For Wairua Week Ven Nilakant, Associate Professor of Management, shares why he thinks spirituality is relevant for UC staff today.
Spirituality is one of the most misunderstood words today. People confuse it with religion, yoga or meditation. It is none of those. You can be religious without being spiritual; doing yoga or meditating cross-legged doesn’t make you spiritual either. The word refers to the quality of being concerned with the human spirit. The starting point of spirituality are the qualities that make us human.
The triumph of science, technology and free market capitalism has brought about stupendous progress in the last 100 years. Among other things, it has given us abundant food, better health and universal access to education. It has also given us Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In the years to come, it promises driverless cars, machine learning and artificial intelligence. The cost of progress is that we are increasingly losing touch with our humanity. We are consumers. We consume food, medicine, music, movies, sports, TV shows, information, entertainment, education and people. We are increasingly distracted as we go about daily life enslaved to our mobile devices.
Before technology disrupts our lives further, perhaps it is time to pause and reflect on what makes us truly human. Is it the ability to reason or the ability to feel others’ pain? Obviously, it is both. To me, it is these abilities that constitute spirituality. It is connecting with ourselves and connecting with others. That’s why I view spirituality as caring and sharing. Spirituality is going beyond self-interest. To be spiritual is to stop being driven by materialistic values of consumption and competition.
Norman Kirk, the first New Zealand-born Labour Prime Minister, apparently made a pithy observation that everyone needs somewhere to live, something to do, someone to love and something to hope for. It captures the essence of spirituality for me because he didn’t say something to consume. As a spiritual person what should one hope for? I don’t know about you but I hope for a world free of inequality, poverty, exploitation and discrimination. I hope for a world where we treat others as human beings, not as individuals belonging to a race, country, religion, or gender. I hope for a world where we work because we enjoy it, not because it is necessary for our survival.
What can universities do to foster a value-driven life? They can play a significant role in delivering education that is truly transforming. They can teach critical reasoning and caring with compassion. Right now, universities don’t do that. They sell qualifications and credentials. They claim to develop competencies. They strive to make students ‘work-ready’, making them ‘another brick in the wall,’ to paraphrase Pink Floyd.
To be spiritual is to realise that we are inter-connected with each other and with nature. Spirituality is the realisation that the purpose of life has to be more than consumption. To be spiritual is to go against the mainstream of liberal, free-market economy that glorifies consumption. Spirituality is not running away from life took meditation retreats. It is facing life and be willing to transform the world through faith in values. Spirituality is not for the faint-hearted and for those who want life to be comfortable and convenient. It is for people willing to take risks. It is for people who have faith in themselves and in their values. It is for those who have integrity. Ultimately, spirituality is a choice.
Only spirituality can lead to a life worth living and to a world worth living for.