Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spiritual Direction and Religions

Photo courtesy of Agnes Tan

Today, a guest post by Alice Hathan.

What is Spiritual Direction?
In most religions and spiritual traditions, spiritual direction is a common practice. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam all offer individuals seeking guidance the opportunity to meet with a trusted leader or mentor to discover the important spiritual questions in their lives. The AnamCara or “Soul Friend” was the spiritual mentor in the ancient Celtic Church. Such individual, often a priest or monastic, was available privately for individuals seeking guidance for matters of the soul. Irrespective of the terms used and the tradition practiced, Spiritual Direction is a highly valued and hallowed chance to travel with others in a discovery of the divine.

In the Buddhist tradition, spiritual direction is clearly demonstrated in the relationship between student and teacher which is an integral part of Buddhist Spiritual Practice. The relationship between director and directee is one of spiritual friendship known in ancient Pali as kalyanamitta.

Buddha taught that all our problems and suffering are because we have a confused and negative state of mind. Happiness develops from a peaceful and positive state of mind. Buddha taught methods to steadily develop positive minds with compassion, love and knowledge and thereby overcome our negative minds that are full of anger, jealousy and ignorance. Money does not matter. Material possessions that can be bought with credit cards are unimportant. A freedom from this debt, money and greed obsessed world can be aspired to. Essentially the method to obtain a positive state of mind is by meditation. Through meditation “delusions” or negative mental states are identified and turned into “virtuous minds” or a positive mental state.  Out of meditation the individual must attempt to keep the virtuous mind and use this wisdom of to solve our daily problems.

In Buddhism the director through his empathy and wisdom will skilfully lead the directee to find his or her individual’s goodness and so inspiring them to, through mediation and mindfulness practices, meet their true potential.  This is a sacred friendship where through empathy and wisdom there is a depth of connection and commitment.

In Judaism Spiritual Direction or Hashpa’ah is a manner of investigating the connection with the experience of God, Spirit, Truth or the Sacred in the individual’s life. Through these explorations, the Jewish Spiritual Director will try and discern the presence of the Sacred, in the everyday lives, work, celebration and problems of the Jewish person.  The director serves as a companion and observer to discern the divine where the individual may have missed it and to assimilate that awareness into every- day life. From Jewish history and heritage the Jewish Spiritual Director will help people to connect with experiences of the holy to Jewish language and tradition, explore Jewish routes that maintain the inner life, panimiyut and inspire participation in Kehillah, spiritual community. All through Jewish history mentors such as mashpia, chaver or mashgiach provided spiritual guidance for their settings and eras.

In Islam the guidance, inspiration and support of a Spiritual Director is of utmost importance to the lifelong process of transforming the individual’s ego, opening the heart and becoming conscious of God.  Islam means to surrender to God in peace, and the support of the Spiritual Director is crucial to this journey.  Rumi, a sage in the 13th Century, stated that any person that traveled without a guide needed two hundred years for a two day journey. Also at the mystical core of Islam is Sufism.  The customs of Sufism are often thought of as spiritual medicines and sheikh or guide is the physician. The guide inspires and educates individuals to move towards realizing their inner, divine nature.  Although the individual can learn for themselves to attain spiritual transformation they need guide.

In Hindu religion it is the "Guru" who teaches spiritual knowledge and who initiates and guides the individual along a spiritual path. The great spiritual masters of Hinduism believe that the human birth is rare and that the purpose of the human birth is to attain God or to realise one's atman. God's realisation, self realisation or attaining the knowledge of Brahman is the ultimate goal and can only be done with the help of a guru. Ideally, only a God-realised (or self-realised) soul, who is truly knows by personal experience, could be the perfect guru. Such a guru is called a “Satguru.” A Satguru is actually God himself descended in human form or a human who has attained the highest level of spiritual knowledge - who has “obtained” the divine authority to transmit his knowledge to the seekers who surrender to him. According to Sri Ramakrishna, a great religious master, a Satguru is like a huge steamer that can safely carry a lot of people across a turbulent river.

In conclusion spiritual direction is a consistent aspect across many religions and a time-honoured term for a valuable conversation between two persons, in which one person consults the other, more spiritually experienced person, about the ways in which the sacred elements are in their lives.

Alice Hathan is a freelance travel writer from England who seeks to experience culture and tradition from around the world and document her experiences for a number of blogs and journals.

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