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What is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?

‘Religion’ has the following elements:

  1. A God for worship. In case of Hinduism, it is a personal God of your liking (Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Devi, Rama, Krishna etc)
  2. A belief that the God (‘my god’) is the supreme power, who is the creator, protector and destroyer.
  3. Formal worships, visiting temples/churches/Mosques, following rituals, celebrating religious festivals, chanting stotras/ hymns/ mantras, taking up simple vows (e.g. fasting on Ekadasi days for Hindus)
  4. Praying god for money, wealth, comforts, solving problems, removing ill health, seeking long life, punishing enemies, seeking heaven after death
  5. If a Hindu, worshipping different gods for different purposes (For removing hurdles pray to Ganesha, for good education pray to Saraswathi, for wealth pray to Lakshmi etc). In a more evolved status, believe that my Ishta (personal God) will give everything because He/She is the only supreme God and all other Gods are subservient to Him/Her.
  6. Enjoying worldly life in every way with a mindset that God is providing everything for us, just like parents taking care of the comforts and wishes of children
  7. At times blaming God when things don’t happen as per our wishes!
  8. Advising others that the sect I follow, my way of worship, my religious practices and chanting are the best and nothing more need be done to get divine grace
  9. Arguing and fighting with other believers who say that some other God is the supreme one.
  10. Having staunch belief in whatever the holy books of that religion says is correct and true (reading and understanding them is not mandatory!)
  11. Visiting holy places
  12. If a Hindu, Generally following a traditional family Guru and paying visits and respects to him
  13. If a Christian or Muslim, trying to convert others to their religion (particularly targeting weaker and meeker sections of society in other religions)

‘Spirituality’ has the following elements:

  1. A sense of discomfort in the way religion is being practised by majority (after following a religion and its formalities for some time); wondering whether the ways and beliefs as followed by the common religious folks are indeed showing the right direction to progress
  2. Getting disturbed by deeper questions about meaning of life, purpose of life etc and earnestly trying to seek better answers from within the religion.
  3. Reading deeper in to one’s own religion’s holy books (Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads/ Bible/ Koran). Trying to read more and more of the explanations and different interpretations by different commentators in order to get better clarity.
  4. If a Hindu, reading the lives and teachings of great Mahatmas/ spiritual masters/ Avatara Purushas
  5. If not getting satisfactory answers from own scriptures, trying to read, understand and grasp scriptures from other religions or to compare and get better clarity and understanding about own religion.
  6. If a Hindu, in communicating with God, trying to understand “I” (self/soul/ Atman) and the relationship between “I” and “you”(God) better.
  7. If a Hindu, gradually understanding the need and purpose of surrendering to a Sadguru for initiation and proper guidance in the quest of higher Truth but not sure enough or humble enough for that surrender yet.
  8. Gradually losing interest in materialism and in enjoying sensual pleasures
  9. Gradually losing interest in praying to God (or multiple God forms) for material and physical comforts and instead trying to pray for a better wisdom to know God.
  10. Getting a better understanding of the concept of Maya and the truth of duality existing for ever (light-darkness, good-bad, dharma-adharma, joy-woe, health-sickness, wealth-poverty, positive-negative, wisdom-ignorance etc)
  11. Developing viveka and vairagya (discrimination and dispassion)
  12. Trying to understand better the form and formless aspects of God
  13. Getting a firm conviction “Ekam sat, vipra bahuta vadhanti”— there is only one truth which is explained differently by different seers/ religions.
  14. No longer interested in arguing and fighting with others saying “My God is the only true and supreme God”.
  15. No longer afraid of not going to the temples and not following the rituals
  16. Learning and practising meditation
  17. Surrendering to a Satguru (a realized master) with humility for spiritual guidance. Truly grasping the importance of the Satguru’s grace in attaining true wisdom.

    Sadguru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi with her Sanyasi Disciples. They were well educated youth of yester years who came to Amma in thirsting for spiritual guidance

  18. Properly ripening in the relationship with God — starting with Dwaita (“You are my lord and I am your servant”) to Vishitadwaita (“You are my indweller — the soul of my soul”) and to Advaita (You and I are one — Aham brahmasmi) in Hinduism.

 

If attaining Moksha is the aim of life in Hinduism, why there are mentions about Swarg (heaven) and Narak (hell)?

Let us first read a funny anecdote that Sri Ramakrishna said. Sri Keshab Chandra Sen was a very popular religious leader in Kolkotta and he was the chief of Nav Vidhan Brahma Samajam. The Samajam was one of the prominent and powerful spiritual movement in Kolkotta and Kesab had many admirers and followers. He was quite rich. He was a very powerful orator too and admired by many.

Keshab Chandra Sen & Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

He was fortunate to come across Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and got gradually and deeply attracted to the saint. He could understand that whatever lofty spiritual subjects he was lecturing on, Sri Ramakrishna was a living and practical embodiment of them.

He used to listen to Ramakrishna’s freewheeling talks on religion and spirituality in rapt attention.

One day he said to Sri Ramakrishna, “Swami, I want you to teach me much more deeper insights into spirituality”. Ramakrishna said laughingly, “I can teach you alright, but if you listen to them and act on them, your Samajam and all would vanish!”

Swiftly, Keshab said, “then whatever you have taught me is good enough, Swami”.

Hope you get the purport of this story here. Not all religious people are in search of Moksha. Most of them want happy and prosperous life in this world and they want to enjoy life in higher worlds too. If scriptures say ‘if you do these acts of punya, conduct great fire sacrifices, feed poor in large scale, construct temples and so on, God will be pleased with you and give you a life in heaven post death’.

At the same length, people need to be warned of leading a life of extreme suffering in the hell, if they engage in evil and atrocious acts in this life.

Thus Swarga and Naraga have their purpose to ordinary people who are very much bound to Samsara and have no keenness to get out of it. Despite whatever suffering they undergo, people will still cling to life and hope that enjoyment will come in due course.

The concept of moksha is attractive only to spiritually more evolved people who could understand that life is like a dream of never ending wants and hunting behind happiness by trying to meet the wants but not getting it mostly.

For such people, karma yoga is the path — working without attachment to the fruits of Karma. For them freedom from the hopeless cycle of births and death — moksha is the only meaningful goal in life.

Do people who undergo much suffering in life eventually attain happiness one day or other?

Let me share a funny story that Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) narrates:

A person was suffering from one hardship after another in life and got very much dejected. He went to consult an astrologer to know what he holds for the future.

The astrologer, after going through the horoscope said “ Your planetary positions are too unfavorable.You will have to go through sufferings till your age of 50”.

The man felt somewhat relieved. He asked eagerly, “It means I will lead a smooth and happy life after that, right?”

The astrologet said, “No. You will get used to facing troubles and managing them afterward!”.

Amma used to say that ‘parasthithi‘ (external circumstances) cannot be changed easily, but with effort, it is possible to change our ‘manasthithi‘ (state of mind). When, by spiritual effort, we manage to acquire mental strength and eaquanimity, we will be able to face joys and sorrows with lots of balance. We will not get over joyed in moments of fortune, nor get too disturbed and depressed against adversities.

When mindset changes, by divine grace, there is every chance that trials and tribulations too diminish in life.

Amma offering consolation to the sick