Religion and Spirituality

    Religion and Spirituality

    Kees Boukema

    Swami Ritajananda was from 1961 until his death in 1994, the president of the “Centre Vedantique Ramakrichna” in Gretz, France. In an interview on June 5, 1989, he was asked if he ever felt homesick for the spiritual atmosphere of his native India. His answer was: “Yes, and I’ll tell you why. Here I have to adapt a lot; that is not necessary there. There is something in the atmosphere of India in which my spiritual nature feels at home. However…., I have changed a lot. I am not interested so much in religious ideas – they are there in abundance in India -, but in spiritual ideas. For that is lacking interest in India. Not for transformation; I don’t hear anyone talk about that.”

    “When I do bring it up myself, they listen with amazement and ask: ‘Do you really think such a thing is possible?’ I say: ‘Yes, certainly. Of course we have to make an effort, but I am convinced that our consciousness must be brought to the level where the identification with the body and the mind disappears.’ (…) Hundreds of people have lived in India who were involved in these things. I have read about so many saints since childhood and have always taken it seriously. I am now convinced that transformation is the goal of our lives. Not just mine, but of all people. There is no other way to achieve peace in this world. Agreements and arrangements will not get us there. People must change. If they don’t change, and don’t stop emphasizing ‘I’ and ‘My’ and ‘My religion’…. I see it all around me and it hurts me. People need to change; the spiritual life is aimed at that. That is what the founders of all religions wanted to tell us (…).

    “A transformed human being, as I see it, is one whose heart is open to all; one who identifies himself with the entire world. He no longer has an ego-consciousness. That is the mark of a jivanmukta: The limited “I” no longer exists. The consciousness of the self is limitless, it includes everyone.” (VEDANTA, official organ of the R.V.V.N; April 1994)

    Recently “The Afternoon of Christianity.” is published. The Czech priest and professor of philosophy and sociology, Tomás Halík writes in it: “The turn from religion to spirituality is the main challenge for ecclesiastical Christianity (….) The future of the churches largely depends on the extent to which they understand the importance of this turn and how they respond to this sign of the times. The proclamation of the gospel, the core task of the Church (Mark 10:13), can never be ‘new’ and effective unless it penetrates to the depth dimension of human life and culture, the abode of spirituality.” (pp. 185/186). Halik sees that churches, monasteries and seminaries are emptying and that many people are turning their backs on the

    Also now, the credibility of the church has been damaged by evil, such as sexual and psychological abuse. A few changes in institutions, catechism, canon law and moral-theological handbooks will not suffice. The future vitality of the Church depends on her succeeding in re-establishing a relationship with the deep spiritual and existential dimension of faith. For such a change, the Church could draw inspiration from courageous mystics such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, and others. In the 16th
    century, with their authentic spiritual experiences, they enriched not only the theological reflection of faith, but also the visible form and practice of the Church (pp. 15 and 12).

    “For centuries, the church authorities have tried to direct spiritual life by guarding the orthodoxy of the creed and its formal expressions as well as the moral life of the faithful,” Halik says, “but spirituality, the dynamic inner dimension of faith, could easily escape that control. That is also the reason that throughout history the ecclesiastical authority has approached this form of faith with caution and often with suspicion and has granted it only a limited space (the monastery) and time (the hour of contemplation). Pioneers of
    spiritual movements who were later canonized by the Church, such as John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, were initially confronted with mistrust and sometimes also with intimidation and oppression (p. 188). In times of crisis in institutional religion, a revival of spirituality often arises in lay circles in the form of lay brotherhoods and personal spirituality. Because in the spectrum of religious phenomena, spirituality is the least controlled by ecclesiastical authority, it was exactly this area that could most easily develop independently of the ecclesiastical form of religion” (p. 189).

    The publication of “The Afternoon of Christianity” has not gone unnoticed. Church historian Peter Nissen has already called it the theological book of the year. And Sjoerd Mulder, reviewer of Trouw wrote: “If you want to think seriously about what faith is, when it is reduced to its core, this is a wonderful book.”

    He gave it five stars (Trouw, 10 May 2023). In a readers’ letter, it was pointed out that the often heard cry of alarm that ‘the churches are emptying’ is not correct. In the last fifty years, according to the letter writer, young people have gone their own way en masse: “The churches are not emptying, they are no longer replenished.”

    The letter was sent with reference to a report on the 47th youth day in the Ahoy Hal in Rotterdam, which was organized by the Evangelische Omroep and was visited by 15,000 Christian young people (Trouw, 5 June 2023). During the performance of the Irish band We Are Messengers, people throw their hands in the air passionately, the reporter writes. There is plenty of singing along with the Beam Worship Band and frenzied dancing to the rousing performance of the Dutch hip-hopper and singer Typhoon. He tells the audience how he found God in the middle of his depression and asks if there are any young people who are going through the same quest. “My message is: stop looking. It’s already there, right in front of you! You know what I like best? That we can have fun and stay with God, all at the same time. Let’s give God a round of applause, because there is so much love!” 15.000 teenagers respond. *)

    According to Professor of the Anthropology of Religion, Miranda Klaver, this event is part of a trend called the ‘festivalisation of religion’. She also sees that religion is increasingly being practiced in small groups. “What is in between, traditional church attendance, is under pressure.”

    *) See also the website ‘The Red Hand Files’ and the book ‘Faith, Hope and Carnage’ by the Australian
    punk-rocker Nick Cave, who regularly appears at music festivals all over the world (Trouw 2 June 2023).


    Mr Kees Boukema is a scholar in Vedanta and Comparative philosophy. His brilliant and thorough-going articles on various philosophical and spiritual subjects  are being published since the first issue of the magazine. His latest work is De Beoefening van Meditatie.