from Dan Chitoiu, Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy and SocialPolitical Sciences, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iași
Today becomes gradualy more manifest the setting of a globalized culture, something made possible by the new ways of communication. There are obvious not only positive effects of this new evolution, but negative ones also, especially the pressure putted on traditional cultures. In this case, globalization implies a standardization of means of communication, of rules of communication, but mostly of content of worldwide communication. We have to question if there are the consequences on human experience at the anthropological level, if we encounter today significant changes in the way we experience ourselves, the other and the world. A recent phenomenon that can be discovered especially on social media, is the increased occurrence of messages or conversations on spiritual/religious topics. This should be connected with the need of identity felt by today’s younger generation, a need related with the development of a personal experience connected with something more than everyday life. Yet, the reference to spirituality is made following a subjective need, so there is a little interest to understand what is the real specificity of spiritual tradition and practice, there are just used some affirmations fitting with this personal quest. I connect this need of assuming personal experiences which exceed the usual with the quest for radical and authentic novelty, for attaining a something real different and personal. For sure, nowadays this kind of quest is different in shape and content from those made before because of the impact of recent science and new technologies. But here is also a kind of danger. If we agree that the quest for spiritual path is more present today compared with what happened before in the modern times, and this pursuit is different compared with the past, the practice of it may not lead to the desired goal because due to lack of any landmarks (as any spiritual/religious tradition offers).
This is confirmed by the today unclear meaning of spirituality: the use of term become now quite rather vague and, on the other hand, the spiritual practices are so diverse that it is improper to use the term in every case. That because today this term it is more and more used for designating practices not related with traditional religions. Among the young generation there is an explicit tendency for searching a spiritual path that does not track any religious practice, it is a quest for a private spiritual activity that does not follow the rules and the requirements of traditional religious practices. This tendency is more or less worldwide present. But this spiritual search is often risky because of inadequate means and inadequate goals. It is risky because can affect not only the reasoning but also the health of the practitioner. By “Tradition” I understand here that corpus of rules and requirements that where established through the experiences gained in many generations, a corpus putted under the name of a religion. It is not here just the specificity of a religious goal, but at the same time the deployment of an anthropological profile. It is a description of human capabilities and possibilities in conducting spiritual experiences: a horizon of possibilities and limitations. But the limitations where understood as a way to channeling experiences, to empower the human capacities in attaining spiritual goals and to prevent failure or harm. So we can speak about a type of rigor implying verifiability (guidance) and precision requirements (prescriptions aiming mind and body). It is indeed very interesting to clarify how this rigor has been set in different cultural areas. We can find several descriptions and uses of rigor in practice of traditional spirituality, a fact that proves that this kind of precision is not unique, as we can find it in science, yet this does not mean that it has less precision. So, it is useful to clarify the influence of a certain cultural horizon in shaping of a particular spiritual practice and vice versa.
When discussing about the specificity of a spiritual practice in the horizon of tradition, we have to
avoid any approach unaware of a certain cultural area`s specificity. A cultural model directly or indirectly influences the shapes taken by the human experience in a certain religious horizon and the way science is made. For the Western world, what we call “Modernity” had as its main mark the privilege given to a human capacity, precisely to the rational capacity. This option is visible in the founding of the modern concept of science. The type of science initiated by Galileo Galilei, the one which will dominate the scientific perception has as its founding act the reduction of the sensitive and living qualities of the discredited bodies as appearance and illusion and their replacement with the mathematic knowledge of their abstract forms and relations. These forms and their relations could be known only through mathematics, meaning that the most authentic sense of reason must be bound to this way of knowledge. Galilei’s paradigm was considered for a very long time the only valid fundament for the scientific research, as well as for the valid explanation in science. Modern philosophical approach received also the influence of this vision about reality, so that Galilei’s doctrine proves to be one of the key sources of modernity. But at the end of the 19th Century, Wilhelm Dilthey insisted on the distinction between two ways of investigation, the “natural” sciences and the “spiritual” ones. If explanation is characteristic to the natural sciences, understanding is specific to the spiritual sciences. The object of the spiritual sciences is the “living” and the only way to understand this is the “reliving”. Later, Martin Heidegger, in, writes a study on the modern view on technique, in which he describes the incorrectness of the technical attitude towards nature, as far as it regards an insistent delivery request which man addresses to nature. The Enlightenment’s rationalism considered that it cannot exist but only one perspective of truth and therefore, according to its own definition of what is veridical and real, it judged and classified the entire cultural production of mankind. But the recent evolutions in science brought as a consequence of a serious crisis in explanation (especially in quantum physics, also in cosmology or life sciences), as well as the recognition of nonscientific approaches’ value, like religion or philosophy, so opening a much broader discussion about validity in scientific explanation. One aspect of this major change was a broader understanding of what means “exactness,” and “precision,” important classical model criteria in science experiment validation.
In arguing for that I will present some of the remarks made by the Romanian theologian and philosopher André Scrima. He provide a number of reasons for that considering spiritual experience may as a research topic. Firstly, the spiritual experience is the manifestation and the sign of a possibility, of a fundamental aspect for human condition. The human being is a being of experience. As Scrima indicate in his book The Spiritual Experience and its Languages, the term “experience” comes from Greek, peira, meaning tryout (its root seemed to be identical to the one of the term pyr, fire), and the Latin added prefix ex (starting from). Experience would be then what comes out of tryout, knowledge by tryout. Scrima states that the spiritual experience must also represent a study object because any experience of this kind is creative, founding values, bearing a vision of the world, therefore a way of founding a cultural tradition. Eventually, to approach spiritual experience means to approach a different actuality than the current one. Among the aspects that are considered relevant by Scrima, in order to support the necessity of the study on spiritual experience, the one that interests us most is the significance given to the term experience. It turns out that experience, understood as tryout, represents the central aspect of any spirituality. But at the same time experience, in its valence of experiment, is the essential component of science. One cannot speak about science as long as there is not an experimental frame, without unfolding some experiments. But precisely in this double reference to a form of tryout, I consider that there exists an area of a real rapprochement between the one who performs a spiritual experience and the scientist. They both put the reality to tryout, on one way or another. But in fact, this rapprochement is more difficult and represents a commonplace, due to the reasons mentioned above and these reasons may be, from a point of view, subsumed to language difficulties. This is why, those who reached the intuition of the common ground that this tryout of reality takes place on (in a full acceptation of what we call reality, including the one that is called ultimate reality) were those who could understand the limitations that human language introduces inevitably in a certain historical period. They were exceptional people because they did not fall in the traps of a more or less specialized language that a period or historical moment may impose: being able to understand the authentic ways in which such a complex reality may be experienced and passing over the imaginary and the ideology of their time.
It is very important to stress that the history of spiritual practices is not a repetitive one, every historical epoch brought something different and new. If philosophy should today be understood as being not only as a theoretical and speculative enterprise, but connected with a way of practical experientiality, with a way of life, than the spiritual practice is for certain a part of it.