A seminar on religion and spirituality was being organized in the ashram, where I lived and I was invited to present my views. I had worked a whole month preparing for this presentation – pouring over different books, browsing hundreds of papers in the library and interviewing the visiting religious scholars. Phew!! It was hard work, but finally, the presentation was ready and I was very pleased with my effort.

Before the day of the seminar, I took the paper to my master, hoping he would ask me to read it to him. If I was really lucky, I would get his input as well. That would be the icing on top of this cake..!!

It was late afternoon, as I sat down and placed the paper at his feet. In Indian custom, this is the manner in which one seeks blessings.

The feet of a master, it is believed, are akin to an altar.

My master looked at the papers, but said nothing. Usually, if anything caught his attention, he would ask….that is, if he was in an inquisitive mood! Apparently, that afternoon, he was not.

An hour or so passed by in absolute silence. There were days, when, not being able to contain his thoughts, my master would keep pouring them onto me. I would be tired and hungry, but he will not let me go. “Listen to this”, he would say and the topic could be anything – from Zen to Zebras!!!

And, then again, there were days, like that afternoon, when no words were spoken; not even a murmur!!

I wanted that afternoon to be different. I wanted his input on religion and spirituality. Why wouldn’t he ask me about that bunch of papers lying at his feet!!

“Describe God?” His voice was loud and clear.

“Wh..What?”, I stammered. At first, I couldn't comprehend the question, especially, after all that silence.

He repeated, “Describe God.”

“God is Omnipotent, Omnipresent and Omniscient”, I replied almost immediately, without a thought. I was quick with my choice of words; these three words cover everything, right?…or so, I thought.

He chuckled. “Could you do any better?”

“God is Love!?!” I had heard it in his talks.

“And..?” His voice reflected his infinite patience.

“God is.. all pervasive Cosmic Intelligence that creates, maintains and destroys the universe including all the animate and inanimate life forms…!!?!”

He leaned forward towards me and asked softly, “When you attempt to describe God, do you think of words or are you thinking of God?”

“Words, of course. How else would..?” He cut me short.

“What language do you think in?”

“English, maybe..?” I felt like a fool. Why couldn’t I keep my mouth shut..!!

He leaned back on his chair. “Why not Sanskrit, Hebrew or Arabic? You chose English because you think and speak English?”

“Yes master”, I replied confused. “I speak and think in English”. What was he getting at? Should I attempt to describe God in some ancient language..? Mantras or chants..!!?

“Open your mind ”, he said, as he tapped me gently on my head. “Listen to the language of your heart”.

I am not sure if it was the tap on my head or his presence. My mind almost immediately gave up its questioning mode, and I slipped into silence. Listen to the language of the heart. It sounded beautiful and serene, so I decided to try…

My master got up and walked up to the window. I closed my eyes, sat in my favorite yoga pose, the half lotus and tuned into the silent rhythms of my being… seeking and listening to this language of my heart...The answer was right there - "IS!"

Ah! The joy of solving a puzzle!!! And I knew it was the right one, the moment, it flashed before me.

I said, gleefully and aloud, “God IS”.

“God IS”, he replied, as he turned towards me with a smile. “And you knew the answer all along. God is - just plain and simple.

The rest…the adjectives and phrases, the different languages attempting to describe God; these merely limit your perception of the IS.”

“God IS… Nothing more, nothing less!”

It was 6.30 pm. I got up to take leave. As I did, he turned towards me and took a few steps closer to where I was. His voice was gentle, but firm - a voice that can only belong to one who knows….

“This”, he said, “is the fundamental difference between Religion and Spirituality. Spirituality gives you the experience of the ‘IS’. Religion, attempts to describe that experience – in different words and myriad languages limited by rules of grammar, punctuations, etc..!”

He looked out of the window again and sighed, as he continued, “And then leaders are chosen, books are written, institutions are made; new religions are born. There are as many Gods and religions as there are languages, nations and people eager to describe their experiences….”

He kept staring out of the window.

I gently went on my knees and bent down to kiss his feet. And as I did, I couldn’t help thinking what more treasures were hidden within him. I got up, murmured a goodbye and gently shut the door, as I stepped out.

While driving home, I couldn’t help thinking of his words, “God IS – just plain and simple”.

Plain and simple, no doubt… Yet, so incredibly profound!

And guess what…the next day, I left for the seminar leaving my papers behind…I didn’t need them anymore. I had something ‘plain and simple’ to share!

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