Spirituality for life and
By Fr. John Felix Raj.
Religion is for spiritual guidance and growth of people. It is a major
resource for promoting peace, harmony, liberty and justice. We must use
religions to maintain and enrich our cultural and religious plurality, which is
our asset. Our response must be based on reverence, respect, tolerance and
compassion. Every person is an image of God (Genesis 1:27) and so a person is
sacred, unique, irreplaceable, and irreducible. But the serious problem in
society is that man has created God in his own image.
We need to build and promote a spirituality that is acceptable to, as many
people as possible, if not all. Spirituality is an essential part of an
individual’s holistic health and well-being. It plays a major role in human and
societal governance and development. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “God
bless America” came easily to the lips of all Americans. In fact, spirituality
came alive. It established the fact that human beings cannot do without it.
What is spirituality? It is hard to define. It is often understood as having
to do with escaping from life’s temptations and challenges by going off to
deserts and mountaintops to pray all day. It is often identified with matters
otherworldly, something to do with spirits, something associated with pious and
religious observances and activities. It is often contrasted to the temporal, to
the material, or to the worldly.
Until the 19th century, the history of spirituality remained bound up within
the history of religion. Spiritual innovators, particularly the
eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers, often opposed to clericalism and
skeptical of religion, sometimes came to express as “spirituality” their more
emotional responses to the world. In the wake of the Nietzschean announcement of
the "death of God" in 1882, people, unconvinced by scientific rationalism,
turned increasingly to the idea of spirituality as an alternative both to
materialism and to traditional religious dogma. The distinction between the
spiritual and the religious became more common in the popular mind during the
late 20th century with the rise of secularism and the advent of the New Age
One can simply state that spirituality is one’s inner quality that makes one
transcend the barriers of worldliness, caste, creed and sensuality; and realize
one's connection with the Truth. It focuses on personal experience. Many
spiritual traditions, accordingly, share a common spiritual theme: the "path" of
perceiving and internalizing one's "true" nature and relationship to God, to the
universe and to life, and of becoming free of the “egoic” self in favor of being
fully one's "true" "self .”
Spirituality has to do with the "spirit" of our life - with the way in which
we live out our relationship with God: our way of being spirit filled.
Richard McBrien writes in Catholicism (1980):
|To be "spiritual" means to know, and to live
according to the knowledge, that there is more to life than meets
the eye. To be "spiritual" means, to know, and to live that God is
present to us in grace as the principle of personal,
interpersonal, social and even cosmic transformation. To be "open
to the Spirit" is to accept explicitly who we are and who we are
called to become…
Spirituality is a path to God and to become God-like. Some Indian traditions
define spirituality (Sanskrit: adhyatma) as that which pertains to the
self or soul (Sanskrit: atman). According to Ursula King, it is
understood "anthropologically as an exploration into what is involved in
becoming fully human”, and fully alive (spirit-filled). In this respect, it is a
supportive mechanism even in the workplace.
God is Spirit. That is how Jesus explains it to the Samaritan woman: “The hour
is coming, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for God seeks such as these to worship him. ‘God is spirit’, and those who
worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:23-24). ‘God is Love’ (1
John. 4: 8,16) and ‘God is Light’ (1 John. 1:5).
God is beyond form, space, time, sex, caste, color, religion and so on. The
word ‘spirit’ has to do with wind; with the air we breathe in, and therefore
with life. The spirit is life. Spirituality unfolds life that calls for
transcendence: experience, awareness and appreciation of life beyond self. It
helps a person to experience God as truth, love and peace. It takes him or her
to something greater and higher. It takes a person beyond his or her egocentric
nature and fills him with an other-centric attitude.
The Tamil Poet, Thirumular explains in his thought provoking
Thirumanthiram that the Omnipotent cannot be transcribed in a single place
nor can he be measured, nor has he any names but can only be experienced. God is
love. It is only the ignorant who think that Love and God are two different
things. Only few understand that the Divine is nothing but Love. Those who
understand this become saints. He has no beginning or end and is also
timelessness. In spiritual ecstasy, some experience the Divine as Abba, some as
Spouse, some as Lover, some as Friend and so on.
Spirituality points to something central to human life. It is the experience
of being unique, being human, being something – a power, energy, presence, drive
– that shapes one’s actions and cultivates his or her life. It is what St.
Augustine called “restlessness”. It is a path to God to become gradually
God-like. The great scientist, Albert Einstein, had once said that his every
effort was to “know God’s thoughts”. Spirituality is to be God–intoxicated as it
happened in an ardent atheist, Spinosa’s life.
For Mahatma Gandhi, God is Life, Truth, and Light. He is Love. He is the
Supreme Good. Gandhi could see that, in the midst of death, life persists, in
the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists.
He experienced God through service of humanity, for he knew that “God was
neither in heaven, nor down below, but in every one.”
The unknown monk of the 12th century lucidly explains the unfolding of
spirituality. "When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it
was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found
I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the
town, and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I
realize the only one I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that, if
long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My
family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have
changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world."
We often don’t realize that transforming the world starts with transforming
ourselves. Human persons are endowed with the greatest responsibility of
preserving and promoting life. That is the mission given to every human person
by the Divine. Spirituality helps persons to realize that mission, to become
leaders and to reach out to fellow persons in love and service. For service to
humanity is service to God. Many political, religious and business leaders
succeed in deceiving people, especially the poor. But they cannot deceive their
The famous US President, Abraham Lincoln, was also a spiritual leader. During
the terrible American civil war, when his secretary of State, Stanton, said,
“Mr. President, I hope God is on our side”, Lincoln gently replied, “My dear
chap, it is more important that we are on God’s side”. As Sri Aurobindo
describes, “All depend on the spirit in which a thing is done, the principle on
which it is built, and the use to which it is turned”.
An important dimension of spirituality is an awakened consciousness. St.
Ignatius of Loyola speaks of this aspect in his Spiritual Exercises as
“seeing God in everything. God dwells in all creatures – in plants giving them
life, in animals conferring upon them sensation, in human persons bestowing
understanding. He also works and labours in all living creatures”. The
Upanishads describe “Cosmic Consciousness”, as being present in all life and
A guru once gave a test to his disciples. He gave them each a dove and told
them to kill the doves where no one could see them. Only one of them returned to
the guru and said, "I searched everywhere but could not find an unseen place to
kill the bird, because even in the lonely places the bird was seeing me and I
was seeing the bird and I felt that God was seeing both of us.” God is ever
present in all things and everywhere.
People can be classified into three kinds as St. Ignatius explains in his
Exercises. They can belong to any walk of life – religious, business persons,
teachers, workers, students and so on. Their goal in life is the attainment of
life-satisfaction through perfect service to God and humanity. To achieve this
goal, they must be ready to sacrifice anything that stands in the way. No matter
how entangled a person is in secular pursuits, he has the disposition to achieve
Suppose that each of these three kinds of persons has an equal sum of money and
has an unreasonable affection for the amount. Any inordinate attachment produces
inner disturbances and consequently loss of peace. All three types want to get
rid of this inordinate attachment to achieve the goal. But, they differ in the
Any thing I possess outside of my mind and will, and to which I am strongly
attached, would give me comfort, pleasure and joy. It can be anything: money or
cultural possessions or business, or certain attitudes or even spiritual things.
My will may become more or less bound to any of these. But when, on reflection,
I discover that my attachment is inordinate, I am faced with the decision of
either compromising or going “all out” in ridding myself of the disorderly
affection. According to St. Ignatius, unless I am ready to be rid of the
thing itself, I am not really sincere to myself.
The first of these three kinds of persons is unwilling to use any means to
attain the goal. Until death they fail in the fundamental prudence to use
suitable means to sacrifice the sum of money. A variety of reasons may be given
for this failure: slothfulness, or avarice, or fear, or lack of self-confidence,
or lack of conviction, or lack of faith and so on.
The second ones of these three kinds are compromisers: they want to be rid of
the internal attachment and also retain the sum of money. They want to shape the
course of Providence to suit them, instead of adapting themselves to the demands
of Providence. It may well be that the sum of money to which a person is now
attached, may be kept or continued without sacrificing, and detachment is still
achieved. But if one is sincere in wanting to be freed of the psychological
burden, he must be willing to dispose of the sum, which causes the inordinate
The third type of persons has the generosity to dispose of the money and to
shake off the dangerous affection. They are not satisfied with a minimal
service, but want to do whatever is more conducive to the service of God and
Spirituality is emptying of self. It has no boundaries. It makes persons active
and alive, transcendent and joyful. The only source of joy and happiness is the
“Spirit” (God), the Aatman. It is the nature of Sat – Chit – Aanand (Existence –
Knowledge – Bliss).
Bramabandha Upadhyaya adopted the vision of Saccidananda as expressive
of the Christian mystery of God as Trinity. “I bow to Him who is Being,
Consciousness and Bliss. I bow to Him whom worldly minds loathe, whom pure minds
yearn for, the Supreme Abode. He is the Supreme, the Ancient of days, the
Transcendent, Indivisible Plenitude, and Immanent yet above all things.”
That reminds me of a story from one of Fr. Anthony De Mello’s books about a Salt
Doll. The Salt Doll wanted to know who he was and so he went about asking
people. One day he encountered the ocean and was impressed by its vast beauty.
So he asked it if it knew who he was. The ocean said, “Come in and see for
yourself.” The salt doll entered into the ocean and was carried by the waves.
Just as the last part of the salt was about to dissolve, he said, “Now I know
who I am!” I am a Salt Doll. But I am afraid of dissolving, of course.
As a Tamil poetic work, Purananuru proclaims, ‘To us, all villages and
towns are one and all persons are kin.’ “The hallmark of spirituality is
responsiveness to the given context….” affirms Swami Agnivesh, a spiritual
leader of the marginalized and bonded labourers. “The spiritually enlightened
person cannot remain indifferent to the problems and sufferings of others.
Justice becomes the most authentic expression of spirituality in the social
Spirituality is not opposed to religion. It is regarded sometimes not as
religion per se, but as the active and vital energy that transforms life. It is
also not identical with religion. As William Irwin Thompson put it, "Religion is
the form, spirituality takes in civilization". It is also regarded as a
two-stroke process: the "upward stroke" of inner growth, changing oneself as one
changes one's relationship with the external universe; and the "downward stroke"
of manifesting improvement in the physical reality around oneself as a result of
the inward change. We all have spirituality whether we are religious or not. It
is that which unites all as one human family, prevents us from disintegrating
and puts people in harmony with the universe.
Osho Rajneesh, a controversial Indian Guru, who was based in Pune, used to
comment about spiritual leaders: ‘out of one hundred masters, there is only one
Master, ninety-nine are only teachers. The teacher is necessarily learned; for
the Master ... it is not a necessity... The Master is a rebel. He lives out of
his own being, he is spontaneous, outspoken, constructively critical, not
The earth is one, but the world is divided. Spiritual leaders therefore should
come together and take a bold stand against corruption, injustice, and communal
violence, and promote justice, harmony and peace. In a climate of acute crisis,
they must show the way to the future. They must promote a sound and acceptable
spirituality at the political and corporate levels to liberate and empower
politicians and business leaders through a sense of shared purpose. Such a sense
of purpose is a pre-requisite for good governance, national unity and overall
PRAYER OF ST.IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire
my memory, my understanding and my whole will.
All that I am and all that I possess You have given me.
I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your
Give me only Your love and Your grace;
with these I will be rich enough,
and will desire nothing more.