Friday, November 21, 2008

Religion and Spirituality

It has become fashionable to assert that one is not religious, but spiritual. To call oneself spiritual is to assert something positive about oneself. To say that one is religious is to invite charges of fanaticism, divisiveness, fundamentalism, of being regressive and old-fashioned.

To say that one is religious popularly means that one believes in a specific God, in a specific religious establishment and that one belongs to a specific community with a certain heritage and set of rituals.

To say that one is spiritual means, in the popular idiom, that one is a loving, compassionate and accepting person. That one is moral, and that one holds "oneness" and realizing "one's true nature" (i.e. one's divinity) as the goal of one's life.

Religiosity is usually an effect of one's culture or society or upbringing, whereas spirituality is generally an individual quest where one has sought and found (or chosen) a way to evolve spiritually.

To be religious is to believe in a specific God with myths and stories, to be spiritual is to believe in a personal God without those cultural attributes.

To be religious means one is divisive (because one subscribes to an exclusive belief system), whereas to be spiritual (popularly) means that one is trying to realize oneness and act selflessly.

However, let's look at whether these are fundamentally different approaches to life.

Both believe in the supernatural and the mystical.

Both believe in God. The difference is that spirituality calls it the "Truth" or the "One" or the "Universal Consciousness" or my "Being" etc.

Both have an otherworldly goal and consider goals in this world as means to realize that goal.

Both consider matter to be secondary, and spirit or consciousness or soul to be primary.

Both have a concept of good and evil. In spirituality the "evil" is usually termed "Maya", "bad karma", "bad energy", "negative vibes", "ignorance", "darkness", "lower centers", etc.

Both consider people not subscribing to their world-view as living a materialistic, and therefore superficial, life.

Due to their morality and conceptions of good and evil, both have varying degrees of self-righteousness.

Both have one or more distinguished teachers who are considered divine or enlightened. In religions, the teachers are usually long gone. In spirituality, the teachers are either living or existed in the last 200 years.

Spirituality is the "new age" of religion. It is eastern religions described in English prose.

On the other hand, today's Religion is the Spirituality of yore.

As someone said (reference needed), all religions are the same after 200 years of their existence. In their first 50 years, those very corrupt-as-of-this-day religions were the new age, the new dawn of divinity promising salvation to those stuck in the mire of ritual and "blind" belief (as if there is something called enlightened belief).

So much of atrocity has been committed in the name of religion that any well-educated person wishing to feel good about himself or to aggrandize himself (or herself) dares not call himself religious. Instead, even though essentially believing in the same otherworldly entities, he calls himself spiritual. Jsut as Mr Chandar Mohan Jain started calling himself Osho after his chosen holy name "Rajneesh" got mixed up in controversies.

Spirituality is religion without a historical baggage.

Religion is institutionalized spirituality.

The absence of baggage is not something trivial. It is a sign of cultural progress. It is not, however, a sign of philosophical progress.

The philosophical foundation of both world-views is the same. As an analogy, one can be considered a primitive, bare-bones hut; and the other a large government institution with rules, a history of violence and injustice, and a labyrinthine passage to the top. It is the length of their history, and the institutional cementing time inevitably causes that distinguish them from each other, and not the "corruption" of their fundamental thesis.

So the next time you hear a modern Guru proclaim himself to be spiritual and non-religious, it might not be a bad idea to ask him to define "spirituality", and then to ask him in what essential sense is his spirituality different from the spirituality of Jesus, Krishna or the Buddha.


Siddharth Sharma said...

hmm, good analysis but social connotations aside, religious and spiritual are indeed mindsets practiced by different type of minds. I will go by your definitions and assert that the difference between belief in dogmas and being spiritual in the sense of being 'open' and loving is quite significant in practice. It has implications on how the individuals carry themselves day to day, and i'd guess the spiritual openness has a correlation with intellectual openness too.

You've described J Krishnamurti as being spiritual (by your own definition) and that is a correct classification in my opinion.

To drive forth my point, i'll ask you to compare a fundamentalist islamic cleric to Krishnamurti. Nothing 'special' from the absolute or 'actual' viewpoint maybe, but vastly different in psychological and social impact. I think you are very aware of the specifics of these differences.

Sufficient evidence to grant higher 'value' to spirituality.

Harmanjit Singh said...

I agree spirituality is relatively better than religosity in a socio-cultural sense.

Spiritual people are not at all open, they are quite closed to any analytical discussion about their beliefs.

And as for comparing the cleric to Krishnamurti, I posit that Krishnamurti not only lead hundreds and thousands of gullible people into a lifelong confusion and charm of his mystical states, but that he inflicted a lot of humiliation and suffering on people close to him (you may want to read about his friend Rajgopal, his friend David Bohm, Rajgopal's family, etc.)

Or consider Osho or Asaram Bapu.

Spiritual people are not physically violent in general, and that is a good thing.

Siddharth Sharma said...

Well, i will also agree about the fact that spirituality is not very open minded and can potentially degenerate into cultism, but i think its a good starting point to shed some conditioning, which is the exact opposite of religion.

I would defend its 'value' in that sense. Ks ideas had a profound and spontaneous impact on me at a personal level, and did allow an inquiring mind to shine through. It was a slow process and i had lots of interaction with realist intellectuals to keep me grounded.

Can't comment about the charm though. I was never in it for 'states' or to get something, i just happened to need an escape from commonsense reality at that point, and in the long run i think it worked out great.

I would think spiritual practitioners are pretty well placed on the sorrow and malice scale too. Someone like K might have done blatantly harmful things a few times in a lifetime whereas for non spiritual people, personality agendas are regular practices. And there is no doubt that higher points of spirituality are immensely devoid of sorrow.

For those reasons, i have a problem with spirituality and religion being lumped together as the same irrelevant, misguided pursuits.

Harmanjit Singh said...

Having been with spiritual people, and ones called enlightened by everybody else, I intimately know that they were as malicious and manipulative as anybody else (and some were extraordinarily manipulative and duplicitous), only that their sense of morality was very strong so they did not venture into physical harm and rape etc, which a religious fanatic can.

This sense of strong morality and humility can exist in a very religious person as well, e.g. in a devout Mormon, a devout Radhasoami, a saintly Hindu or a Buddhist monk, even though they suffer from the same instincts and sorrows.

My essential point is that spirituality and religiosity are closer cousins than they are made to appear. They are made to appear as opposite ends of the spectrum, as if spirituality is opposed to everything religion stands for.

That is just not so.

Their fundamentals are the same. There can be no spirituality without a "God" and there can be religion without a spiritual saint somewhere in it.

Siddharth Sharma said...

I'll take your observations as valid input. I have not had any contact with spiritual personalities and if anything, i was helped by the literature (K and Vivekananda mainly) to "move towards" objective and impersonal logic. Scientific and logical development is orthogonal (maybe negatively correlated) to spirituality but developing both viewpoints is immensely empowering.

It gives a loosened sense of identity, and an attitude of unattachment to ideas / people / memories. This is a good base to practice rational and impersonal thought. Gives a good left / right brain balance to life.

Thats about all i have to assert as of now

Di said...

I feel this is highly cynical, atheist-point-of-view article. I refuse to believe that all religions become corrupt. I don't believe that religions per se are corrupt. It is the people (abyasis) who are corrupt. I don't think any of the genuine gurus/spiritual-leaders/god incarnations were evil or bad. It is the human interpretation that goes wrong. Also " all religions are the same after 200 years of their existence" is ridiculous. Sanatan dharma doesn't have a beginning and therefore no ending. All other religions have beginning date and scientifically speaking they will all have an end date.

Harmanjit Singh said...

I don't believe that religions per se are corrupt. It is the people (abyasis) who are corrupt.

Di said... the link.

Again, couldn't quite understand the link bet. your blog and the actual freedom link.

I cannot understand the actual freedom mumbo-jumbo.

If I have to spend time in understanding something complex, with very limited time I have, I wll take a shot at "sanatan dharma" which has evolved over 1000s of years instead of some new fangled stuff. So why waste my time....