Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spiritual, but not religious

This is Part 2 of a series that handles : good effects of religion, religious distortions and the modern phrase "Spiritual but not religious". The contents are drawn from what I wrote at this discussion thread. You can find the other parts linked from here.

There is someone above...

Just to flip the coin around and bring a balance in perspective, how about violence, hatred and killings that have been avoided because of religion ? Perhaps no one conducts a survey to find this, because the good things that happen silently are not the ones that get the eyeball attention. Yet, these are indeed among the kind of people you meet day to day, commonplace. People who want to abstain from certain acts that harm others, because they believe in a higher order governed by God, never mind what name. If you don't want to hear the word God-fearing, call it a general respect for 'Dharma-Nyayam'. This is not to say they are perfect, always make the best choices, but they keep God at the back of their mind while choosing an action. This is not in the context of fear, guilt or hypocrisy (each a different thread) but a general abstention from a decidedly wrong action with a simple thought of 'Devudu Unnadu'. This is something you find in the grocer, the tailor and the street vendor. Isn't there a certain amount of religious thinking behind their goodness ? Between this huge collection formed by little drops of water, from the very people around you and from the selective portrayal of graphic images and numbers found in the newspapers, which one will you believe in ? And which one outnumbers the other ? Whether it outnumbers the other or not, why is the goodness due to religion, not attributed to it, as much as the evil so attributed ?
Religious Distortions and disillusionment...

One can understand that phenomena like casteism can be a major putoff in a quick glance of a certain religion. But using that to debunk the primary need for religion, is like the proverbial baby and the bathwater. How about other oppressive phenomena like slavery and racial discrimination which didn't have anything to do with religion ? Where did Man get those from ? The source of these don't lie in religion, but in men who use religion as a vehicle, to further the evil which they would anyway further. Distortions, but not, 'religious distortions' as in 'arising out of religion', but as in 'distortion of religion' by men. Which system that men found and evolved is not distorted by other men ? Distortion is found in every system: science, language, history, governance and the arts. And just like any other system of thought, religion finds its own rejuvenation from time to time: cleansing, re-understanding of the Code, accommodation of evolving ideas, reflection of learnings from the positive ideas that mankind has collectively benefited from and purging of the demerits.

Spiritual, Sir, but not religious ?

If one is an agnostic and doesn't feel a need for God, thats a different thread. But if one believes in spirituality, but not in religion, then, in my view, such a positioning arises because of the following (not that such a stance is 'bad') :

1. Needless over-differentiation between the two, whereas one is a means towards the end in the other. Still better, some believe the differentiation is unncecessary.

2. An inability to use the positive understandings in one's religion to further one's spiritual development and highlighting the misfits rather than the matches.

3. A general disillusionment (from the other perspective, call, unattractiveness) about all things religious, caused by a maze of factors, that lie partly in approach to study, life events, unanswered questions, environment etc.

What got you here will not get you there....

Assume, you were ‘spiritual, but not religious’. You would carry the spirituality 'in the head', and then, what ? Probably you would believe in a principle, like, for example, 'be a good person' or 'reflect on your own reality'. If you ask me, you are already being religious, because you believe in a set of principles, and by design, you don't believe (or believe less) in another set of principles that goes straight contrary to yours. Having believed in whatever principles, you would then step out to 'do' or 'not do' certain actions based on those. (By now, you are totally religious). Why would you do that ? Because, given your current state, you have a picture of what you want to be, and you want to follow your idea of the map that takes you there and abstain from those that don't. This is what religion is all about, a set of principles and a set of actions and abstentions, directed towards a set of outcomes. Just that, a lot of like-minded people have got together to believe in the same sets, instead of individually carrying it in their heads, and the subject, in this case happens to be 'Man and His Relationship with God'. You are free to update your principles, actions and expectations as you walk along, and those represent the various schools/levels in a religion. Some would like to argue that this is what spirituality is all about, yeah, those are the ones that would agree that religion and spirituality are closer or identical, if they have a positive inclination towards religion that is. Those that don't for some reason, would like to maintain that one is the problem and the other is the solution.

1 comment:

  1. SaiRam
    You have amazing clarity of thought! Especially enjoyed contrasting view points between yourself and Savithaji on the Gandhi blog post.

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THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.