I am from India and hence, I am little aware of Western ways thinking with respect to Spiritual matters.

I would like to clarify that the Spiritual that I am referring to is

an individual practice, and has to do with (i) understanding the purpose of life, vis-à-vis the Concept of God and (ii) having a sense of peace.

For example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi

I know that the terms Spiritual and Philosophy may be understood and used in different perspectives in different regions under the influence of different set of customs/thinking.

So I am interested to learn about Western ways of thinking/practices with respect to spirituality.

Answers may or not be supported by links to any reference material.

Thanks in advance.

  • 3
    Yes, there is a streak of Western philosophy that can be called "spiritual". Neo-Platonists, Christian mystics, and German romantics are examples. A modern umbrella term is perennial philosophy.
    – Conifold
    Jun 1, 2019 at 7:41
  • Thanks for the information provided. I will read their material. Hope their material is available online. @Conifold. Jun 1, 2019 at 8:44
  • The problem is that the Perennial philosophy is usually considered the main opponent of Russell's 'western' philosophy. Mysticism is found in the West, of course, but those like Russell and McGinn are careful to exclude it from what they call the Western tradition.of thought. Thus there is almost no understanding of Indian religion in modern Western philosophy and a more or less blanket rejection of it.
    – user20253
    Jun 3, 2019 at 13:46
  • @PeterJ: The prerequisite for understanding the God is getting rid of EGO. Without trying to get rid of EGO, one cannot invite new ideas with open mindedness. It is like throwing out stagnated water in a container and filling up it with fresh water. Dr. Paul Brunton (goodreads.com/book/show/1439770.A_Search_In_Secret_India ) kept aside his EGO and interacted with Sri Ramana Maharshi to understand HIMSELF. Jun 3, 2019 at 14:20
  • @srimannarayanakv - I couldn't agree more, (except that I wouldn't use the word 'God'.) I conclude that the 'spiritual' aspect is of no interest to stereotypical Western philosophers. I have never talked to or read an Anglo/American professor of philosophy who grasps what Ramana Maharshi or Lao Tsu is talking about. I consider it an academic scandal.
    – user20253
    Jun 4, 2019 at 9:49

3 Answers 3


One place to look for spiritual practices defined as

an individual practice, and has to do with (i) understanding the purpose of life, vis-à-vis the Concept of God and (ii) having a sense of peace.

would be Rupert Sheldrake's Science and Spiritual Practices. Sheldrake provides a survey of spiritual practices and a scientific justification for their value.

Aldous Huxley provides a collection of quotes from various sources illustrating the Perennial Philosophy. Some of these sources are Western. (page 1)

PHILOSOPHIA PERENNIS - the phrase was coined by Leibniz; but the thing - the metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds; the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to, or even identical with, divine Reality; the ethic that places man's final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all being - the thing is immemorial and universal.

These views would coincide with those of Ramana Maharshi. Wikipedia says that he:

recommended self-enquiry as the principal means to remove ignorance and abide in Self-awareness,[web 2][10] together with bhakti (devotion) or surrender to the Self.

There are two ways to criticize this spirituality without completely rejecting its value.

  1. C. S. Lewis, a Christian writer, would view this spirituality as (page 100)

congenial to our minds not because it is the final stage in a slow process of enlightenment, but because it is almost as old as we are.

Lewis wants more from spirituality . He not only wants "what man says about God, but what God does about man" (page 101). This doing involves historical involvement made evident through miracles. If the spirituality does not allow for such doings, such miracles, then Lewis would consider it a primitive form of what he calls "Pantheism".

  1. An atheistic or naturalistic criticism of this spirituality might be that it is delusional regardless of any health benefits, or other benefits that Sheldrake mentions, that might accrue to those engaging in these practices.

One might assume that this spirituality in the West is as strong as it is in the India. In the West there are also two criticisms of it coming from Judeo-Christianity and atheistic naturalism.

Lewis, C. S. (1947). Miracles; a preliminary study. Retrieved on June 3, 2019 from Internet Archive.

Huxley, A. (1947). The perennial philosophy. Chatto and Windus, London. Retrieved on June 3, 2019 from Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/perennialphilosp035505mbp/page/n11

  • What I was trying to tell the OP and hopefully you will understand : "Ramana Maharshi" and "spiritual practice" are antithetical. Some egs. of his‹1› That guru who recommends practices is Brahma (creator) and Yama (death) to disciple since he perpetuates the birth-death cycle ‹2› Trying to remove the ego is like "thief-turned-policeman-to-catch-thief" ‹3› I do not teach yoga (practices) but jnana (understanding) ‹4› Yoga is "moon-path", jnana is the "sun-path" (vide Upanishad statement: Those who go to the moon on death return. Those who go to the sun are liberated from their bonds)
    – Rushi
    Jun 4, 2019 at 3:26
  • @Rusi I suspect from C. S. Lewis's position Ramana Maharshi is more of the "pantheism" he rejects. Huxley at the beginning of his book describes three types of perennial philosophy. One of them is a "jnana" or path of understanding. I think it might be convenient to lump all the spiritual practices under a perennial philosophy's practice. These may vary. Sheldrake shows that these practices have value for those practicing them, but Lewis would claim there is more going on. I am not sure this answered your comment. Jun 4, 2019 at 13:43

This may seem tangential, but the notion of spirit is of quite singular importance in the speculative philosophy of the enlightenment and “after” (Kant and Hegel perhaps might be touchstones), and is in this period anyway connected to cosmic and transcendental concerns in a way not entirely alien to the conceptual structures of eastern philosophies. I would draw attention here maybe to Hegel in particular whose Phenomenology of Spirit is of major importance in the way the West, so to speak, would come to understand the “meaning” of the enlightenment, and of science in particular as a distinct mode of thinking (with its formal approach to concepts and commitment to relentless experimentation on the structure of experience) that nevertheless is a progression of the same unfolding of the mind as in earlier modes of cognition. Perhaps more obliquely: spirit is present in the world as language, which is already a logical-inferential system of computation and modeling; the use of an artificial language is the material evidence of mind, a being caught up in its own self-conception and self-transformation.

This gloss is drawn largely from Negarestani’s Intelligence and Spirit (Urbanomic) which may be interesting for more on this idea of what geistig, spirit and “mindedness” might mean for all of us.

  • Yes words like spirit(ual) are v important. And v v difficult in cross-cultural communication😈. Here is an entertaining dialog between Dawkins and an Indian that touches on spirit nature and much else.
    – Rushi
    Jun 2, 2019 at 16:37
  • Thanks for sharing your ideas. Whether East or West the concept of SPIRITUALITY is the same. The only difference being the people in the Eastern hemisphere of the Globe are accustomed to the concepts of Abstract words like SPIRITUALITY, STILLNESS OF MIND, ABSOLUTE BLISS, etc, right from their childhood, though many of us may not actually REALISE the meaning of those Abstract words:-). @Joseph Weissman Jun 3, 2019 at 0:22
  • While going through the article on Hegel, I had learnt about Jakob Böhme, whose short sketch in Wikipedia is quite interesting. Good to learn that there were some people in the Western hemisphere of our Globe, who probed into the unknown path. @Joseph Weissman Jun 3, 2019 at 0:59

A good question... But almost unanswerable

For example take the word "western". Does it have a definite meaning?

Some reasons to be sceptical...

Take the word "rational" as used by Plato It has strong connotations of mystical/spiritual elements (Look up theory of forms, allegory of cave and compare to Vedanta)

Now take this same word "rational" and see how Richard Dawkins (or most mainstream western philosophers of the last century) use it. You will find its diametrically opposite ie rational means non-spiritual non-mystical. Whose definition is the western definition?

So much for the ambiguities around "western" "rational" etc

What exactly does "spiritual" mean is an even harder question



you may find useful in your search for spirituality in western philosophy.


  1. Plato
  2. Plotinus
  3. Meister Eckhart


  1. Bernardo kastrup
  2. Rupert sheldrake

Added later

  1. Centering prayer

  2. Thomas Merton

  3. Alan Watts

  • Thanks for responding. Your answer some information and I I will study their ideas. However, Spiritual that I am referring to is "an individual practice, and has to do with (i) understanding the purpose of life, vis-à-vis the Concept of God and (ii) having a sense of peace. Can you supplement your answer in that line? Jun 1, 2019 at 7:18
  • There is nothing to delete according to SPIRITUAL ideas. Everything that I mentioned will finally merge into SPIRITUALITY. I am interested in knowing, if any saint old/modern era, from Western part of the World, had postulated/practiced SPIRITUAL ideas in those lines. According to my understanding Jesus did that. I want to know about anyone other than Jesus.@Rusi Jun 1, 2019 at 11:46
  • Your notion of spirituality (=practice) is rather nonstandard so let's drop that for now. And let's see... What are you interested in??? It seems 1. Peace 2. God 3. Western philosophy 4. Ramana maharshi. Now will you order these? Better still delete 3 and focus on the one that matters most. Then an answer will emerge. Of course it may also emerge that your question is then more suited to some other site (eg a yoga question in Hinduism SE) But that's ok, someone will be kind enough to give you a pointer
    – Rushi
    Jun 1, 2019 at 11:47
  • @Conifold has given some links. I'll add centering prayer of fr Thomas keating
    – Rushi
    Jun 1, 2019 at 11:53
  • I have gone through the article. Thanks for sharing. It appears to follow Buddhist way of Meditation - Vipassanā or vipaśyanā. Once again thanks for sharing.@Rusi. Jun 1, 2019 at 12:04

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