Religious or Spiritual? The fundamental difference between them

By - Abhudai Pal

Kabir, Mirabai, Gautam Buddha, Guru Nanak, Rumi, and many other mystics of the same ilk.

Whenever their name surfaces my mind. I wonder whether they were religious or spiritual? 

Meditating Buddha (Pic credit - Unsplash.com)

Contemplating a lot, I arrived at the conclusion that calling them religious, isn’t justified. As their wisdom is for the entire mankind, irrespective of a person’s caste, creed, color, religion, race, mother tongue, and place of birth.

The wisdom, they showered, is mentioned in various religious texts, in different forms.  What has changed with wisdom is word/medium/language, in which it is explained. What remains constant is the message of love towards fellow human beings, compassion for animals, be more giving, be helpful, finding your ultimate truth, etc.

None of them were intolerant, irresolute, lethargic, irrational or unconvinced, about their outlook of the world, and their own life. They promoted love for all, and forgiveness for enemies. 

The common contribution of these mystics was to inspire others to think and understand the meaning and purpose of life so they free themselves from the vicious cycle of birth and death.  They asserted that the purpose of life is the attainment of the “Moksha”. 

Their magnanimous nature and liberal approach, arouse my curiosity that they must not be religious, taking into account what religion had done to our society. I prefer to call them spiritual.

According to Wikipedia, Spiritualism is another school/thought of religion which talks and deals about spirits, before and the afterlife philosophies. No knowledge fight with Wikipedia, but I found their definition unsatisfactory. 

I believe that spiritualism and religion are different and the former isn’t the subsidiary of the latter. 

Religion and Symbolism 

My personal observations are that religion is attached to symbols. For instance - A Hindu applies tilak on his forehead to showcase his Hinduness, a Muslim wears a skullcap to claim his identity, a Christian wears a cross to display his religious beliefs, etc. 

It intrigues me if wearing them reveals their degree of association with their respective Gods. Sadly, it doesn’t. But if a person, not necessarily carrying any of them, is more loving and forgiving. Then, Isn’t he/she closer to the Almighty?

Symbols associated with religion are neutral, they are neither good nor bad. They are attached to convey a thought. For eg – When I say apple, your mind thinks of a fruit with seeds found inside it, good for health, rich in iron, etc. 

But, if I say apple, and give you mango. Would you be convinced that it is an apple? No, because you have eaten apple,  touched it, and know how it tastes. And apple all over the world remains an Apple, with different names, but its taste, touch, fragrance stays the same which are its real component, not the name “Apple”. 

Apples (Pic credit - unsplash.com)

Similarly, the customs in different religions are designed to bring you closer to God so you can sense and understand his presence in your life. But, instead of feeling his presence, the majority of the theists are trapped in the name “APPLE”, rather than focusing on taste, touch, and fragrance of apple, which makes it delicious. 

For eg – Theist fought claiming, this holy book is superior to another, proclaiming this verse/mantra, etc is the greatest without ever making a conscious effort to understand the message of the holy book and the verses.

While a spiritual person focuses on the meaning that is conveyed through various means in religion and doesn't get trapped in it. 

Religion and Rituals 

I think religion is a way of doing things. Like, What ceremonies will take on a person’s birth, marriage, and death? And the existence of festivals according to one's religion. Like Hindu’s main festivals are Holi and Diwali, while Christmas is a religious festival of Christians. 

What is the purpose of festivals? Festivals are occasion, where all family members are supposed to unite, celebrate, and spend good time. But, festivals are portrayed as an integral part of religion, while its main purpose of spending good time with kith and kins is forgotten. 

If you are a spiritual person, in the upcoming festival focus on meeting your kith and kins. Then, if time allows, worship your GOD. That will rejuvenate your mood and make your festival reminiscent. 

Religion and Liberty 

The word “religious liberty” is an oxymoron. If you are honest with yourself, you had to agree that religion fixes a person. You have to do a particular thing in a certain way, else Lord will curse you.

I always wonder that Is the Almighty so free that he doesn’t want his children to experiment with existing ways? 

For eg –  If a Christian groom, marries a Muslim bride. Both decided to marry twice on a consecutive day in Christian and Muslim ways, to fulfill their families' wishes. Will the Almighty curse them for marrying against their religious way?  Mine almighty won’t!

Marriage ceremony (Pic credit - unsplash.com)

And, Is there a validity or certification that guarantees a strong and long-lasting relationship, if a couple marries by Hindu, Islamic, Sikh, Christain, Jain, Bahai’s, Buddhist, way? No. 

Then, why to be so firm about religious customs; and if not adhered creating fear of GOD. How justifying is that? Not just in marriage, in any other important ceremony, adhering to a particular way is the only norm?

A successful marriage requires an understanding spouse not the mandatory successful proceedings of religious ceremonies. A spiritual person always looks for qualities in his/her spouse and never gets trapped by symbolism attached to anything, not just marriage.

Another aspect of Religion is that it doesn’t allow you to question. If you question that, why to do this thing in that way or what is the need of doing it? Suddenly, You are tagged "anti-religious". Thus, the intolerant nature of religion makes its followers irrational and stooges of blind-faith. 

Whereas a spiritual person, allows you to question anything. He/She wants you to satisfy your conscience, rationality, and every tough test you have. Kabir, Mira, Rumi, Buddha, etc all of them were non-imposing and non-compelling to anyone regarding their philosophies of life.   

Religion, Danger and Inner Self 

I believe that You worship the one who is eternal, super-powerful, immeasurable, immaculate, impeccable, and impervious. If you don’t, Whom do you worship?

Can religion be in danger?

Some people say their religion is in danger. But, do you need a religion or a GOD who comes in danger? I don’t. Always remember that religion is the way/path through which you connect with your creator. So a way of worshipping i.e. religion was/is/will never come in danger. 

If anything isn’t in danger. How could you protect it? And protecting religion is like protect an entity that you can’t see but only feel and experience its presence. From my personal experiences, until now, humans are not capable to protect the Invisibles.

Always remember that No religion or GOD is great enough to be worthy of your life. If any religion or God wants you to sacrifice your life. Unapologetically, sacrifice that religion and God because that is chicanery, deceit, cheat, traitor, and certainly not the one which Kabir, Mirabai, Rumi, Buddha talked about. 

The reason why people get convinced that their religion is in danger because a religion's main purpose to help a seeker to connect with his/her inner self is forgotten. He/She isn’t encouraged to look beyond symbolism, consequently defeating the purpose of religion.  On the other hand, a spiritual person looks within for a solution and follows his/her convictions without an iota of doubt.  

I am a staunch believer that an atheist can be spiritual, while a radical religious person can never be. I want you to understand that religion is neither necessary nor sufficient condition to be spiritual. 

Religion is just a step to spirituality. Some people stay on it longer than others, some don't need it even to understand spirituality. Staying shorter or longer isn’t the problem. The problem arises when you become stagnant and consider it, the ultimate goal. Completely unaware, that step is just the beginning of the understanding of the concept called GOD. 

Practical Wisdom 

Mirabai, Kabir, Rumi, Buddha, Nanak were spiritual person. 

All promoted love and harmony for each other on earth. 

Religion is synonymous with symbolism. 

Religion doesn’t allow you to be critical. 

Religion never comes in danger and the main purpose of religion is obliterated.

Seek the Lord, which Mirabai, Kabir, Rumi, Buddha, and Nanak sought for. 


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