Many people think that religion and spirituality are one and the same, but it may surprise you to know that they’re actually diametrically opposite. They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. And today we’re going to talk about the main differences between the two.
Firstly, religions are about imposing certain rules, certain restrictions, what you should and shouldn’t do, while spirituality is all about giving you the freedom to explore your life, explore your path, and not imposing anything on you. It simply urges you to follow your inner guidance. And so this is another big difference; the religions want you to follow the guidance from outside of yourself, outside sources, whether it’d be a holy book, whether it be the priests, imams, rabbis. Spirituality is about always following your inner guidance. Always, always, always. You may encounter certain people that may help you on the path, but you always consult your inner guidance as the ultimate guide for you, as your ultimate way to know whether something is your truth, or if something resonates with you or not.
Religion is all about imposing knowledge on you, telling you what you should and shouldn’t believe, what is right and what is wrong. Spirituality is not about gaining knowledge from outside sources, but to experience things yourself, and from your experiences, gaining knowledge. Knowing what your truth is from your own experiences. That’s what wisdom is. Religion imposes one set of beliefs, one set of rules, one set of scriptures, one set of practices on the masses. It says this one set is suitable for everyone. This is what everyone should do. Spirituality recognises that your path is absolutely unique and different to everyone else’s. And so, someone else’s scriptures or advice or spiritual practices may help you somewhat at certain parts of your spiritual path at most, but you are by no means going to remember who you truly are and achieve permanent happiness by just following what other people have said. If you think about it, every person who has discovered enlightenment may have started within the religion of their time and their part of the world, but eventually they came to a point where they had to go on their own and follow their unique path; to do something that was different to what everyone else’s was doing. It was only when they did this that they were able to remember who they truly were. This is true for Jesus, Buddha, Zarathustra, Mohammed, Osho — all these people went on their own path and it always led to a positive outcome. Religion is the complete opposite of this. It says follow the same path as everyone else.
Religion focuses on the originator. So much focus is put on the originator of the religion, whether it be Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Zarathustra, Mohhamad; so much focus is put on them. Religions see these beings as unique and special. Spirituality is all about you; helping you remember who you truly are, and in so doing, recognising that the divine is within you, that there was nothing special or unique about anyone or you, that we’re all as special and ordinary as each other because we’re all one. Religion focuses on the afterlife; it tells you to sacrifice this life for happiness in the next. It gets you to focus on how you can achieve a better afterlife. While spirituality is concerned with the here and the now. Heaven is a state of consciousness that you can attain right now. It’s not about the afterlife, it’s about now. If you don’t do it now then you’re not going to “go to” heaven.
Religion has hierarchy; not everyone is treated equally. God is apparently at the top of the hierarchy, and then you have a hierarchy of religious leaders, then you have certain parts of the congregation who regarded as higher, for instance deacons within Christianity, and then you have men, and then you have women, and then you have children. All these categories of people are separated from each other and are treated differently. While in spirituality, it’s all about recognizing that there is no separation, that we’re all one, that we’re all equal, that all these different forms are illusory. There is no hierarchy. Everyone has within them the divine, and we are all within the divine.
Within religion, there’s a big sense of community, which may sound great at first, but with community comes social conditioning. When everyone around you is doing something or believing in something, it pressures you to do the same. While spirituality and the spiritual path is all about breaking away from the community, from the society, and going on your own path alone. It has to be walked alone because your path is unique. If someone walks along your path, that means that person has been taken away from their own path. So it has to be walked alone.
Finally, religion is concerned with doing the same things every day, every year, reading the same scriptures, following the same procedures. You may have perhaps seen for yourself how religious people do not actually experience much growth within themselves. Certainly not as a result of their religion. They maintain a similar state of consciousness throughout their life. Whereas in spirituality, every day is different. There’s much spontaneity. You don’t know what you’re going to learn each day. And it’s not about doing the same things over and over. For instance, you may start off doing a certain type of meditation, but that will soon change and you will be guided to do a different type of meditation, and that will continue. You will use different different practices and different texts all the time. Through this constant change and spontaneity, you will grow. With change comes growth. And so when you meet someone on their spiritual awakening journey, they are constantly growing. They will not be the same person in one week as they were the week before. They certainly will not be the same person at the end of the year as they were at the start, because they are constantly growing. They are actively participating in their spiritual growth by embracing the change, looking for change, and looking for the lessons within every moment of life, not just repeating scriptures, not just repeating the same spiritual practices over and over.
So, as you can see, religion and spirituality are very, very opposite. It is therefore important to distinguish the two. Know well that if you continue to be in a religion, then you are still not on a spiritual path. The spiritual path, the spiritual awakening, requires you to move from any one organised religion and walk your own path with bravery, and walking it alone. You will receive the guidance and help that you need, but, ultimately, you are looking towards your inner guidance as the ultimate guide for you on your path. And when you do this, it can only lead to positive results.