by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati.

Chidananda Saraswati (called Pujya Swamiji or Pujya Muniji by disciples), is the President and spiritual head of the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, India, one of India’s largest spiritual institutions. He is also the founder and spiritual head of the Hindu Jain Temple in Pittsburgh, PA

Spirituality is the essence of life. It is the light that shines on our lives, illuminating our paths, bringing light to the darkness, joy to the sorrow, and meaning to the incomprehensible. And the essence of spirituality? The essence of spirituality is service.

The first line in the Ishopanishad tells us that God is manifest in everything in the universe. All is Him, and all is pervaded by Him. There is nothing which is not God and as one’s spiritual path deepens and as one gets closer to the state of God-realization, one sees God’s form in everything.  Thus, the feelings of care, love, sacrifice, and devotion which we feel for the deity in the temple begin to blossom in our heart for all of creation. One begins to see God’s presence in every person, every animal, and every plant.

Every widow, every orphan, every homeless leper, every wandering, malnourished animal, every deforested piece of land, every polluted river – all become as precious as the marble image of Shiva or Krishna or Durga. Thus, from our hearts we are called to do as much as we can to remedy the world’s tragic situations.

Many people think a spiritual life means that one retreats to the mountains, performs meditation and then lives peacefully forever in one’s own enlightened cocoon. However, that is not true, deep spirituality. That is not the essence of Enlightenment. Yes, solitude, silence and intense sadhana* are crucial in order to establish the connection with God, in order to make the leap from a material life to a spiritual life.

It is difficult, initially, to connect deeply with God while one stands in line at the supermarket or while one is stuck in traffic on the road home from work. Thus, in the beginning, one must retreat temporarily in order to lay the ground work. It is like wiring a house for electricity. In the beginning, when the house is being built, one must carefully lay all of the wires. Much time is spent on this initial electrical wiring. However, once the lines have been laid, once the electrification work is complete, then one simply has to plug the cord into the socket and the lamp immediately illuminates! One does not have to re-wire the house each time!

The same is true on a spiritual path. Solitude, silence and extensive sadhana are required, as a parallel to laying the electrical wires. But, once the deep connection with the Divine Powerhouse is established, one simply has to close one’s eyes and one connects with God.

Then, as we walk the path of spirituality, we must dedicate ourselves to cultivating the divine vision and awareness with which we can see the Divine in all. Once we see every being as Divine, we cannot walk by someone who is suffering without atch toxic chemicals being dumped into our precious rivers without doing something about it.

So, ultimately, if the spiritual path is true, it culminates in an insatiable urge to serve all, to help, to give to all, and to live for all.

We must learn to be like Mother Ganga** – always giving, with no vacation, no discrimination, and no hesitation. This way we can merge with the Divine, becoming peaceful and ever-blissful.

It is also important to note that “service of all” can take a variety of forms. For some, it may take the form of working hard at their profession every day and donating their income to humanitarian causes. For others, it may take the form of founding organizations or foundations which directly work to alleviate various aspects of suffering. For some, it may take the form of giving lectures or writing books on spirituality which bring inspiration and uplifting to the masses. For some, it may take the form of being a spiritual guide who brngs the light of awareness to all.

The possibilities are endless. But the central core is the same – all of these people have a deep realization that all beings are Divine and that God resides in all. Once one has this realization, one feels unity with all creatures and beings on the planet; thus one hears the internal call to help and serve in whatever way possible.

* Sādhanā is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. A sādhaka, or practitioner, is one who skillfully applies…mind and intelligence in practice towards a spiritual goal.

** Ganga is the Hindu name for the Ganges River