Is there any religion when we are born? Definitely not! … At least not in the initial years….then the environment consisting of the household, the school, media and a host of stimulation takes over and the learning process commences. This starts with the Do’s and Dont’s until such time the changes over time and our experiences mold us to make a choice that we consider to be our own when in fact we are driven to it not so much by choice but by circumstances, family and peer pressure and societal requirements and a need to adhere to the set norms and rules of behavior laid down by the fore generations.
Religion is decided, at birth, by the family one is born in…so if one is born in a family without religion….you may at a later stage be either emancipated or join a cult or decide to make your own choice thru your own understanding or just follow the lead. Religion is thus hardly an experience…it is more a concept that is taught first by the family and then by the immediate environment followed by the extended one when all the religions get to be known via various channels of learning. Thus religion is learnt…we are told that we belong to such and such religion and from this follows the various practices that one indulges in according to our beliefs and faith which again are a result of what we see and all the stories that have been heard.
Thus religion is received at birth, and then most people carry on in the same as there is a comfort level attached to it, there is a feeling of being supported by a group and the need to belong is well served by religion. It is an important tool in the hands of the few and serves an important link in the society. On the other hand it can lead to great dissensions and societal divides to the point of rioting and violence. Thus while religion serves an important means to an end be it political, social or personal, it is changeable in form and kind in accordance with changing conditions and is prone to have a large amount of interpretations. All this leads to confusion and a certain lack of direction. There is emotion at play here even in the faith and sometimes extremism. Attachment and beliefs play a strong role and there is a lack of clarity in the practices. Sometimes new religions come into force that are a result of the requirement of times and changing perceptions of what life is really about.
Spirituality on the other hand is more individualistic and is not given to group-ism. It, in essence, is quiet scientific in nature and is given more to logic and rationality. It is an analytical exercise that delves into the realms more cosmic than earthly, not given to idol worship and results in experiences that can only, at best, be imperfectly described, for the experience is difficult to transfer and in its entirety remains and individual experience. It is more thought related and results in clarity and deeper perceptions of our existence and what we are all about.
Having said that there is no proper path laid out for achieving one or the other. Though each is a result of certain condition and given to a process of development and growth. In fact religion could be a stepping stone to spirituality and then both can combine in later stages to introduce a more refined thought process that enables the clarity of perception. If conditions do not allow too much intellectual thought building and analysis then the easier path would be religiosity with its set patterns and practices where there is only need to practice and have faith and little questioning of either cause or requirement or result. This would result in contentment and a good feeling. However to a questioning mind this is hardly enough and thus the next step would be a jump into a completely different world without temples, statues, Gods, practices of worship and the like. . It is here that the inquiry of your very existence and purpose begins and the famous line ‘Who am I? In this sense religion can act as a stepping stone to spirituality.
The opposite can also hold true. One may start with the path of knowledge and enter the spiritual realm and then enter the path of bhakti or faith. however in my experience the bhakti felt through the path of knowledge is something totally different than if one were on the path of faith alone and here in lies the difference for now one can understand better the concept of faith as it is no longer a blind following of religion as we are told…every practice, chanting the mantras or even the tantra’s are understood better as the logic, science, reasoning, the why-for’s and wherefores are more clear due to analysis. Needless to say that the perceptions here and therefore the experiences are manifold and of a very high caliber and multi-level and multi-dimensional.
Thus as against religion spirituality is not a system as its path and progress and also the experiences are different for different people, and no two experiences are same. It can be said here that the experiences are not an end in itself and every threshold crossed brings forth another doorway, and every horizon another one. The size and depth of this realm, if I may call it that for it defies description and is not a place in any real sense, is amazing and awesome and difficult to assimilate by our limited capacities. However it is these very limited capacities get enhanced and we are able to reach out and cross these very limitations to make them limitless.
This is not a new thought, in that, they have been depicted in various forms in science fiction stories and films. However few have experienced it. The ancient sages and the saints did do so but could never complete the task. The problem here is that another cannot continue the task and has to start from scratch. Yet again the experiences will be different and the path slightly different. This then is an individual journey and one has to travel alone. It will require sacrifices along with continuity, commitment and regular contemplation. There is no togetherness here and the only help is from the cosmos so to speak which can be invoked from time to time.
Thus religion is not a journey but it can open the doors to the spiritual journey. Here the competition is with yourself, it is not concerned with the world and least of all with worldly affairs…there is nothing to prove. One just has to do and keep at it as long as you will allow yourself to. There is no supervisor. Yes! You alone are responsible and accountable…where you reach and what you achieve is for you to decide and attain. You are on your own!