Spirituality and religion

Spirituality and religion

It is critical to understand the difference between religion and spirituality. The focus of religion is on the outer space, while spirituality occupies itself with the inner space.

Religion concentrates its attention on paths based on beliefs. Spirituality concentrates its attention on methods of self-awakening. Religion can be potentially divisive (‘mine is better than yours'), while the reach of spirituality is universal.

There is a beautiful account provided by Mercedes de Acosta of his first meeting with Sri Ramana Maharishi. Among the many questions posed by the devotee to the Maharishi, is a pointed question about the usefulness of religions, teachers and gurus in search for self-realisation: "What about religions, teachers and gurus?"

The Maharishi's response was characteristically precise and to the point. He said: "Can religion which teaches you to look outside yourself, which promises a heaven and a reward outside yourself, can this help you? It is only by diving deep into the spiritual heart that one can find the Self."

The Maharishi then placed his right hand on his right side of the chest and continued:

"Here lies the Heart, the dynamic spiritual Heart. It is called Hridaya and is clearly visible to the inner eye of the adept on the spiritual path. Through meditation you can learn to find the Self in the cave of this heart."

The Supreme Self evoked by Lord Krishna in the sacred Bhagavad Gita is beyond time and space, beyond name and form and beyond "I" (ahamkara) and "mine" (mamkara).

However, this truth is not easily apprehended by human beings. "But," continued the Maharishi, "In spite of ignorance, no man takes seriously the fact of death. He may see death around him but he still does not believe that he will die. He believes, or rather, feels in some strange way that death is not for him. Only when the body is threatened does he fall victim to the fear of death."

The purpose of all religion and spirituality is self-awakening. All spiritual traditions encourage seekers to experience the truth that the search is within and not without.

Reading of scriptures, pilgrimage to sacred places and exposure and adherence to religious instruction cannot by themselves lead to self-realisation. This is why the ancients declare that it is the Grace of the Guru and self effort helps the seeker accomplish that objective.

As Vimalananda, the Aghora Master said: "The purpose of all spiritual practices in every religion is to disengage the ego from Her identification with the limited personality so that She may unite with Her perennial personality."

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