A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development. A common metaphor used in the spiritual traditions of the world's great religions is that of walking a path. Therefore, a spiritual practice moves a person along a path towards a goal. The goal is variously referred to as salvation, liberation or union (with God). A person who walks such a path is sometimes referred to as a wayfarer or a pilgrim.
Kavanah is the directing of the heart to achieve higher contemplative thoughts and attain inner strength. Perhaps the most elevated spiritual exercise for a Jew is known as Torah Lishmah, the diligent study of the Torah. Reciting daily prayers (such as the Shema and Amidah), following dietary laws of kashrut, observing Shabbat, fasting, and performing deeds of loving-kindness all assist in maintaining awareness of God. Various Jewish movements throughout history have encouraged a range of other spiritual practices. The Musar movement, for example, encourages a variety of meditations, guided contemplations, and chanting exercises.
In Christianity, spiritual disciplines may include: prayer, fasting, reading through the Christian Bible along with a daily devotional, frequent church attendance, constant partaking of the sacraments, such as the Eucharist, careful observance of the Lord's Day (cf. Sunday Sabbatarianism), making a Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land, visiting and praying at a church, offering daily prayer at one's home altar while kneeling at a prie-dieu, making a Spiritual Communion, Christian monasticism, Bible study, chanting, the use of prayer beads, mortification of the flesh, Christian meditation or contemplative prayer, almsgiving, blessing oneself at their home stoup daily, observing modest fashion, reconciliation, and Lectio Divina.
Spiritual disciplines can also include any combination of the following: chastity, confession, fasting, fellowship, frugality, giving, guidance, hospitality, humility, intimacy, meditation, prayer, Quiet Time, reflection, self-control, servanthood, service, simplicity, singing, slowing, solitude, study, submission, surrender, teaching, and worship.
In the Christian liturgical calendar, there are certain spiritual disciplines that are emphasized during various seasons of the Church Year. For example, in the calendar's first liturgical season, Advent, Christians of many denominations prepare for the arrival of Christmastide by praying through a daily devotional, as well as marking an Advent calendar and lighting an Advent wreath. In Lent, the preparatory season for Eastertide, many Christians (especially Catholics, Methodists and Anglicans) participate in the Friday Fast, pray the Stations of the Cross, mark a Lenten calendar, and make a Lenten sacrifice such as giving up alcohol and practicing teetotalism.
Certain Christian denominations emphasize various spiritual disciplines. Praying the rosary, performing corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, and making acts of reparation are spiritual disciplines that are esteemed in the Catholic Church. In Methodism, the works of mercy and works of piety are indispensable spiritual disciplines with respect to one's sanctification. The Religious Society of Friends (also known as the Quakers) practices silent worship, which is punctuated by vocal ministry. Quakers have little to no creed or doctrine, and so their practices constitute a large portion of their group identity.
A well-known writer on Christian spiritual disciplines, Richard Foster, has emphasized that Christian meditation focuses not of the emptying of the mind or self, but rather on the filling up of the mind or self with God.
Spiritual practice in Islam is practiced within salat (ritual prayer) during which Muslims subdue all thoughts and concentrate solely on Allah, also through other forms of worship activities like fasting, and Hajj. Among many Muslim groups, immersion in spiritual practices is thought of as more noticeable and deep as practiced by Sufis including Dhikr, Muraqaba, and Sama (Sufi whirling).
In Theravada Buddhism, the generic term for spiritual cultivation is bhavana. The Pali word "yoga," central to many early Buddhist texts, has been often translated as "Spiritual Practice." In Burmese Buddhist tradition, Awgatha is a formulaic prayer that is recited to initiate acts of Buddhist devotion, including obeisance to the Buddha and Buddhist monks. In Zen Buddhism, meditation (called zazen), the writing of poetry (especially haiku), painting, calligraphy, flower arranging, the Japanese tea ceremony and the maintenance of Zen gardens are considered to be spiritual practices. The Korean tea ceremony is also considered spiritual.
Tantric practices are shared in common between Hinduism and certain Buddhist (especially Tibetan Buddhist) schools, and involve the deliberate use of the mundane (worldly, physical or material) to access the supramundane (spiritual, energetic or mystical) realms.
Prayer in the Baháʼí Faith, refers to two distinct concepts: obligatory prayer and devotional prayer (general prayer). Both types of prayer are composed of reverent words which are addressed to God, and the act of prayer is one of the most important Baháʼí laws for individual discipline.
Recent and evolving spiritual practices in the West have also explored the integration of aboriginal instruments such as the Didgeridoo, extended chanting as in Kirtan, or other breathwork taken outside of the context of Eastern lineages or spiritual beliefs, such as Quantum Light Breath.
Epicureanism posits that philosophy is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it is a philosophy of life. Epicurean spiritual practices and exercises include meditating on the Tetrapharmakos, the celebration of Eikas, the practice of aponia, and cultivating the proper understanding of the gods and death so as to remove fear.
Stoicism, takes the view that philosophy is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, it is a way of life and discourse involving constant practice and training (e.g., asceticism). Stoic spiritual practices and exercises include contemplation of death and other events that are typically thought negative, training attention to remain in the present moment (similar to some forms of Eastern meditation), daily reflection on everyday problems and possible solutions, keeping a personal journal, and so on. Philosophy for a Stoic is an active process of constant practice and self-reminder.
In the context of his spiritual philosophy Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner gave an extensive set of exercises for spiritual development. Some of these were intended for general use, while others were for certain professions, including teachers, doctors, and priests, or were given to private individuals.
- In Islam Sharia, in Indian religions Marga, in Taoism and Christianity, The Way are examples.
- "The Mussar Way - Soul, Jewish contemplative practices and exercises". The Mussar Institute. Archived from the original on 2012-07-20. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
- "Drink less this Lent". Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. 22 February 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
- Gilbert, Kathy L. (21 February 2012). "Could you go alcohol-free for Lent?". United Methodist News Service. Retrieved 17 March 2019.
- White, James W. (17 March 2014). Brief Christian Histories: Getting a Sense of Our Long Story. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 99. ISBN 9781556352430.
He espoused a "method" of study, prayer, and community by which persons might know "sanctification" before God. Wesley thought that the truly devout could "move on to perfection," an ends ethic idea. The Methodist Book of Discipline with "Rules for Methodist Societies" specified what the ways were: daily reading of the Bible, prayer, feeding the hungry, and visiting the sick and those in prison.
- Foster, Richard J. (1998). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco. ISBN 0-06-062839-1.
- Fronsdal, Gil; Jack Kornfield (2005). The Dhammapada: A New Translation of the Buddhist Classic with Annotations. Shambhala. pp. ix - xix. ISBN 1-59030-380-6.
- Nash, Manning (1963-04-01). "Burmese Buddhism in Everyday Life". American Anthropologist. 65 (2): 285–295. doi:10.1525/aa.1963.65.2.02a00050. ISSN 1548-1433.
- Walbridge, John. "Prayer and worship". Retrieved 2008-04-27 – via Bahá'í Library Online.
- Hatcher, William S.; Martin, J. Douglas (2002). The Baháʼí Faith: The Emerging Global Religion (New & revised ed.). Wilmette, Illinois: Baháʼí Publishing Trust. p. 159. ISBN 1-931847-06-1. Retrieved 2020-10-16 – via Google Books.
- Pilarzyk, Tom (2008). Yoga Beyond Fitness: Getting More Than Exercise from an Ancient Spiritual Practice. Quest Books. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-8356-0863-3.
- Robert A. McDermott, "Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy", in Faivre and Needleman, Modern Esoteric Spirituality, ISBN 0-8245-1444-0, pp. 303ff
- Rudolf Steiner, Verses and Meditations, Rudolf Steiner Press 2005 ISBN 1855841975
- Boylan, Peter W. (December 1999). Aikido as Spiritual Practice in the United States (M. Arts). Western Michigan University.
- Media related to Spiritual practice at Wikimedia Commons