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Spirituality - Sergey Nizhnikov

Features of Spiritual Cognition in different Cultures

Nizhnikov Sergey


Now it is much spoken about the lack of spirituality in a society and in a person, but what is the spiritual as it is? You may hear the most various answers to this question: someone sees the spiritual only in sphere of religion or mysticism, someone associate it with the whole area of culture or identifies it as morals. Especially frequently nowadays the spiritual is connected to any mystical visions or ideas, extrasensory or parapsychological abilities. The ordinary consciousness maintains concept of spiritual in the individual interests. But  what does its essence consists of? It is possible to answer this question in more or less objective way if you are basing on the analysis of a concept of spiritual and history of its development, of the creation of spiritual sphere as it is.

By analogy definition of concept of spiritual can be compared to definition of concept of philosophy and its subject. Nobody can ever give the exhaustive answer to this question as both the philosophy, and its subject are in constant becoming. The fullest answer can be only the history of philosophy itself which proceeds constantly. Spiritual penetrates all spheres of human activities, without the spiritual a person as human being does not exist at all, but there can be various levels of spiritualization.

The experience of spiritual self-cognition that is creating essence of a person creates also a culture. It is the form-building core, we shall recollect confessions of St. Augustine, Rousseau and Lev Tolstoy they are not only the reflection of revolution in culture, but in many respects have served also as its catalyst. In a history of culture of mankind spiritual experience of knowledge is disclosing as Revelation, — a Tree with three branches: religion, philosophy and art. They are united right by the phenomenon of spiritual that, however, is materialized in these three spheres in specific way, basing on various intrinsic forces of the person, his abilities and potentialities.

Strictly speaking, the phenomenon of spiritual is not the property of culture in the sense that it is itself arises on the basis of spiritual acts. From nothingness strings of being are weaved, from spiritual is created cultural, its cloth is weaved. In culture the movement of spiritual is objectified. The culture only is capable to prevent the degradation of a person down to barbarous condition, and even that is not always within it power. A person, who has tasted the spiritual, always stays in opposition to prevailing representations, should he be a philosopher or a religious reformer, an art worker or a spiritual mystic. The culture lives on spiritual acts, which without culture would be incomprehensible and useless. But, after having generated to a set congealed and objectified knowledge, culture can become hostile to any appearance of really spiritual creativity which frequently destroys the established traditions and outlooks. However, at the same time there is also a way back, — from spirituality objectified in culture towards spiritual as such.

Nietzsche is the brightest representative of a struggler with a culture, with congealed spiritual values. He has alone stepped to struggle face to face against all the might of long established thousand-year stubborn culture, but, eventually its pressure has destroyed him. Gains of spirit are not given to a person as a gift, for that he pays in blood, for the spiritual creativity is always a revelation. F.M. Dostoevsky has shown animosities of culture to any real display of spiritual very well in the novel the “Brothers Karamazov” (the Legend about the great inquisitor) where the congealed religious image became more important than its direct appearance. Spiritual is always unknown, which demands from a person his total self- rebellion, risk and struggle.

We shall try to approach directly to clearing up a spiritual phenomenon. First of all, it is not likely that anybody will challenge that spiritual is closely connected with significance, and especially with its the most important part to any person — with significance of his own life. This question stands up in front of any person irrespectively if he is a grain-grower or a philosopher, but not everyone thinks of it. And only then, when a person tries to pose this question himself, he can pass the road of approaching to understanding of spiritual. The human being has an existence, but not always in the human image, and especially asking about meaning of the life clears up his own life for a person. All history of spiritual culture of humankind is endless asking of that, endless purification and revealing of essence of human being in the world. However, a person poorly advanced in the spiritual-moral attitude can connect the meaning of the life with sensual pleasure, with satisfaction of his extremely material, egoistic needs. But together with growth of sensibleness by the person of his being his intelligence grows also, begins transition from material needs to spiritual, from satisfaction of egoistic inquiries to creativity for the benefit of other people and all humankind.

In the most intimate spiritual making where the person is extremely sincere to himself, he is capable to touch depths of his own life, to meet himself, sometimes for the first time is valid to find out and realize him. Thus the spiritual self-knowledge is carried out, for such self-recognition is simultaneously also spiritual transformation of the person. The spiritual knowledge begins there where a person in the unfathomed sincerity concerns depths of his own self as of general being.

Spiritual as a process represents itself in disclosing of essence of a person that is nothing else that the self-cognition. In the act of self-knowledge a person is given to itself, but in a paradoxical way, so, that he is a special essence that is in the dark concerning its own nature. Therefore the first precept appealed to a person from God, became a commandment “know thyself”. In a history it arises for the first time as an inscription on Apollonian temple in Delphi, then it is repeated by Thales, and it becomes meaning of the life for Socrates, getting in Plato’s theory about knowledge as reminiscence a complete kind. The same requirement is proclaimed in religion though in the form specific to it, it becomes also the basic theme of art, especially in Aeschylus’s tragedies in Ancient Greece, in Indian Bhagavad-Gita and even in Epos about Gilgamesh in ancient Mesopotamia.

In real philosophy as spiritual action, within the framework of it and by means of it the self-knowledge was accomplished. Even the first naturalistic philosophers studied universe to learn themselves. Heraclites still earlier than Socrates, in fact, also was engaged only in self-knowledge, sitting on steps of a temple, playing dice with children and reflecting about eternity. He, “…as if having made something majestic and important, speaks: "I searched for myself" — and from Delphian sayings by the most divine considered "Know thyself", — that, as Socrates has served as a starting point of rising of this question and his research...”. So wrote Plutarch about Heraclites [1].

Socrates passes to more direct self-knowledge, he is not interested any more in roundabout ways to himself: "I have refused research of objective reality", he spoke[2]. Following Socrates it is possible to say that the spiritual knowledge is "art which helps us to care of ourselves", i.e. it is directed not that belongs to us, but on improvement of ourselves[3]. As per Socrates the spiritual knowledge is directed on search of essence of human ego that later Plato has defined as idea, eidos of a person[4]. The identification of idea with the essence of spiritual has resulted then in its understanding as metaphysic-super sensual, to avoid it the spiritual knowledge is defined here as disclosing of essence of a person.

Deep conformity can be found in east philosophy. In Ancient Indian philosophy the spiritual purpose began to be determined by a concept moksha, i.e. "deliverance" in translation from a Sanskrit, and Mokshadharma — as a way, the law of delivering and one of Mahabharata’s book simultaneously. Mokshadharma, as well as Upanishads, comprises the basic conceptual system and principles, i.e. archetype of Ancient Indian Culture. In Indian philosophy the spiritual knowledge and essence of a person are defined through transcendental-immanent understanding of Brahman-Atman. Same is said, for example, in Taoist book “Guan In-Tzu”: “to search for wisdom outside of itself – the top of nonsense”, and the ancient Confucian philosopher Meng-tzu, said that “the doctrine has only one purpose — search of the lost human nature”[5].

The fundamental metaphysical categories of philosophy and basic religious symbols can be considered as conceptions of essence of a person. Then also the category of being is a symbol of essence of a person, because to it he is called to transcend from his existence, finding himself, thus, in a gleam of being (Heidegger). A person is an eternal way to himself, and for this purpose it is necessary for him to learn all universe as in breadth heavens, and in depth of his own psyche, the logos of which is infinite in its self-increasing (Heraclites). And for this purpose he needs transcendent and immanent, being and empirical world, and such concepts as atom (Democritus), idea (Plato), “the unmoved-mover“[6] (Aristotle), the supreme unity (Neoplatonist’s The One, Vedanta, Vl. Solovyev) etc. They are, among other things, symbols of essence of the person, points of a foothold for thought and self-creation. In spiritual knowledge a person finds a way to his essence.

A person can be a slave not only of empirical circumstances, but also of ideas which are imposed on him by culture or ideology. Therefore research of forms of spiritual, results the analysis of the concept in clearing off of consciousness from illusions. The philosophical analysis of spiritual is a way to freedom, process of self-purification and self-deliverance. In this sense philosophy, for example, is an esoteric science, accessible to everybody, but not by all is comprehended.

Even when a person thinks about himself and defines himself through a pronoun I, – I is no more than a symbol of infinite depth, and I is only its name. The essence of a person is not something static, the creative person each day is capable to recognize himself as something other. The essence of a person is developed during the spiritual self-cognition conducting a person in his infinite way to the Person, to perfection and to an ideal that is to open the spiritual archetype of humankind to the full volume. This process by itself is the supreme kind of spiritual creativity and creation where a person creates not something alien to itself, or something auxiliary for his existence, but his very essence.

The spiritual phenomenon can also be defined through concept of transformation. Spiritual is carried out then when a certain essence is transformed to the Person. Further this process can acquire its own symbolic and terms depending on what material it is accomplished: religious, philosophical or other creative materials. But in its essence the spiritual act is only spiritual, and then it is objected in certain areas and disciplines. When asking a question about spiritual, we inevitably find ourselves in the bosom of thousand-year cultural traditions. For spiritual knowledge a person requires some levers which would enable him to release him from himself. Here we with inevitability enter three mentioned spheres, each of them has the language in which and by means of which are gained the spiritual knowledge, results of which are fixed in the same language, on which it is carried out. There are developed certain methods of spiritual knowledge appropriate to specifics of spheres of its realization: philosophizing on the basis of thinking, religious belief on the basis of ability of the person to the supreme feelings. According to young K. Marks, “the originality of each intrinsic force” of a person creates “the original way of its objectification”[7]. The disclosing of united process of spiritual knowledge disintegrates and shows results in different areas, and through these channels allows a person to create himself. The phenomenon of spiritual cannot be torn off from its manifestations same as being from living, but it is also impossible to reduce it to them. Spiritual shows itself only in an image, only then it can be seen for a person, but any image disguise spiritual as such. “Jesus has told: Images appear to the person, and the light in them is shadowed. In the image of light of the father the light will be disclosed, and the image of the farther will be shadowed by the light”[8]. Identifying images of spiritual with the spirit itself, the person limits himself and, thus, deforms his own essence, running into narrow dogmatism and fanaticism. However, living in the world of alienation, in the world of spiritual the person also is compelled to move by way of trials and errors.

We say that the spiritual exists, is, but it is nothing like any other things in the common world. Therefore everything that is created in culture is mediated way to spiritual. And each person chooses an appropriate way for himself which appeals to his essence. The concept of spiritual in this case is not considered as a category that is opposite to matter and is not considered as an absolute that would have contained a matter and spirit in itself but it is considered as the highest level of intelligence, sensibleness of a person with his position in the world, his personal being and his own essence. The spiritual truth is nothing else than the right and correct attitude of the person which is completely attuned with his or her own true self and with the world. “Truth – that, – as Kafka wrote, – is necessary to each person for life and that, nevertheless, cannot be received or gotten from anybody. Each person continuously should give rise to it from itself, otherwise he will be lost. Life without truth is impossible. May be, the truth is the very life”[9].

The spiritual attitude to life began to appear where a person started to comprehend the life metaphysically from his position in the world. Based on such judgment the representation of Plato’s idea was born; idea about the ideal relation to life, i.e. spiritual appeared. The idea as a spiritual vision is expressed most adequately, in Plato’s philosophy though not without some problems. In religion the metaphysical comprehension of life is fixed on its central symbol. Through such symbol or idea for human consciousness arises the possibility of an entry in spiritual and it is the realization by a person of his spiritual life. Christ, Buddha, Plato have managed to penetrate into the spiritual essence of the position of a person in the world and to express it in symbols and concepts. Their positions contain speculative truth which is demonstrated on a material of various cultures and through various methods. And as the spiritual knowledge doesn’t concern neither abilities of a person, nor what he has, but what he is in his essence, the spiritual truth is he himself on the highest level of sensibleness of his being once the essence of a person is completely developed, resulting in the appearance of the spiritual archetype of humankind. For this reason Christ said “I am an entrance”, and al-Hallaj, – “I am the Truth”.

Spiritual results from the position of a person in the world, which is characterized by such concepts as freedom, will, consciousness, speculation etc. From the realization of the spiritual cognition and from its consideration here and now arise concepts such as existence and transcendence, which essentially characterize a phenomenon of spiritual.

Spiritual is the supreme product of the life as it is which comes to the self-consciousness and conscious increase in the person. Searching of meaning of the life results in necessity of self-knowledge, essence of being. The spiritual cognition is a vertical path whereas all other kinds of knowledge are distributed in a horizontal plane. This vertical path, or the intrinsic cognition of the meaning of life is nothing else but self-cognition, as a result of which the essence of the person is developed and created, showing the spiritual archetype of humankind.

The spiritual archetype of humankind can be drawn in the shape of a triangle:

Goodness is mostly represented by religion.

Beauty is expressed in and by arts.

Truth is represented by philosophy.

This is the spiritual triangle that we can find in each culture under different symbols.

What unites these three points is Love at its highest representation.

Love is the highest level of spiritual cognition. A person needs to disclose this archetype within himself then he will be able to see it in other people. And this is the bases of real life.

When we discover it conflicts between cultures disappear. This is the main problems of nowadays. Because we understand that we all share something that is universal. At the same time this archetype is the essence of each human being. Speaking in terms of ancient Indian philosophy Atman is the essence of each human being and Brahman is universal God. So the moment we get in contact with Atman we get to know Brachman, God.

Self cognition is characterized by the process of humanizing a person, so it results in his humanization. Such knowledge is the supreme kind of creativity, which is self-mastering. In an ideally achieved spiritual perfection it is possible to think of a person who has developed his essence, has humanized himself or herself, and has opened the spiritual archetype of humankind within himself or herself. This spiritual can bloom for the person’s self-consciousness as a first inner revelation if the person searches for it inside himself or herself. So this spiritual will bloom as a form of contemplation in which all intrinsic forces of a person result in the supreme harmony and perfection when the essence of a person is completely realized in its existence, history and culture.


[1] Abstracts of earliest Greek philosophers. P. 1. М., 1989. P. 194
[2] Plato Compositions.  In 3-volumes V. 1. М., 1970. P. 70.
[3] The same, p. 49.
[4] Plato. Collection of compositions.  in 4-volumes V. 1. М., 1990. P. 256, 733.
[5] Anthology of the World Philosophy in 4-volumes. V. 1. Ч. 2. М., 1969. P. 210.
[6] Actions which come out from stillness.
[7] K. Marks, F Engels:  Early Works. M. 1956. P. 593.
[8] See Foma’s Gospel.
[9] Kafka F Castle. Stories and Legends. Letter to Dad. М., 1991. P. 568.
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