I grew up in the American “Bible Belt.” My parents took me to a church where public displays of piety were the norm. I was deeply embarrassed by these outbursts, coming as they often did from people I knew to be spiritually ignorant, even mean-spirited in their religion. I formed a deep-seated aversion to public worship of any kind. True spiritual feelings, I decided, must be kept within the heart. Anything else is hypocrisy. Now that I have a rich spiritual life of my own, I still find it hard to participate in public worship. I have done so only because my guru says it is important. I used to think my reluctance was a virtue. Now I see it as an error. Can you help?
The relationship of each devotee with God is absolutely unique. The Sanskrit word for the unique “flavor” of our devotion is bhav. It means the “spiritual mood” with which we approach the Beloved. Some of us are, by nature, outwardly expressive. Others are deeply private. It is not a question of “right” or “wrong.”
The spiritual path is a very individual thing. However, there are principles that apply to everyone, regardless of our bhav.
The most important principle, for our discussion, is magnetism. Paramhansa Yogananda said that whether our energy flows outward to the world, or inward toward God, is determined to a large extent by the company we keep.
(Photo: Public worship blesses each worshipper with the combined devotional fervor of all – it makes it much easier to find God’s inner presence. Image: Kirtan in temple of the Ananda Community in Mountain View, California.)
The point is that we are always being bombarded by vibrations generated by the consciousness of the people around us. Even when you’re alone in your house, you have neighbors nearby whose thoughts, feelings, and attitudes affect you constantly.
We would do well to immerse ourselves in the vibrations we want to make our own. This is why Yogananda spoke forcefully about the importance of meditating together, and of living together in spiritual communities.
Spending time with high-minded people is a very helpful practice. When we chant, pray, and meditate together, our efforts are amplified by the power of others’ aspiration.
When people meditate together, they don’t always make an effort to expand their hearts. If you give your prayers and vibrations to others, you’ll find that it magnifies your own spiritual efforts enormously. Pray for them. Chant whole-heartedly, knowing that the deeper the response you receive from the Divine, the more divine power there will be in the room for the benefit of everyone. Thus, even if you feel very inward about your spiritual life, you will find your own consciousness being greatly expanded.
“When enough people call sincerely,” Swami Kriyananda wrote, “a mighty current of grace is deflected toward this planet. A new ray of Light is drawn downward, and all who tune into it are uplifted as they could never be, if they were to struggle on their own.”
Imagine, if you were living in a remote area, the only devotee for miles around, how you would hunger for the opportunity to share inspiring times with others! You have the good karma to be able to spend time in good company. Embrace it with gratitude!
As for hypocrisy, just because some people express themselves hypocritically, it doesn’t mean that all spiritual expression is hypocritical. This needs to be understood case by case. But I can see that you are looking for a way to avoid judging others, and move forward in a positive direction.
Try offering yourself to God in the company of others, for the benefit of others, as a reason to participate, and see if that helps.