How does religion differ from spirituality?

by Chaitanya CharanFebruary 11, 2012

From: Revati

How does religion differ from spirituality?

Transcription (edited) by-  Shalini Ahluwalia

Question- How does religion differ from spirituality?

Answer (short) –

  • Spirituality is anything that is connected with the soul, God, their spiritual relationship, and how to revive that relationship. Spirituality has two branches – philosophy and religion.
  • Religion refers to those activities that help one to connect with higher spiritual reality. Example of one such activity is praying.
  • Analogy of science can be given to understand the concept of spirituality. Like spirituality, science also has two wings – theory and experiment. In science, we read theory and understand it practically by doing experiments. Similarly in spirituality, we read the philosophy and experience it practically by doing certain religious activities.

Answer (long)-There are no precise definitions or equivalents of the words ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ in Sanskrit. Therefore we do not have any standard understanding that we can co-relate between these English words and Sanskrit concepts. But I will answer based on the general way in which these words are used today.  Spirituality, as the word indicates, is that which is connected with the spirit, the soul and God who are all realities existing in the spiritual realm. Spirituality refers to those processes, those schools of thought and actions that help one to come to the spiritual realm.

Many people in modern times think of spiritual as anything that makes them feel good – ‘I went to the mountainside resort, it is a very spiritual place, why, because it made me feel good.’ That is not spiritual. The Bhagavad Gita explains clearly that spiritual knowledge begins with understanding that we are not the body we are the soul. So spirituality is the whole realm connected with spirit – soul, God, their spiritual relationship, and how that relationship can be revived.

Religion on the other hand refers to those activities that help one to connect with the higher spiritual reality. For example the concept of praying is universal and it can be spiritual. These activities could be expressed differently in different religions. The Hindus may pray by folding their hands, the Muslims may pray by raising their hands, the Christians may pray by moving their hands in front of their face and chest in mass.

Philosophy and religion are like the two wings of spirituality. Just as theory and experiment are the two wings of science. Law of gravity proposes that every particle of matter attracts every other particle of matter with a force that is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distances between them. This is the theory aspect. Experiment is that which proves or disproves the theory. One experiment to prove law of gravity is that I drop a stone from my hand and it falls down on the ground. So just as in science there are two aspects – theory and experiment, similarly, in spirituality there are two aspects- philosophy and religion. For example, philosophy tells us we are not the body, we are the soul. And the soul can experience its highest happiness in relationship with Krishna in devotional love. The religion gives us practical means and methods by which we can either confirm or disconfirm this particular proposition of philosophy. Philosophy tells us to experience non-material happiness by chanting sounds like the Hare Krishna mahamantra and after we chant these sounds and then we check out for ourselves if it makes me happy. When we experience a higher happiness through the chanting of sacred sound vibrations then we start understanding what the philosophy is saying is true. Therefore spirituality is the broad branch of human knowledge or human awareness and it has two sub-branches – philosophy and religion.

Nowadays it is fashionable to say – ‘I am spiritual but I am not religious’. While this may appear non-sectarian but if one does not have some method by which to gain spiritual realization then the statement is equivalent to saying that I am scientific but I am not experimental. Without experiment, science just remains in the realm of unverified speculations. Similarly, spirituality without some form of religious expression remains just theoretical, hypothetical philosophy.

We need not become sectarian by saying that our particular religion is the only true religion. We should understand that spiritual truths can be realized in different ways and various religions are different ways to realize those spiritual truths. Just as the principle of gravity can be verified not just by dropping a stone down, it can be verified by dropping a metal piece or fruit also. The variety of ways in which we can conceive experiments to go deeper into the understanding of gravity are like the variety of religions which offer us different ways, different methodologies, to confirm, to get deeper understanding of the spiritual realm. The Rig veda says – ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti. There is one truth just that it is called by different names. There can be different religions but there is only one spiritual realm that is to be achieved by different religions.

To summarize, spirituality is the branch of human knowledge and awareness which deals with the spirit soul, the Supreme spirit God and their spiritual relationship. Religion comprises of the practical means by which one can experience and experientially verify the existence of the ecstasy that is available in this spiritual realm.

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Chaitanya Charan

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