Every language has its limitations, particularly surrounding areas of development that were not central to the people who developed and utilized that language. This makes it difficult to translate concepts that are self-evident in one language easily or effectively into another language. This has created substantial confusion and misunderstanding in all fields of life-activity and conceptual development. In some cases, an attempt is made to bring across the concept through a detailed explanation that tries to pick up and communicate the nuances. In other cases, the attempt to translate or communicate remains sorely deficient.

Such is the case with the use of the term “spiritual” in the English language, which is used whenever something does not fit the focus and identification with the external personality and external life that has predominated for the English-speaking people in the past. Thus we hear of spiritual advisors which include services such as tea-leaf reading or palm reading. Whatever may be any underlying truth or distortion as to the practices termed “spiritual” they clearly do not fit the sense and intention of the underlying concepts from cultures that have focused on spiritual development, the seeking and finding of the Eternal Presence, the liberation from the illusion of the external life, and the discovery of one’s own eternal spark and link to the Divine Presence.

In his attempt to bring clarity to the understanding, Sri Aurobindo has worked to remove the vagueness and uncertainty surrounding the use of the term ‘spiritual’ as well as the term ‘psychic’ (which has been equally misapplied for all kinds of things unrelated to the deep-seated soul entity within each being. Sri Aurobindo restricts the use of the term ‘psychic’ to relate to the soul, while the term ‘spiritual’ relates to the development or relation to the higher consciousness that exceeds our current human evolutionary stage, the contact with and realisation of Sat-Chit-Ananda (Existence, Consciousness, Bliss) in the ancient Vedic terminology.

Other experiences or relations may be mental, vital, or even physical, and they may occur on other planes or from other statuses, without necessarily being ‘spiritual’ in nature..

Dr. Dalal notes: “A crucial distinction that one needs to make on the spiritual path is the difference between the psychical and the spiritual. Due to an inadequate knowledge of yogic psychology, psychical phenomena and experiences — which pertain to the inner or subliminal consciousness, a realm of darkness as well as light — are often confused with spiritual experiences, which pertain to the higher consciousness.”

“Regarding the vague and imprecise way in which the term ‘spiritual’ is used not only in popular literature but also in serious writings, the Mother remarks: ‘… philosophical, yogic and other systems use the word ‘spiritual’ in a very vague and loose way. Whatever is not physical is spiritual! In comparison with the physical world, all other worlds are spiritual! All thought, all effort which does not tend towards the material life is a spiritual effort. Every tendency which is not strictly human and egoistic is a spiritual tendency. This is a word used to season every dish.’ “

Dr. Dalal continues: “The distinction between the inner or supraphysical consciousness and the higher or spiritual consciousness is one of the most valuable aspects of yogic psychology for promoting the self-understanding of the spiritual seeker.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Preface, pp. xiii-xiv

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.