Genuine spirituality transforms the inner world first, the outer world next. if these energies are used to harm others in the name of religion, the results can be disastrous—but if they are made to serve the welfare of humanity with absolute sincerity of purpose and dedication, there is bound to be a further enriching of shared human culture and a deeper interlinking of the human family

Materialistic ideologies of one type or the other, dialectical materialism or capitalistic materialism, have been laying siege to human life and thought for over a century. Spirituality finds itself marginalized in the economic, political, educational, professional, and recreational spaces of human life. of late, spiritual traditions are even held up for public ridicule in parts of the world. this has evoked a religious self-assertion in reaction in other parts and among other communities. Aggressive secularism has brought aggressive religiosity to life. it has added a sharp edge to dormant religious fundamentalism and has given it respectability among wider sections of religious believers. further, it is daily growing more and more conservative in outlook,
radically aggressive in relationships, and fiercely fanatic in selfexpression. if the negative dimensions of this force are not handled carefully, we are in for painful surprises. march was 24), i kept thinking of African wars. marx considered religion the “opium of the people”, a helpless sigh of the oppressed. it is true that religious believers can make of their faith an idle and unproductive force in their lives, if they choose to do so. on the contrary, if they so decide, they can make of it the strongest motivating force in the world as well. the inner spiritual sturdiness they build up supplies the needed energies for an outer commitment. Genuine spirituality transforms the inner world first, the outer world next. if these energies are used to harm others in the name of religion, the results can be disastrous—but if they are made to serve the welfare of humanity with absolute
sincerity of purpose and dedication, there is bound to be a further enriching of shared human culture and a deeper interlinking of the human family. that is what mother teresa did in our own days, as mahatma Gandhi did a while earlier. A mysticism of action, of creativity, of radical commitment to the common good and of generous service, makes of spirituality eminently practical. Such a form of spirituality is urgently needed today, which gives sturdiness to a sense of responsibility already existing in individuals to address the most pressing problems of the day. What i am suggesting is not a form of spirituality that despises a secular view of life. the social advantages to be derived from a secular vision like the recognition of the dignity of the individual and equality of all citizens before the law, right to participation in decision-making, freedom of expression, basic human
rights, are too precious to be underestimated. the economic advantages too are evident: the advance of science and technology, division of labour, specialization, mechanization, rationalization, and automation. these processes have given a great impetus to largescale production and have brought cheaper goods to the market, and have made life more comfortable. Such benefits are too many to be ignored. However, certain exaggerated forms of secularization give rise to a materialistic view of life, which identifies social development with economic expansion alone. the mobility of job-seekers as a result of rapid commercial and industrial growth has led to the enfeebling of social bonds which used to be nourished by the extended
family, the local school, and neighbourhood communities. the result has been the erosion of cultures where values were generated and the breakup of families and communities within which ethical perceptions were handed down. this has reduced the effectiveness of the traditional patterns of social formation and the handing on of religious convictions and social norms from one generation to the next. this has led further to the weakening of the codes of moral behaviour, and even more of the handing on of spiritual traditions and ancestral values.

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In the Taizé ecumenical tradition, everybody is welcome and is able to enjoy some moments of silence and meditation. When they come out, it is common that even non-believers feel at peace, with a new strength to face a noisy and chaotic world.

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Colours, beautiful shapes, candles in the dark—almost everything is able to communicate to us a spiritual feeling.

RENEWED INTEREST IN MYSTICISM. In response to these negative trends, there has been a spontaneous awakening of a sense of “missing something precious” in social life and relationships. no wonder then today there is an unexpected rise of interest in mysticism. young people seem to be greatly attracted to experiences of silent inner search to find a bit of relief amidst the restlessness prevalent in a market-driven society. books of meitster eckart, tauler, Suso and teilhard de Chardin; classics like the mahabharata and ramayana, bhagavadgita; Confucius’ Analects, are found in airports and wayside bookshops. many in the West admire the vibrancy of eastern spiritual traditions and the amazing religious self-confidence manifest among eastern peoples. Spirituality in the east emphasizes intense God-search, simplicity of life, a tradition of renunciation and asceticism. Some feel drawn to
celibacy and a disciplined form of community life, and become the source of wisdom and inspiration among their people. Some of them go further ahead and gain moral authority among their co-believers as propagators of religious teachings in society. there is growing curiosity in a highly secularized world about the hidden dimensions of the human person, since these are less discussed and less held up for public attention—a longing for depth, a thirst for
profound and abiding values, and an eagerness to gain insights into the ultimate destiny of the human race. it is during such a search that one discovers meaning in life and reasons for hope even amidst the tragic happenings of day-to-day life and the existential agonies that harass human hearts. one gradually comes to realize that there is an undeniable relationship between the quality of the inner spiritual resource that supplies energies and the quality of an outer commitment to social welfare.

A MYSTICISM OF ACTION. A mysticism of involvement and service is the form of spirituality that would be best understood in our times. it proposes a deep sense of responsibility for addressing the current problems of the world, like the increase of violence and corruption, economic imbalance, aggravation of poverty, ecological disaster, damage to cultures, erosion of ethical values, poor governance, biased media, harassment of minorities, gender bias, and others. Practical spirituality has sought to make ancient spiritual concepts relevant and meaningful to our times. for example, it argues that ‘flight from the world’ esteemed as a great value by religious ascetics can be expressed equally well by “distancing oneself from attachments and distractions that cloud one’s vision and weaken one’s commitment”; and that it can be lived to a full measure amidst the most challenging of life-situations. this form of spiritual seriousness is quite intelligible to the indian mind. mahatma Gandhi considered himself a permanent searcher after Ultimate truth in the midst of his political engagements. He had days of silence, hours of prayer, and drew inspiration from the bhagavdgita in which Krishna is presented as giving Arjuna the profoundest lessons on detached performance of one’s duty and committed action in the middle of a fierce battle. Similarly, the traditional ‘spirit of sacrifice’ of the mystic which was calculated to promote his/her personal growth, can be placed at the service of the needs of underprivileged classes communities and castes. the needs of society and the compulsions of social anxieties today are calling for new forms of commitment to assist human beings to move with determination towards creating a better world. there have been great pioneers in our times opening out new paths to bring mysticism closer to daily realities. the new trends of secularization, moral collapse, and non-working systems in our tradition (e.g. neglected social norms, non-functioning dimensions and structures of our democracy) seem to call for a “Spirituality of responsibility” and involvement. People are hungering for a new sense of meaning and direction in a chaotic world of bewildering ideologies. Here is where we need a new type of intellectual leadership, of spiritual inspiration, not one of demagoguery and denunciation, but of inviting intelligent reflection, diligent search, and joint exploration towards evolving a consensus on common issues, and of assisting the process to the best way possible.

{this is the beginning of a paper presented at an international conference organized along secular lines and in which different religions were represented. We shall publish it in seven instalments.}