January 24, 2006

Sri Aurobindo, Bergson, Levinas, Ricoeur

Taking Spirituality Seriously Laszlo Zsolnai
Business Ethics Center Budapest University of Economic Sciences
In this concluding chapter the main messages of the book are summarized to stimulate the development of a new agenda for spirituality and management. One facet of the agenda concentrates on practice: how businesses (and other organizations such as universities, government entities, not-for-profit health organizations and so on) should be transformed into more inclusive, holistic and peaceful activity systems serving nature, society and future generations. The other facet of the agenda concerns research: how to integrate spiritual experiences into the management profession.
Peter Pruzan provides good definitions of key terms such as “spirit” and “spirituality.” Spirit is distinct from the mind, which is a product of or dependent on the brain. The spirit (or the “atma” as it is referred to in some of the major traditions of the "East”) refers to the essence of our being; our very nature; our core; our true, permanent identity which is independent of our physical body and which is after death.

Spirituality is the basis of religious beliefs and traditions. While a religion is usually based on a set of tenets that are shared by its members, a bible or gospel, a set of well-established rules and rituals, a house of worship and, in general, a priesthood that interprets the holy texts and the rules, spirituality is simply the context for all religious belief. But it is more than that because a person can be spiritual – follow a spiritual path – without adhering to any particular religion. And a person who, as a matter of social convention, follows the rules and traditions of a religion can appear to be religious, without being spiritual.

S.K. Chakraborty adds that spirit and spirituality mean acceptance of the principle that all beings, especially human beings, are, in essence, something superior to, more unconditioned and permanent than the “body-life-mind” combination. The faltering, clumsy, purblind, unstable body-life-mind triad is an unjust and erroneous framework from the ontological viewpoint.

For a definition of spirituality we can turn to Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) who writes, ”It is Spirituality when you begin to become aware of another consciousness than the ego, and begin to live in it or under its influence more and more. It is that consciousness wide, infinite, self-existent, pure of ego etc. which is called Spirit.”

The key characteristics of the Spirit-Self can be summarized as follows:

(i) The Spirit-Self is eternally Perfect
(ii) The Spirit-Self is constantly Blissful
(iii) The Spirit-Self is entirely Self-Sufficient
(iv) The Spirit-Self is Truth and Light in itself
(v) The Spirit-Self in an individual is identical with the Spirit-Self of All.

Chakraborty further argues that spirituality cannot be asked to prove its credentials before the tribunal of economic growth, enterprise bottom line, shareholder value and the like. Rather, it is technology, economics, business and their cohorts that must pass the test of Spirituality. Spirituality has to be the remedy for the growing malignancy in our material affairs.

From the European viewpoint Luk Bouckaert refers to Henri Bergson (1859-1941), who, as the initiator of the European personalistic movement, introduced in his metaphysics of time the notion of mysticism. In his book The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), he presented mysticism as a suprarational emotion, which brings the human mind, through an immediate intuitive feeling, into contact with the élan vital (the creative force of life) or what he also called la durée (duration). This partial coincidence with the inner movement of time gives man an inner experience of the transcendental and evolutionary character of life and history.

Bergson originates mysticism in an appeal of other persons to our conscience. Mysticism is embedded in intersubjective communication and confrontation. It is not a vague naturalism resulting in a holistic mysticism of nature. The origin of the spiritual openness is the confrontation with the other as a person, although Bergson suggests that the movement of the open soul is without limit and may extend itself to animals, plants and to all nature.

More recently E. Levinas and P. Ricoeur have rearticulated personalism as a philosophy of the Other. In their view spirituality may be defined as an openness to alterity and difference. Levinas in particular stresses the importance of the moment of passivity in this openness. The openness is not introduced by my own intentions and good will but by the Other affecting me by his or her vulnerability and his or her ethical claim not to be killed. Through this interpersonal confrontation the spiritual attitude of self-transcendence is deeply linked with a social claim to justice and care. Passive openness leads to social activism.

Imre Lázár underscores the association of spirituality with techniques such as meditation, prayer, divination, listening to the inner voice, visionary-imaginary practices, psychotronics, dowsing -- all having in common the tuning of the Self to the Transcendental. According to the “etic” explanatory models, this transcendental sensitivity might be based on psychophysiological processes localized in the right hemisphere of the brain. One thing is clear: spirituality accepts the authority of a transcendental entity with absolute values.

Kerry Cochrane refers to Gregory Bateson’s theory of learning concerning spirituality. Bateson formulated several categories of learning.

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