The question is so common as to be thought trite, yet is inescapable in a world that increasingly seems quite meaningless. At a personal level, meaning implies purpose. Those pursuing a well-defined purpose find daily activities meaningful and rewarding; and, conversely, a life without purpose can have no meaning. The same is true of society generally, and at all levels, from local communities to entire nations, and the planet as a whole. This raises the question as to whether individuals possessed of purpose can find meaning and reward in a society that has lost all sense of purpose other than the relentless pursuit of material possessions, and denies any meaning to existence other than this. Many today would agree that this is difficult, perhaps impossible, and that they are themselves increasingly frustrated by being trapped in such a situation. Let us explore the consequences and alternatives following from this.
At the age of puberty I came across the ancient Indian Vedas; the Ramayana, the MahaBharata, and quotes from other texts. One immediate result was a conscious decision that the purpose of life is – must be – spiritual evolution. This seemed so necessary and self-evident that I assumed others had arrived at similar conclusions. It wasn't until my twenties that I realized my error. Since then the BhagavadGita has served as my guide in spiritual matters. Only in my thirties did I understand how utterly bereft of spiritual insight and experience the vast majority of people are, especially those in positions of power and wealth whom I had previously assumed to be the most enlightened. This troubled me deeply, as still it does today, and prompted a personal investigation into the underlying reasons that continues to the present. This website is one result of that search.
Human evolution is today addressed solely as an historical biological process. A spiritual dimension to existence is not only formally denied, but denigrated and ridiculed as a delusion of intellectual inadequacy. This attitude is defended as a rational deduction of scientific evidence that has been proved beyond question. Not only is this assertion false, it is unscientific. Proof of a negative is logically impossible; it is possible, often easy, to prove that something does exist, but quite impossible to prove that it does not; the best that can be done is to demonstrate a low or vanishing probability of existence. The basis of this and many other formal academic assertions derives from dialectical materialism in its modern guise of logical positivism, topics that are quite unknown to the general public, but vital for any depth of insight into the modern world. Rather than enter a long and tedious discussion of abstract philosophy, the reader is invited to research topics in this and following paragraphs independently to satisfy curiosity or doubt. Instead we will pass to a consideration of what constitutes the spiritual in the present context, again relying on the reader to investigate points of interest in order to assist brevity and clarity.
As a simple beginning we assume that the spiritual aspect of human experience is consciousness or self-awareness; more critically, Man's spiritual aspect is perhaps better defined as the source or cause of his consciousness and self-awareness. It is then possible to define spiritual evolution as the evolution of consciousness and/or self-awareness. This begs the question as to what these actually are; but since they are common to all humanity, each individual can deduce an answer from his or her own life-experience. In fact, an interest in this basic question, and the ability to arrive at a satisfying answer to it, constitute the beginnings of personal spiritual enquiry.
There are two ways of investigating consciousness; the objective and the subjective. Objective methods presume to investigate the consciousness of others acting as an object under observation and analysis, but a little thought soon shows that this can only investigate the observed phenomena of consciousness, not consciousness itself. Unfortunately, this is the preferred academic and scientific method; those pursuing it insist that no other is possible, and that their conclusions are scientifically valid and comprehensively inclusive.
Those who have investigated their own inner states of being, mind, and emotion know otherwise. This is the subjective method, and can be equally "scientific" if the investigator is capable of practised detachment. The usual techniques derive from various meditative practices, but can include the use of stimulants such as music, drugs, and extremes of exertion and environment. A common occurrence is the sudden realization of personal traits and short-comings that are embarrassing, shameful, or pride-inducing, and it is here that detachment is essential. It is never easy to face ones own limitations and short-comings, but such insights are without value or consequence unless the investigator has the necessary courage and integrity. A group of people possessed of these traits, and conducting a focused program of mutual subjective investigation, can arrive at shared conclusions as to the nature of human consciousness that objective investigation can never even approach. Such groups were common at certain historical epochs, and some their reports and teachings have been preserved in the so-called "religious" literature of ancient times.
This raises the question as to the difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is commonly understood as a body of doctrine, ceremony and belief that is adopted personally by devotees. The word spiritual and its derivatives have attracted so many interpretations and implications as to be of little value in general discussion, so it is necessary here to define a more specific meaning:
The spiritual aspect of consciousness is atemporal – that which exists outside, beyond, or across time.
This definition can only have meaning to those who have experienced it, a common and inevitable limitation of what follows. It is readily accepted, especially by scientists, that a sound grasp of basic mathematics is essential in order to understand advanced topics; but to insist on the same thing as regards consciousness is dismissed by them as proof of deception and delusion. The reader must make up his or her own mind in the matter, but it will now be obvious that this article addresses a select and disappointingly small readership.
In progress at 2014-03-11.