Spirituality is a complete science that entails a comprehensive study of the intrinsic nature of the soul and its relationship both to the external world and to universal consciousness. When this science is not coupled with contemplative or meditative techniques for attaining the actual experience of higher reality, it is philosophy or metaphysics. When it is based on faith alone and is accompanied by superstition, dogma, customs, and cultural activities, it is religion. When it is accompanied by practices which, although difficult to grasp intellectually, have the power to unveil subtle and often indescribable realms of inner experience, it is mysticism. Only when this science rests firmly on a philosophy of life, incorporates ethical and moral values that are indispensable to health and well-being, and provides a workable system of self-training leading to self-transformation can it correctly be called spirituality.

Practically speaking, spirituality has two integral parts: theories and practices for removing obstacles to the inward journey, and theories and practices that elucidate the inner core of reality and lead an aspirant there, step by step. The goal of spirituality is direct realization of the true self and its relationship with the universal self. The body and mind are the most efficient tools for achieving that goal. Keeping the body and mind in good health, creating a balance between the two, and, finally, directing all one’s resources toward spiritual unfoldment are the steps needed in spiritual practice.

The goal of spirituality is direct realization of the true self and its relationship with the universal self.

A spiritual practice that fails to eliminate the conditions of illness, procrastination, doubt, laziness, hopelessness, indulgence in sense pleasures, confusion, instability, and inability to concentrate is like a body without breath; such a practice is lifeless. Involving yourself in spiritual practices, even those that are valid and potent, while disregarding the process of purification is like drinking pure water from a grimy cup.

The first step in spiritual practice is to address the health of the body. A healthy mind can dwell only in a healthy body. Because a confused mind is not fit for any kind of practice, the next step is to work with the mind. Systematically working with the body, breath, and mind introduces you to various levels of yourself and helps you overcome the obstacles to attaining direct, experiential knowledge of truth. When these obstacles have been overcome, you will have more time and energy for your actual practice, which involves gaining access to the vast potentials that lie dormant within your body and mind.

Thus a holistic approach to spirituality involves working with your body by practicing asana, pranayama, and mudras—the subtle yogic techniques for unlocking pranic forces and rechanneling them toward the center of your being. You unfold the power of the mind by practicing the techniques of concentration and meditation, which enable you to collect the forces of the mind and direct them toward your center of consciousness, known as atman, your spirit or pure self. Only a properly trained and one-pointed mind can go beyond the realm of ordinary, sense-bound consciousness. Attaining a direct experience of the pure self is ultimately what is meant by “spiritual enlightenment,” but those primary and secondary practices that help you reach this sublime goal are also an intrinsic part of spirituality.

Source: Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

More in this Series

Yoga and Spirituality: Mapping the Terrain of the Inner Journey