A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development. A common metaphor used in the spiritual traditions of the world’s great religions is that of walking a path. Therefore, a spiritual practice moves a person along a path towards a goal. The goal is variously referred to as salvation, liberation or union (with God). A person who walks such a path is sometimes referred to as a wayfarer or a pilgrim.
Kavanah is the directing of the heart to achieve higher contemplative thoughts and attain inner strength. Perhaps the most elevated spiritual exercise for a Jew is known as Torah Lishmah, the diligent study of the Torah. Reciting daily prayers (such as the Shema and Amidah), following dietary laws of kashrut, observing Shabbat, fasting, and performing deeds of loving-kindness all assist in maintaining awareness of God. Various Jewish movements throughout history have encouraged a range of other spiritual practices. The Musar movement, for example, encourages a variety of meditations, guided contemplations, and chanting exercises.
In the Catholic tradition, spiritual disciplines may include: prayer, fasting, corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, Sacraments (e.g., Baptism and Eucharist), monasticism, chanting, celibacy, the use of a rosary (prayer beads), mortification of the flesh, Christian meditationor contemplative prayer, following the path of Catholic social teachings (including almsgiving), reconciliation, and Lectio Divina.
For Protestants, spiritual disciplines are generally regarded to include any combination of the following, in moderation: celebration, chastity, confession, fasting, fellowship, frugality, giving, guidance, hospitality, humility, intimacy, meditation, prayer, reflection, self-control, servanthood, service, silence, simplicity, singing, slowing, solitude, study, submission, surrender, teaching, and worship.
The Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) practices silent worship, which is punctuated by vocal ministry. Quakers have little to no creed or doctrine, and so their practices constitute a large portion of their group identity.
A well-known writer on Christian spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster, has emphasized that Christian meditation focuses not of the emptying of the mind or self, but rather on the filling up of the mind or self with God.
Spiritual practice in Islam is practiced within salat (ritual prayer) during which Muslims subdue all thoughts and concentrate solely on Allah, also through other forms of worship activities like fasting, and Hajj. Among many Muslim groups, immersion in spiritual practices is thought of as more noticeable and deep as practiced by Sufis including Dhikr, Muraqaba, and Sama (Sufi whirling).
In Theravada Buddhism, the generic term for spiritual cultivation is bhavana. The Pali word “yoga,” central to many early Buddhist texts, has been often translated as “Spiritual Practice.” In Zen Buddhism, meditation (called zazen), the writing of poetry (especially haiku), painting, calligraphy, flower arranging, the Japanese tea ceremony and the maintenance of Zen gardens are considered to be spiritual practices. The Korean tea ceremony is also considered spiritual.
In Hinduism, the practice of cultivating spirituality is known as sadhana. Japa, the silent or audible repetition of a mantra, is a common Hindu spiritual practice.
Tantric practices are shared in common between Hinduism and certain Buddhist (especially Tibetan Buddhist) schools, and involve the deliberate use of the mundane (worldly, physical or material) to access the supramundane (spiritual, energetic or mystical) realms.
Stoicism (founded 3rd century BCE)
Stoicism, takes the view that philosophy is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it is a way of life and discourse involving constant practice and training (e.g., asceticism). Stoic spiritual practices and exercises include contemplation of death and other events that are typically thought negative, training attention to remain in the present moment (similar to some forms of Eastern meditation), daily reflection on everyday problems and possible solutions, keeping a personal journal, and so on. Philosophy for a Stoic is an active process of constant practice and self-reminder.
Baha’i Faith (founded 1863)
Prayer in the Bahá’í Faith, refers to two distinct concepts: obligatory prayer and devotional prayer (general prayer). Both types of prayer are composed of reverent words which are addressed to God, and the act of prayer is one of the most important Bahá’í laws for individual discipline.
Anthroposophy (founded early 20th century)
In the context of his spiritual philosophy Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner gave an extensive set of exercises for spiritual development. Some of these were intended for general use, while others were for certain professions, including teachers, doctors, and priests, or were given to private individuals.
New Age (since the 1970s)
Passage meditation was a practice recommended by Eknath Easwaran which involves the memorization and silent repetition of passages of scripture from the world’s religions.
The term Neotantra refers to a modern collection of practices and schools in the West that integrates the sacred with the sexual, and de-emphasizes the reliance on Gurus.
Recent and evolving spiritual practices in the West have also explored the integration of aboriginal instruments such as the Didgeridoo, extended chanting as in Kirtan, or other breathwork taken outside of the context of Eastern lineages or spiritual beliefs, such as Quantum Light Breath.
Some martial arts, like T’ai chi ch’uan, Aikido, and Jujutsu, are considered spiritual practices by some of their practitioners.
- In Islam Sharia, in Indian religions Marga, in Taoism and Christianity, The Way are examples.
- “The Mussar Way – Soul, Jewish contemplative practices and exercises”. The Mussar Institute. Archived from the original on 2012-07-20. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
- Foster, Richard J. (1998). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco. ISBN0-06-062839-1.
- Fronsdal, Gil; Jack Kornfield (2005). The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations. Shambhala. pp. ix–xix. ISBN1-59030-380-6.
- Walbridge, John. “Prayer and worship”. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
- Hatcher, W.S.; Martin, J.D. (1998). The Bahá’í Faith: The Emerging Global Religion. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. pp. 156–157. ISBN0-87743-264-3.
- Robert A. McDermott, “Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy”, in Faivre and Needleman, Modern Esoteric Spirituality, ISBN0-8245-1444-0, pp. 303ff
- Rudolf Steiner, Verses and Meditations, Rudolf Steiner Press 2005 ISBN1855841975
- Pilarzyk, Tom (2008). Yoga Beyond Fitness: Getting More Than Exercise from an Ancient Spiritual Practice. Quest Books. p. 64. ISBN0-8356-0863-8.
- Boylan, Peter W. (December 1999). Aikido as Spiritual Practice in the United States (M. Arts). Western Michigan University.
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