What is Spirituality ?

The word spirituality has been lately popularized and broadly used in various contexts. The meaning of the word spiritual have changed over time. People of different religions, philosophies, ethnicity have given different interpretations to this word. It is loosely related to word religious.

Origin of word

The word spirit derived from the old French word espirit & has it’s root in Latin word spiritus meaning soul/vigor/breath/courage and is related to spirare (to breathe). The word has references in Vulgate (4th century Latin translation of Bible), where it is used to translate the Greek word pneuma and Hebrew word ruach. So the term “spiritual” refers to the matters “concerning the spirit”.

Different meaning across religions


This term spirituality was used within early Christianity to refer to a life oriented toward the Holy Spirit and broadened during the late medieval period (1250 AD to 1500 AD) to include mental aspects of life. Similar words to spirituality first began to come up in the 5th century and became common by the end of the middle ages. In a Biblical context the term means being animated by God. The New Testament offers the concept of being driven by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to living a life in which one rejects this influence.

The practices involving personal act of faith are referred to as being spiritual in Catholicism.


The Sanskrit word Adhyātma (अध्यात्म) is nearest translation of the word English word spirituality in Hinduism. This word also gives a totally in-depth meaning to the term spiritual. The word Adhyātma is a compound of prefix : Adhi and word : Aatma. The prefix Adhi means “that which pertains to”. The Subālopaniṣad (fifth section) draws correspondences between that which pertains to the body (adhyātma), the elements (adhibhūta) and their presiding deities (adhidaivata). Generally, Adhyātma means pertaining to the “self” identified with the body, mind, ātman, etc.

The term ātman (shortly referred as aatma) is of crucial significance in Indian thought. Basically it denotes the essence of anything that is all-pervading. According to Hinduism, aatma (called self in English) is the indestructible core of an individual. When it gets attached to body, it is called jivatma (called soul/spirit in English) which takes a definite form for one cycle of birth-death. All sentient beings are jivatma. The body is materialistic in nature. It constructs & destructs over time and energy; while self or aatma is the unchanging central aspect of every being. Self keeps on changing bodies with every cycle of birth-death. Self is same, generalized; while soul is unique, individualistic and carry characteristics.


The Buddhist concept of spirituality is interwoven in two concepts one being self and the other nature. Their spirituality does not focus on the outcome but is described as a path following which one attains the eternal truth. This path is essential as it helps understand the deeper meaning of life, suffering, the ever changing habit of nature. Buddhist spirituality does not tell us to love the self, it shows the procedure how to love the self. Its aim is to understand the world and its inhabitants not by merely seeing them but by engaging with them in various ways.


Jewish concept of spirituality focuses on realizing the presence of god in everything that surrounds us. They believe man created by God and is referred as a living soul. This believe that it is the soul that makes body living and body in turn allows soul to express itself. The Jewish concept of spirituality is to make world better by human efforts, adding to the work of the God who made us. They focus on bringing peace and understanding the purpose of life. The spiritual insight of Jewish is to bring all the pleasures of heaven on earth by our efforts. They simply believe in celebrating life. They believe in coexistence with nature and enjoying the aesthetic pleasures of living world.


  1. The medieval mind, the Psychologist [link]
  2. Adhyatma, Adhyātma: 18 definitions [link]

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