What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
Many people are totally confused about this.
Religion literally means binding back. On the whole, being religious means binding oneself to a learned cultural pattern that is founded on the efforts of believers in some set of revealed truths. Religions provide a rather poor quality ready-made moral compass based on a set of conditions that no longer exists the moment it is formulated.
All religions started with and have spirituality at their root, but in all cases, the transformation into a “marketable product” reduces the freedom inherent in the founder’s spiritual insight.
Real spirituality is liberating. Rather than being based on a report of how reality works, spirituality is based on experiencing the world through a lens of understanding that, ultimately, everything is connected and interdependent.
Real spirituality provides the only reliable moral compass.
The person who is spiritually motivated understands that they can never insulate themselves from the pain of others, no matter how far away. The person following a real moral compass may wander or “tack.” This is a necessary consequence of the spiritual aspect of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
In both the Old and New Testaments, a criterion is provided for those who wish to be able to distinguish between real and false prophets.
“Know them by their fruit.”
What is fruit in this sense?
The effects of the prophet’s teachings.
Do the teachings uplift and liberate humanity, or hold us back to the old patterns of the extremely uneven division of resources that came with “civilization”?
Real spirituality bears sweet FRUIT, when evaluated in the most inclusive frame of reference imaginable.
People who are predominantly spiritual in outlook eschew belief in favor of personal experience. Real spirituality encourages us to go beyond whatever world we find ourselves in. Real spirituality challenges us to recognize the world beyond our senses (or technologically enhanced senses.)
BUT real spirituality does not require a belief in a separate spiritual world. Real spirituality provides a continually enriched understanding of what reality is.
As a certain spiritual master is said to have taught: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.
A way to look at that teaching is to realize that every “great truth” has “great lies” associated with it. Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize winning physicist said something to the effect that:
The opposite of a great truth is another great truth. The opposite of a mundane truth is a lie.
Swami Vivekananda said that all religions are true. Swami Vivekananda gave his CRITERION for that statement. His criterion was that all religions have women and men who rise to the most exalted levels of serving humanity.
And Swami Vivekananda called out the falsehoods of the so-called religious, those who teach intolerance and persecution of the other. He rightly called out the falsehoods of those who even confine themselves to promoting any uncharitable feelings toward their fellow humans.
The way many established religions promote ideas of specialness (holy or sinful) has as its inevitable consequence the promotion of uncharitable feelings toward others. Uncharitable feelings toward others are the most important fertilizer of discord in the multi-cultural society that prevails over the face of the earth.
As Rabbi Akiva said: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.
This teaching can only have its intended uplifting “fruit” if we understand that it refers to the visible world, as well as the “spiritual world.” This is the best of spiritually guided religion. Akiva used his spiritual understanding of the unity of humanity to call humans to respect each others’ rights to exist. The founding fathers of the USA also gave voice to this idea, even if they did not back it up.
What about atheists? They have the advantage of not teaching their kids that their non-conforming neighbors are going to hell.
The problem with many vocal atheists is that they are so dogmatically atheistic. Richard Dawkins, for example, who wrote Consciousness Explained, has been justifiably mocked as having written “Consciousness, Explained Away.”
Dogmatic atheists could be lumped in with Fundamentalists, into an overarching group called “Certaintists.” Where does faith leave off and false certainty take over?