Spirituality and Religion

Oil on canvas by Patricia Brown

"Spiritual Being" -- oil on canvas by Patricia Brown

According to His Holiness the Dalai Lama,

I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another — an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or philosophical reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or hell. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayers and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit — such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony — which bring happiness to both self and others.

Following those definitions, I’m spiritual but not religious. I don’t attend a church, although I did for parts of my life. Now, I don’t necessarily  believe in the “claims to salvation” of any particular religion, but I believe more than ever in “love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony.” And I’m not saying that churches and temples and mosques don’t foster those qualities. I simply choose to concentrate on them without the dogma and ritual associated with religion.

When I first heard John Lennon sing “Imagine no religion,” I was horrified. I was thirteen years old. I didn’t understand that religion could be separated from spirituality. I thought the two things were inextricably combined. I thought they were like ocean water, and I hadn’t yet learned about desalinization.

Now, I take my spirituality without the grains of salt. I can easily imagine no religion, and that most certainly does not mean I can imagine no God. I most definitely believe in God. I just think that He cares more about love than about rituals — just like me.

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7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Ordinary Jo said,

    I’ve just recently started blogging and searching blogs that are relevant to me, and I discovered yours today. It sounds as if we may have a lot in common. I am looking forward to reading back more in your blog, as well as reading your new posts. My blog deals with spirituality, so your post today resonated strongly with me. I’ll be back.

  2. 2

    sgaissert said,

    Thank you so much. It’s an honor to “resonate strongly” with a fellow human being.

  3. 3

    I am a spiritual life coach and I commend you on your posts and blogs. Thanks for sharing.

  4. 4

    Tom Peters said,

    The distinction between spirituality and religion is an interesting one. But perhaps they are two aspects of one pursuit. Certainly the Dalai Lama qualifies as both spiritual AND religious since the rules, rituals and precepts of his religion are very important to him, guide him in his daily routine, reading and chanting and are just as full of scholarly dogma as Catholicism, Judaism or Islam.

    In most instances, religion has led people to spirituality, but rarely is the opposite true. So, I would define the difference in simpler terms. Religion deals with the exoteric and external path and spirituality deals with the esoteric and the internal path. As such they are two sides of the same coin.

    Having been raised in the New Age on the West Coast, I’ve heard many use the phrase, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” as an excuse for simply not having an interior discipline or as a condemnation of the equally imbalanced, exclusively external religious path followed by so many other people. For a person to be truly spiritual in a way that does not merely reflect an external lifestyle and personailzed belief system, they should have a regular and sustained contemplative, or “internal” practice by which they can evolve in their experience of the non-dual. No matter what that path may be or how far the person using it claims to be from “religion”, look closely at the discipline they’re using to meditate or contemplate and you’ll find that it had it’s origins in one of the world’s major religions. This has been the successful model followed by all mystics, sages and saints throughout history including the Dalai Lama. In every case, our spiritual heroes had esoteric, interior practices intertwined with and supported by exoteric, exterior disciplines, or “religion” that provided a body of beliefs and a means for expressing the inner truth as they gained access to it.

  5. 5

    sgaissert said,

    Thank you, Tom, for your excellent job of expanding my thesis. You are right: a well-lived spiritual life involves rituals. Mine include yoga, conscious eating, and regular, planned acts of kindness. I hope that everyone who reads my post will read your comment as well.

  6. 6

    Dakotagirl said,

    As someone who was raised in the Southern Baptist church until 13 years of age, I agree with your post 100%. I have seen more cruel, hateful people who claimed to be “Christian” than I care to count.

    I do believe Christ is the Son of God but my vision is more gray than most believers.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Ghandi:

    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    Thanks for your private message Susan, it made my day.

  7. 7

    sgaissert said,

    What a wonderful quote! I too have encountered many un-Christ-like Christians — maybe because they put their emphasis on the trappings of their religion and not on the underlying philosophy of Jesus.


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