August 22, 2014

Defining Spirituality. ~ Einar Olsen

holy spirit

Spirituality defined is: the direct experience and intellectual understanding of supreme truth, ultimate reality, the nature of which is bliss.

The definition of spirituality includes wholeness, the holistic integration of all parts of life and living into a greater whole. Spirituality defined also has to do with achieving the ultimate purpose and state of human development, referred to as enlightenment, salvation, moksha, nirvana, emancipation and realization.

Spirituality is the vital nectar of life, the precious essence of existence, our own inner identity and nature, the serene Bliss of Totality, transcending and enriching the distinctions and eminent personalities of the various traditions directing us toward it.

It is the sweet​, ​clear​,​ ​holistic meaning and purpose of life, equally present in the delicate beauty of a flower and in the monumental course of human and non-human history over the eons of planetary and cosmic life.

Spirituality has levels of expression within human society. In a broad sense it relates to an understanding or belief in any consciousness beyond time and space which can influence our human affairs.

Spirituality is nourishing, purifying, and developmental to every level and aspect of life: our being, ego, intellect, feelings, mind, physiology, behavior, our environment and their holistic integration.

A part of defining spirituality is defining Spirit.

Other words used for Spirit through the ages around our world include Being, God, Godhead, Tao, Empyrean, Plenum, higher Self, Atma, Brahman, Brahm, Absolute, Great White Spirit, Nothingness, Tatha-ta (Suchness), Shunyata (Emptiness) and other words, each with different shades of meaning, and all referring to the same basic thing—something or someone transcending limitation, measure, form, structure, process or change, but inclusive of all of these.

Defining Spirit and spirituality in words, concepts, or forms can be challenging since to define is to place limits on, and Spirit and its expression in spirituality cannot be entirely contained or limited by any definition or expression.

“He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know” is one way this has been said. Another is “Neti, neti” (not this, not this). Spirit is that which is not any specific thing, but contains and transcends all specific things. Although speech, images, gestures, and sounds can embody spiritual feeling and essence, spirituality is lived more than said.

“Speech stands speechless at the door of the infinite​.​” ​~ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Since Spirit is understood to contain all things, there is in this sense nothing that is not Spirit, nothing that is not spiritual. Spirit is entirely holistic and all-inclusive. This is one valid viewpoint. Another valid and useful viewpoint is that Spirit and spirituality refer to those aspects of life which are positive, auspicious, life-supporting, and progressive.

These two valid aspects or views of Spirit and spirituality interact, contend, and dance throughout discussions of spirituality and its history, thought and experience.

​A​ third valid view of spirituality contrasts it with materialistic. In this third view of spirituality (also referred to perennialism and scientism), spirituality (or perennialism) emphasizes or prioritizes the accumulation and growth of positive values that do not have weight or occupy space (non-material values and “things”), such as knowledge, compassion, higher consciousness, love or purity.

Materialism or scientism emphasizes or prioritizes the accumulation and growth of values that are physical, have weight or occupy space (material values and things), such as financial and material assets, as well as values associated with these, such as power, prestige, reputation or fame.

So in general, spirituality can either be thought of as separated out and contrasted with relatively “worldly” values, or holistic, and containing or involving all of lif​e—both purity and power.

In the holistic definition of spirituality, both power and purity are included, with purity and goodness or altruism, predominating or prioritized. ​

Spirituality has been approached in different ways through time and location. Here are some categories of concepts that can help characterize Spirit:

a) Directly Experienced/Intellectually Understood (Directly Experienced and/or Intellectually Understood)

b) Infinite, Influential, and Good

c) Transcendental/Imminent

d) Personal/Impersonal (Subjective/Objective, Artistic/Scientific)

e) Infinitely Expanded/Expanding and/or Condensed/Condensing

f) Infinite Silence and Infinite Dynamism (Inward/Outward, Vertical/Horizontal)

g) Monistic/Dualistic/Pluralistic

h) Male/Female/Neither

i) Individual/Private/Social/Organizational

j) Fulfillment and Non-attachment (Practical Success and Non-involvement)

In addition, spirituality expressed in human knowledge, experience, and behavior can be defined by six fundamental aspects or components:

1. Direct Experience

2. Intellectual Understanding

3. Faith and Devotion

4. Ceremony, Ritual

5. Ethics

6. Lifestyle

All of these six increase both the purity and the power of the individual and society, as purity and strength are both part of what it means to be holistically​ spiritual.

In our subsequent articles of Defining Spirituality, each of the above components of spirituality are described in more fullness and detail, and you are invited to make comments to the author about this article and its elaborations in the articles that flow from it.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!


Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Waiting for the Word/Flickr

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Einar Olsen