The spiritual life means something different for everyone; I interpret it as meaning living life in union with God. Robert Shiarella describes this "Union with God", in four parts.
Da Free John describes authentic spirituality as the moment to moment transcendence of the ego, the body-mind and all possible experiential states.
Thomas Merton describes spiritual experience as a "keen awareness of the interdependence of all living things, which are part of all things.
Mircea Aliade calls it the "Primal state of pure energy" the source of all creation, to which we constantly return for healing, creativity, strength and wisdom.
An ancient Christian text states, "In each human being dwells an infinite power, the root of the universe. That infinite power exists in to forms, one actual and the other potential. This infinite power exists in a latent condition in everyone." Other names for this infinite power are the Holy Spirit, and Kundalini Shakti,. Each culture or religion has their own name for this divine inner energy.
Swami Muktananda said, 'Within every human being lies a divine energy called Kundalini. This energy has two aspects, one manifests this worldly existence and the other leads to the highest Truth. The mundane aspect of this energy functions perfectly, but the inner aspect is asleep. When the inner Kundalini is awakened, it leads us to the state of the Self, Absolute Bliss. That is why there is no knowledge more important than the Kundalini." Swami Muktananda said that only when the Kundalini is awakened do we realize our true potential as human beings, and "realizing our true potential doesn't just mean simply leading successful personal and professional lives. It means living in a state of totally expanded awareness and joy, which we achieve when we become one with the divine."
Carl Jung said, "When you succeed in awakening the Kundalini, so that it starts to move out of its mere potentiality, you necessarily start a world which is totally different from out (usual ) world. It is a world of eternity."
[ I feel it is very important to mention here, that awakening the kundalini can be very dangerous. I do not recommended these practices without years of purification and a highly realized spiritual teacher, who has experience in dealing with the deluge of physical, mental and emotional and subtle energies that may overwhelm the practitioner. A gradual approach is highly recommended to begin the spiritual journey. ]
The goal of the spiritual life therefore, is to awaken to our latent spiritual energy, the source of all happiness. We all want to be happy, everything we do is to obtain happiness. Many people think that happiness comes from outside themselves, in material objects, acquisitions, fulfillment of desires, money, drugs, alcohol, power, sex etc. These things may bring some temporary pleasure, but they are all impermanent and eventually lead back to more desires, which can never be permanently fulfilled in this way, and this causes suffering. Happiness lies within us, the closer we identify with the Inner or True Self, Absolute Truth, the happier we eventually become and then we are able to help others, because we now have something vital to give.
We cannot know God or the True Self with our rational analytical minds. It must be experienced. We can however use our minds to create the circumstances for transcending our limited ego mind and realizing our infinite nature. Roger Walsh says authentic spiritual traditions, that is, those capable of inducing the state of transcendence or higher spiritual development, seem to have four essential components. Ethical training, attention training, emotional transformation and the cultivation of wisdom.
Ethical training is very distinct from morality, the "Do this or God will punish you", school of thought. Unethical behavior both stems from and reinforces addictions, aversion, fear, anger, jealousy, etc. These states of mind are of course disruptive to feeling peace, love and positive emotions. So when you do something unethical out of fear, it harms both you and others and reinforces the negative states of mind that we want to avoid. Ethicality is not an externally imposed moral set of rules, but more of a practical and functional approach to training the mind, by not reinforcing the harmful emotions and motivations and thus reducing them.
The second key to spiritual growth is attentional training. This entails training our minds to focus and concentrate, which helps develop mental calm, stability, patience and control. What we choose to concentrate on is important. By focusing on the True Self, God, we develop a powerful method for cultivating positive emotions and states of mind. Meditation is concentration or absorption on union with God, the True Self. That is why Saint Clements could say, "To know your Self is to know God."
The third key, emotional transformation, has to do with releasing or letting go of emotions such as anger and fear, and cultivating positive emotions such as love, compassion and joy. Positive emotions can then grow into unconditional love and kindness.
The fourth component is the cultivation of wisdom, the initial wisdom may be an insight that there must be more to life or a better way in which to live, this may begin the spiritual quest. The inner work progresses and wisdom grows through greater insight into the nature of the mind, Self and Reality. Eventually insight matures into direct, intuitive awareness of our essential or True Nature.
The true spiritual masters all say , don't believe everything that you here; question everything and discover the highest knowledge or wisdom for yourself through direct perception, by looking within yourself.
Albert Einstein said, "Religion without science is blind and science without religion is lame."
Modern science has recently discovered many of the same things that the spiritual masters have known for centuries. The quantum physicists, men like Einstein, Schroedinger, Eddington, Bohr and Heisenberg, discovered that the world can't be broken down into building blocks of solid matter, existing in a particular time and space. The atom has been seen as vibration as much as particle and these particles are on a fine line between existence and nonexistence and can't be said to be present at any particular time or space or not to be present. Matter is made up of energy; and matter, energy, time and space are all one reality called the quantum field. Reality can no longer be viewed as a complex of distinct things and boundaries, for everything and every event in the universe seems interconnected with every other thing and event in the universe. Another name for this is the holographic theory. A hologram is a three dimensional picture. Each part of the hologram makes up the whole picture and each part also contains the whole picture. This means that if you were to remove one distinct piece of the hologram, you would still see the entire picture in that one piece. The mystics say that we are all part of the universe and each one of us contains the whole universe. Our job is to realize that truth, from our own experience. Karl Pribram and David Bohm support this statement. Both scientists have concluded that "the quintessential religious experience, the experience of mystical oneness and supreme identity, might very well be a genuine and legitimate experience of the universal ground, which science calls the primal energy out of which all creation arises."
What effect does this have on our lives? Well, if more people were to realize their total interconnectedness with each other and everything in creation, then there would be fewer wars, less pollution, and suffering because to hurt someone else or destroy the environment, would be the same as hurting ourselves. The more love, kindness and joy that you give, the more you receive. Understanding this on a intellectual level does not appear to be enough., it must be experienced and nurtured to actually effect change.
Where does religion come into this picture? The word religion means to bind back (to the source). Religions are believed to have originated to provide mankind with a framework for finding meaning and an explanation for the mystery of life: Where do we come from ? Who are we? What happens at death? Etc. People gathered together to explore these mysteries, share ideas and insights and communities developed around the greatest leaders or teachers. Rules and guidelines were created to aid their communal practices, worship and lifestyles. Religions originated at different times, places and in different cultures, which accounts for many of the idiosyncrasies in philosophy and dogma which vary from one religion to the next. The experience of the spiritual teachers also greatly effected their followers. The original teachings of these spiritual masters were often misinterpreted by their students and the original message lost or distorted. When this happens the emphasis often shifts from the original essence of the religious teaching to the external forms, the rules, regulations and dogma created by the organization or church.
Matthew Fox, a Catholic and author of numerous books, feels that the Catholic Church is on a decline today because of this lack of the mystical or core spiritual teaching upon which the church was founded. Mr. Fox feels that this one of the main reasons why the Catholic Church is dwindling and has so few applicants for the priesthood. He says that there is an ambivalence toward the mystics of the church, and that the priests aren't even taught about their mystical roots. Mr. Fox, who appears to take this critical look at the church in order to help save it, says that the church lacks vitality, that people need a direct way to find meaning in their lives and that the church needs to turn back towards Christ's original message and its mystical roots for its survival. Many people are leaving the church and are looking towards the Eastern spiritual traditions to learn meditation and other practices for directly experiencing their True Nature .
Religion can be a vital guide for helping the individual to explore their True Nature or it can be just another limiting factor contributing towards narrow mindedness and ego identification. The responsibility for inner growth lies with the individual. One does not need to be religious to be spiritual and a religious person is not necessarily spiritual.