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Spirituality: Perspectives of Sikhism (Part 2 of 5)

Part 2 – My Perspectives on Spirituality

Other Articles in this Series:
Part 1 – The Teachings of Sikhism
Part 3 – Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy 
Part 4 – The Experiental Stages of Spirituality
Part 5 – Spiritual Strategies of the Sikhs


It is extremely difficult to provide adequate information about Sikhism in this short series of essays. As I have spent almost half of my life as a Sikh in India, I could not resist the idea of presenting some background information from which I have drawn my perspectives on spirituality. I have also studied and taught this topic in American Universities such as University of Louisville, University of Hawaii, and Johns Hopkins, etc. The following ideas are my candid views on this topic:

There is a lack of consensus regarding how to define spirituality. Since interest in this topic has increased, there is a large array of various definitions. It seems that spirituality means different things to different people. There are as many definitions as individuals. For instance, Berenson (1990,) distinguishing between religion and spirituality, stated “Spirituality, as opposed to religion, connotes a direct, personal experience of the sacred, unmediated by particular belief systems prescribed by dogma or by hierarchical structures of priests, ministers, rabbis, or gurus” (p. 59).

Benner (1989) defined spirituality as “Our response to a deep and mysterious human yearning for self-transcendence and surrender, a yearning to find our place (p. 21.) Holmes (1982) describes it as “The human capacity for relationship with that which transcends sense phenomena” (p. 12.)

I define spirituality as a conscious or unconscious human desire for ultimate love or union with the infinite Higher-Self through transcendence, compassion for others, reverence for life, and appreciation of nature. In short and simple words, I believe that spirituality is a fundamental human yearning for divine love. In Sikhism, our soul (Atma) is considered a part of the Parmatma, the Supersoul. The relationship between the soul (atma) and the God (Paramatma) is likened to the sun and its rays. Suraj kiran milli (SGGS, p. 846). Our soul is longing to reunite with the Supreme Being from which it is separated. The efforts to reunite with Him define the real purpose of our life on the earth.

We are here reminded of St. Augustine’s famous prayer, “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee,” which underscores the perpetual pain of the soul that longs for union with the Almighty, Waheguru.

Types of Spirituality

Benner (1989) classified spirituality into three main categories: natural spirituality, religious spirituality, and Christian spirituality. Natural spirituality is defined as the basis of all religious spirituality, a quest of humans for self-transcendence. Religious spirituality is recognized as one’s relationship with the Higher Power that bestows the meaning for life and serves as the focus of self-transcendence. Obviously, Christian spirituality is described within the parameter of Christian faith and community.

Unfortunately, I find Benner’s classification misleading, overlapping, and narrowly focused on Christianity with serious omission of other great religions of the world. It is difficult to distinguish between all three types of spirituality. It seems that two major themes of self-transcendence and relationship with a Higher Power form the basis of all three types. As a result, this classification is clearly useless. Furthermore, I find Benner’s contention that any spirituality not according to Christian belief is inferior, limiting, divisive, bigoted, and narrow-sighted.

I reject the very idea of classifying “spirituality.” Yes, there might be different ways to become spiritual and these ways can be classified, but to me the word “spirituality” is the most sacred word and the relationship with the Supreme is the most valued, purest, and loftiest one. For instance, when we talk about Christian spirituality, Islamic spirituality or Buddhist spirituality, we are really talking about three different religions, three different pathways to spirituality. But spirituality itself remains the same, the relationship with God.

Revising Benner’s (1989) classification, I propose three main ways to become spiritual. Namely, these three ways are scriptural, alternate, and innate. Obviously, scriptural means to derive guidance from the scriptures. The alternate way is to seek guidance from a living Guru, and the innate way is to become spiritual through entirely one’s own thoughts and actions.

The Need for a Guru or a Spiritual Guide/Preceptor

I think that it is important to become spiritual, because this is the ultimate purpose of life. On the surface, it seems that how we become spiritual is not important. But this is misleading. Guru Nanak writes,

Je sau Chanda ugwe, Suraj charre hazaar.

Ete chanan hundian, Guru bin ghore andhaar.

If a hundred moons and a thousand suns rise.

In spite of there being so much light,

There is terrible darkness without the Guru. (Var Asa Mahalla I.)

I strongly believe that we all seek guidance from a spiritual preceptor. Scriptures can provide us a wealth of information derived from the knowledge and experiences of our ancestors. Of course, everything is possible with His Grace. But why not benefit from what we already have? The study of spirituality is a science (Rajinder Singh, 1995). If like a student of physics, another science, we start learning everything from our own firsthand experiences through trial and error methods, our progress will be extremely slow. 


Other Articles in this Series:
Part 1 – The Teachings of Sikhism
Part 3 – Spirituality in Counseling and Psychotherapy 
Part 4 – The Experiental Stages of Spirituality
Part 5 – Spiritual Strategies of the Sikhs

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