“Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus said. “He needs butter too,” the wit added. But even with butter on it, bread will not satisfy the human being for long. His soul hankers after something, something that is not quite of this world. That hankering is what makes the human beings spiritual.
It is difficult to speak about the soul or the spirit
because science has not been able to identify that part of the human being. The
soul is not the mind. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts especially
when we come to living organisms and all the more so in the case of human
beings. Man is not just the body and the mind put together. There is something
more to the person than the body-mind sum. That ‘more’ is the soul or the spirit.
It is the soul that makes a person a spiritual being. It
is the soul that makes us feel that we are incomplete somehow and consequently
puts us on a quest for completion. That quest for completion is what spirituality
is essentially about.
To complete ourselves, we need something from out
there. Some people find that something in God, some in religion, many in art
and literature, quite a few in unique personal commitments.
It is a common misunderstanding that one needs
religion in order to be spiritual. One of the most spiritual characters in
fiction is arguably Dr Bernard Rieux in Camus’s novel, The Plague.
Dr Rieux does not believe in religion and God. When
the plague breaks out in Oran and people start deserting the quarantined city,
Dr Rieux chooses to stay back and fight the plague with all his talent and
strength. He does not see himself as a hero. He sees it as his duty to combat disease
and restore health. He is a “true healer” in the words of a philosophical chronicler
in the novel. He knows that disease is one of the evils that plague mankind and
it should be combatted. All evils should be combatted. The internalisation of
that superior consciousness is man’s real spirituality.
Spirituality is not about suffering for a god, not
dying or killing for a god. Spirituality is not uttering prayers in temples or
churches. It is not even going on pilgrimages or donating to charity. Prayers,
pilgrimages and charity may help one to become spiritual. But spirituality is
not those things. Spirituality is a realisation of our oneness with the cosmic
reality whose evils we should mitigate as best as we can. The spiritual person
knows that the evils of the reality out there are part of himself because he is
a part of that reality. The same goes for goodness too. And so it become the
duty of any spiritual person to increase the goodness and reduce the evil in
the world around him.
Man-made entities like religion, nation/nationalism,
race, class (socialism’s working class, for example), and political party can
never lead one to genuine spirituality because the moment you make any of these
entities absolute you are on the way to totalitarian domination by some people
over other people.
Spirituality has nothing to do with domination or
subordination. Spirituality is about liberation. It liberates you from the
clutches of narrow considerations that divide creatures into we-and-them or
high-and-low or whatever. Spirituality enables you to perceive the sanctity where
it does exist. Spirituality enables you to enhance that sanctity, to make the
world a better place.
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