Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: What place does “spirit” have in your family?
Spirit as breath
Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center, Kansas City, Mo.: The English word “spirit” comes from the Latin word spiritus meaning “breath.” In Buddhism, the main spiritual practice is meditation, and in meditation we focus our attention upon our breath (spirit).
Other words derived from the root “spirit” have different connotations yet retain their original meaning. For example, the word “inspire” means both to breathe in, but it also means to become encouraged or motivated. Likewise, the word “expire,” while having to do with exhaling, also refers to death.
From the Buddhist perspective, it is believed that all living things with awareness are called “sentient” beings and are subject to karma and rebirth.
At death, when the body dies and begins decomposing, it is this subtle essence/spirit that continues on. This disembodied essence experiences something called the “bardo,” which translated means “in-between state.” This state is similar to a dream in that what is experienced is nothing more than a manifestation of one’s own mind.
This in-between state may last up to, but no longer than, 49 days. At that time, one’s essence/spirit either attains enlightenment or more likely continues on to the cycle of rebirth once again.
It is through the practice of meditation that we learn to cut the clinging and grasping of our mind. As we quiet our minds and cut through the discursive thoughts raging there, our mind and body become one, allowing us to connect with our true essence/spirit.
The result is the pure awareness (Buddha-nature) with which we were born.
Arvind Khetia, Hindu on Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council: In the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, the nature of the Divine is explained as the Infinite Spirit.
Although we worship many deities, we recognize that beyond all gods of name and form there is only one transcendental reality called Brahman, the all-pervading Infinite Spirit.
The Upanishads and the Gita also explain that our real self is not our body or mind, because they are constantly changing. Our real self is Atman, our inner Spirit, the immanent aspect of Brahman, which is divine.
The goal of religion is to realize this divine within by practicing the spiritual disciplines of yoga and meditation. When one becomes aware of one’s inner Spirit, one transcends ego and realizes that beyond the phenomenal world of name and form, at a deeper spiritual level, there is oneness of all existence.
Thus, through self-realization, one becomes united with the universal Spirit (Brahman).
The inclusive and universal nature of Hinduism originates from its recognition of the truth of the universality of God as Spirit (Brahman), which is eternal and pure.
Spirituality is to recognize the Divine as Spirit within all beings and in all of existence. Only then can one see the underlying unity in an apparent diversity and realize the ideal of “shared humanity.”
Swami Vivekananda explains that true joy rests in the Spirit, not in transient and finite happiness derived from the material world. He states that “within ourselves is the one source of all true joy, dependent upon nothing. The more we find our bliss within us, the more spiritual we are. The eternal joy of the Spirit is what the world calls religion.”