THEOSOPHY, Vol. 89, Issue 2, January/February 2001
(Pages 52-56; Size: 9K)


[Article number (12) in this Department]

What does it mean to be spiritual?

Seekers of truth are curious as a habit, most likely over their lifetimes rather [than] just suddenly. Yet, in all the studies a person can undertake, the question of spirituality can never be defined in any book, and it can become fuzzier as more people use the word in different ways. Some people can't even get beyond what it is to be human, much less spiritual. For others, the trend toward scientific humanism in the 20th century has turned toward a desire for a more spiritual understanding of the world, especially by the baby boomers and certainly the generations that follow them. Our environment and our upbringing often seem to conspire to mislead us. Searching for meaning may well find one confronted by people who say, more or less, "I'm not overly religious but I follow a spiritual path." What does that mean? Several students of theosophy suggest the following as they explore the facets of this inquiry.


On the one hand we are all spiritual. We are spiritual beings inhabiting physical bodies for the purpose of experience in a grand evolutionary process that is threefold -- spiritual, mental, and physical, the physical evolution due to the impulse of the mental and spiritual. Our "I am I" consciousness, our true sense of identity, we can call our spiritual individuality. Our power to evolve, to move forward, to become more than we presently are, is our spiritual essence, the same in every being. The goal is to act as spiritual beings by training the mental and physical aspects of ourselves to be fit instruments for that expression. Every religion throughout history is a kind of testimony to our spiritual side, their contradictory theologies and ideologies not withstanding.

Having said the above the question still remains, what does it mean to be spiritual? The great beings of history that we remember and admire we remember most for the qualities they exhibited not for any particular thing they did. These are spiritual qualities. Deep understanding of life, compassion, sacrifice, selfless work for the good of others are expressions of the spiritual.

When we identify with our "spiritual," we are acting from our creative, energetic, compassionate center and whatever we are doing in the world will naturally be in consonance with the good of the whole. At these times, we are spiritual in the active, conscious, living sense of the term. Shakespeare's advice expressed in Hamlet comes to mind: "This above all: to thine own Self be true/And it must follow as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to nay a man." (Hamlet: Act I, Sc. 3.)

Being true to the real self means acting from the place of true aspiration, moral conviction, and what we perceive as "the highest" and having the courage to carry on from that rarefied position even in the face of opposition. This is being genuine. This is being spiritual. No one, however, said it's easy. "There's the rub."


Being spiritual doesn't mean being soft-spoken, although some spiritual people are. It doesn't mean being vegetarian, although some spiritual people are. It doesn't mean practicing Buddhism or Judaism or Christianity or Hinduism or Theosophy, although some spiritual people do. Spirituality is not something that can be determined by what is done without; it can only be measured by what is felt within. And that feeling is love -- not a romantic love, not a selfish love, not a jealous or possessive love, which is finite, limited, but an all-inclusive love, a selfless love, an overflowing abundant love that has no end. When you find this love in your own heart, you find the spirit. For the spirit is love. And when you find the spirit in your own heart, you find it in the hearts of all other beings. You identify your self with their selves. You are the same self, the same spirit, the same heart, the same love. What you wish for yourself you also wish for them. What you do for yourself you also do for them. You act for and as the self of all.

St. Paul said, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (I Corinthians, 13:1-13.) Even if an outward act is judged by others to be kind or good or generous, if it does not follow from a loving heart, it is a dead act, a material act, a non-spiritual act. And that's why sinners are in high places. Conversely, even if an outward act is judged by others to be mean or evil or selfish, if it follows from a loving heart, it is a truly spiritual act. And that's how saints get tortured and sages get stoned.


"In the hour of vision there is nothing that can be called gratitude, nor properly joy," Emerson ("Self Reliance") reminds us. "The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well."

As we travel the road of life, we bring about choices as the result of our past perceptions. We must act on the basis we have set in motion. This basis represents our position of consciousness at any given time. Man has a dual nature and therefore may choose to gravitate to a higher or intuitional nature or fall to the limited vision of the lower nature. Nevertheless, we say, how can we be spiritual beings and at the same time make decisions that are detrimental to others and ourselves simultaneously? The clue here lies in the fact that we are potentially spiritual, but must earn the realization of conscious spirituality through our own efforts.

This can be illustrated in the realm of musical composition where the composer begins with a keynote and travels through many paths suggested by the keynote. This path may be one of glorious harmony or one of heavy dissonance, the end finally being one of absolute resolution or one of dangling anticipation. The keynote represents potential and absolute impersonality until it is set in motion through the limitless attractions and deceptions of the composer.

The path suggests the power as well as the responsibility for choices made. HPB (S.D. I, p. 124) wrote: "We produce causes, and these awaken the corresponding powers in the sidereal world, which powers are magnetically and irresistibly attracted to and react upon those who produced these causes; whether such persons are practically the evil doers, or simply Thinkers who brood mischief."

Spirituality, then, is the position we take from minute to minute. We may choose to act from the soul point of view or through the eyes of lower self. For as Emerson noted (in "Oversoul"): "All goes to show that the soul in man is not an organ, but animates and exercises all organs. ... Him we do not respect, but the soul whose organ he is; would he let it appear through his action, would make our knees bend. When it breathes through his intellect, it is genius; when it breathes through his will, it is virtue; when it flows through his affection, it is love. And the blindness of the intellect begins when the individual would be something of himself. All reform aims in some one particular to let the soul have its way through us; in other words to engage us to obey."

Next article:
(March/April 2001)
[Article number (13) in this Department]

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