Spirituality Without Religion?
The minds of the present generation of individuals are slowly but surely wandering away from religious practice. Unlike before, few have any respect for religion, and for this I do not blame the Individuals themselves. People are right in asserting their dislike for religion to a certain extent. So many wars have been fought, so many people have been killed in the name of religion, and so it is unsurprising to hear statements such as: “I am not a religious person”.
Now, many of these individuals who claim that they are not religious say that they are spiritual instead. They may help the poor, they may serve their friends, neighbours and loved ones, they may also go out of their way in doing work which few religious organisations have managed to do, and so at first blush it may sound like they are right in proclaiming their spirituality. Many of these individuals also emphasise the fact that going to the church, temple or mosque is no good because in doing that, a person is only concerned with his own selfish gains of praying to benefit himself, his family members or friends. Also what good is it to spend money to make offerings to a deity? Instead, why not donate the same money to help someone really in need than to offer it to what looks like an obvious inanimate idol?
I am not saying that these individuals who claim to be spiritual are wrong; neither am I saying that they are right. In my opinion, absolute awareness is needed in order to come to any conclusions and to judge what is right or wrong since everybody’s opinion of what is good or bad, sin or virtue is different, based on perspectives.
For every individual who is on the path of spirituality or as most people like to call themselves – a seeker of truth, or even for those individuals who like to call themselves spiritual, there is one important question to consider if you want to eliminate your doubts on whether you are spiritual or not: Is my spirituality leading me and others to Enlightenment?
Now, this is a very important question and the answer to this question may come to your mind instantly, or it may take a certain amount of time depending on how authentic your search for the truth has been from the time you started up until this day. Whatever the case, this is an important question to consider because if your spirituality is not leading you to Enlightenment, everything that you are doing is futile, and has absolutely zero value. I don’t care how many people’s lives you have changed or the amount of money you have donated to charity. If your practice does not lead you and others around you to Enlightenment, everything that you are doing is not worth the struggle, period. The same question applies to those people who call themselves religious. If your religion does not lead you to Enlightenment, you are doing nothing but wasting your time.
Therefore, I would like for you to ask yourself this question time and again – Am I really spiritual or religious? This question will decide your entire journey on this Earth in the present realm, and all the other six realms of existence.
After all of this knowledge, it is quite safe to say that every person who calls himself spiritual is actually a pseudo-spiritual person, and the same applies to a person who calls himself religious. There are obviously exceptions to this, but what I just said basically holds true for most people. So to sum the whole thing up, on this Earth we have three types of people:
- Authentic spiritual or religious
With all of this being said, in my opinion, being part of a religion is very important in order to be on the right track because sometimes, the masters or spiritual gurus can guide us and give us advice on whether we are on the correct path or not. Most individuals who think they are spiritual or religious often get themselves caught up in this illusion that they are on the correct path because their outer conditions do not always contradict what they are doing. What I mean is that these individuals have everything in their lives sorted – they have a nice home, a nice car, beautiful family, great friends, and so they often take this as proof that they are on the right track, but sometimes the truth can be totally different from what they believe. There can be no greater delusion than this. The delusion of wellbeing is one of the greatest delusions.
Now, since it is important to be part of a religion in order for spirituality to grow, how is one supposed to know whether their religion is right or wrong? How do you ensure that you are not following a wrong religion?
Here are some of the things to consider:
1. Is your religion giving you the correct interpretation of the founder’s teachings?
For example, a lot of masters in the past such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad and Mahavir have given humanity the precious gift of their teachings. Unfortunately, they haven’t always been interpreted in the best way. This can be very dangerous because it obviously changes our entire viewpoint of life and everything in general. So in my opinion, this is a very important thing to consider.
If your religious leaders or the scriptures that you are reading do not translate the teachings of these great masters like Jesus, Buddha and others in the best way possible, then in my opinion you fall in the first and second category of pseudo-religious or pseudo-spiritual person.
2. Is your religion trying to suppress, or is it trying to destroy your doubts?
This is a biggie. Every man and woman on this planet is born with questions in their minds. Is your religion giving you an answer to destroy that question or is it telling you that you shouldn’t be asking that question because it goes against the religion? Be careful, because what a lot of spiritual leaders, priests, monks and imams do is that they give you an answer just so that you and many others may not ask more questions.
The good news is that every individual is born with intelligence, and so if he is not lazy and if the question is really coming from his heart, he is bound to get an answer to it at some point.
Of course, the authenticity of the disciple’s question also matters. If the question you are asking is just for the sake of testing the master’s knowledge or with any motive other than expanding your consciousness, the master is either going to criticise your question, choose to not answer it, or he is going to give you a totally different answer which will make you question your own question.
3. Are your masters or gurus always consistent in what they do?
Remember, a real master or spiritual guru is never consistent in what he is doing. He does not have a fixed set of rules based on which he operates. He works according to individual needs. He is flexible with his teachings and adapts to the environment in which he is. He is ready to put his reputation at stake for his disciple’s growth or the individual’s growth. This is the sign of a true master. A real master does not care what the world thinks of him; he does his own thing and uses the scriptures and texts to match present day situations.
For example in Tibet, many lamas who have been masters to their disciples for quite some time usually do things that will put the disciple’s spiritual knowledge to the test. They usually change the way they behave just so that the disciple does not hold a fixed idea about them in their minds. They may even manifest wrath or beat a disciple. There are various reasons why they do this, but every single time, it is to give a certain teaching to the disciple which can lead them to further growth.
Even in India more than a decade ago, there was a master named Osho who used to indulge in activities that to a normal audience would seem sinful and perverted. He was known as the sex-guru, because of his open attitude towards sex. Now, Osho may not have been a master to many individuals and not all would be able to comprehend his teachings, but that does not mean that he is right or wrong. This only means we need to change our perception of how things should be. This is the basic reason why a master is never consistent in what he does. There could be many other reasons unknown to us and it is quite possible, considering the level of our consciousness, that we are unable to comprehend certain actions and methods that a master may use which can benefit us in the long run.
4. Is your religion giving you proof and explanations for everything that is taught or is it just stating facts or rules that you need to follow or abide by?
Not all religions are able to show proof to support the contents of their scriptures or texts. There could be various reasons for this. Maybe at the time the teachings were given, proof wasn’t really required due to the prevailing conditions. In today’s day and age due to the developments in science and technology, proof of almost anything is possible hence modern man expects and demands proof and logical explanations.
Is your master actually giving you proof of a certain teaching or is he just stating those teachings as rules that you need to follow in your life? If he is unable to justify or explain a certain text clearly, it only goes to show that he has perhaps not applied them in his own life. If he had applied them, he would be able to give you enough examples from around the world and his own life so that the teachings not only make sense to you intellectually, but also existentially. Sometimes it may not be possible to prove something immediately, but if the teachings being received are really genuine, you will notice a positive change in your behaviour as days go by. This is enough proof of the authenticity of the teachings that you are receiving.
Also if you are new to a certain religion or if you do not have much knowledge, you can always identify whether a certain religion is being taught correctly by taking a good look at the individuals who are already part of that religion or teachings related to it. You will see a certain vibrancy and positivity around such disciples. They do not complain, gossip or badmouth others. Every activity that they do reflects beauty, compassion and love – even the most trivial. This serves as proof in the early days when you are new. Of course as time passes by, you can apply those teachings to your own life and check, but make sure you are a sincere and honest disciple yourself, or else you will find no change in you. In this case, it is your fault and not the fault of your religion or guru.
5. Is your religion or master condemning you?
A real guru always has a fresh approach towards everything in life, and he will try in every way to help you move forward from the place you are in. At the beginning, except for an open mind, nothing else is expected from you.
A true religion will never condemn you. You will be accepted as you are with all your flaws. Then, it gives you clear cut ways and methods to go beyond your present life situation and achieve positive results.
An authentic religion will never give up on you. For example, if you are a drug addict, an alcoholic or if you possess any bad qualities, are you being told that you are condemned to hell? If this is the case or if anything similar to this is being told to you, then your religion or master is simply playing tricks on you.
6. Does your religion condemn other religions, teachings or philosophies?
Last but not least, an authentic religion is always open to other teachings, philosophies and religions. Even if you come from a totally different religious background, an authentic master is always able to explain his own teachings based on your faith. Sometimes, a great master from a different faith can even enhance your understanding and increase your faith in your own religion! I have sometimes also heard of masters who contradict their own religion so as to explain or make a concept clear for the sake of their disciples.
A true religion should never condemn other religions but instead accept and embrace the differences. This also shows that they see the oneness in everything and do not make any distinctions since that would only contradict their own and every other individual’s existence in the world.
There can be various other ways in which you can identify the authenticity of a particular religion, but these six ways that I have mentioned constitute the essence of every authentic religion. A lot of you may think this is really sceptical, but the truth of the matter is that if you are about to follow a particular teaching which is a matter of life and death, a basic understanding is required, and that is exactly what I am trying to highlight here in this article. I wish you the very best in everything that you do including your search for truth.
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