On the Need of Existential Spirituality
An international Symposium was organized on the topic “Existential Spirituality” by an eminent poet and philosopher Dr Jernail Singh Aanand, Chairman Azaad Foundation in collaboration with Vishwaneedam Centre for Asian Blooming. Prominent mystic poetess Hela Tekali played vital role to make it a successful event. It was my proud privilege to express my views as a Chief Guest in the galaxy of acknowledged and renowned intellectuals. Their views on the subject were very inspiring, enlightening and insightful.
In my talk, I maintained that this topic is based on three points whose elaboration seems incumbent. First; what is existentialism? Second; what is spiritualism? Third; what is existential spirituality?
Existentialism is a philosophic theory which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining his own development through acts of the free will. Generally, taken to originate with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Existentialism tends to be atheistic to disparage scientific knowledge and to deny the existence of objective and absolute values, stressing instead the reality and significance of human freedom and experience.
The approach was developed chiefly in 20th century Europe, notably by Martin Heidegger, Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simon de Beauvoir. Existentialists frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose and value of human existence. It is a philosophic movement that stresses on the individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for making meaningful, authentic choices in a universe seen as purposeless or irrational.
Existentialism is as such a literary phenomenon as a philosophical one. Jean-Paul Sartre’s own ideas were and are better known through his more purely literary ones such as “Nausea” and “No Exit” than through his more purely philosophical ones such as “Being and Nothingness”, and “Critique of Dialectical Reason”.
Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Kafka, Albert Camus and Franz Fanon define existentialism as the ethical theory that we ought to treat the freedom at the core of human existence as intrinsically valuable and foundation of other values. If we stick to this definition, we can both recognize the fissures within what is called Existentialism in the expansive and broader sense and also see how it can grant sophisticated contributions to social psychology, liberation of mind, moral philosophy, cultural theory, economic justice, human fraternity and political freedom.
The core stance of existentialism sums up in the concept of Personal-authenticity and Personal-cognition that grant freedom of choice, expression and action. In my view, existentialism is a reactionary ideology and movement against three things. Religious dogmatism, monarchy and Marxism.
The dogmatic and traditional religious rites, rituals, practices and beliefs had totally made humans irrational, extremists, and hard liners. Particularly, the papacy had snatched human freedom of thought and ensnared mankind in the tight and tenacious fetters of religious dogmatic rites.
In the name of God, the clerics and clergy exploited people. The rigorous practices were considered spiritual elevation, exultation and religious requirements. People were defrauded and degraded and priests acted as self-styled custodians of religion. Man was disgraced and made a non-entity. Self-abnegation were the core and crown of mysticism and religion.
Existentialists stressed more on Man and humanism. Second; the existentialists stressed on the human freedom and democratic norms. It was their belief that in a monarchic and dictatorial state, the human individuality, entity, identity, freedom and all other human norms and free choices are marginalized and ultimately vanquished.
These thinkers were known as socio-political existentialists. Then, there are the existentialists who revolted against Marxism. They considered Marxism as a totalitarian and regimental ideology. The role and rule of Communist party in Soviet Union alarmed and alerted the free thinkers and the democrats all over the world were bewildered.
Great Eminent British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a book against one party rule of Soviet Union titled “The Road to Serfdom”. Monarchy, Militarism and Communism are autocratic systems that curb, crush and contain human individuality, freedom, identity and ideology.
Existentialism is antagonistic and anti-Marxism. Sartre in “Existentialism and Marxism“, highlights this point. German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1927) in his treatise titled “Being and Time”, professes the need of Personal-authenticity, and Personal-cognition. He termed it “Dasein”, a German word for “existence”. It seems pertinent to mention that majority of the existentialists were of atheists. The religionists stress on the affirmation of God and the negation of Man; while theses existentialists stressed on the affirmation of Man and negation of God. It is called an atheistic existentialism.
Existential Spirituality is a term coined by modern thinkers who believe in the existence of God and also in the existence of Man as a free entity. These thinkers negate atheism, atheistic existentialism, materialism, agnosticism, monarchy, fascism and Marxism and promote humanism, freedom, and individuality of humans. They believe that man is the blend of Soul and Body. Man is the vicegerent of God on earth as mentioned in the holy scriptures particularly in the Holy Quran.
Theses modern thinkers preach pluralistic, humanistic and inclusive aspect of all religions. They promote religious tolerance and mutual harmony. They oppose religious extremism and racial discrimination. They are spiritualists but negate traditional and professional Sufism/ mysticism. They also reject hereditary Sufism, asceticism and hermitage. Their slogan is “One God, One humanity”. They are theist-existentialists.
All divine religions believe in the existence of Soul. Spiritualism is not a cult or professional creed. It is not hereditary. The believers of all religions can be spiritualists as it is the rarefied and true shape of humanism. Existential Spirituality / Spiritual Existentialism is contrary to Atheistic Existentialism.
The spiritual existentialists earnestly deem and desire “oneness” of mankind under the banner of oneness of God. The religions that believe in Monotheism should also believe in humanism as One God is our creator and we all are His creatures.
Existential Spirituality is not a New Religion. It is a new spiritual philosophy. The human history has seen reckless feuds in the name of religion. The Crusades are the worst kind of battle between the Muslims and Christians fought in the name of faith. Religion promotes peace and abhors war but the cleric shed the blood of others in the name of God.
The Muslims have been brutally killed in Spain after the end of the Muslim rule. The Jewish Holocaust is a great human tragedy. The Buddhists and the Sikhs had suffered immense agony and aggression. Even to date, the people are the victim of sectarian violence. The only remedy of these ills and evils lies in the spiritual affirmation, affinity and affiliation. We should not only recognize the entity of ourselves but of others as well.
Eminent American poet Robert Frost says that we should recognize the “otherness” of others. It means social esteem and relationship. Dr Iqbal was a great pioneer and stalwart of the freedom of human Ego. He was the First Spiritual Existentialist. He emphasized much on the importance of individuality. His sole poetic message swings around his concept of Self. His two poetry books in Persian language are tilted “Asrar-e-Khudi”, translated into English under the title “The Secrets of Self”, by Dr Nicholson. His other book titled “Ramoz-e-Bekhudi”, was translated into English by A. J. Arberry.
Dr Iqbal rejected the traditional Sufism/mysticism that preached Self- abnegation, monasticism, passivity, lethargy, pre-destiny and asceticism. He considered it the cause of the degradation, disgrace, desperation, destitution, devastation, depravation and derogation. Hence, he preached Self-awareness, Self-cognition, Self-reliance, Self-affirmation, Self-identification, and Self-esteem. Actually, Dr Iqbal on one hand had sensed the hazards of Marxism that obliterated human individuality and identity and on the other, he had envisioned the hazards of atheistic existentialism, hence he gave the philosophy of Egohood in his poetry.
Alexander Pope had rightly said ”The proper study of man is Man”. Socrates had also aptly said “Know thy self”. There is a saying of Hazrat Ali depicting this great secret of the Self. He had said ”The one who cognizes his “Self”, cognizes his God”. Self- cognizance is the “Essence” of existential spirituality.
I deem it the right time to promulgate Spiritual Existentialism and oppose totalitarianism, fascism, traditional hereditary Sufism/mysticism, monarchy and priesthood. Our slogan is “Unite Humans under the banner of One God”. (March 11th, 2022)
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