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Science, spirituality and religion

Are new scientific discoveries revealing connections with a spiritual view of life? Fritjof Capra argues that they are Illustrations by Duy Huynh

Issue 310

Thinking Outside the Box Makes Me Lightheaded by Duy Huynh

The view of science and religion as a dichotomy has a long history, especially in the Christian tradition. Yet there are many scientists who see no intrinsic dichotomy between science and religion, or science and spirituality. At the very core of this confusing situation, in my view, lies the failure to distinguish clearly between spirituality and religion. To resolve this confusion, we need to examine the meaning of both, as well as the relationship between religion and spirituality.

Spirit and spirituality For a proper understanding of spirituality, it is useful to review the original meaning of spirit. The Latin spiritus means ‘breath’, which is also true for the related Latin word anima, the Greek psyche, and the Sanskrit ātman. The common meaning of these terms indicates that the original meaning of spirit in many ancient philosophical and religious traditions, in the west as well as in the east, is ‘breath of life’.

Since respiration is indeed a central aspect of the metabolism of all but the simplest forms of life, the breath of life seems to be a perfect metaphor for the network of metabolic processes that is the defining characteristic of all living systems. It is what we have in common with all living beings. It nourishes us and keeps us alive.

Spirituality is usually understood as a way of being that flows from a certain profound experience of reality, which is known as ‘mystical’, ‘religious’, or ‘spiritual’ experience. There are numerous descriptions of this in the literature of the world’s religions, which tend to agree that it is a direct, non-intellectual experience of reality with some fundamental characteristics that are independent of cultural and historical contexts.

David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian American Benedictine monk who has spent much of his long life working with various religious traditions as well as on the interaction between science and spirituality, characterises spiritual experience as moments of heightened aliveness. Our spiritual moments, he writes, are those moments when we feel most intensely alive. Buddhists refer to this heightened mental alertness as ‘mindfulness’, and they emphasise that mindfulness is deeply rooted in the body. Spiritual experience is an experience of aliveness of mind and body as a unity. Moreover, this experience of unity transcends not only the separation of mind and body, but also the separation of self and world. The central awareness in these spiritual moments is a profound sense of oneness with all, a

Resurgence & Ecologist


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