Is the West unspiritual?1

Is the West unspiritual? The immediate answer may be in the affirmative. But this answer is absurdity on the face of it. There are, in the West, countless souls who have a unique inner urge. I also dare to say that they are far more spiritual than those who pass for men of spirituality in the East.

It may sound strange, but I cannot help mentioning that there are many Westerners who are practising spirituality in the truest sense of the term but do not realise it. Alas, this irony of fate is all due to their mind, their mental upbringing. Their mind tells them, nay, makes them feel that they are here and God is elsewhere. What is worse is that they breathe in God and Fear at the same breath. The very idea of God's omnipotence sends a shudder through them. Any grave error, on their part, they feel, can never escape God's most severe punishment. This is precisely what they have learned from their mind. But in their spiritual quest, the mind is not all in all. They have a heart that makes them feel that their earthly existence and God's Breath are one, inseparable; their aspiration and God's Grace live together and fulfil each other.

God is not something that is outside, something to be attained, as the usual Western concept goes. God is something that has to be unfolded like a lotus, petal by petal, from within.

Our present-day world, especially the Western world, is ultramodern in its complexity. Complexity tends to misery. Misery is frustration. Frustration is the death of achievement and progress. Simplicity is inner delight. This inner delight is Nectar. Nectar is immortality, immortality of the physical, the vital and the mental. Simplicity is the spontaneity of the heart. Complexity, on the other hand, has become the natural expression of the unintegrated aspects of the physical mind. This mind sees through the eye of divisiveness and ignorance. Ignorance sees through the eye of Death. The heart sees through the eye of Truth. Truth sees through the eye of God.

It is an unpardonable mistake, nevertheless, I believe, on the part of the East to pronounce that the West is unspiritual. Both East and West should be fully aware of the fact that each human being needs five major experiences in his earthly existence. The animal in man gives him the first experience; this is the experience of the sense-pleasure. After the animal in him has played its role, out of his subtler existence, discrimination comes to the fore. In the process of his discrimination, man becomes conscious of right and wrong, the true and the false. This is the second experience. The third experience is the experience of self-control. The more a man acquires self-control, the easier it becomes for him to walk along the path of peace and bliss. At this stage man comes to learn and feel the meaning of an inner tug-of-war between his higher self and his lower self, between the transitory and the eternal. The fourth experience makes him feel that he has to realise God and that God-Realisation is the sole purpose of human existence. He feels the difference between the finite and the infinite, between the self that binds him to ignorance and death and the self that frees him into infinity and eternity. The fifth and last experience is the experience of divine manifestation and divine fulfilment which comes after having the full realisation of God. Man's soul becomes God's Vision and his life, God's Reality.

Since both East and West go through these stages, the East has no right to condemn the West so arbitrarily.

The Western mind is a scientific mind. Science has helped the Western mind profoundly and at the same time, science has deceived the Western heart mercilessly. Science says in effect: "Look, heart and mind, I have bravely and successfully entered into the sky with my telescope. But the sky fails to offer me God. I have fathomed the very depth of the ocean. The ocean, too, fails to offer me God. Nor has the tiniest atom escaped my attention. I thought that at least this particle would offer me some clue to God's existence. To my sorrow, like the sky and the ocean, the atom, too, has failed to show me the Face of God. I venture to say that there is no God, none at all."

The mind immediately believes in science and is satisfied with the scientific discovery that there is no God. But the heart doubts the authenticity of the scientific discovery. It says: "I may not see God as minutely as science observes an object in its minute scrutiny. But I do feel the presence of God within me. To me, my feeling is as good as my realisation."

Evolution has come to the point where it is high time for man to realise that science and spirituality are not one and the same. This does not mean that science and spirituality are two bitter enemies, always at daggers drawn. But what we should do is to expect from science what it can and does offer — the perfect mastery over the external nature. Similarly, from spirituality, we must expect the inner illumination and the realisation of God. Let us accept both science and spirituality and not accept one and reject the other, for both of them are serving God here on earth, unveiling and manifesting His Supreme Reality.

To me, the aspiration of the West is both touching and striking. I maintain that the West is spiritual in the truest sense of the term. But what is required of the West — and it is true that the East has already discovered this — is an inner conviction that spirituality is its Divine birthright.


  1. AUM 238. This talk was given on 27 August 1966, Sri Chinmoy's thirty-fifth birthday. It was held at the first quarters of the Aum Centre, 3817 Fort Hamilton Parkway, Brooklyn, New York.

Sri Chinmoy, AUM — Vol. 3, No. 1,2, 27 Aug. — Sep. 1967, Boro Park Printers -- Brooklyn, N. Y., 1967