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IMGCA Article - Sports and Spirituality


Sports And Spirituality

Richard Pettinger

In the hoary past Indian Sages perhaps neglected the body in their pursuit of God. They felt the supreme necessity of renouncing the world, including all physical comforts. However in the West, this life of asceticism is not appropriate, there is no reason to equate spirituality with rigid asceticism. Physical fitness is of great importance in the spiritual life. The body is like a temple which houses our soul, by keeping the body fit we give the best circumstances for the Soul's light to come to the fore. If we are plagued with physical ailments, meditation and a life of prayer is more difficult.

When we engage in sports like running we help our body shake off lethargy and infuse it with life spirit. Running also helps to clear the mind from our usual thought patterns. This is very refreshing and is good preparation for real meditation where we try to remove all thoughts completely. It is also helpful to meditate before running. If we get discouraging thoughts whilst running long distances, we can use the poise of our meditation to overcome these obstacles.

Also through running or other sports we can give ourselves the opportunity to practise self transcendence, going beyond our previous limitations. Self transcendence is not competing with others but with ourselves, and by stretching our capacities we can get tremendous inspiration. The mind likes to set limits on our capacities but by being in harmony with our self these limits can be surpassed.

Great saints and adepts have shown that we are more than the body and that ultimately the source for physical energy is a spiritual source. If we remain in the body consciousness we cannot be aware of this, however through prayer and meditation we can become more conscious of this inner strength. This spiritual energy allows us to go beyond the limitations of the mind. If we can tap into this stream of inspiration our body will be surcharged with dynamic energy and enable us to go beyond our preconceived ideas of what is possible.

The self transcendence we gain from sports is symbolic of the inner journey of ourselves. Through practising spirituality we can expand our consciousness and become more aware of our higher selves, in deep meditation we can become aware of the all pervading infinite consciousness; this consciousness is not static but constantly self transcending itself. In meditation there is no end to our journey of self discovery, unlike the physical where our progress has to come to an end at some time.

Sports can give us joy, but if winning is our only objective we are destined to be disappointed because at sometime we will fail to be victorious. Real Happiness comes not through separation but identifying ourselves with the winner. The best approach from a spiritual point of view is to do our best and then leave the result at the feet of the Supreme. Sri Chinmoy says:

"From the highest point of view, the goal is not to defeat anybody but only to compete with ourselves. When we compete with others, we are never happy. Today I may defeat someone in running, but tomorrow I will look around and see that there is somebody who is far better than I. Our goal is to do our very best and try all the time to compete only with ourselves. But whatever the result, we have to accept it cheerfully. We will do our best and then, whatever result God wants us to have, we will accept."

Sri Chinmoy is a spiritual teacher who gives great value to the importance of physical exercise. In his youth he was a champion sprinter at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. On coming to the West he took part in several marathons and ultramarathons. Now aged 74 he is still breaking his own records for lifting various heavy weights. See videos on He keeps lifting to inspire others, especially older people. Sri Chinmoy's philosophy is "never give up" and that "age is not a barrier."

Finally sports offers a great opportunity for bringing unity between different countries. Sport has the capacity to transcend political barriers. If played in the right spirit sports can offer the chance for increased friendship between the different countries of the world. In particular the Olympics is one of humanity's flagship opportunities to show we all belong to one world-family. Thus sports can play a vital role in bringing about greater world harmony.

Richard Pettinger is an economics teacher in Oxford. He is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre and also competes in UK cycling races. His site is

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