Religion has always been an important part of the human experience. From the earliest religions to current ones, religion has served to answer questions that couldn’t be answered by what was given to us as well as to provide a purpose for our lives. However, the ideas of religion and the way they work have been evolving and adapting to the people following them, and Hinduism is a great example of the evolution of religion. Now, a lot of people do not need organized religion to experience the same thing, but they do similar things to have these experiences that allow them to be closer to themselves or their morals.
This is called spirituality. Over the past few decades, spirituality has surged and its emergence is becoming observed in many religions. Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination book talks about this as well as the overlapping and integration of spirituality within religions. I agree with Courtney Bender’s argument that spirituality is not its field or becoming its field, but rather overlapping with current recognizable religions, and Hinduism is no exception.
The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination by Courtney Bender goes into the progress of spirituality and related beliefs and how they are shaping modern religions. She also uses the history of religion and spirituality and compares it to the current ideals of a common religion and its relation to spirituality. Bender wrote this specific chapter, called Shamans in the Meetinghouse, in her book to explore the different areas of contemporary spirituality that currently exist in Western culture.
Her writing is targeted toward an explicit and implicit audience, both of which are evident in her arguments. Bender’s explicit audience is the general people learning about the expansion of spirituality and how it is all around them today, but her implicit audience is the part of the population that subscribes to the term spiritual because they are the ones that are participated in the experiences she describes and is spreading it as a part of Western culture. Spirituality is different than religion, but it still overlaps religion in many ways. It is currently growing in a Western culture very quickly and spreading to the rest of the world as well. The reason for the growth is because spirituality focuses on the real things that occur in our daily lives, and pertains to our well-being rather than religion’s focus on the bigger questions about life. Personal growth and personal experience are a huge part of spirituality, “Each [Hindu] spiritual seeker chooses his or her path and comes upon varying aspects of the beyond, which is kaleidoscopic in its multi splendor.” (Raman 92).
Since personal experience is a huge part of spirituality, a lot more people are saying they are spiritual now. Similarly, more and more people are classifying themselves as spiritual but not religious. Spiritual but not religious is a term that is becoming more popular since people that are currently involved with religion are realizing that they are more inclined toward their spiritual well-being rather than the practices of organized religion. “We may also say this of the Hindu spiritual vision–––It recognizes the transience and finitude of us all as individual entities yet incorporate us into the infinity that encompasses us. It does not rule out the possibility of other manifestations of Brahman,” (Raman 92). This statement by Varadaraja Raman explains how the Hindu religion involves the overarching spirit, Brahman, being a part of individual lives and daily well-being, but also each individual is an important part of the universe, which is a great example of spirituality within religion. Linda Mercadante sees spirituality and religion as having four basic components which are beliefs, desire, rituals, and behavioral expectations but sees religion as a social construct and spirituality as individual “interior faith and identity” (Mercadante). In contrast, Courtney Bender disagrees with this and says that the two can most definitely overlap in their practices and ideals. An example of this from Bender’s book is that religious organizations are incorporating practices that involve spiritual experiences. Gurus in Hinduism are a great example of this incorporation, “Through their [Hindu gurus] participation in a range of high-profile spiritual activities and organizations ranging from Reiki classes to ‘Art of Living’ programs these individuals derive the benefit of perceived spiritual growth and healing and keep up with their peers in matters not just of material but also spiritual wealth.” (Warrier 36). With leaders of religion using more spiritual practices, their respective religions are becoming more attractive to people seeking a spiritual experience or spirituality. Also, a Christian writer comments on the influences of his spirituality in his religious organization, “Despite all the controversy that has arisen in recent years about whether or not Christians should be practicing yoga, my own spiritual life has been greatly enriched by the yoga practice and the teachings of B. K. S. Iyengar” (Makovsky). Spirituality from Hinduism has had a large influence over the past years on many people other than just those subscribing as Hindus. Yoga is mentioned in Bender’s book as well, where she says that people at a community supermarket are encouraged to sign up for a semester of yoga classes on a bulletin board while passing by (Bender 21).
This shows how the spiritual practices of Hinduism are spreading to Western culture and influencing the overlap of religion and spirituality. In addition, producing the spiritual is an important part of spirituality. According to Bender, singing, public readings, yoga, and other various performances are great examples of producing the spiritual. Bender summarizes an interviewee’s claim, “Rather than seeing yoga as a ‘health’ or ‘expressive’ or ‘spiritual’ pursuit singularly, yoga thus takes on all characteristics, confounding any claims to say that it is one or the other.” (Bender 43). She is illustrating the fact that Yoga can take on an aspect past the exercise, and go into the spiritual. It can also act as a “sacred space” for spirituality and help produce the spiritual. An example of producing the spiritual relevant to Hinduism is Raga Chikitsa. This is the use of rhythms to create a spiritual space where people can have an independent experience. A study used therapy sessions with “(1) Beta music with rapid-fire orchestral rhythms to activate participation and anger management, to gear up physiological activities and alertness in mind, (2) Alpha music without rhythms to induce relaxation, and (3) repeated rhythmic experience to regulate the wavering emotions and to bring regularity.” (Sundar 403). Using music to create spirituality in a space is a prevalent occurrence in Hinduism and is commonly used when partaking in other spiritual activities, such as yoga, meditation, or even alternative health practices. Another example of overlap in the practices and ideals of spirituality and common religion is in alternative health practices involving spirituality rather than scientific medicine. These alternative health practices do not involve scientific medicine but do still serve the purpose of improving health through spiritual experiences and natural remedies. Courtney Bender encountered spiritual identities and practices relating to alternative healthcare such as “homeopathy, herbal and flower essence therapies, Reiki, therapeutic touch, reflexology, and acupuncture.” (Bender 25).
These spiritual health practices are still connected to healing through “energy” and other vital forces in spirituality. An example of an alternative health practice specific to Hinduism is Nadopasana. Nadopasana is a dedication to music that is a part of many Hindu spiritual practices. A study done in 2006 indicated that “the more cultural and traditional Indian music had a spiritual influence, which expressed one’s devotional feelings and might bring comfort, hopes, and peace of mind to the listeners and alleviate pain and anxiety.” (Sundar 402). Hindu traditions always had many forms of spiritual healing, but the main source of the knowledge in Hindu spiritual healing traditions comes from the Ayurveda, a five-thousand-year-old Vedic type of medicine known as the “Science of Life” (Jones and Ryan 58). Diets, herbs, and yoga are all used in Hinduism as spiritual and healing traditions. These traditions emphasized purity and consciousness and their relation to the universe. The emergence of spirituality has surged over the past few decades and is becoming observed in many religions through integration. There is a common area, however, between spirituality and religion, as Courtney Bender states in her book, The New Metaphysicals: Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination. I agree with her argument because there is a common area between science and spirituality within the Vedic traditions of Hinduism and they are similar to the aspects of contemporary spirituality that are popular today such as religious organizations incorporating spirituality, producing the spiritual, and alternative health practices involving spirituality. Although it is unique and cultural-based, the implications of the growth of spirituality should be studied further so that more can be learned about what people are gaining from a spiritual experience, such as the experiences in Hinduism, rather than a religious or simply non-religious one.