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What is individual spiritual practice and collective spiritual practice?

1. Introduction

There are two generic types of spiritual practice:

  1. Individual spiritual practice (vyashṭi): When we use the phrase ‘individual spiritual practice’, we refer to spiritual practice done to augment one’s personal spiritual growth. A typical type of spiritual practice done primarily for individual spiritual growth would be chanting the Name of God or studying a spiritual text. Here only the individual gets the benefit from the practice.
  2. Collective spiritual practice (samashṭi): When we use the phrase ‘collective spiritual practice’, we refer to spiritual practice done to augment other people’s spiritual growth. For example, when seekers volunteer their time and effort to set up lectures in Spirituality it is known as collective spiritual practice.

2. Importance of individual versus collective spiritual practice

In current times, for our spiritual growth collective spiritual practice is 70% important while individual spiritual practice is only 30% important. Hence, to progress spiritually it is important to motivate as many people as possible from society to practice Spirituality. This is service unto the Absolute Truth (satsēvāin the real sense. However for this one needs to increase one’s own spiritual level by paying attention to one’s own individual spiritual practice.

As seekers of God, we need to strike a balance in our efforts between our individual and collective spiritual practice. An analogy of a lamp that is lit will explain the importance of this balance more descriptively.

Analogy of a lamp where the oil is individual and the flame collective spiritual practice

The oil in the lamp represents our individual spiritual practice and the light of the lamp our collective spiritual practice. If the oil is less, the lamp will not give a bright light so the base of our individual spiritual practice needs to be strong, as it gives us the fuel to sustain our collective spiritual practice. (In the case of the lamp, the flame is at the cost of the oil, but collective spiritual practice does not erode our individual spiritual practice. On the contrary it only enhances it.)

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