At a certain point in their spiritual quest, many seekers realize that the external world is not the sum total of life—that there is something profound and deeply rewarding that has been just out of reach, but that is supremely important for finding true fulfillment. This yearning starts the process of spiritual unfoldment. But when it comes to looking for deeper meaning, people tend not to know how to begin. What does it mean to turn inward? Is this the same as trying to find God? What exactly does it mean to try to “find God”? How will we know when we’ve found God? Will all our fears and problems suddenly be erased at this point? The truth is, what it means to “find God” has been distorted and watered down by religious dogma, ritualistic trappings, and superstition. People tend to “believe in God” either to try to get something they desire, or out of fear of what might happen to them in this life or after death. As a result, the quest for fulfillment is compromised before we even begin. We have been seeking and hoping to see God through cultural lenses that can never capture the totality of the Divine—in other words, we can’t comprehend the concept of a God who doesn’t fit into a pre-constructed box of our choice. It is like seeing a small slice of a stunning landscape through binoculars rather than seeing the whole panorama.
Many people claim that they have found God and yet you can see a great deal of emptiness in their lives. The sages’ injunction, “Look within and find within,” involves more than conceptualizing God, worshipping this concept of God, and expecting God to take care of all your problems. In the beginning stages of your search, when you do not yet know what God is or what the means are of knowing God, you will be disappointed if you try to focus your heart and mind on God.
What is your immediate goal: knowledge of God, or freedom from misery?
To start your inward journey, focus your mind on your most immediate goal. Sit down quietly and reflect on yourself. What do you want in life? How can you be peaceful and happy? Try to discover whether your ultimate goal really is to know God or if you are actually more interested in achieving freedom from those thoughts, feelings, and problems that are keeping you from finding peace and happiness. What is your immediate goal: knowledge of God, or freedom from misery? Isn’t it true that you want to know God because you have an underlying expectation that God-realization will bring your miseries to an end? If that is the case, then consider: What really is the goal? What are the means?
Once you understand that your first priority is to find peace and happiness, try to see what obstacles stand in your way. You will see that your peace and happiness are associated with many factors both in and around you: your physical health, your relationships, your emotional state, your habit patterns, and so on. Through self-reflection and self-observation, identify the trash both inside and outside you that needs to be cleared away. Which of your habits are draining your vitality? Which cravings are destroying your peace? Which negative thoughts rob your happiness? Are you master of your worldly possessions, or a slave to them? Are you enjoying the objects of pleasure, or are they actually consuming you? During this process of self-reflection and self-observation, be honest with yourself. Acknowledge the facts and unflinchingly make choices and decisions that will clear away the obstacles to your peace and happiness. This is called turning your mind inward, searching within and finding within.
On this inward journey you will come to see that your peace and happiness are not dependent on worldly objects and relationships. It is your decision to remain happy in all circumstances in life that enables you to be happy. The realization that you have both the capacity to make such a decision and the capacity to remain unaffected by the charms and temptations of the world is called self-realization. And on the ground of this self-realization you will eventually come to know that the indomitable will that enabled you to search for and find happiness within is actually due to the Lord of Life who lies within you. In the scriptures, this level of realization is called God-realization. Knowing and experiencing this God is the highest goal of life. Once you find this truth, you are free from emptiness forever.
Source: Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait