Sports And Spirituality
In the hoary past Indian Sages perhaps neglected the body
in their pursuit of God. They felt the supreme necessity of
renouncing the world, including all physical comforts. However
in the West, this life of asceticism is not appropriate, there
is no reason to equate spirituality with rigid asceticism.
Physical fitness is of great importance in the spiritual life.
The body is like a temple which houses our soul, by keeping
the body fit we give the best circumstances for the Soul's
light to come to the fore. If we are plagued with physical
ailments, meditation and a life of prayer is more difficult.
When we engage in sports like running we help our body shake
off lethargy and infuse it with life spirit. Running also
helps to clear the mind from our usual thought patterns. This
is very refreshing and is good preparation for real meditation
where we try to remove all thoughts completely. It is also
helpful to meditate before running. If we get discouraging
thoughts whilst running long distances, we can use the poise
of our meditation to overcome these obstacles.
Also through running or other sports we can give ourselves
the opportunity to practise self transcendence, going beyond
our previous limitations. Self transcendence is not competing
with others but with ourselves, and by stretching our capacities
we can get tremendous inspiration. The mind likes to set limits
on our capacities but by being in harmony with our self these
limits can be surpassed.
Great saints and adepts have shown that we are more than the
body and that ultimately the source for physical energy is
a spiritual source. If we remain in the body consciousness
we cannot be aware of this, however through prayer and meditation
we can become more conscious of this inner strength. This
spiritual energy allows us to go beyond the limitations of
the mind. If we can tap into this stream of inspiration our
body will be surcharged with dynamic energy and enable us
to go beyond our preconceived ideas of what is possible.
The self transcendence we gain from sports is symbolic of
the inner journey of ourselves. Through practising spirituality
we can expand our consciousness and become more aware of our
higher selves, in deep meditation we can become aware of the
all pervading infinite consciousness; this consciousness is
not static but constantly self transcending itself. In meditation
there is no end to our journey of self discovery, unlike the
physical where our progress has to come to an end at some
Sports can give us joy, but if winning is our only objective
we are destined to be disappointed because at sometime we
will fail to be victorious. Real Happiness comes not through
separation but identifying ourselves with the winner. The
best approach from a spiritual point of view is to do our
best and then leave the result at the feet of the Supreme.
Sri Chinmoy says:
"From the highest point of view, the goal is not to defeat
anybody but only to compete with ourselves. When we compete
with others, we are never happy. Today I may defeat someone
in running, but tomorrow I will look around and see that there
is somebody who is far better than I. Our goal is to do our
very best and try all the time to compete only with ourselves.
But whatever the result, we have to accept it cheerfully.
We will do our best and then, whatever result God wants us
to have, we will accept."
Sri Chinmoy is a spiritual teacher who gives great value to
the importance of physical exercise. In his youth he was a
champion sprinter at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. On coming to
the West he took part in several marathons and ultramarathons.
Now aged 74 he is still breaking his own records for lifting
various heavy weights. See videos on http://www.srichinmoy.tv/.
He keeps lifting to inspire others, especially older people.
Sri Chinmoy's philosophy is "never give up" and that "age
is not a barrier."
Finally sports offers a great opportunity for bringing unity
between different countries. Sport has the capacity to transcend
political barriers. If played in the right spirit sports can
offer the chance for increased friendship between the different
countries of the world. In particular the Olympics is one
of humanity's flagship opportunities to show we all belong
to one world-family. Thus sports can play a vital role in
bringing about greater world harmony.
Richard Pettinger is an economics teacher in Oxford.
He is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre and also competes
in UK cycling races. His site is http://www.srichinmoypoetry.com/