What is meant by Spirituality and being Spiritual

What is meant by spirituality runs like a common thread through all cultures and religious traditions. It is expressed in the Christian tradition by the words: “He that loseth his soul shall find it.”

A Buddhist poem expresses this intuition about spirituality in this way:

“While living, be a dead man, thoroughly dead.

Then whatever you do, just as you will, will be right.”

But how are we to lose ourselves. How is it possible for the ego to do away with itself?


Any action that we take out of calculation, out of self-interest will strengthen the ego. All attempts made by the ego to do away with itself are fruitless and even counterproductive.

Can becoming spiritual help us?

However this does not stop us from trying. All of us are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It is when disaster strikes that we take to religion and philosophy and meditation. And at these times we are hurting so badly that we are unable to think clearly. We think that spirituality or becoming spiritual will help.

And so we start our very complex efforts to lose ourselves. There are any number of methods. There is philosophy – both eastern and western. There is the venerable tradition of meditation exercises of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zen and the like. There are sects and cults of various sorts.

Some enlightened masters do not think that meditation serves any purpose. J. Krishnamurti was an enlightened master who prescribed no meditation exercises whatsoever. Also we have the Taoist sages of antiquity – Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu – who do not stress on meditation at all.

The ancient Chinese have expressed this dilemma very eloquently. They have described these efforts to lose oneself and grow spiritually as similar to trying to fix legs on to a snake. They have compared these attempts to those of a naked man trying to lose his shirt. In the Zen Buddhist tradition all these attempts are compared to a mosquito trying to pierce the hide of an iron bull. It is considered to be a task that is impossible of accomplishment through conscious systematic efforts.

And yet we are hurting. We are facing life and its challenges are totally beyond our capacity to cope or deal with. Take for example the sudden death of a young child through accident or murder or the like. The parents of the child will be hurting and will turn to religion and spirituality to deal with the pain. What are they to do with themselves?

Alan Watts, in one of his books – Become What you Are – says that we humans are fragile and sensitive beings and we do not like to feel pain. In this we are similar to all other organisms. We just do not like to hurt – whether it is anger, fear, greed, jealousy, physical pain or any other negative feeling. So we resist these feelings. We try to block these feelings out and avoid them. We construct fine intellectual explanations of our situation that are designed to make us feel better about ourselves.

what is philosophy?

Much of what is called philosophy is – according to Alan Watts – an attempt to talk ourselves out of ultimate feelings. For example – a person facing a life threatening illness. He would be in a state of absolute turmoil. He would be facing rage, terror, shock and the like and he would want explanations as to why this is happening to him. And so he will turn to philosophy or spirituality for consolation.

Yet if this person were to just stop resisting, stop trying to find explanations and trying to make himself feel better and simply accept that these feelings are irresistible and cannot be avoided and just feel these emotions then he would be finding his way out of his crisis situation. He would be able to lose himself, which is the main task of growing spiritually.

This happens when we give up resisting our feelings through the realization that there is no way to resist them or to avoid them. This is when life compels us at last to give in, to surrender to the terror of the unknown and then the suppressed feeling shoots out. It is at last given room to play itself out and the horror of our inevitable mortality is transformed to an almost ecstatic sense of freedom from the bonds of individuality. This is the goal of all spiritual efforts and spirituality.

So this is one way to lose ourselves – surrender to our feelings, especially in crisis situations. This means that we do not block them or avoid them, or take action of any sort when we feel bad, or try to find intellectual theories to make us feel better. You are feeling wretched – so simply feel wretched. Do not resist.

About meditation

Now a few words about meditation. I had mentioned earlier that all attempts to change ourselves – through meditation or otherwise – are doomed to failure because the ego cannot do away with itself by taking action. It is like fighting darkness with darkness or a needle trying to prick itself.

But I have been meditating regularly these past few months – Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N Goenka – and I have clearly benefited and grown and matured through these efforts. It may not take me all the way but through my meditation practice I have started the spiritual journey. There is clearly more than one way to skin a cat.

There other point I wish to make is that all of what I said is no reason at all to deny our interest in philosophy and meditation or spirituality, or try to repress our desire to grow or change. It would be best of course is we could just accept ourselves and not feel the need to change anything about ourselves. But is you cannot do this, if you feel the need to meditate, or if you cannot accept any aspect of yourself and want to take steps to change it then please give this need or wish room to play itself out. Denying or repressing our desire to change ourselves is clearly not the way out.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it will be useful to you.

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