This English word, which comes from the Latin spiritus, has been used in a wide variety of meanings. Strictly speaking, it connotes a state of holiness or a life that reflects an awareness of the Spirit. This is the mystical sense of the word. But in common usage, it is often loosely applied to anything religious or ecclessiastical, as well as to moral goodness or refinement of thought or feeling. A Catholic sourcebook states that “Christian spirituality is composed of a constellation of elements (e.g., God-images, community, prayer, ministry, asceticism) that receive different emphases at various times or for different persons” (A New Dictionary of Theology, p. 974).
The word is not used in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it is meant for things that are non-carnal or corporeal (e.g., Rom 7:14), and those that are related to the Spirit (e.g., 1 Cor 2:13). Paul also distinguished between a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon) and a psychical body (soma psychikon) (1 Cor 15:44).
Spirituality, in the mystical sense, refers to a transcendent state that goes beyond the mind and feelings. Thus it is not essentially a belief system or dogma, but a state of being and an experience. The classic Cloud of Unknowing in fact emphasizes the need to “unknow” and go beyond religiosity based on words, dogmas, knowledge or beliefs. This is the same meaning as understood in Hinduism.
The perception or awareness of the subtle spiritual levels is an intuitive perception. In fact, true intuition is widely considered as a spiritual faculty, identical to the prajñā of Hinduism and Buddhism. Spiritual awareness is equivalent to the “contemplative” state of consciousness of Christian mystics, or the experience of the “presence of God” of Brother Lawrence. It is from this awareness that ineffable “faith” comes. Faith, as a spiritual experience, is thus not identical with belief, the latter being an intellectual position rather than a transrational perception of a truth. Neither is it a devotional attitude as we commonly observe it arising out of such belief. Alfred P. Sinnett wrote: “Spirituality . . . has little or nothing to do with feeling devout; it has to do with the capacity of the mind for assimilating knowledge at the fountain-head of knowledge itself — of absolute knowledge — instead of by the circuitous and laborious process of ratiocination” (Esoteric Buddhism, p. 151).
In theosophy, spirituality is essentially the buddhic consciousness, the level above the higher mental. Helena P. Blavatsky calls the BUDDHI the spiritual soul, or the vehicle of the Spirit or štma. When the light of buddhi filters to the mental, the latter becomes the “radiant mind” or manas taijasi. Thus this higher mental consciousness is sometimes referred to as the “spiritual mind.” These three combined — Ātma-buddhi-manas — is collectively called the spiritual Ego. The word “Spirit” is to be reserved to štma alone.
The Mahatma KOOT HOOMI wrote that it is spirituality alone which draws an individual to the spheres of the Adepts.
. . . Nothing draws us to any outsider save his evolving spirituality. He may be a Bacon or an Aristotle in knowledge, and still not even make his current felt a feather’s weight by us, if his power is confined to the Manas. The supreme energy resides in the Buddhi; latent — when wedded to Atman alone, active and irresistible when galvanized by the essence of “Manas” and when none of the dross of the latter commingles with that pure essence to weigh it down by its finite nature. . . . Your greatest men count but as nonentities in the arena where greatness is measured by the standard of spiritual development. (ML, p. 375)
The awakening and development of spirituality is the core subject of MYSTICISM. All religious traditions have practices and disciplines towards the nurturing of this subtle state. Many stages of such development are recognized, the most important of which are the awakening, the purification, illumination and union.
See also SPIRIT, SOUL, BUDDHI, MYSTICISM, SELF.
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