Spirituality – An Introspective Look

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Throughout the previous millennium, voyagers, scholars, educators and everyone in between had a notion about what it means to be human and, in turn, what they represent in the physical world themselves. While observing Ancient Greece, where pre-Socratic philosophers pondered how the natural world came to be without the outside influence from mythical gods. Or five thousand miles away in Nepal where the general public practiced Hinduism which was focused on the universe’s multiple cycles of birth and death. Furthermore, stretching east through the rugged terrain of China we find ourselves in present day Shandong, where the once prominent religious belief, Taoism, centered around harmony in the physical world. It was not until three men transcended these past ideologies due to traumatic life experiences which would eventually revolutionize the western world of thought for thousands of years to come. Buddha, Socrates, and Confucius, each born within a hundred years of each other, separated by land and sea would later be known as three of the most influential figures in the world. Nevertheless, how did these men turn personalized disadvantages into theories that shaped Asia and Europe? 

When analyzing the differences between both Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius it is necessary to understand that each of their geographical locations varies in ways such as weather, previous theories, and different mentalities. For instance, Socrates was born in Athens, Greece. With temperatures around the year five hundred BCE ranging from fifty, to around ninety degrees Fahrenheit dependent on the season. While Buddha was born in Nepal which is nestled in between the Himalayan mountains and India, with temperatures ranging from thirty-seven, to an average high of, eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Nepal’s geographical and average temperature was slightly colder than Socrates’ Mediterranean climate but not as cold as Confucius’s birthplace of Qufu, China, with average temperatures of around thirty-two to eighty-two degrees Fahrenheit during the year. While weather is an important determinant of overall mood   it is worth knowing that geography has a vital role in understanding numerous different naturally appearing occurrences regardless of location, while simultaneously dealing with the different, “environmental processes that affect nature” (X). When taking each of their individual geographical climates into account, it will better serve as a catalyst later on in determining how the different climates impacted their journey to enlightenment. Meaning that each one of them had a different relationship with the natural world impacting their perception of life itself. 

Knowing that geographical location is an important factor in an individual’s perception of reality, there are also more factors to take into account. One of which being each individual’s upbringing. Personal environment is an essential component in understanding both Socrates, Confucius, and Buddha’s values and beliefs prior to becoming enlightened. For example, Siddhartha Gautama, known today as Buddha, was born into an affluent family who took many precautions to guard him from the pain and struggles of everyday life. His father, the king, commanded the guards of his city to continuously rid the streets of any trash or unsightly items giving his son, Siddhartha, the false notion that everything is and would always be clean, tidy, and free from any impurities. Due to the differences in culture, language, and beliefs it is crucial to comprehend that each territory didn’t have the same ideology. During the 5th and 6th century BCE, Nepal’s’ most accepted religion at the time was Hinduism which, as previously stated, was focused on continuous cycles of birth and death, inadvertently molding Buddhas growing mind to have congruent beliefs such as those practiced within Hinduism. When researching the effects of lifelong impressions that parents leave on their children and, in turn, their children’s beliefs, it becomes very apparent that regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, and race parents teach their offspring what they were once conditioned to accept as well, “ [They] show how norms of behavior are optimally passed down from parents to children and persist from generation to generation “(Butler et al. 890). The same theory can be seen in regard to Socrates and his family. Socrates fathers’ profession consisted of being an architect for the city of Athens. Consciously or unconsciously while growing up in that environment Socrates emulated his father’s actions and engaged in the art form for many years prior to altering his life path to seek the truth. On the same side of the token, reinforcing Butler’s article, scholar Mark Hager, proposed, “that self-conscious socializing agents monitor the behavior of the socialized persons and modify their socialization practice” (Hager p.4). In a world where each Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius could have been criticized for going against the grain of popular societal beliefs passed down from generation to generation, their journey to enlightenment could not have been a more confusing and unsure time for the three of them, especially when they were raised to follow a certain set of values and beliefs.

The literature on traumatic events suggests that it has an overwhelming amount of negative associations on overall mental health and some positive aspects as well. First, much of the literature suggests that traumatic events have negative implications on the individual’s mental wellbeing. Robert Grant, in Spirituality and Trauma: an essay, clearly notes that, “Traumatic events expose victims to aspects of life that most would prefer to ignore. Trauma creates confrontations with the lack of security and certitude that underlie all human endeavors” Grants point is confirmed by multiple other scholars. For example, Jillian R. Scheer, proclaims that, “. Following potentially traumatic events exposure, shame registers perceived or real re- projection, which then becomes internalized in the form of a negative cognitive style, distorted locus of control, poor self-efficacy, and self-criticism” (2). Even though Grant and Scheer state that traumatic events have a negative effect on a personal psychological health scholar, Janoff-Bulman Ph.D., states that even though people go through traumatic events it is dependent on the individuals support system, friends, family etc. (1). Even though Janoff-Bulman states that post-trauma impacts each person differently there can still be positive effects, “Healthy survivors eventually find something to value in the traumatic experience: lessons learned, new priorities, a newfound awareness of their strengths. Some think about how their experience might help others, perhaps by increasing medical knowledge or drawing attention to a social problem” (1). Even though there is an overwhelming agreeableness that traumatic events can cause negative life changes, there is also the possibility of a renewed sense of self and positive sense of spirituality. The articles examined seem to prove, for the most part, traumatic events do have a negative impact on psychological health. 

When taking into account the severity of traumatic events it can have a domino effect on more than just your psychological well-being. Scholars have suggested that positive psychological effects can have an overwhelming amount of benefit regarding mental health. Scholar, Lia Naor, in The Therapeutic Value of Experiencing Spirituality in Nature, proclaims that, “findings reveal that when we perceive ourselves as part of nature, we resonate with it. Thus, wandering through nature entails more than the discovery of external elements and landscapes—it reveals information on “what I really am.” (16). Naor elaborates on the notion that when spending time in nature and are able to envision ourselves as being on this planet we are more likely to experience a divine occurrence (1). Naor also discusses that when we spend time in nature, we are more prone to make realization about ourselves. Agreeing with Naor’s findings that the outside world helps aid individuals into more psychologically healthy people, Newberg, Andrew B, in A Neuro Theological Approach to Spiritual Awakening, illustrates to the reader that once people themselves in an event that alters their mind they do not have much choice about what happens next. In saying Newberg realizes that the loss of reality can help individuals in the long run. “There is the sense of transformation by which these experiences permanently change the individual. Such transformations are described by these individuals, but also by Buddha or Arjuna. And these states are associated with the cognitive concept of wisdom—an understanding and insight into the fundamental nature of the universe” (127).  In researching the effects that certain events have on your psychological health the concepts of enlightenment and spirituality outweigh the negative implications that come with traumatic events preceding the event itself. 

Scholars have seldom researched enlightenment and not to my surprise there are no negative implications that are recorded when it comes to aftermath of becoming enlightened. Scholar Gary Tzu, in Losing Myself in Nondual Awakening: A Transpersonal Phenomenological Investigation, said that, “While the journey can be intense, it also appeared to provide a state of calmness and relief when it was integrated and accepted no matter what form it took” (772). When taking into account the massive amounts of energy and social awareness of not only yourself but connecting dots and observing flaws within institutionalized systems throughout the world it can be scary but overall positive for the individual and furthermore people they come in contact with later on. In agreeance with Tzu, scholar Andrew B. Newberg, states that, “During intense spiritual states in which a person experiences a profound sense of unity, there is decreased activity in the parietal lobe, which we have postulated is associated with the loss of the sense of self (Newberg et al, 2001; Newberg et al, 2003). If parietal lobe activity establishes the sense of self, then a decrease of activity would be associated with a loss of the sense of self” (123). Scary as it might sound to the average individual losing sense of reality when achieving a sense of enlightenment would cause the person to be calm and more susceptible to connecting to something more aware then they are (122). When looking into enlightenment scholarly footprint it is easy to prove that regardless of how you become enlightened, psychologically speaking, it is positive for the individual. 

The literature on spirituality suggests that there is a positive correlation on increased mindfulness with both positive aspects on psychical health with some scholars articulating that negative traumatic events have positive outcomes in terms of spirituality. Scholar Donald Walker, in Changes in Personal Religion/Spirituality during and after Childhood Abuse: A Review and Synthesis, explains that even though an individual goes through a traumatic event they can also become more spiritually enlightened, “Research findings as well as clinical observations and personal descriptions suggest that childhood abuse may impact a person’s religious and spiritual faith in a number of different ways during the experience of childhood abuse and afterward. Some victims described turning to a personal God or to other members of a church, mosque, or synagogue for emotional support when abuse occurred” (1). Explaining that even though abuse can happen some people turn into the spiritual realm relying on supernatural or otherworldly powers to aid them in recovery. Thus, increasing their sense of spirituality. In congruence with Walker, Heintzman, Paul, in Nature-Based Recreation and Spirituality: A Complex Relationship, states that, “The combination of antecedent conditions, setting, and recreation components may lead to spiritual outcomes of spiritual experience, spiritual well-being, and leisure-spiritual coping. These outcomes reflect existing research on nature-based recreation and spirituality” (81). It is evident that time, place, and overall wellbeing does play a key role in spirituality, but physical setting and support can aid an individual in becoming more spiritual. Even though there is sufficient research on spirituality and the events/ items that lead up to it there is still much to be known about our relationship with spirituality and how it can help humans in the future (86). The articles examined seem to prove, for the most part, spirituality is correlated with physical setting and relationships with others in your life.          

Living life seems to be riddled with enormous joy and just as much strife. As Socrates, Buddha, and Confucius gained life experience and started to comprehend the physical world around them it seems as though there were many questions about life that were still not answered. They saw how the common person merely tried to articulate their own personal answers to questions of life, death, and natural occurrences throughout various forms of meditation, prayer, and other forms of spiritual guidance but thought major change needed to happen. Leading up to becoming a more enlightened version of themselves they each had to go through different hardships in order to reach their full potential. As articulated before Buddha had a very privileged life. Son of a king he had every opportunity at his fingertips. Being raised in a very sheltered environment he was unaware of the struggles that almost everyone else in the city went through. There was death, sickness, aging, and unsanitary conditions all of which Siddhartha knew nothing about. The popular tale of Buddhas traumatic experience that propelled him into searching for meaning seems to have happen like this. One day Siddhartha was riding through the city on his carriage. He was first startled when he rode by an old man, a little bit shaken by what he just saw it didn’t faze him. He continued riding and saw a sick man, a man which he had never seen before. Lastly, he sees a corpse on the side of the road. By this time, he was contemplating what was truth and what was a lie because for his whole life he had never seen anything like this and was shielded away from it for as long as he can remember. Siddhartha returned home and did not know exactly what to do but the feeling and desire to decipher life and death propelled him to go on a search for enlightenment. According to Siddhartha’s religion, Hinduism, birth and death were a constant never-ending cycle leading to suffering and pain for essentially, forever. Contemplating these questions of life and death for many days he experienced new cultures outside of the one he had always known. He also saw people and cities he had never seen before. Siddhartha’s journey took him from the Himalayan mountains all the way to northern India where, as the story goes, he sat under a tree focusing his mind on a frog. Proclaiming to himself that he wouldn’t get up from the tree until he was enlightened. A few days later Siddhartha awoke from his trance and seemed to have become enlightened. For Socrates, on the other hand, the traumatic event was not until the last day of his life when he was tried in court for two reasons. One, corrupting the youth of Athens and two, not believing what the government has imposed. One of Socrates, Plato, kept a record of the trial written down for personal reasons. As said by Socrates at his trial, “ Perhaps things had to turn out this way, and I suppose it’s good they have” (Reeve 43), and shortly after he is sentenced to death, his final words were, “But now it is time to leave, I to die and you to live. Which of us goes to the better thing, however, is unclear to everyone except the god” (Reeve 46)? Socrates was known throughout Athens as a very intelligent man who made you think rationally as well as question your own logic. He was known by one of his students as, “The most beautiful man”. Socrates was not afraid of dying. He understood that weather his life ended or if he continued to live that he will be okay because he did not fear death. Enlightenment, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as, “The action or process of freeing human understanding from the accepted and customary beliefs sanctioned by traditional, esp. religious, authority, chiefly by rational and scientific inquiry into all aspects of human life”. Socrates knew that his fellow citizens were not enlightened like he was, they didn’t use logic and think abstractly. Lastly, Confucius endured a traumatic event that threatened his moral compass. Confucius had a difficult childhood with both of his parents dying before his twenty-fourth birthday. Even Though Confucius was heartbroken the death of his parents surprisingly did not propel him into an inward journey to search for enlightenment. Instead he started to teach children and devoted himself to the arts for a few years. When he was in his forties, he took some time off from teaching to get into politics. He was later appointed governor of a town. With a newfound sense of responsibility Confucius strived to make implemental change throughout the government. It wasn’t until he saw how the council treated the residents residing in the kingdom, how unfairly and immoral different policies were imposed on them until Confucius went and talked to the council elaborating on a more inclusive structure for everyone involved. When the council members heard Confucius’s proposal, they said no, and he then soon fled into exile. With more knowledge and understanding about what struggles each of them had to go through from everything to realizing flawed religious structure to death, it set the stage for a surge of new ideas and philosophies about life throughout Asia and Europe. 

The journey for enlightenment had only begun when Socrates, Confucius, and Buddha underwent life altering events that led them to discover their own personal power and how each one of them could do better for people, some of which they had never met but cared for. After Siddhartha, Buddha, awoke from the trance he was in he knew he had the answers to the questions plaguing people in Nepal as well as India. For centuries people residing in parts of Asia had been conditioned to believe through the process of systematic integration of Hinduism that reincarnation was inevitable just like death. Followers believed that the control was out of their hands, that they couldn’t have any choice in being born again and going through the struggles of life forever. Buddha realized that individuals did in fact have control over what their next life would be, he coined the term karma. The Buddha stated, “Beings are owners of karmas, heirs of karma, they have karmas as their progenitor, karmas as their kin, karmas as their homing-place. It is karma that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority.” Meaning that each person has the ability to choose what quality of life they want in the next life and it is all determinant on their everyday actions. Good deeds equal good karma and Bad actions equal bad karma. This simple yet profound mantra revolutionized Asia, it allowed individuals to take their lives into their own hands and take accountability for their actions while also promoting love and unity at the same time. “Spirituality is sometimes treated as a very personal endeavor in which the [organization] merely enables the expression of spirituality” (Phipps 178). People were now on their own personal journey that they could not have fathomed prior. Even though Socrates died due to his lack of repentance to the Athenian court his teachings and philosophies did not die with him. Respectively, Socrates had a protege. His name was Plato. Plato lived in Athens as well and connected with Socrates on a spiritual level. After Socrates death Plato went on inheriting Socrates duties he once had passed. Spreading Socrates virtues and just politics as well as using the Socratic method to challenge individuals’ various ways of thinking. Plato had disciples of his own which he taught Socratic methods too as well as some of his own, but a man named Aristotle propelled Socrates through Europe via Alexander the Great. While Alexander was colonizing parts of Europe each territory conquered would be taught Socrates teachings paving a foundation for his theories to be relevant for upcoming generations. Lastly, Confucius’s rejection of structure from the government that rules over him led to a shift in tensions between his local government and surrounding ones. In the heat of the arguments Confucius left the region and centered himself. When he returned, he urged inhabitants with the necessary capability to govern with moral and ethics rather than extortion and bullying. After spreading his teachings throughout the neighboring territories, he had gained a massive following from people aligning themselves with his message and soon became a widely known figure throughout China.  

While I was researching these men’s personal lives, I took a step back and asked myself, why does this matter? I thought about it and thought about it and the only two words that came to my mind were happiness and love. We hear these words every day, but we have become desensitized to what they represent. Happiness to me is feeling joy, no judgment, positive energy, and being nourished inside and out. Love, the four-letter word that has driven people since the beginning of time. As human beings we are creatures of habit and community. Our ancestors banded in tribes with everything being used communally and for the better good of the whole community. I have made the assumption that as time goes on and our species evolves and becomes more complex, we as a whole become more susceptible to greed, dysfunction, rebellion, and so on. You can trace these traits back thousands of years to Athens when Socrates was on trial. The court sentenced him to death because he did not submit to the outline that was set up for him by the government. We can also see the same thing in China with Confucius. He acknowledged the dysfunctional habits of his government and proposed ideas on how to     restructure the principles on which they stand. “familiar to us from our common experience of life, of men who have tried to gain the world and who have thereby lost their souls-people who have precisely failed to achieve a proper moral and spiritual relationship” (Hand 392). It is a double-edged sword when going on a quest for a more spiritual you. Leaving behind some traits that could have served you well in business might not serve you well with being a moral person. Furthermore, there are instances today, two thousand and nineteen, where citizens of the united states feel polarized by conflicting stories and opinions from people in our government. Thankfully, there are massive amounts of people who are acknowledging the destruction of our democracy and taking proactive steps to balance our country. There are examples from Asia with Buddha where territories adopt a religion that gives them power to choose their life path and what they want to get out of their lives. Back in the fifth and sixth century BCE major changes happened that caused chain reactions for thousands of years after the original philosophers were long gone. I feel as though humans, on a macro scale, are lacking happiness and love in spiritual sense. I don’t think I ever met someone who is genuinely happy. There are people that look happy on the outside but then the more we converse, the more I realize they are going through pain. I feel the same way about love. In this day in age the word love is used at a rate where it holds minimal value. Deeper than the word itself I think our world and its’ inhabitants have forgotten what it means to love and care for one another. For as long as homoserines started evolving on planet Earth there has been fighting and war after war leading to destruction of relationships, treaties, families, dynasties, and most of all connections. I think that is what Confucius and Buddha were trying to propagate. In order to live a happy and loving life we have to practice love, compassion, empathy, selflessness, and over all unity with one another. The sooner our species can acknowledge our own faults the easier it will become to come together as a world for the good of all of us. Every country and every person on this planet.

In conclusion, before this millennium, our species went through the same trials and tribulations we go through on a day to day basis. Individuals born in Nepal, Athens, and China all of whom had different values and beliefs than the other, eventually underwent a spiritual revelation spanning across the globe. If Socrates, Confucius, and Buddha had not had to undergo a traumatic life experience we would not have our western philosophies about life due to the fact they all originated overseas. As humans we are also very intelligent, we have the capability to 

learn from past mistakes. We are resilient. We can learn from these great minds of the past, using their ideas and beliefs to make this word a better place for generations to come by focusing on love and happiness not negativity.

Works Cited

Butler, Jeffrey V., et al. “TRUST, VALUES, AND FALSE CONSENSUS.” International Economic Review, vol. 56, no. 3, 2015, pp. 889–915., 

“Genius of the Ancient World.” Genius of the Ancient World, season 1, episode 1-3, BBC Open University Production Centre, 5 Aug. 2015. Hand, Michael. “The Meaning of ‘Spiritual Education’.” Oxford Review of Education, vol. 29, no. 3, 2003, pp. 391–401. JSTOR, 

Heintzman, Paul. “Nature-Based Recreation and Spirituality: A Complex Relationship.” Leisure Sciences, vol. 32, no. 1, Dec. 2009, pp. 72–89. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=s3h&AN=49151820&site=ehost-live.

Janoff-Bulman, Ronnie. “Understanding Reactions to Traumatic Events.” Harvard Mental Health Letter, vol. 14, no. 4, Oct. 1997, p. 8. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=9710143468& site=ehost-live.

Naor, Lia, and Ofra Mayseless. “The Therapeutic Value of Experiencing Spirituality in Nature.” Spirituality in Clinical Practice, July 2019. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/scp0000204.

Newberg, Andrew B., and Mark R. Waldman. “A Neurotheological Approach to Spiritual Awakening.” International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, July 2018, pp. 119–130. EBSCOhost, doi:10.24972/ijts.2018.37.2.119.

Phipps, Kelly A. “Spirituality and Strategic Leadership: The Influence of Spiritual Beliefs on Strategic Decision Making.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 106, no. 2, 2012, pp. 177–189. JSTOR, 

Platon, and C. D. C. Reeve. A Plato Reader: Eight Essential Dialogues. Hackett Pub. Co., 2012. Rant, Robert. “Spirituality and Trauma: An Essay.” Traumatology, vol. 5, no. 1, Mar. 1999. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/153476569900500103.

Scheer, Jillian R., et al. “Self-Reported Mental and Physical Health Symptoms and Potentially Traumatic Events among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Individuals: The Role of Shame.” Psychology of Violence, May 2019. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/vio0000241. 

Tzu, Gary, et al. “Losing My Self in Non-Dual Awakening: A Transpersonal Phenomeno-logical Investigation.” International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction, vol. 13, no. 6, Dec. 2015, pp. 758–775. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11469-015-9564-z.

Walker, Donald F., et al. “Changes in Personal Religion/Spirituality during and after Childhood Abuse: A Review and Synthesis.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, vol. 1, no. 2, 2009, pp. 130–145., doi:10.1037/a0016211.

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