How is Spirituality Different From Religion?

As far as appearances are concerned, it is difficult to distinguish a spiritual person from a religious one at first glance. Like a Christian, a spiritual person can attend Sunday masses, read the Bible everyday and pray before each meal. Superficially they may seem identical. But underneath there are some crucial differences.

Every one of us happens to know someone who will never go to a mosque or a synagogue because his or her religion prohibits it. We also happen to come across many people who will not think the second time before bowing in front a Hindu god or goddess or meditate in a Buddhist monastery. Yet, you can see both of them during the Sunday mass in your local church. What is the difference?

To me the big difference is: Religion divides, spirituality unites.

Spirituality: Sanskrit was an elite language during Buddha’s time. But to spread his message to the common people, he spoke and wrote in Pali and Prakrits. He did not want to impress anyone. His goal was to share truth. So he went against the tradition of the time and avoided Sanskrit. That was spirituality.

Religion: Instead of learning from his example, many religious Buddhists continue to recite his mantras in Pali, Prakrit or Classical Chinese. None of the languages is readily comprehensible to most of the world’s Buddhists. As a result, Buddha’s message is lost somewhere in the race to maintain outward appearances. That’s religion.

A closer-to-home case can be made for forcing the people to read the Bible in Latin instead of English. Latin words may impress others, but if we do not speak the Romans’ language, it will not leave an impression on the spirit.

It is more spiritual to read the Bible in English. Do not interpret my words in the wrong way. I am not against Latin. All I am saying is that uttering in-compressible verses in an old language will not make you more spiritual, although it may turn you more religious in other people’s eyes.

Kahlil Gibran beautifully sums up the difference between religion and spiritually in this verse in The Prophet.

“Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”

Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself like a lotus of countless petals.

To sum up, a Christian can be against other faiths. But a spiritual person knows that other traditions can be equally valid and it does not shake or negate his or her belief in the Christ.

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