October 18 in the frame of the Day of Spiritual Accord, at 14:00 (GMT + 6), Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) will host an International conference themed: "Strengthening interfaith and interethnic harmony as an answer to modern world challenges ".
Ananta Kumar Giri The Calling of Practical Spirituality Practical spirituality involves a transformation of both science and religion. In the field of religion practical spirituality emerges in varieties of transformative movements and seeking in self, culture and society which interrogate existing structures of domination and strive for a new mode of self-realization, God-realization and world-realisation. Practical spirituality seeks to transform religion in the direction of creative practice, everyday life and struggle for justice and dignity. Practice here is not just practice in the conventional sense, for example in traditions of Ameican pragmatism (cf. Aboulafia & Kemp 2002) or anthropological conception of practice as offered by Clifford Geertz (1973), Pierre Bourdieu (1971) and Jurgen Habermas (1971).
These conceptions suffer from an entrenched dualism such as theory and practice, immanence and transcendence and work with a notion of subject which is predominantly “techno-practitioner” and cut off from its inescapable and integral links with transcendence. But practice in practical spirituality is simultaneously immanent and transcendent and the actor here is simultaneously a “technopractitioner” and “transcendentally real self.” Practical spirituality embodies immanent transcendence, as for example in music or in the experience of transcendence in our various moments of everyday life-- love, meditations, scientific engagements and other activities of life and in society (cf. Bhaskar 2002).
Practical spirituality emphasizes experience and realisation--self, God and world--in and through practice but at the same time nurtures the humility not to reduce these only to practice. In its emphasis upon experience and realization practical spirituality has close kinship with the spirit of science which embodies, in the words of Albert Einstein, a holy spirit of inquiry. In its emphasis upon practice practical spirituality stresses that without taking part in practice we cannot realize truth--religious or otherwise. Practical spirituality involves manifold experiments with Truth as well as truths where truth is not a thing but a landscape of meaning, experience and co-realisation.
Practical spirituality also emphasises on transformative practice which leads to self-transformation, cultural transformation and world transformation. For example, poverty, inequality and oppression have been challenges with humanity for long and here practical spirituality has generated varieties of transformative movements in its struggle against oppression and domination. There are movements of practical spirituality from different religions of the world as well as from traditions of emancipatory struggles such as revolt against slavery, workers movements, women´s movements, ecological movements and varieties of other transformative struggles in discourse, society and history. Liberation theology in Islam, Buddhism and Christianity is a recent example of practical spirituality. In Indian traditions practical spirituality has manifested itself in the Upanishads, the vision and practice of seekers such as Buddha, Bhakti movements, Swami Vivekananda’s vision of practical Vedanta, Sri Aurobindo´s strivings for Life Divine and Gandhi´s experiments with Truth and struggles for liberation. Movements such as Bhakti movements have involved struggles against caste and gender domination with new songs of self and social liberation. They have also embodied efforts to go beyond denominational concepts of truth and religion. They have involved not only struggles for justice but also embodied border-crossing dialogues. We see this, for example, in the Sant tradition of India, which like Sufism and Sikshism, is a product of transformative dialogue between Hinduism and Islam (Das 1982, Uberoi 1996). Thus practical spirituality involves both struggles for dignity as well as new initiatives in transformative dialogues across borders.
Pathways of Practical Spirituality
In fact, practical spirituality involves both practical struggles for a better world as well as practical discourses for spiritual realization going beyond denominational fixation—not only in terms of boundaries among religions but also in terms of boundaries between science and religion, material and spiritual. Practicial spirituality urges us to realize that through undertaking concrete activities to ameliorate suffering we can realize God. From the Christian tradition theologian Johannes B. Metz (1981) urges us to realize that the Christian goal of unity of faith or what is called ecumenicism can not be solved at the level of doctrines alone. It can only be solved by undertaking concrete activities in addressing practical problems of life and society with the “Son of Man.”
Habitat for Humanity is a movement from within contemporary Christianity which tries to worship God by building houses with and for people. It is built on the foundations of “Economics of Jesus” and “Theology of the Hammer” (Giri 2002). We see a similar emphasis upon devotional labor and sharing in Swadhyaya, a socio-spiritual movement in contemporary India which can be looked at as an instance of practical spiritually from within contemporary Hinduism (Giri 2006a). Both Habitat and Swadhyaya despite their limitations to always hold up their own ideals urge us to be more dialogical compared to their fundamentalist counterparts in Christianity and Hinduism. But the dialogical dimension of practical spirituality is multi-dimensional: it embodies not only dialogue between religions but also between religion and science, and also between the material and the transcendental. Swami Vivekananda has captured a bit of this sensibility in his vision of practical vedanta which has both a dimension of struggle for justice as well as hints towards dialouge. Practical spirituality, for Swami Vivekananda (1991: 354), urges us to realize that "the highest idea of morality and unselfishness goes hand in hand with the highest idea of metaphysical conception." This highest conception pertains to the realization that man himself is God: "You are that Impersonal Being: that God for whom you have been searching all over the time is yourself -yourself not in the personal sense but in the impersonal" (Vivekananda 1991: 332). The task of practical spirituality begins with this realization but does not end there: its objective is to transform the world. The same Swami Vivekananda thus challenges: "The watchword of all well being of all moral good is not "1" but "thou". Who cares whether there is a heaven or a hell, who cares if there is an unchangeable or not? Here is the world and it is full of misery. Go out into it as Buddha did, and struggle to lessen it or die in the attempt" (Vivekananda 1991: 353). What practical spirituality stresses is that the knowledge that one is Divine, one is part of a Universal Being, facilitates this mode of relationship with the world. This knowledge is however not for the acquisition of power over the other; rather it is to worship her as God. In the words of Vivekananda: "Human knowledge is not antagonistic to human well being. On the contrary, it is knowledge alone that will save us in every department of life, in knowledge as worship" (Vivekananda 1991: 353).
Practical spirituality emphasizes upon continued practice, not only on euphoric movement of realization, enthusiasm and miraculous experience.As Robert Wuthnow tells us drawing on his work with the spiritual quest of the artists: “Many artists speak of their work as a form of meditation. For some the sheer rhythm of the daily routine brings them closer to the essence of their being. Writing all morning or practicing for the next musical performance requires mental and emotional toughness [..] For spiritual dabbers the insight that these artists provide is that persistence and hard work may still be the best way to attain spiritual growth” (Wuthnow 2001: 10).
Practical spirituality accepts the brokenness of the world and does not want to assert any totalizing unity or totalitarian absorption. At the same time practical spirituality is a striving for wholeness in the midst of our inescapable brokenness and fragmentation of this world. This wholeness is emergent as it is manifested in the work of the artists. Artists strive to paint landscapes of emergent wholeness in the midst of fragmentation and brokenness. Artists incorporate “[their] experimental approach into one’s spiritual quest” (Wuthnow 2001: 276).
An artist is a bricoleur, creating beauty and images of emergent coherence out of many fragments. “The creative scientist is also a bricoleur” (Bhaskar 2002: 394). There is artistic dimension to scientific quest as there is to spiritual quest. Inspiration of art in creative spirituality makes transformative bridges between science and spirituality.
Practical spirituality involves a transformation in the conceptualization and realization of God. It submits that in order to be spiritual one need not believe in God nor be religious. ( Let us not forget here Buddhism which is silent about God and many atheists who do not believe in God). But for the believers God in practical spirituality is not only in heaven but here on earth; she is a presence in our heart and in every thing we see. In fact, Swami Vivekananda speaks about a practical God: “Where is there a more practical God than He whom I see before me--A God omnipresent in every being, more real than our senses?” (Vivekananda 1991: 305).
The above help us rethink God and realize her in a new way. God in practical spirituality is not only a moral God, omnipotent, God with capital G. God here is God with small g. God in practical spirituality is also not anthropocentric. God in practical spirituality is not only a Father but also a Mother. God is also a child who is eternally playing in creative works.
Practical spirituality involves a transformation of our conceptions of sin and evil. In practical spirituality evil is not absence or the abandoned house of the divine but lesser manifestation of it. We find such a foundational rethinking of sin and evil in many different religious, spiritual and philosophical movements of the world. For Swami Vivekananda: “Sins are very low degrees of Self-manifestation (Vivekananda 1991: 300). From a Christian perspective Giani Vattimo (1999) redefines sin as failure in love. For Vattimo, we have all sinned not because we have fallen in love but have failed in love. Love is not a conditional exchange but unconditional and from this point of view we all can always be more unconditional in our loves overcoming our integral original sin of not being quite up to mark in our practices of love. God is unconditional love. From the point of view of unconditional love we fail in on our lives of love as realization of unconditional love is always a journey. Given our human limitation no matter what we do our love is always in need of much more intimate non-dual realization and this becomes our condition of original sin.
Both Swami Vivekananda and Roy Bhaskar urge us to go beyond a facile dualism of good and evil. According to Swami Vivekananda: “The real genesis of evil is unselfishness [..] A man who murders another is, perhaps, moved to do so by the love of his own child. His love has become limited to that one little baby to the exclusion of millions of other human beings in the universe. Yet limited or unlimited it is the same love” (Vivekananda 1991: 354). Roy Bhaskar also writes: “Once we begin to access our higher selves, we can begin to see that really the problem is not so much of evil. [..] For there is also, at least, philosophically a problem of good [..] love, goodness, nobility, courage those are displayed everywhere in the perpetuation of social ills” (Bhaskar 2002: 46).
Practical Spirituality, Practical Discourse and Democratic Transformations
Practical spirituality has implications for various domains and discourse of our lives such as secularism and democracy. It offers a new realisation of secularism which embodies spiritual cultivation for mutual tolerance, learning and criticism going beyond the confrontation between science and religion which has characterized the first stage of modernistic secularism (Annaim 1995, Giri 2005b). The dialogical dimension of practical spirituality is a helpful companion in reliving secularism in our turbulent world.
Practical spirituality as a struggle for dignity embodies multi-dimensional partnership between God and man. This struggle challenges us to widen and deepen our vision and practice of democracy; democracy as not only a political mechanism but also as a spiritual struggle. Democracy as public participation and public reasoning in the public sphere needs to be supplemented with practices of self-cultivation and cultivation of generosity of being going beyond the dualism of private and public. Democracy as public reasoning and deliberation embodying what Habermas (1990) calls practical discourse where actors are engaged in moral argumentation about the nature of self and society is crucial for transforming spiritual traditions of India which in their structural organizations have been mostly authoritarian. While there has to be a transformative dialogue between practical discourse and practical spirituality, it must be emphasized that practical discourse in Habermas does not bow down before authority in a slavish manner and discovers moral insights from deliberation among participants. Such a public deliberation and democratic decision-making seems to be missing in varieties of socio-spiritual mobilizations of India and here democratic participation for value formation can be helpful (cf. Dreze & Sen 2002).
Swadhyaya is a socio-spiritual movement in contemporary India but is now riddled with power struggle involving crucial issues of sole control of resources and doctrinal authority. After the passing away of its founder the control of the organization fell on his daughter, and this succession was not very different from the entrenched culture of dynastic succession in Indian religions and politics. The integral education movement in Orissa embodies aspirations of a practical spirituality as it works with children, parent and society for a more joyful and integral learning drawing inspiration from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. But it also face the challenge of generating spaces of public deliberation where people in management with power and money can sit together with teachers who join this movement out of devotion but are mostly wihtout adequate resources (cf. Das 2001; Giri 2004).
Those of us who valorize spirituality also need to ask ourselves whether we are claiming authority in the name of spirituality. We need not close our eyes to the fact that there is a problem of entrenched authoritarianism in spirituality as well, and practical spirituality has to transform this authoritarianism by taking part simultaneously in political, moral and spiritual struggle in a new poetics and politics of transformation. Bhakti movements in medieval India were bound by a feudal order but practical spirituality now calls for a new Bhakti movement which embodies both democratic participation and a multi-dimensional generosity of being.This multi-dimensional struggle for transformation – food and freedom, universal self-realization, transformation of existing institutions and creation of new institutions-- calls for embodiment of values such as voluntary poverty and voluntary optimism (cf. Das 2005). Voluntary poverty is an important calling of both science and spirituality. Developments in science and spirituality have been facilitated by those who have chosen to remain poor enjoying the creative beauty of simplicity, unencumbered by many outward temptations of money and power, and resisted the pressure for conformity by the priests, merchants and the kings. Similarly voluntary optimism is an important aspect of both science and spirituality which points to the aspiration and the fact that despite all obstacles we are not giving to give up on our persistent efforts and struggles to learn, to be, to grow and create a more beautiful and dignified world for us all. But this hope does not fall from the sky; it emerges from varieties of our experiments in and struggles for love and learning we engage ourselves in science and spirituality.