Components of Spiritual Life

Today we are going to talk about the elements in spiritual growth. To understand what the elements in spiritual growth are, we need to understand what we mean by spiritual growth.

There is a lot of misinformation about spirituality in the world today, in modern culture, that causes us to have misconceptions and misunderstandings about things that, unfortunately, we take for granted as “correct,” but can gravely harm our spiritual growth. To understand what spiritual growth means, we need to understand what is “spirit.”

This word spirit in English has been terribly abused, especially in the last one hundred years. Nowadays, no one can give an accurate or consistent definition to the word spirit. We use it for things ranging from the feeling of a certain kind of music or art to descriptions of ghosts and phantoms to discussions of god, and even alcohol (spirits). So, our definition of spirit is very imprecise, and not founded in the ancient, accurate, specific knowledge regarding how to awaken consciousness.

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If we look at what the Gnosis teaches us about spirit, we can look at any of the ancient traditions and the etymologies of the words used for spirit and they all agree.

spirit: mid-13c., “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from O.Fr. espirit, from L. spiritus “soul, courage, vigor, breath,” related to spirare “to breathe,” from PIE *(s)peis- “to blow” (cf. O.C.S. pisto “to play on the flute”). Original usage in English mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the Latin word translates Gk. pneuma and Heb. ruah.

The true meaning of spirit is “animating principle.” So, ultimately, what has given us life?

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The Pneuma and the Psyche as depicted in Genesis, as Ruach Elohim and Adam

The Hebrew word ruach can mean “breath, wind, spirit” and refers to our inner Spirit, or in Christian terms, our “Father.” In Kabbalah, this is related with the sephirah Chesed, and is represented in the Bible by Abraham, the patriarch (“father”) of the tradition.

The equivalent symbol in Hinduism is Atman. Directly translated, Atman means “self,” but refers to our inner spirit, the essence of ourselves, the ultimate sense of where we come from. 

In Buddhism, it is simply the Buddha, “the awakened one.” We are not that, yet.

The Natural Man


So in genuine mysticism when we talk about spiritual growth, we are talking about the emergence of our Innermost. It is the growth of the Being. It is the emergence of the Buddha within us. That Being is not the terrestrial self. We here are what Saint Paul called in his writings the psychikos soma, usually translated as the natural man or the animal man, which is the terrestrial person. The Being, on the other hand, is related to πνευμα pneuma, the spirit.

“There is a ψυχικός [psychikos, psyche] σῶμα [soma, body], and there is a πνευματικός [spiritual] σῶμα [body]. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a ψυχή psychē; the last Adam [was made] a quickening πνεῦμα pneuma [spirit]. Howbeit that [was] not first which is spiritual, but that which is ψυχικός psychikos; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man [is] of the earth, earthy: the second man [is] the Lord from heaven. As [is] the earthy, such [are] they also that are earthy: and as [is] the heavenly, such [are] they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” – Paul, from 1 Corinthians 15

When we talk about spiritual growth, we are not talking about the spiritual “person.” We are talking about the growth of our Innermost, Atman, Chesed, our inner Buddha. 

Real spiritual growth is the empowerment, growth and expansion of our Innermost, and through that growth we as a terrestrial person also benefit. It is a reciprocal relationship. That is why Paul in his writings talked about the relationship between the heavenly man and the earthly man. They are two parts of one being.

Physically, terrestrially, we are what Paul called a “natural” human being, meaning in the natural world, in the physical world with an earthly body, with a physical body. We are in what the Alchemists called the “philosophical earth.” This body is built up out of the earth as it says in the Bible, from the dust of the earth. Our earth houses spiritual attributes or archetypes. 

“And the Spirit of God [Ruach Elohim] moved upon the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:2

“But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

“And יהוה Elohim formed אדם adam [of] the dust of the אדמה ‘adamah [ground], and breathed into his nostrils the נשמה nĕshamah [breath] of life; and man became a נפש חיה [nephesh chaiah, living soul].” – Genesis 2

That spirit or vivifying energy is what gives us life. It is the Ruach [spirit, breath] that causes this body to have existence, life. Our consciousness is an agent of the Innermost. It is an agent of the spirit. It is related to the spirit, but it is not the same thing as the spirit.

So this title “the elements in spiritual growth” really requires that you understand that spirit is the Being, our inner Being, our inner Father, our inner Mother, our inner Buddha, whatever names you want to use. It is that root of our inner experience as a self, as a soul, where our soul comes from: our spirit.

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