re-printed from A Quiet Watercourse
Quite some time ago (in 2006 in fact), I commented on the difference between Spirituality and Religion. Over time I’ve stuck to my guns, that they are NOT the same thing, and I’ve seen a few comments around the place that have made me want to revisit this old territory for a quick post.
I like to define Spirituality as a sense of that which is common between us, regardless of Religion; that we are not islands in the world and that we are not separate from, but intertwined with the world around us. It provides a sense of the sacred in the world, that some things go beyond our materialism, and that we should look beyond the daily grind and the “rat race”.
Some of what I just said can be said of what it thought of as Religion. I think that Religion is a set of rites, rituals and customs that sit on top of Spirituality, that provide more of a framework and structure. To a degree this is needed, I don’t argue that point, but it is not a good thing if it should grow to stifle things.
The comment that spurred me to write this was that if you have Spirituality without Religion you just have a vague feeling of goodwill. In my view, that isn’t accurate and is quite derisive. I’ve come to realize more and more over time that there’s a lot more to a simple Spirituality then a vague feeling of good will, it seems to be a much more intuitive thing and it also seems more feminine to my sense of it. As any Taoist or Zen Buddhist will tell you there is a thing that can be dimly sensed that is beyond being articulated in words, that can only be glimpsed intuitively and can’t be grasped by reason as is the case with the scriptures of a “by the book” religion. Further to this, you must do the glimpsing yourself, a priest cannot do the work for you, you must work to your own salvation!
To try to bind it in scriptures is (as Alan Watts so brilliantly said) to walk into the restaurant and eat the menu instead of the meal. My own conclusion that has been spurred by the comment I read, is that Spirituality without religion is quite valid if difficult to grasp and also not so easy to fit into neat categories with names. It can live without overt Religiousness quite happily. Religion without Spirituality on the other hand is doomed from the outset. It would seem to me to be a set of scriptures and rules and rituals that have had the original point somehow lost along the way, if this is the case, then is religion without spirituality a hollow soulless shell?