What is Spirituality?

What is Spirituality?

The ultimate goal of the quest for spirituality is to know and experience the ultimate truth, and to return to that original state. But, what is ultimate truth, and what is relative truth, and why are they important?

 

ULTIMATE TRUTH

All spiritual traditions generally agree that there is an ultimate truth or reality that is unconditioned and unchanging, that is beyond time and space. It is indescribable using any languages or symbols. It cannot be known simply through logical inference, but it can be known and experienced through a purified mind.

 

RELATIVE TRUTH

Relative truth or relative reality is the universe we live in and experience. This material world is said to be emanated or unfolded out of the ultimate truth, but this is not to say that the ultimate truth is one thing and the material world is another thing. It is more accurate to say that the material world is within the ultimate truth, although even this description is probably not satisfactory.

Some people have described the material world as a holographic projection out of the ultimate truth. In Hinduism, for example, the material world is called “maya”. It is regarded as illusory and is merely a projection of our mind.

We could easily do a thought experiment with regard to this illusory nature. For example, we can ask ourselves – “Does the world exist if we are not aware of it?”

 

MIND AND MATTER

Through our own observations, we can know that this material world is made up of two things. The first is matter. Matter is perceivable to us via our five physical senses of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. The other is mind or consciousness. Mind, unlike matter, cannot be perceived by the five physical sense organs. It can be perceived only by the mind itself. That is why mind is considered to be our sixth sense.

 

MIND, SPIRIT, GOD – DIFFICULT TO DESCRIBE

Now we have arrived at a crossroad. How do we measure or quantify or define something that we cannot perceive physically? Where are the boundaries? Where does it begin and where does it end? What is its nature or essence? What are its qualities and attributes? Can we even describe it accurately with the languages that we have?

This is where confusions abound in discussion about spirituality and religions. The same term used, such as the word God, can mean differently for different people coming from different backgrounds and religions. On the other hand, something that is the same is often described differently by different people, as perceived from different perspectives. This is made worse if we see only the parts instead of the whole, as in the story of the blind men and the elephant.

Thus, words like mind, spirit, god and several others may simultaneously mean the same thing at times, and at other times hold subtle but important differences.

Without recognising the limitations of words and languages, our discussions on spirituality or religions can and will very often lead to confusions and confrontations.

Yet we know that if there is an ultimate truth that is unchanging and unconditioned, all our collective experiences of this must somehow be the same, albeit seen and understood from our personal perspective, which is coloured by our upbringing, culture and beliefs.

So, the way to avoid or minimise such confusion is to first define the words we use, and make sure that everyone is using the same words with the same definitions. Here is how I would define some of these words:

  • Mind is defined as that which perceives, cognises, thinks and is aware of. This would include both the cognitive and affective aspects as well as consciousness. Mind is also creative.
  • Spirit is defined as the fabric, base or foundation on which the mind acts upon. Thus, mind can be said to be contained within spirit.
  • God is defined as a natural impersonal creative force of the universe. The process of creation is subjected to natural laws.

You will notice that the above definition of God does not fit the God of the Old Testament, which is personal and even vengeful at times. Also, because both mind and God are creative, the two words are sometimes interchangeable, depending on the context in which they are used. In addition, since spirit is defined as the base or foundation from which creation emerges from (or emanate from or spring forth), and God is often regarded in the same way, spirit and God are also often used interchangeably.

So, even with the above definition, there is still room for confusion to occur.

 

TWO LEVELS OF EXPERIENCE

So we have the unconditioned, unchanging ultimate truth or ultimate reality, from which springs forth the material universe, the relative truth or relative reality existence where sentient beings get to experience life as we know it. Sentient beings can experience life from two different levels or perspectives.

  1. A Dualistic Personal Experience

A sentient being is conscious and aware of itself relative to its surrounding. It sees itself as separate from its surrounding. It perceives a “I” and a “other-than I”. It is a dualistic view of existence. This dualistic way of experiencing life is what we know and are used to.

In order to do this, we need to label or name things. We need to discern or compare, perceive differences and make judgments. Thus we see big and small, tall and short, and we sense hot and cold. This is how we make sense of the world we live in.

We experience all these contrasts from a personal perspective or view.

  1. An All-Inclusive Impersonal Experience

There is, however, another way to experience life – a way described by certain accomplished saints and meditators. Ancient sages from all traditions have told us of this higher perspective of experiencing life. It is an experience that is all embracing, all inclusive and free from thoughts, personal biases and prejudices. It is experienced from beyond the perspective of the self. It is an impersonal experience.

This experience is described in superlative terms and is regarded as a higher and more superior experience than our normal dualistic experience. Words such as unconditional love, great compassion, blissful joy and peace are often used to describe this supra-mundane spiritual experience.

It is also described as an inner and inherent essence or quality of our purified mind or spirituality, and is not affected or corrupted by anything outside of this mind.

This elusive and blissful state is what motivates and drives worldly beings in search of their spirituality. This is a state that is free and independent from any physical reality, and is achievable through a purified mind attained via meditation.

This state is called spiritual happiness, contrasting it with the more transient and illusory worldly happiness that is dependent on pleasing our physical senses, and is described not just in the Taoist, Buddhist or Hindu traditions but also in the Christian gnostic, Jewish Kaballah and Muslim sufi traditions.

Considered an even higher happiness than spiritual happiness is the total release from existence as we know it, culminating in a total union with the ultimate truth or reality with no possibility of coming back in any form.

 

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