Every spiritual experience or practice should serve a definite purpose, according to what drives us to spirituality, and the goal we are seeking. This approach is pragmatic spirituality. It’s not about continuing a tradition, or doing something because “we feel we should”, but to actively explore our inner world, driven by a specific question, thirst, or goal.
In the beginning you may not know exactly what this pull is. That’s ok – it’s enough that it is authentic.
Study & Contemplation. Listening to talks or reading spiritual texts of a tradition, and thinking deeply about the meaning and implications of those teachings. This can be both the foundational texts and commentary literature. We find this in basically all traditions. In Christianity it is called lectio divina; in Raja Yoga they call it swadhyaya. Some seek to actually memorize the whole texts.
The purpose of study is gaining understanding, insight, and wisdom. The contemplation aspect is to think how those teachings apply to my life, what it means to me, and how knowing these will change the way I see the world and act. The teachings are often to be seen as a model to understand reality, and not necessarily as precise descriptions of reality. They are a framework of how to relate to things, and how to practice the path – and as such is either useful or not-useful.
Community & Teacher Relationship.
The relationship with the teacher, and spending time in a community of practitioners, is a valuable way to not only learn the tradition, but absorb the gist of it. A community offers: support in overcoming difficulties on the way; motivation; insight on the finer aspects of practice; answers; and like-minded people with whom to relate.
In some traditions the texts are considered of secondary importance, while a personal relationship with the teacher or guru is seen as essential for the growth of the student/disciple. Some of them emphasise a “heart to heart” transmission that happens through initiation, and spending time with the teacher (satsang).
In some spiritual traditions, having faith on certain basic tenets is the entry door to the practice. Other paths, like Buddhism and Yoga, are more experiential by nature, and tend to require little or no belief. In any case, it is natural that as you start deepening in a path, and experiencing real progress, you gain more confidence in the wisdom behind the teachings – even the ones you don’t understand yet.
Following a set of principles or specific rules of behavior. In Jainism, for instance, the five basic precepts are:
- Do not cause harm; (Ahimsa)
- Speak what is true; (Satya)
- Do not take what is not given; (Achaurya or Asteya)
- Do not engage in sexual misbehavior; (Brahmacharya)
- Non-attachment/Non-possession – (Aparigraha).
Most traditions have similar guidelines. Ethics are deeper than what they appear on the surface, and they exist so that our moral actions in body, speech and mind support and reflect the truth we are seeking. (authenticity)
Some traditions are more ritualistic, but basically all of them involve some type of ritual. A ritual is basically any set of actions that are done in the same way, for a specific purpose. Usually a feeling of reverence, seriousness, or intensity is associated with them. The ultimate purpose of rituals is to develop certain feelings or states of mind – and not to put up a show.
Serving the community – be it other spiritual practitioners, or society at large – can be an expression of one’s spiritual commitment. Feeding the poor, social reform, translation of scriptures, supporting online communities, etc.
What makes something “spiritual” is not so much the type of work done, but the attitude, heart, and intention behind it.
You don’t need to do any or all of these. You are on a journey and may not yet be ready for a particular step. Each type of path emphasizes certain practices, and gives them a unique flavor.