6. Hindu Understandings of the Spiritual and Mystical Life


Hindu Understandings of the Spiritual and Mystical Life

Conducting the Lesson


It is recommended that if participants are not familiar with Hinduism that they listen to the Fundamentals of Hinduism on the Elijah website.


Lesson Opening:

Review the terms ‘religion’ ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism’.

Note that the terms are not clearly delineated from one another but could be seen to be along a continuum.

Discuss the fact that for some ‘religions’ (these would include Judaism and Islam), it can be very difficult to separate ‘religion’ from other aspects of life, including ‘identity’, ‘culture’ and daily practices.

Note that the term ‘religion’ is essentially a Christian European invention and that it is difficult to apply outside that context.


For those less familiar with Hinduism, provide some data on religions of India, regional variations etc.




View the video.



Hindu Tradition – Appropriating the Terminology

Dr Anantanand Rambachan:

How can I appropriate the terminology of ‘religion’ ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism’, speaking from the Hindu tradition? I am speaking from a particular place in the Hindu tradition as well – there is no Hindu tradition there are many traditions. There is no homogeneous Hinduism, they are all particular ‘Hinduisms’ all of us have. So there is a whole realm of religious practice in the Hindu tradition which is recognised and named. And this goes for all of the practices which are legitimised but which employ religious methods, religious ritual, religious actions but which aim for the gain of finite things. They are concerned basically with the whole anxiety about security  – the security of wealth, the physical necessities of life, the security of health. The Hindu tradition recognises that and offers various kinds of religious methods for the accomplishment of finite ends. These are things that don’t really exist. We bring them into being. So, I can perform a ritual in the Vedas, for example, for a couple who might be wanting a child. There is a prescribed ritual which may be engaged in order to receive God’s blessings.

What is interesting is that the tradition, while approving such ends, recognising these and approving such ends, also offers its own internal critique of those ends. Yes, they are good and this is what you should do if you want to accomplish these ends, but also recognise that these ends are all finite, they are all limited. So I am wondering –  in describing such approved ends, and in providing all of the methods for the accomplishment of such ends, which would include wealth, pleasure in the world and so on,  perhaps I would want to describe that as the realm of ‘religion’. So what the traditions say is, but there will come a point in the life of every human being, when he or she, through living reflectively and living thoughtfully, will come to recognise the limits of finite ends. The fact that they created things, they are limited in duration. They have an unsatisfactory quality to them. At which time, we throw up our hands in the air and say, ‘Is there anything more?’  ‘Is this what the religious life is all about?’ ‘Does God exist only to provide certain kinds of finite ends that serve my own security?’ So one comes to that kind of crisis point, in the Hindu tradition – there is a text that actually identifies the moment, when the self-reflective person comes to appreciate the limits of all finite things, throws his or her hands up in the air and says , ‘Is this all?’ At that point the tradition says ‘No, that is not all. So, now you are ready’.’ Religion doesn’t serve your finite ends. There is a deeper and there is a more abiding purpose of religious life.’ Then you move to a teacher, this is when you become a disciple. The previous practice of religion doesn’t require discipleship.

The Spiritual Journey

Swamiji Atmapriyananda:  Now you have the Annamaya, the physical. ‘Anna’ means ‘matter’- it is called the physical. And the next is the Pranamaya, we call the ‘vital’. The third is Monomaya, ‘mental’. The fourth is Viganamaya, which we can call as ‘intuitive’ perhaps. Once again, the translations could be misleading. Anandamaya, which is the ‘blissful’ – the English translation which is now used.

Here we have the micro, microcosm, which is the individual – my body, my prana, my mind, my intuition and my sense of happiness. Now, corresponding to this, you have on the other side the macro. The question which has been asked, because we always want to link to the greater whole, the individual spirit and the relation of the spirit to God is all of our religion, ‘Can I relate the individual body to the cosmic matter on the other side?’

Swamiji: Can you move on from the micro-cosmic to the macro-cosmic at these levels? You can do that at a higher level. So you can move – there’s a door, door one. The individual gets transformed in consciousness. I think I am a physical body. Slowly when you go higher, when the hunger and thirst don’t affect you so much as mental ideas. You feel disturbed when someone disturbs your ideas, not so much when someone doesn’t give you food and drink.  Door 2 – once again these are symbolic. You go to door 3.

Hedieh Mirahmadi: These are successive?

Swamiji: You move from one door to the other. This is door 4 – here there is a horizontal door which opens to the macro world. From the individual viganamaya you cross over to the cosmic viganamaya.  The cosmic mind correspondents to what they call the Saguna Brahman, the God with attributes, with qualities, with form and then from here, when you move on to door four. You can move on here and then move to this, a vertical door.

So the spiritual journey is from here.

Religion subsumes all this. Up to this, you are religious. All your religious practices are there, whether in the mind, whether you pray, whether you meditate, walk, whether you sing, whether you write with the finger of God. All this is the matter of the physical and the body realm. From here, when you move to the Viganamaya, for the first time on your spiritual journey, you realise you are filled with the spirit, the individual spirit, apart from the body, apart from the mind, and apart from the prana.  So you see yourself, realise the essence that this thing – ‘spiritual entity’ – so here is where spirituality begins, so you become spiritual here at the Viganamaya, when you reach there, and thereafter you want to find out what is the relation between the individual spirit and the cosmic spirit. So there you move on to this.

Becoming Mystical – At One with the Cosmic Spirit

They say the heart has two doors – one door which leads into the heart, the other door which takes you away from the heart into the cosmic spirit. Once you move over there, then you have the infinite expanse which you don’t know what it is. So they don’t define this. So you’ve got the vast expanse of the cosmic spirit and there is no individual counterpart. You can say you’re at one with God, or you’ve been with God, or a part of God and so on.

So the circles:  This is the religion, which is Annamaya, Pranamaya, Monomaya, 1,2, 3, – 3 circles in one, there is the 4th circle here which is ‘spirituality’, circle 4, level 4, the Vigana, you feel yourself as an individual spirit. Then you move on, the final, which is ‘mystical’. So ‘mysticism’, according to me, is the defining and the realisation of the relation between the individual spirit and the cosmic spirit. If you start at an individual level, you can be a highly spiritual human being, and if you look for the relation between the individual spirit and God, or the cosmic spirit, then you really enter mysticism. Unless you feel yourself as a spirit, apart from the body and the mind and the pirana, you can’t claim to be a spiritual person. Spirituality belongs there. From there, you move onto your search for God.

Your search for God takes you ahead in a cosmic direction and then you get lost somewhere, you don’t know where. So the infinity of spiritual paths; spiritual practices are infinite; and God chooses to keep this variety so that you can enjoy it. So let’s not destroy it because God wanted it and God wants to be called by so many names. And remember, God has done all this so that every human being will have a chance to go to God. Swami Vivekananda once said ‘I want the number of sects to multiply. There should be as many religions as the number of human beings, so that every person will have a chance to reach God.’