Religion and spirituality are the same if we understand them correctly. Generally, we can say that religion is that which involves various rituals, dogmas, worship and pilgrimages. However, once we begin to inquire about ‘who is God’, ‘what is worship’ and ‘who am I’, spirituality truly begins. Normally people are satisfied doing various rituals, going to the temple, praying and so on. Very few inquire further.
One need not be ritualistic in order to be spiritual. But rituals are not against spirituality. For instance, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, a spiritual giant, used to worship Mother Kali Devi.
Then the question arises whether religion, spirituality and God are three different entities? It all depends upon the way one perceives these three. Unfortunately, most people have limited ideas of them. Religious people tend to think of God as entity distinct from the real world, one who dictates terms, rewarding some and punishing others. Also, religions are identified by their founders, specific scriptures, modes of worship and traditions. Spirituality, on the other hand is considered to be the renunciation of the world by a person who spends the rest of his life meditating in a solitary retreat. In Vedanta and the Upanishads, God is defined as, ‘that which is the Self of all beings’, the essence in everything and the support and substratum of the entire universe and not a person or an individual entity.
If we understand religion to mean a set of rituals, it would be distinct from spirituality. But actually these rituals are only ways of purifying our mind to help us understand these concepts of universality or the oneness of life. God, religion and spirituality are not different or isolated entities. They are one and the same.
When our ideas about God and religion are limited, we believe all religions are different and impose our faith on others, sometimes even by coercion. Vedanta and the Upanishads acknowledge no such division. All rituals and practices purify the mind and are therefore essential to understand the vision of Oneness.
How can we ever know the justice of the Lord? Most of the time, we do not know whether what we do is right or wrong! Also we are totally incapable of knowing what the results of any of our actions will be (though we are free to hope). He alone knows. Fortunately for us He is as compassionate as He is just. If He were merely just, we would have had a much harder time!
The nature and cause of the world and the reality behind it have not changed over the years! Man is almost the same now as he was then in terms of his likes, dislikes, anger, ambitions and frustrations. The scriptures talk only about this universal struggle of mankind. Therefore, they are as relevant today as they were then, and in fact, more so. Today we find that man’s problems have multiplied, while his freedom has decreased.
Countless people in society, being at different levels of spiritual evolution cannot have the same knowledge. Even saints have a past life. They too were not the same. The requirement is that whosoever understands the importance of righteous living should put forth effort to live that way. The whole society cannot get transformed at the same time. That is its uniqueness.
Rishis who have done sadhana are shown in our Puranas to have lost their tempers and also given curses. This is because the rishis were at different levels of evolution. There were some who were only seekers and, as a result of some penance, had acquired some mental powers. They had not acquired complete self control or purity of mind and therefore misused their powers. There were other rishis, who through their tapas, had not only acquired special powers but also purity of mind. They cursed not out of anger but as blessing in disguise for a specific purpose, and that became an act of purification. There were yet others who were totally in oneness with God. The curses of such persons were an expression of the will of God himself.
It is often asked if God is love and happiness. If God is everywhere, then why is there unhappiness in the world? Air is everywhere, yet asthma patients gasp for air. Some are even known to die without air. The trouble is with the person, not with the air. Sunlight is everywhere, yet the blind person does not see it. Even when the heat of the sun is felt, its light cannot be seen. Similarly, even though God is happiness and is everywhere, because of spiritual ignorance, we do not experience that. We are only repeating someone else’s words that He is everywhere. Whatever glimpses of joy we experience are due to His all pervading presence alone. Because of the veil of ignorance, man gets deluded by it and becomes unhappy.
Author: Swami Tejomayananda
(Source: Sikkim Express, June 25th 2020)