What’s the difference between spirituality and religion? Religion is about a belief system. Evangelicals, Baptists, Catholics, Muslims, etc., share a set of thoughts they believe as the sole truth. Unless you think as they do, you are wrong. Not so long ago, and still in some parts of the globe, these religious people felt (feel) justified in killing you for your “wrong” views.
Spirituality is about rising above our identification with form and fast-held beliefs. It’s about defying the gravitational pull of ideologies and the conditioned mind structure. Spirituality is about transcending our thoughts. It’s the recognition that when we are in harmony with reality, living in the present moment, we have risen above hate and connected with peace.
Madness dominates human history, people killing each other for power and wealth. History books document our unconsciousness. Institutions, political and religious, suppressed mavericks who spoke of loving and looking out for our neighbors. In the West, the most mind-dominated of all cultures, the Christian Church gave itself a virtual license to ban talks and books that the Church had not sanctioned.
The possibility of spiritual transformation was the central message of Buddha, Jesus, and others. But their message was distorted and misunderstood. In most of history, people spent their days finding food and shelter, so the messages about changing your state of consciousness never took hold beyond small pockets of people until the sixties.
On the West Coast of the United States, young people rejected society’s imposed roles on them. Parallel to the hippie movement that would spread around the Western world, they witnessed the atrocities caused by the Vietnam War. Eckhart Tolle writes, “The hippie movement represented a loosening of the hitherto rigid egoic structures in the psyche of humanity.” Although the movement ended, it opened the door for Eastern wisdom and spirituality to the West, a vital element in the awakening of humanity.
Spirituality is about awareness of knowing yourself, how you interact with others. Do your attitudes and words differ when you speak to a homeless person and your doctor? How do you talk to your child, the janitor, or the CEO of your company? We slip into roles, conditioned patterns of behavior that determine the quality of our interactions. Mental pictures followed by judgments impede authentic human interactions. How identified we are with our thoughts, the greater the ego’s interference. Fear and judgments are roadblocks to our highest self.
A Zen teacher and monk presided at a nobleman’s funeral. As he watched the lords and ladies arrive, he noticed the palms of his hands were sweaty. The following day he told his disciples he was not ready to be a true teacher. He could not see all beings, whether beggars or kings, as the same.
Spirituality realization is to see that your perceptions and experiences are not who you are. You are beyond your thoughts, the indescribable essence within. We don’t have the words to describe the aware entity that is our true self. The central point of Buddha’s teaching is “no self, no problem.” Jesus said, “deny thyself,” undo the illusion of self. Our most revered spiritual leaders give us hints and pointers to discover ourselves.
May I see you as you are; may you see me as I am.
Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening Your Life’s Purpose
Pema Chödrön, Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World
Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself