Consciousness and Spirit: what’s the difference?

March 10, 2020



Q:  I’d be interested in any further thoughts you have about the questions which came up in our conversation, eg What distinguishes 'spirit' from 'consciousness'?


A. It is a question of  what is the ingredient which makes meditation 'spiritual', as opposed to utilising the methods and techniques of meditation for personal ends, which could be personal creativity, emotional well-being, intellectual clarity, peace, calmness and so forth.


Since meditation methods emerged from the monasteries of both East and West, and became accessible to all, many public teachers or practitioners are quite upfront about being humanist or secular, and yet they are operating within a context which most people, including those who follow them, see as basically 'spiritual'.  So, is this a misleading confusion?  


Is something missing which equates to 'spiritual', and is it a problem?


The West has psychologized meditation and its aims. For instance, several influential and accomplished meditation teachers in the contemporary religious/spiritual scene are trained western psychologists as well as having serious meditative training (in a traditional religious context). The result is an adaptation of religious teaching which arose within an intense  monastic tradition and a totally contrasting cultural milieu, to serve lay westerners with busy material life-styles, and the design of programs designed to fit in with the 'achievement' ethos of the West.


There is a hiatus, which will crunch, at the very least, those who are serious in long-term spiritual aspirations, because the aims are different --indeed one could argue, are opposed. The Spiritual reaches above and beyond more limited concerns with personal well-being or benefits accruing. Not that these are illegitimate, but there is no one on earth who can define precisely the 'human spirit', let alone the the great unknown of the Spirit which 'bloweth where it listeth'. That's the point of the word 'spirit': it's a principle, a force, a distillation, an animation, an essence. We have a word for it because it exists, can be felt, recognised, affirmed, displayed, but it is essentially independent of  manipulations of consciousness.


The aim of psychology is to manipulate consciousness, hopefully, for worthwhile and useful ends. But no one can manipulate Spirit. In falling short of a potentially deeper understanding of what constitutes 'spiritual' we lose something essential.

The West is suffering for it.



Q. People are pulled in different directions by all the ‘spiritual’ opportunities out there. What do you need to know to navigate through?


A. You have to follow a deeper instinct than Mind. One of the problems is the ubiquitous promotion of  Mind-full-ness. As popularly understood, it is useful in a modern western psychological context, but unfortunately, is not much use for cultivating Spirit. The curtain comes down on the stage, and the 'Player on the other Side' is lost from view.






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Readers of these blog musings :

Take nothing for a ‘true’ view or definitive opinion, mine or anyone else’s. All  are responses to a context, a time, a place, a query. Another time, another context, a query angled slightly differently—and another response, perhaps seeming to contradict a previous.  

But truth is present if it resonates, a process which should generate more queries…..

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