HINDU SPIRITUALITY



HINDU SPIRITUALITY

As stated earlier, the starting point of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is the dawn of realization that the souls are eternal.  They suffer samsara on account of their ignorance.  Salvation or liberation of the soul, therefore, is the supreme task of human life.  This process of liberation can be termed Spirituality.
Before going further into the discussion of ‘Hindu Spirituality,’ the term ‘Hindu’ needs clarification.  The term ‘Hindu’ is used here comprehensively to include every thing that pertains to Hindu Religion.  As the focus of this subject is mainly spirituality, the term Hindu does not warrant any further discussion.  Rather, it is ideal that an attempt is made to understand the term spirituality and its implications from a Hindu point of view.

6.1 Etymological Meaning
According to Margaret Chatterjee “Indian languages have no word either for religion or for spirituality.”[1]  The word spirit and spirituality have the same root.  But ‘this is not the case with say, ātman and sādhanā.[2]  The word closer to spirit in Indian language is ātman.  The Indian word sādhanā shares a common characteristic with the term ‘spirituality’.[3]  In order to understand the word sādhanā, it is suffice to suggest that “fulfillment lies in creating a balance between spirituality and worldly life.  Creating harmony between these two aspects of life is called sādhanā, spiritual practice.”[4]  Gordon S. Wakefield’s comment comes handy to understand the common usage of the word spirituality.  For him, “this is a word which has come much into vogue to describe those attitudes, beliefs, practices which animate people’s lives and help them to reach out towards super-sensible realities.”[5]  It is necessary, once again to quote Margaret Chatterjee before summarizing the implications of the word. Accordingly, “it is not surprising that one of the commonest connotations of the term ‘spirituality’ in current usage centers on inner experience and on practices reckoned to foster it.”[6]  The word spirituality implies human beings’ self-awareness that they are divine and their constant effort to maintain and improve their divinity i.e. relation with God.  This will be clearer when some of the familiar definitions of spirituality are analyzed.
At the outset, it has to be indicated that, the etymological meaning of the word ‘Spirituality’ focuses upon individuals and their efforts to improve their relation with Reality.  Spirituality to be more dynamic and relevant to the present context, should include the activities of spiritual people in relation to their fellow human beings and environment. 

6.2 Definition of Spirituality
The Oxford English Dictionary, second edition defines spirituality as “the quality or condition of being spiritual; attachment to or regard for things of the spirit as opposed to material or worldly interests.”  With similar implication, but more comprehensively Margaret Chatterjee defines spirituality as follows:
The relation between the inferiority of the person and the transcendence of the divine can be enabled in various ways… in each case a particular style of religious life will ensue, or rather, be enjoined on man.  It is this style that later generations called spirituality.[7]

A little more inclusive definition of spirituality is found in the words of non-Hindu writers.  Three such definitions may be used for further analysis. The first one is, “spirituality is our innate orientation toward God in so far as it is consciously cultivated and translated into a way of life.”[8]  Secondly spirituality means a ‘life lived according to the spirit’.[9]  Thirdly “Spirituality is a outward journey into the world transcending the spiritual and material dichotomy.”[10]
The three definitions mentioned above for analysis confirm in concrete terms that spirituality is centered on Spirit/God.  But they go further to emphasise that spirituality should become a way of life- life lived here in the world in harmony with God, humanity and nature.  Hinduism affirms this ideal. This ideal needs to be stressed today.  A spirituality that tries to ignore the realities of the world cannot be called spirituality.
An example of a narrow definition of spirituality is that “spirituality may be understood as man’s existence.”[11]
However, a viable, meaningful and dynamic definition of spirituality is given by Antony Edanad:
Spirituality may be described as the manner in which a person views his relation with God, other persons and the world in general, and responds to this relation in so far as it enriches, enables and elevates him fulfilling his desire for inner peace, total realization and ultimate happiness.[12]

Before suggesting the basic dimensions of spirituality it is necessary to indicate two more narrow definitions of Hindu Spirituality.  They are “Spirituality in Hindu thought is ceremonial and external on the one hand, and mystical and subjective on the other,”[13] and “in the life of the Hindu, spirituality may take the form of sanctifying or defying a rock, a tree, a tank, an animal, a man, etc.”[14]  A relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’ should comprise in it certain important dimensions.  They are, realization that human beings are divine, the constant nurturing of the relation between God and Humanity, translation of spirituality into day to day life and finally achieving Salvation.

6.3 Spiritual Life
All ardent followers of Hinduism have earnestly stated the significance of life in the world for spiritual development.  It is sad that such vital aspects are not included in the definitions examined earlier.  In spite of this laxity, the rich experience of the great Hindu writers sheds adequate insight into the meaning of Hindus Spirituality.  According to them “spiritual experience have to be sought in our day-to-day life.”[15]  Again “an aspirant does not need to disrupt his worldly life to practice spirituality.”[16] Further, “the external practice-external worship of the spirit by the spirit – comes of serving God in man.”[17]  More concretely, spiritual life is not different from secular life.[18]
A more contemporary contribution to ‘Hindu Spirituality’ has been rendered by Krishna Sivaraman.  For him, spiritual journey is ‘turning around’.[19]  It is ‘turning around from facing the world to face God’.[20]  It is a change from worldliness to ‘wordlessness’.  Here ‘wordlessness’ is used to denote a dynamic and challenging life in the world without attachment to the world and its activities.  It is a kind of selfless service.
A spirituality which is practiced in day-to-day life, which is concerned with fellow human beings and nature as a whole is the need of the hour.  Any religion that does not promote such spirituality will become irrelevant. 
Another basic element lacking in the so called definitions of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is in terms of its origin, that the realization of man’s ‘inner essence as Divine’.[21]  In the words of Subhash Anand “to begin spiritual life, it is enough if man realizes that the deepest in him is more akin to God than to the world, and that consequently only in Him can he find his true fulfillment.”[22]  The contemporary world longs for people with such a deep sense of awareness.  Such awareness can create a harmonious life here on earth and a living harmony between God and humanity.  That is why ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is said as an inward direction toward life.[23]  Religion and Philosophy in India contribute so much in the process of making people to turn towards themselves.

6.4 Relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’
To begin with, it is fitting to quote Ewert Cousin’s words that “for it may well be that the meeting of the spiritual paths – the assimilation not only of one’s own spiritual heritage but that of the human community as a whole – is the distinctive spiritual journey of our times.”[24]  It is very much in line with the basic attitude of Hinduism.  It needs to be affirmed that there is no single absolute spirituality.  The spirituality practiced in a specific geographical situation is the product of conceptualizing it from that specific context. 
The second basic insight for a relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is that it should broaden its horizon to embrace all aspects of life.[25]  It is not just for using religious sentiments for manipulative purposes but to approach all aspects of life from the deep rooted Divinity of Humanity.
The third insight for a relevant ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is that it should be both contextual and action-oriented, though it is guided by a vision rooted in a particular faith experience and commitment.[26]  In order to practice a relevant spirituality one need not give up the faith to which he/she belonged.  A spirituality which is blind to the contextual realities of life is irrelevant. A relevant spirituality should be ‘life-affirming’ and rejecting ‘anti-life’; it should be a ‘cry for life’.[27]  From the Indian point of view the issues, poverty, unemployment, child-labour, ecological imbalance, etc are not issues pertained to a few.  These issues call for a more dynamic spirituality. 


[1] Margaret Chatterjee, The Concept of Spirituality (New Delhi: Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1989),
p. 19.
[2] Ibid., p. 16.
[3] Ibid., p. 16.
[4] Ibid., p. 63.
[5] Gordon S. Wakefield, The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Philadelphia:
Westminister Press, 1983), p. 361.
[6] Margaret Chatterjee, op. cit., pp. 12-13.
[7] Ibid., p. 6.
[8] Aloysus Pieris S. J. Fire & Water: Basic Issues in Asian Buddhism and Christianity, (New York:
ORBIS Books, 1996), p. 165.
[9] Mataji Vandana, “In Search of Being One with the One”, Spirituality in Interfaith Dialogue, ed by
Josh Arai & Wesley Ariarajah (Geneva :WCC Publications, 1989), p. 23.
[10] Elizabeth, “Liberative Spirituality and Feminist Models of Ecclesia as Resource for a Dalit
Model of the Church”, National Council of Churches Review, Vol. CXVIII, No.6 (June-July 1998), p.401.
[11] Mathew Vekathanam, “Mystery, myth, history: Dimensions of Spirituality in the context of
Avatara”, Journal of Dharma, Vol. XIII, No.3 (July-September 1988), p. 204.
[12] Antony Edanad, “Interiorized Word and Transforming Spirit: Johannine Model of Spirituality,”
Journal of Dharma, Vol. XIII, No.3 (July-September 1988), p. 238.
[13] George A. Mather and Larry A. Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult,
1993.
[14] Troy Wilson Organ, The Hindu Quest for the perfection of man, First paperbound edition
(OHIO: Ohio University, Athens, 1980), p. 60.
[15] Paramahamsa Tewari, Spiritual Foundation (Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1996), p. 74.
[16] Swami Rama, Spirituality: Transformation within and without, (Pennsylvania: The Himalayan
Institute Press, Honesdale, 1988), p. 74.
[17] Swami Krishnanda, Spiritualizing Everyday Life,  First Indian Edition (Calcutta: Advaita
Ashrama, 1992), p. 68.
[18] Swami Krishnanda, Essays in Life and Eternity (Himalayas[India]: The Divine Life Society,
Himalayas, 1990), p. xix-xx.
[19] Krishna Sivaraman, ed. Hindu Spirituality: Vedas through Vedanta, First Indian Edition (Delhi:
Motilal Banarsidass, 1995), p. XV.
[20] Ibid., p. XV.
[21] David R. Kinsley, Hinduism, a Cultural Perspective (Inc., USA :Prentice-Hall, 1982), p. 44.
[22] Subhash Anand, “The Spirituality of the Bhadavata Purana”, Jeevadhara, Vol. XVI, No.
96(November 1986), p. 458.
[23] S. S. Raghavachar, “The Spiritual Vision of Ramanuja”, Krishna Sivaraman ed., op. cit., p.261.

[24] Ewert Cousins, “Preface to the Series”, Hindu Spirituality, Postclassical and Modern, ed. by K.
R. Sundararajan, and Bithika Mukerji (London :SCM Press, 1997), p. XIV.
[25] X. D. Selvaraj, “Social Conflicts and Spirituality,” Jeevadhara, Vol. XXIII, No. 133, (January
1993), p.16.
[26] M. Amaladoss, “Religious Conflict and Spirituality”, Jeevadhara, Vol. XXIII, No. 133 (January
1993), p.28.
[27] K. C. Abraham, “The Spirituality of the Third World,” Bangalore Theological Forum, Vol. XXIII, No.2 (June 1991), p. 6-7.

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