Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Religion is not necessary but spirituality is

I first heard a similar line when I watched a movie on television some years ago. The details are fuzzy, but I remember the protagonist asking a mysterious character, who was meditating, whether he was religious. The latter replied that he was not. Rather, he said was spiritual and went on to elaborate how the two were different.

I never knew then that the same idea about the two being separate and distinct would return to haunt my future. I thought this concept belonged to the beatnik and hippie generations in the United States. Never did I expect it to show up here!

Thankfully, those of my age group (I’d say 13-23) are free of this erroneous thought. Most are attached to a religion, though I’d hesitate to describe some of them as ‘organised’. This concept afflicts the mindsets of the previous generation – young adults in their late 20s to early 30s.

My experience has shown me that whenever a popular (usually handsome) young teacher is asked which faith he belongs to, he’d (almost always) give one of two possible answers 1) that he’s not religious, but spiritual or 2) that he doesn’t believe in any religion because they’re all corrupted, hypocritical, etc. I heard option 2 spouted as recently as some months ago.

Curious to know what this “spirituality” so many spoke of, I delved into various (unhealthy) web sites in the name of research. The general consensus between the diverse web sites of the term is that many “spiritual paths” exist in this universe and that there is no objective truth about which is the best one to follow. Many emphasise on the importance of finding one’s own path rather than following one that people say works. It is not a religion – it is the vital connection to one’s soul, sense of the deep self, etc.

I would beg to differ. Spirituality is not reason-oriented as many adherents so nicely describe it. Spirituality is self-oriented – “I want to seek the truth on my terms; I don’t want to listen to anybody else”. Spiritual practitioners (if I may term them as such) are hardly connected to the world. They reject organised religion because of the rampant corruption and oppression that the hierarchy rains down upon the faithful. Some think that believers of organised religions are either brainwashed minions of the hierarchy, coerced to remain, or simply lack the level of experience/education to understand better.

Taking the cue, many religions either have been invented or have been re-invented to cater to the burgeoning demand for a “spiritual” faith – e.g. Christian Science, Charismatic Christianity, Neo-Confucianism, Pentecostalism, Kabala, Hare Krishna, Neo-Paganism, etc.

At the end of the day, the corrupt understanding of “spirituality” is not about seeking one’s purpose in the universe – it’s about feeling good. One can eschew all the commitments (i.e. obedience, charity, time for worship, etc) that religions would customarily demand and yet claim to have a connection with the supernatural at the same time. Now, if one had surrendered all worldly possessions and lived for some years in the desert/mountains/caves as a hermit, I could take their word for it – but those who have made such claims to me happen to be the very same folk who are terrified of commitment and yet desire to feel secure about the afterlife – they’re either heading to heaven, there is no hell, there is no afterlife, etc. Reminds me of someone who’s in a relationship for sex/money and not love.

It’s more than a belief, I hear some call out:
Spirituality is living life at a depth of newness and gratitude, courage and creativity, trust and letting go, compassion and justice!

Gosh, what innovative ideas! Why didn't we hear this kind of brilliance before? Why haven't we been hearing about it for forty... long... tedious... years?

More on spirituality and religion soon - comments/questions are welcome


At 10:46 PM, Blogger Acyuta Dasa said...

I think what you're referring to (somewhat) indirectly can be dubbed "new age philosophy". It's only natural that people feel a need in their lives for something beyond the empty materialistic pursuits of the rat race, but because they have either been disappointed by "organized religion" or because they would prefer not to sacrifice the "perks" of materialistic life for serious spiritual pursuits they gravitate towards these wishy-washy and hodge-podge so-called "spiritual paths".

The real problem, as it appears to me, is not only a preference for the spiritual and dismissal of the religious, but rather that few people have any idea what they mean by spiritual. Furthermore, their definition of religion is infected by the same materialism that ruins their spiritual pursuits.

Actually the opposition is not between “spiritual” and “religious”, but rather between spiritual and material. The things that most people do in the name of “spirituality” are little more than sensual engagements meant to make them feel better about their awkward position in this dualistic material world; “follow your bliss” is a commonly overheard new age catch phrase. But the pleasures of the body are just as temporary as the body itself, the best hot stone massage may make you feel a little more “centered” but it does nothing for the well-being of your eternal soul.

Here’s the crux of the biscuit, so to speak: material things are temporary, whereas spiritual things are eternal. Your house, your car, your occupation, even your body, your family, your nationality, gender, and skin color are all material, and therefore temporary. When this short life comes to an abrupt close, those things – and the pleasures they bring to you – will come to an equally abrupt end.

On the other hand, your soul is eternal. As the source of everything in (and beyond) creation, both material and spiritual, God is also eternal. There exists between these eternal, spiritual entities, an eternal spiritual relationship of servant to Master, lover to Beloved. Real spirituality is to address that relationship and to act on the platform of that eternal, spiritual reality, eschewing the attractions of this temporary material world.

However, just as we should be wary of persons with impure motivations preaching their own brand of “spirituality”, we should be equally as suspicious of materially motivated religiosity. There should be no doubt that true religion comes directly from the Supreme Lord. As it is said in the Vedas: dharmam tu saksad bhagavat pranitam; religious principles are directly enunciated by God. As such, true religion is aimed at the eternal relationship between God and the individual souls, but unfortunately religion is more frequently characterized by going to God for the fulfillment of materialistic desires. God becomes merely an errand-boy, providing food and shelter, a new car, a nice house, or a good wife or husband.

It is in light of this common mistake that Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-Gita: Abandon all varieties of (materialistic) religion, and just surrender unto Me. If we want a truly spiritual life, there is only one religious principle, to fully surrender our thoughts, words, and actions unto the will of God.
Long and rambling, no doubt, but I hope there was something of interest here nonetheless. But who knows, maybe not. After all, as a Hare Krishna, I am just a member of one of those “religions [that] either have been invented or have been re-invented to cater to the burgeoning demand for a ‘spiritual’ faith.” ;)

God bless. Hare Krishna.

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blogging on spirituality the theosophy and the spirituality are the common things for self enlightment and to know the self.
Theosophical teachings , Articles, theosophy definition by HP Blavatsky, Raghavan Iyer, William Q. Judge, Robert Crosbie, The Secret Doctrine , Isis Unveiled


Post a Comment

<< Home