Spirituality and Common Man

Spirituality and Common Man

Narendra M Apte

As a common man, I am confronted with many definitions of the term ‘spirituality’. I think just knowing the dictionary meaning of spirituality may not be good enough. For real understanding of spirituality in its truest form, I need to do some ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Here, I am reminded of an essay titled ‘What Civilization is not’. In this essay author Clive Bell gives a list of many ‘virtues’ or characteristics which one may regard as essential prerequisites of a civilized society but they are not. For example, Bell says that loyalty to one’s spouse or life partner is not an essential aspect of a modern civil society as in many tribes that kind of loyalty exists.

I think it is worth using Clive Bell’s method of argument/enumeration and try to understand spirituality by saying what spirituality is not.

Spirituality is not religion; spending time, energy and money on visits to a temple is not being spiritual.

Spirituality is certainly not a blind faith in rituals, age-old traditions, and ancient scriptures.

Spirituality does not mean mere control of anger and non-egoistic behaviour. Yes, a spiritual person is in control of his/her emotions like anger but the converse may not be true: someone who possesses this characteristic is not necessarily a spiritual person.

Spirituality is not rationalism. A rational individual can be a good human being but he may not be regarded as a spiritual person.

Spirituality is not being nice or compassionate as someone can be very nice as an individual but he may not be regarded as a spiritual person.

Spirituality is not just meditation. Yes, meditation may be a useful tool to a one’s journey towards becoming a spiritual person, but meditation is only a tool.

Spirituality is not mere honesty and sincerity; a spiritual person is certainly honest but the converse may not be true.

What then is spirituality? To understand it, I wish to quote from a blog written by Prof Philip Sheldrake, Senior Research Fellow in the Cambridge Theological Federation:
“Spirituality” is a word that defines our era. The fascination with spirituality is a striking aspect of our contemporary times and stands in stark contrast to the decline in traditional religious belonging in the West. Although the word “spirituality” has Christian origins it has now moved well beyond these – indeed beyond religion itself.”

“What exactly is spirituality? Unfortunately it’s not easy to offer a simple definition because the word is now widely used in contexts ranging from the major religions to the social sciences, psychology, the arts and the professional worlds of, for example, healthcare, education, social work and business studies. Spirituality takes on the shape and priorities of these different contexts.”

I also wish to reproduce here an appropriate paragraph, taken from a book titled ‘The Pocket Dalai Lama’:

“I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another–an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or philosophical reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or hell. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayers and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit–such as love and compassion, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony, which bring happiness to both self and others. While ritual and prayer, along with questions of nirvana and salvation are directly connected with religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however. There is thus no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system. This is why I sometimes say religion is something we can perhaps do without. What we cannot do without are these basic spiritual qualities.”

To summarize, can I say that aspiring to live a life full of spiritual values is both a challenge and an opportunity in this age of growing uncertainties and the consequential stress?

Narendra M Apte, a qualified Chartered Accountant, is a freelancer.