ideal held, cooperate selflessly to serve one another, working as a united entity. Of course, there are many public exceptions, particularly in the millions that are now embracing a consumer lifestyle. But in the norm, in the poorer people, in rural life, I have seen it is so. I know of many, large extended families, living together, as One. Imagine the joy of being with 30+ people, that love and support each other fully! In such a grouping, life is centred around loving, and therefore, happiness.
We hear of it now, with the famous Arab hospitality, extended to the guest entering the wretched shacks of the Iraqi people. Their society and country has been decimated by the US war upon them for the last decade. Yet, where the family unit has kept itself intact, they are not destroyed, despite very heavy loses.
In the Orient, we see elder sons, desperately concerned as to how to fulfil their dutiful obligations to parents and family economically, when they are older. Again and again, we see and hear, and read of older sons who went to labor in the work force in humble positions, so that younger siblings could have the benefit and advantages of formal schooling. They sacrificed their self interest , to create personal careers in society, in the dutiful responsibility to those younger than them for a lifetime.
This is a very common story and phenomenon that I have seen in India and also among many African families. It was in the Occident before heavy industrialisation and the turning of society and individuals in competitive market strategies.
We cannot deny that in the Occident, with the socialized and deliberate break down of the family unit, by and large – and there are of course many extended families there as well, but - by and large - in the ideal held, it's each man or woman for himself, or maybe one or two with them, the rest be damned. In such a society, life becomes centred around the individuals' climb to material acquisition, power, and/or acclaim in the eyes of others, or, to the individual's personal right to their own career and lifestyle. This has brought about an extreme imbalance in our personal lives which subsequently has made our social lives chaotic.
Holy Mother Amma noted:
``Human beings are supposed to be highly evolved. Even animals have discipline in their lives. A lion will never eat grass. A deer or an elephant will not eat meat. They do not change their instinctual routine, but human beings will do anything indiscriminately. We misuse our freedom of choice. If we do not live up to our intended purpose of spiritual evolution and act accordingly, but instead act in an undisciplined and immature way, we are undoubtedly worse than animals. If we continue to act in an undisciplined way, it will only help pave the way for our destruction.”i
Gandhi said that Rights follow Duty. And Rights without Duty, are empty. He said,
``The true source of rights is duty. If we al discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek. If leaving duties unperformed we run after rights, they escape us like a `will-o'-the wisp'. The more we pursue them, the father they fly...action is duty: fruit is its right.”ii
In the Occident, we rely on government to take responsibility for our handicapped, orphaned, mentally challenged, ill, blind, deaf, maimed and elderly. Peter Maurin, of the Catholic Worker Movement in the US, begun in the 1930's foresaw the dangerous dehumanizing effects for human beings and community life, when abdicating responsibility towards one another and giving it to the government, through taxes. Life itself and time, become meaningful only as money. We are at the screeching apex of this form of society now, and what do we have?
It is because many try to do their duty to the extent that they do, all over the world, that society functions at all.
I do feel that this selflessness, dutiful responsibility, is something we all have to learn more about.
This to me is spirituality.
This to me, is real worship, is sadhana.
I am not interested in much else. Not asanas or skill in holding different postures, or breathing and breath holding techniques, or rituals of chanting and hours spent in meditation, not scripture spouting and scholarship, but the constant inner reflection on duty, its manifestation in our lives, and response to it.
What passes today as spirituality, with techniques galore, and expensive retreats, jewellery and clothes, morning and evening rituals, eating nor not eating this or that, and all kinds of stuff, is to me, mere fluff, if the central focus on duty is absent.
I do see some ritualized behaviours prescribed, some various techniques taught, as useful to learning to control the mind, to focus our energies to open our heart to see duty clearly, and to that extent valuable.
But, I see these prescriptions as a universal phenomenon, and cannot hold one as superior or inferior to another: The Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Bahai, (even atheist friends, and schools in science have found and devised means) - all the methods of gaining self-control and cultivating awareness and love of God, which is truth and righteousness, through duty are equally relevant to me.
I love the Christian compassion in action. I love the garlanding of one's beloved deity in Hindu Temples and intensely deep psychology and refined sciences – that have become a way of life - everything about Sanathana Dharma. I love the practice of Namaz, remembering 5 x a day, that we are all equally ignorant, sustained solely by a love and truth whose conception is beyond us; I love the ethics I find in Judaism; the well-presented psychology and meditation techniques of Buddhism; the far-thought out self-control in reverence and respect for all life found in Jainism. I love the brotherhood and righteous community responsibility found in Sikhism; the universal teachings and new spiritual administration model found in Bahai, which will, most certainly become universally adopted, for its degree of equality, genuine respect for the individual, and community encompassing caringness...I love the hard stance of my atheist friends who still hold the same God as me, truth, though they see it not, I am always pleased when science proves what I have been hearing Holy Mother Amma say, and what I have found in the truthful ethics and teachings of other faiths, and know to be so from my own intuition and experience.
But for myself, I like what Tagore said,
``I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I woke and found that life was duty. I acted, and behold, duty is joy."
My mother, who was Indian, kept this up in our home while we were growing up in the USA. I read it daily. It is very important that children be surrounded by truly meaningful and beautiful things while they are growing. That alone may save them, when horrendous pressures come to bear upon them.
We underestimate what pressure is. Its quite an internal matter! Holy Mother Amma once commented that very few can survive, many collapse from the pressure of: ``Your so handsome, so Brilliant.” flatteries. This comment was for those seeking to follow a course of personal conduct that leads to the realization of Truth. And should not we all be doing so?
For me, duty and beauty, are seen in each other, for duty is our actions towards truth, and truth is what is really beautiful.
i Amritanandamayi, Mata. Awaken Children: 3: 151. M.A. Mission Trust, Kollam, Kerala
iiGandhi, M.K. Young India. January 8, 1925. Age 55.