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Michael Amaladoss, S.J.

The phrase integral spirituality seems problematic.  The term ‘integral’ evokes a holistic perspective.  But the term ‘spiritual’ already restricts this holism by excluding matter and the body.  It may also imply a system of thought or a dimension of reality.  The Eastern religious traditions would refer to this area of experience or reflection as a WAY to an Absolute or Transcendent goal.  Buddhism presents Nirvana as the goal to be pursued and it suggests the eight-fold path as a way of pursuing it.  Hinduism speaks of Self-realization, the Self itself being the Real itself.  Realization is achieved through four margas or ways: Jnana (wisdom), Bhakti (devotion), Karma (right action) and Yoga (psycho-physical discipline) that involves the whole person.  The TAO is the dynamic way of reality itself, to which one has to conform. So let me speak of the Way rather than of spirituality.  I am also taking for granted that I have to speak here of the Christian way, though today, in Asia and in the world, it has to be in dialogue with other religious ways, precisely in order to become integral.

Our Goal

The way obviously supposes a goal.  What is the goal of the Christian way?  The New Testament presents it to us through many symbols. Let me evoke some of them.  Paul, writing to the Ephesians, speaks of the mystery that God has revealed to us in Chirst “as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:10)  In his letter to the Colossians the focus is more on Christ, who is the image of the invisible of God and the firstborn of all creation, through whom and for whom all things have been created and who is the fullness of God.  “Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” (Col 1:15-20) His letter to the Corinthians, which is an earlier text, the focus is rather God – the Father.  Christ brings all things together and offers them to God so that “God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28)  In his letter to the Romans, it is the Spirit of freedom who makes all of us joint heirs with Christ so that we can call God ‘Abba’ and “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom 8:15, 21)  Here we have four versions of the same image of God gathering all things together.  The whole cosmos is involved, the humans as well as creation.  John in the book of Revelation seems to reflect this image.  He starts with the picture of a human community: “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people.” (Rev 21:3) But then he opens up to become more inclusive: “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5) In his gospel, he makes up in depth what he may lack in breadth.  On the last day of his life, Jesus prays: “That they may all be one. As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” (Jn 17:21) The Synoptics speak of the Kingdom of God, though its cosmic and holistic outreach is not as clear as in the texts above.  They seem to be much more sensitive to the ongoing struggle between the good and the bad, God and Mammon.  But a universal vision is not absent. Before going up to heaven Jesus tells his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Mt 28:18-19)  If I were an exegete I would take these passages one by one and analyzed them in detail and highlight the vision that they propose to us.  But even a simple reading of these texts shows us that God’s plan is gather all things together. This is, obviously, also our goal – the goal of everyone and everything. Our way must lead us towards  this goal.

The Old and the New

As we go on to explore this way further we need to keep in mind the tradition which we have inherited and which we are moving away from.  As the term ‘spirituality’ indicates, the focus was on the spirit. We used to speak about saving our souls.  The body and the world were seen in negative terms as a burden or drag, if not evil.  Our creed did affirm the resurrection of the body. But that was not very much a part of our spiritual awareness.  Missionaries went out to save souls.  But we have seen above how God wants to gather all things together, not merely souls or spirits.

Secondly the traditional focus was on individuals.  This focus went hand in hand with the emphasis on individual freedom. Each person has to work out his/her own salvation.  Of course we have to help others, especially the needy.  But all that good work will eventually earn me merit before God.  The idea of community was not unknown.  But in liberal political theory, the community is only a free, voluntary association of individuals.

I am not going to spend time in refuting these perspectives I prefer rather to propose the positive view which we are becoming aware of in Asia, emerging out of our own traditions. I do not wish to suggest either that this positive view is exclusively Asian.  The post-modern West is moving away from the traditional views. Some people in the West may also be inspired by their contacts with Asia.  I do not wish to suggest either that the individual-community and spirit-matter/body tensions were unknown in Asia.  Vipassana, zen or yogic meditation are after all individual efforts.  But their goal was precisely to empty oneself and to become selfless. The basic vision of Reality is advaita or aduality in Hinduism and praticca samutpada or universal inter-dependence in Buddhism.  The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, even discovered a new word to indicate this: inter-being. To be is to be inter-be, to be inter-dependent The Bodhisattva ideal is that no one is liberated till all are liberated. Aduality and inter-dependence is not merely between the humans but with the whole of reality.  For the Hindus this will also include the divine. “Isavasyam idam sarvam” – all this is the form of the Lord, says the Isa Upanishad.  It is these traditions that will inspire a new Asian Christian way to reach the goal where “God will be all in all”.  Let us now see what are the implications of this vision for our way.  For the sake clarity I shall also limit my reflections to the Indian/Hindu context, though these will be proportionately applicable also to other countries in Asia. Buddhism has Indian origins and Taoism seems rather close to Indian advaita. I shall further focus on the Indian/Hindu tradition as it has been received and lived by some Christians as their way to the goal.

Cosmothendric Communion

Let me start with an Indian/Hindu Christian view of the goal as spelt out by Raimon Panikkar.[1] He calls it ‘Cosmotheandric Experience’.[2]  I shall make an effort to summarize his thought, in a simple way.  The word cosmotheandric combines three other words: cosmos – the universe, theos – God and anthropos – the human.  We can start with the human, which is the reality which we know well. I am human.  I experience myself as embodied.  My body is me.  But I am not only my body.  I am not in my body either as a spirit imprisoned in a body.  I am an embodied spirit.  I relate to the cosmos through my body. I cannot exist without the cosmos – the light and the warmth, the water and the air, the food and the earth.  These are all integrated in my person. I and my body are not two. They are not one either.  My body is dependent on me. I am also dependent on my body.  My mind cannot exist independently of my body, yet it can occasionally act independently of it.  The inter-dependence between me and my body is mutual, reciprocal. But the mutuality is not total.  I can control and dominate my body, but not totally.  My body and myself are not simply one. We are not-two either.  The relationship is advaitic.

God and the world, including the humans, are not-two either. Creationism seems to posit the cosmos outside God, like a pot and a potter.  Once a pot is made, it has an autonomous existence without the potter.  But this is not true of God and the world.  The world would not survive without God even for a moment. Some will speak of continuing creation. God is not dependent on the world. But the world is dependent on God.  There is a one-sided, not a reciprocal dependence. God and the world are not simply one. They are not-two either. Here also there is an advaitic relationship.

The relation between God and the human is something special.  The human is also totally dependent on God like the world.  But the humans are in God’s image. They have intelligence and freedom.  They can respond to God, even say ‘No’ to God.  But even their freedom is dependent on God.  It is Spirit of God that makes the humans free.  The relation between grace (divine free gift) and human freedom is a mystery. God and the humans are not simply one. They are not-two either. They are advatically related.  But God offers the humans the possibility of becoming divinized – theosis, in Greek – by participation, as the Greek Fathers of the Church taught.

This divine-human relationship finds its perfect relationship in Jesus. He is divine and human in an advaitic way.  His divinity and humanity can neither be confused nor separated, as the Council of Chalcedon said.  The divine-human communion in Jesus is not merely a given, but a process.  Jesus becomes progressively aware of this and lives it. The communion reaches its fullness in the resurrection.  Jesus can say: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30).  At the same time, he can also say that he does the will of his Father. (Jn 5:30)  His communion with the Father allows him to be totally obedient.  Jesus and God are two persons, but one God. They are not-two Gods. They are not simply one either, as a number. It is the incarnate Word that makes us aware of and experience the Trinity.  Karl Rahner explains:

In accordance with the fact that the natures are unmixed, basically the active influence of the Logos on the human “nature” in Jesus in a physical sense may not be understood in any other way except the way this influence is exercised by God on free creatures elsewhere.  This of course is frequently forgotten in a piety and a theology which are tinged with monophysitism.  All too often they understand the humanity of Jesus as a thing and as an “instrument” which is moved by the subjectivity of the Logos…  The human nature of Jesus is a created, conscious and free reality to which there belongs a created “subjectivity” at least in the sense of a created will, a created energia.  This created subjectivity is distinct from the subjectivity of the Logos and faces God at a created distance in freedom, in obedience and in prayer, and it is not omniscient.[3]

Jesus is the embodiment of cosmotheandric communion. He is a communion of the divine, the human and also the cosmos through his human body.  Jesus shares with us this communion. He enables us to participate in it. It is he who makes possible our theosis (divinization).  He is not simply a model.  As the Word in whom everything is created and who gives life to everything and everyone, particularly enlightening the humans in a special way (cf. Jn 1:9) he enables our participation in the life God.  Jesus, as the Word, is the Way.  From one point of view, once the goal is reached the way disappears and we become the body of Christ in communion with the divine.  From another point of view, our communion is something dynamic, eschatological. We never reach the end. We are always on the way.  And Jesus remains our way.

Swami Abhishiktananda has not elaborated this vision as Panikkar has done.  But he had the experience of advaita both in his personal relationship with his disciple and with God.  His later entries in his Diary bear witness to it. He too looks upon Jesus as the perfect realization of advaita and he sees his own experience as a participation in his experience.   

Obstacles on the Way

Cosmotheandric communion is real.  But the humans, being free beings, have to become aware of it, experience it and live it, becoming part of it. However, ignorance or false knowledge, egoism or pride, selfishness or desire stand in the way.  The humans are not aware of their inter-dependence with others, God and the world.  They prize their autonomy and tend to make it absolute.  They look at the world as an object that they can dominate and exploit for their own benefit.  They can look upon other humans as instruments that they can use to reach their own selfish goals. They refuse to acknowledge their dependence on God. They think that they are their own masters.  They are led to these attitudes by their individualistic egoism and pride.  They do not wish their freedom to be limited either by the humans or by God.  Their pride and selfish desires blind them and keep them ignorant of reality. In this manner the humans stand in the way of their own integration in the cosmotheandric communion.  If ignorance, pride and desire can be got rid of by promoting right attitudes and a right way of life, they become aware of – discover – the cosmothenadric communion that is always be there and make it functional. This is the way they have to follow to realize the fullness of their communion with God, the humans and the universe. This sound almost like the Buddha’s eight-fold path.  It is a process of recentering.  From centering on the world (things), the others and oneself, one centers on God. Centred on God one embraces again everything, but in a new relationship.  God is all in all and being in God one is related to everything.  Let us look at this way a little more in detail.

The way can be looked at establishing and living a series of relationships with the cosmos, with oneself, with other humans and with the divine.  These are not so much successive steps along the way that come one after the other. Rather they are different dimensions that can be mutually supportive.  The three obstacles that I have mentioned above – ignorance, desire and pride – affect every dimension and we need to free ourselves from them.  If we take all these dimensions together we can have the integral experience that we are looking for.  Harmony can a be an appropriate symbol for such an experience.     

Harmony with the Cosmos

The humans in the body are meant to live in harmony with the cosmos.  Today there is a lot of concern about the lack of this harmony.  Ecological destruction and global warming are destroying our world as a habitable place.  The root of this destruction is the selfish desire of consumerism.  Science and technology are used in the production of goods and services to cater to this consumerism.  The desires seem to be limitless and reach beyond the capacity of the earth to meet.  So the earth is being exploited and destroyed.  The exploitation is also done in an unjust manner.  20% of the people consume 80% of the earth’s energies.  The majority of the humans are therefore deprived of their rightful share of the riches of the earth, which are God’s gift to all.  Our unlimited and mindless consumption also deprives future generations of their rightful share of the earth’s resources.  What can we do?  Gandhiji said that the earth has enough resources to meet all the needs of humanity, but not their greed.  We are not called to renounce the resources of the earth, but to use them rightly and justly.  We have to control our excessive desire.  For this we can use the Ignatian principle tantum quantum – the use of things in so far as they are necessary.  We have also to protect the earth from our abuses which lead to the pollution of air and water and to global warming.  We can go one step further and say that we have to live in harmony with the earth. The air, the heat, the light, the water and the food are our lives’ necessities.  They are part of us as our bodies.  A traditional adage goes: mens sana in corpore sano  – a healthy mind in a healthy body.  We can say extend the saying: a healthy body in a healthy earth.  The Indian science of the Ayurveda is based on this principle of harmony between the earth and the body.  The earth is not only for us. It is God’s gift to all humans.  We are not its owners but trusties, as Gandhiji used to say.  It is to be equitably shared with everyone at present and in the future. In this way we can live in harmony or communion with the earth and the universe.

Harmony with the Body

We are not only our bodies. But we are also our bodies.  Our bodies are not just shells or instruments.  The body does not disappear with death.  We believe in the resurrection of the body.  The Buddha started is quest for realization with rigorous fasting and bodily penances.  But he gave them up and adopted the middle path.   The Eastern tradition looks on the body as a structured reality.  India, for example, speaks of five sheaths that make up the self: food (anna), breath (prana), mind (manas), intuitive intellect (vijnana) and the blissful self (ananda). Of these, the first three can be said to belong to the body. What I would like here are the breath and the mind that mediate between the cosmos and the human.  The senses are part of the body.  But beyond the senses there is the energy field that not only has an important role in maintain mental and physical health, but also reaches out to the cosmos and other humans.  Misdirected energy causes mental and physical illness.  Well directed energy heals the mind and the body.  The Indian yoga proposes ways of experiencing and controlling this energy.  The Chinese call it Qi and have many ways like Taichi and Accupressure to activate healing energies.  Today we have healing techniques like Reiki and Pranic healing. The use of such energy is also seen in some of the phenomena linked to charismatic prayer among some Christian groups.  The mainline Christian traditions usually ignore this phenomenon of human and cosmic energy though some ascetical and mystical methods of prayer may be using it without full awareness.  We can use energy to harm or heal ourselves and others.  Awareness and proper control of human and cosmic energies can help us to live in harmony with ourselves, with the cosmos and with the others.[4]

Harmony with Ourselves

The Indian Yoga tradition aims at self-integration.  It structures the body in terms seven chakras or energy centres.  We do not need to go into their names, etc. for our purpose.  These chakras represent seven levels of the human: The life or sex, the senses, the energy field, the emotions, the intelligence, the will, the ego (self) open to the Absolute Self. Each of these dimensions have a certain autonomy in human functioning. One may feel sexually attracted or angry or joyful without necessarily wanting it.  One can let them free and become a slave to one’s sexual force or anger.  One can also control them and direct them in the way that leads to one’s goal by promoting personal and social harmony. Once everything is under the control of the ego, one surrenders to the Absolute Self.  Yogic meditation tries to integrate these different dimensions of the human by focusing successively on the different chakras.  This exercise is as much physical as imaginative and suggestive.  The ego and the will are behind it.  It is significant that the first two steps of the yoga are a sort of preparation that removes the obstacles. The first step speaks of five attitudes to avoid: violence, falsehood, covetousness, sensuality and possessiveness. The second step mentions the five attitudes and actions that we have to promote: purity, contentment, austerity, study of the scriptures and surrender to God.  If one starts with such a preparation then control and integration of the self will be easy.  It will become possible then to live in harmony with oneself.  Such harmony is the best preparation to relate, not only to the Absolute, but also to the others.

Harmony with the Other Humans

A spirit of individualism, egged on by ignorance, desire and egoism, is bound to clash with others.  It will become competitive and acquisitive, seeing the others as enemies, seeking to deprive them of what is their due (injustice) and to dominate and instrumentalize them (inequality).  One forgets one’s duties and denies the rights of others.  Such an attitude will, obviously, lead to conflict.  Egoism can often also be collective in the name of a religious, caste, ethnic or national identity.  In such a situation harmony can be established only when one thinks, not only of rights, but also of duties and responsibilities; not only of the rights of individuals but also of cultural, social and religious communities. The context of such attitudes will be solidarity and subsidiarity.  I do not think that I need to explain these concepts here.  Injustice can become structural enduring through history and leading to hidden or open conflict.  At that stage an option for the poor and the oppressed may be necessary.  This very option for the poor may lead us, not only to challenge the rich to conversion, but also reach out to the non-poor change-makers like the intellectuals, leaders of social movements, activists and even the enlightened rich.

Christianity has not spoken much about harmony with creation and with the body.  It does insist on harmony with the self.  In recent times it has also insisted on harmony with others.  Jesus himself has focused a lot on these two dimensions.  While the Sermon on the Mount is a good example of attitudes that everyone needs (Mt 5-7) – I would highlight poverty of spirit and the love of enemies – John’s description of the last day in Jesus’ life evokes a social dimension.  (Jn 13-17) Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:12) He exemplifies this love for others in humble service of the others, washing their feet, in sharing food with them and in total self gift, offering his own life for them. (cf. Jn 15:13)  Starting with these indications of Jesus we can work out a way of relating to the others according to his way. Structural ways of doing this may change according to context and history.  But the directions are clear.

Harmony with the Divine

Let me remind you again that I am not speaking of various steps, but dimensions.  I have already spoken above about the advaitic vision.  God is not outside us.  God is within us.  But it is possible that, in our freedom, we ignore or deny God.  So harmony with the divine means that we recognize our oneness with God, surrender to God and let God act in and through us. We should be able to say as Jesus did: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30); or as Paul said: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)  This involves a total self-emptying and obedience. (cf. Phil 2:6-8)

Part of the problem with understanding this Asian perspective is the idea of God that we have inherited from the Western Latin tradition.  God is the creator and judge. He – He is very much a male God – is a king.  He keeps an account of our sins and punishes us.  Of course, He has shown generosity and loving kindness by punishing his own son Jesus in our stead.  But even this is not enough since we have to acquire merits by our own penances and good works.  If we do not do enough of these we will have to make up for it in purgatory.  But the Greek Fathers rather spoke, not only of redemption, but also of divinization – theosis. Iranaeus said: “Jesus Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he himself is.”[5] Athanasius declared: “The Word became man so that we might be deified.”[6] The image of ‘deification’ may have been suggested by Peter’s second letter where he speaks of God’s great promises “so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)  We become divine, not through a transaction involving punishment and merit, but by participation. The Indian advaitin  would say that we are already in God and God in us, but we do not recognize it and live it because of our ignorance and egoism.  Once we overcome these obstacles then it becomes an experiential awareness that transforms our life.[7]


If we follow the WAY outlined above, we can reach cosmotheandric integration. We have to get rid of attitudes and practices that we have inherited from the Western Latin tradition.  We have adequate resources in the Asian traditions of sadhana. I have focused in this paper on the advaitic tradition from India. But we can evoke a similar vision and praxis from the Taoist tradition of China and the cosmic traditions of some of the Trial groups.

Michael Amaladoss, S.J.

IDCR, Chennai, India.

[1] I would like to mention in passing my own efforts to explore the Indian Way. See M. Amaladoss, Inigo in India.  Reflections on the Ignatian Exercises from an Indian Disciple. Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1992;  Towards Fullness. Searching for an Integral Spirituality. Bangalore: NBCLC, 1994; The Dancing Cosmos. A Way to  Harmony. Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 2003.

[2] Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience. Emerging Religious Consciousness. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1993.

[3] K. Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith. (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), p.287. See also pp. 290-291.

[4][4] See the articles in Ignis 42,3 (2012) on “Energy and Sadhana”; Also La Chair et le Souffle 6,1 (2011)

[5] Adv Haer. 5, preface.

[6] De incarn. 54

[7] See M. Amaladoss, “Theosis and Advaita: An Indian Approach to Salvation”, Vidyajyoti Journal of  Theological Reflection. 75 (2011) 887-901.

<VaticanⅡ, Ecological Crisis and Peace of Asia>, Seoul : WTI 2013