This paper was presented at the
National Seminar on
Indian Psychology: Theories and Models

SVYASA, Bangalore,
December 26 - 28, 2007



Spirituality is empirical: some insights from the Sikh tradition

Preeti Kapur & Girishwar Misra — Delhi University, Delhi


The quest for the meaning and purpose of human life and its relationship with the world has inspired diverse deliberations. The answer to the question “What is human life made up of?” is often replied in generic and fixed terms. They often constitute an opposition between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ worlds. The latter world follows the physical, body materialism and the former relates to the inner self, consciousness, God, soul, and the spiritual/mystical realm of life. The dichotomies of human existence into categories or binary oppositions such as spirituality vs. materialism, science vs. religion, objective vs. subjective have left in its wake an uneasy coexistence. They convey a message that they are distinct and irreconcilable and unrelated pathways. With the classification of the ‘this’ and ‘that’ life worlds how does one choose his/her path of life, should he remain in ‘this and here’ world, one that is tangible, sustains him bodily and provides a solidity of experience or ‘that other’ world, one that is transcendental, mystical and often difficult to comprehend and attain? In the wake of consumerism, reductionism, physicalism and related moves humanity is at a difficult choice point. The empirical-physicalist view is often found insufficient and people do suffer a variety of pathologies. Viewed against this backdrop the Sikh tradition offers a comprehensive paradigm of conducting human life in which spirituality is not denial of empirical. The earthly existence provides the person with a powerful mode of self-realization. In fact worldly existence leads to myriad ways of interpreting self and the world. Spirituality complements the empirical and helps to manage and adjust. The answers to questions like who we are, and where we stand in the world are treated in such a pragmatic way that allows the pursuit of growth and well being in a holistic manner. According to Sikh thought the Creator and Created, the spiritual and material worlds are interconnected and constitute one entity. These apparently different life ways flow out of each other. Segmentation of human life into two distinct worlds leads to tension, strife and friction within self and between self and others. This paper attempts to show how Sikhism offers a vision of the world in which we come to understand ourselves, our world and each other in a cohesive fashion.

Email the author, Dr. Preeti Kapur, at