Religion versus spirituality.

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Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Indrajala » Wed May 30, 2012 11:35 am

I've often seen people use the term "spirituality" to describe their otherwise religious pursuits.

It seems in the present popular English lexicon the term "religion" and its counterpart adjective "religious" have negative associations and hence most people prefer to use "spirituality" and "spiritual" to describe themselves. Saying you are "religious" seems to imply now that you take things to an extreme or you possess blind faith.

This might have something to do with the tendency among popular intellectuals to denounce religions as a general category acting a depository for all that is superstitious in human life.

So how is religion different from spirituality?

I've asked this before to others and usually "religion" is associated with disagreeable rules and doctrines while "spirituality" is much more liberal, ungrounded, mysterious and fulfilling, perhaps even eclectic and customizable.

But at the end of the day I think we are just attempting to avoid the ugly reality that "spirituality" is religion, just with a different more appetizing name.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Wayfarer » Wed May 30, 2012 11:55 am

I think a valid distinction can be made between spirituality as a search for inner truth which can be validated in experience, as distinct from religion as an allegiance to a formal creed and institutional structure. Sure there is overlap and ambiguity and many shades of grey, but the distinction is still valid.

A distinction can also be made between religion and dharma. Dharma too is religious in some respects, but, like spirituality, places emphasis on validation through personal experience. Where religions tend to be conclusive and exclusive, dharma (and spirituality) tends towards being inclusive and experiential. Again the differences are not completely clear cut, but I think they are sufficient to enable the distinction to be made.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Indrajala » Wed May 30, 2012 11:58 am

jeeprs wrote:I think a valid distinction can be made between spirituality as a search for inner truth which can be validated in experience, as distinct from religion as an allegiance to a formal creed and institutional structure. Sure there is overlap and ambiguity and many shades of grey, but the distinction is still valid.

A distinction can also be made between religion and dharma. Dharma too is religious in some respects, but, like spirituality, places emphasis on validation through personal experience. Where religions tend to be conclusive and exclusive, dharma (and spirituality) tends towards being inclusive and experiential. Again the differences are not clear cut, but I think they are sufficient to enable the distinction to be made.


What is inner-truth though?
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Wayfarer » Wed May 30, 2012 12:06 pm

Obviously, a difficult thing to define in objective terms. It is the subject of 'esotericism', and a distinction can be made between esoteric religions (and philosophies) and their more mainstream counterparts. (I don't much care for the term 'exoteric' which is often used in this connection as I think it is actually a neologism.) In any case, esotericism is mainly concerned with the idea of 'inner truths'. Rather than try and define it, it is probably easier to consider it in terms of examples: for example, gnostic as opposed to orthodox Christianity; Zen as opposed to Theravada (contentious, possibly, in fact Buddhism has always tended towards esotericism); Sufism in relation to mainstream Islam; Kabbalah in relation to Judaism. But, again, esoteric knowledge is that which is concerned with ideas such as 'noesis' or spiritual illumination or enlightenment, which again can be distinguished from belief in the after-life and so on.

It is obviously a vast topic, but again, a valid distinction.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby dharmagoat » Wed May 30, 2012 5:15 pm

Based on the various people I have met over the years, I find that those that are happy to be classed as "religious" have an air of stability and authority, whereas those that are "spiritual" have a tendency toward naïvety and self-centeredness.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Anders » Wed May 30, 2012 5:49 pm

I see the terms as overlapping moreso than opposite.

I use the word 'spiritualism' as any kind of path that is oriented towards spirit, ie seeks for happiness through exploring the mind. And the word religion is something I associate with having a transcendent element (be it god, heaven, Nirvana, whatever. It has a soteriology that distinguishes it from 'worldly' endeavour) and a tradition built around this.

Spirituality is often a religious endeavour, but it doesn't have to be. Conversely, there is also a fair amount of religion that isn't very spiritual.

But for me they tend to go hand in hand.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Astus » Wed May 30, 2012 9:30 pm

Religion puts the emphasis on tradition, rules, structure, external authority. Spirituality puts the emphasis on individuality, modernity, personal freedom. What they hide with these terms is the opposite side. Religion exists as long as there are people who find their spirituality in it. Spirituality exists because there are other people telling what that means. We usually don't invent our own beliefs, only pick and choose from what we learn about. And we don't believe everything we are told, but only those that feel true to us. Religion gives the illusion of an ultimate truth above us. Spirituality gives the illusion of our freedom from being influenced by others.

Those who prefer religion have the idea of "spiritual people" that they are lost, they are selfish, they are heretics. Those who prefer spirituality think that religion is superficial, militaristic, old fashioned. In the end, both are simple terms for simple thinkers, who find some comfort in identifying with some general idea.
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Does marvelous nature and spirit
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Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 31, 2012 1:09 am

IMO a lot of the negative associations with religion in the West, and why Western society has become so anti-religious, is a consequence of religion that is lacking in spirituality -such as the dogmatic religiosity of Reformed Theology.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 31, 2012 3:58 am

Hmmm, while many of the posts above about "religion" and "spirituality" are interesting, I am wondering why "versus"?

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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 31, 2012 5:32 am

Huifeng wrote:Hmmm, while many of the posts above about "religion" and "spirituality" are interesting, I am wondering why "versus"?

~~ Huifeng


I think it is clear that those who would self-identify as "spiritual" while simultaneously distinguishing themselves as being apart from "religion" are displaying a common tendency for "spirituality" to be seen as free from disagreeable religious elements, but ultimately still being religion. There is a sense of disagreeable union between the two terms.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 31, 2012 5:41 am

dharmagoat wrote:Based on the various people I have met over the years, I find that those that are happy to be classed as "religious" have an air of stability and authority, whereas those that are "spiritual" have a tendency toward naïvety and self-centeredness.


I've had the same experience.

Religion generally entails long-term commitment and abiding by the long distilled albeit difficult to initially understand wisdom of a given tradition, while spirituality can be anything you want it to be. It is very customizable and liberal. Personal and inclusive. I can understand why this would appeal to most western people.

In Taiwan here "religion" (zongjiao 宗教) is not distinguished from any kind of separate "spirituality", much like how it was in the west some decades ago. There is also not much negative associations with religion. The idea of separation of "church and state" is not really a big deal either it seems. Religion in Taiwan tends to be very group oriented, whether it is visiting local shrines with your family or being part of a Buddhist or Christian organization as a committed volunteer in some capacity.

Curiously in Japan they've adopted the English word "spiritual". The equivalent word "religion" (shukyo 宗教) has come to have negative associations after the AUM Shinrikyo incident in the 90s coupled with the wars in the Middle East.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Huifeng » Thu May 31, 2012 5:59 am

Chinese terms such as 修行, 靈修 (靈性修練) etc. all have very similar meanings / connotations to "spirituality".

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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 31, 2012 6:11 am

It is also interesting that 'Easterners' and 'Westerners' tend to have a different view of the question! I wonder if this might be because 'the East' didn't go through things like the Inquisition or the 30 Years War that could be largely attributed to conflicts about 'right belief' in European civilization.

I am of the view that at the time of the early christian Church Councils, many of the gnostic and mystical elements within early Christianity were successfully vanquished by the emerging orthodox (= ortho doxa, 'right belief') mainstream. Ever since then, there has been a lot of tension between mystical spirituality and institutional orthodoxy in the Western world. Of course, in this day and age it hardly matters any more, as people can (and do) believe practically anything. But there is a definite conflict about it in the Western mind, which I think has deep roots.

Interesting, definitely non-mainstream article on some of these notions here, Christianity has Pagan DNA.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Astus » Thu May 31, 2012 10:02 am

Jeeprs,

What you say, that organised religion is against any mystical experience, that sounds like the propaganda of "spiritual people". Both Eastern and Western Catholic Churches have many recognised mystic saints, and it's a living tradition, especially among Christian monastics. But preconceptions about "religion" naturally make one ignorant of all of these, because one would not even think to look for it there.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 31, 2012 10:27 am

It's not against 'any mystic experience' but there is an abundance of historical and documentary evidence about the persecution of mystics judged as heretical to the mainstream. But, don't bother, this is a Buddhist board, it will take us too far afield, thanks for your input.

//edit// although there are parallels in (for example) the threads on this board about the tension between dzogchen and institutional monasticism.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby zangskar » Thu May 31, 2012 11:01 am

Another way to put it that both of you might agree on is that when claims of mystical experience or insight is interpreted as contrary to the religious orthodoxies or as a challenge to the existing hierachy and social order then the religion would usually suppress it?

As you already identified there is certainly a 'myth' of persecution by organized religion in many modern accounts of spirituality. And i call it myth not to imply the claims are necessarily untrue, but because its often part of the mythology, and its something that modern adherents of different brands of spirituality might identify with even though they might never personally have been persecuted by anyone for their beliefs or practices. And its a myth that's of course in many ways similar to ones that are important in more established religions: the persecution of Christians, Jews etc.

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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Astus » Thu May 31, 2012 11:29 am

Let's look at this in our Buddhism. Those who think of it as their religion try to follow whatever they perceive as the true teachings (this may or may not fit others' interpretation). And those who think about themselves as spiritual people only want to use whatever they find acceptable in Buddhism but disregard the rest without much worry about it.

Thus, when it comes to debates, the religious Buddhist will probably hold fast to his view of the teachings, while the spiritual user of Buddhism won't really care but see that the religious is dogmatic. On the other hand, the religious Buddhist will see that the spiritual guy has no respect for the teachings and accepts doctrines that are not Buddhist, therefore the spiritual person is not a Buddhist but an outsider, a Dharma-lite consumer.

In fact, the religious Buddhist fails to see that s/he selects whatever school/lineage/interpretation is acceptable to him/her, and even in her/his studies and practices s/he's selective. And the spiritual fellow fails to see how s/he incorporates traditional ideas from Buddhism and other thoughts, while at the same time accepting unquestionably the attitude of individualism.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Wayfarer » Thu May 31, 2012 11:57 am

Astus wrote:those who think about themselves as spiritual people only want to use whatever they find acceptable in Buddhism but disregard the rest without much worry about it.


That assumes, however, that to be spiritual is to be someone who only wants to use whatever they find acceptable. It might not mean that at all, however. I recall the last words of the Buddha as saying 'be a light unto yourselves'. This doesn't mean 'pleasing yourself' but 'finding your own way'. In any case, this 'light' is what I regard as 'spirit', which can be distinguished from rules, methods and external forms.

I am not trying to create a dichotomy here, but to draw out what I consider to be a valid distinction between two related, but different, words.
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Astus » Thu May 31, 2012 12:28 pm

jeeprs wrote:That assumes, however, that to be spiritual is to be someone who only wants to use whatever they find acceptable. It might not mean that at all, however. I recall the last words of the Buddha as saying 'be a light unto yourselves'. This doesn't mean 'pleasing yourself' but 'finding your own way'. In any case, this 'light' is what I regard as 'spirit', which can be distinguished from rules, methods and external forms.


That is a modern interpretation of those words, typical of an individualist view. What the Buddha says is internalising, realising the teaching.

"Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge." (DN 16)

"For that which I have proclaimed and made known as the Dhamma and the Discipline, that shall be your Master when I am gone." (DN 16)

This is living a spiritual life within a religion (set of doctrines and practices). The extremes of "religion" and "spirituality" are gasping either the external structure, or relying only on personal interpretation. But the word (external) and the meaning (internal) should go together.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Religion versus spirituality.

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 31, 2012 1:21 pm

Huifeng wrote:Chinese terms such as 修行, 靈修 (靈性修練) etc. all have very similar meanings / connotations to "spirituality".

~~ Huifeng


I don't think they mean the same thing as spirituality in English. Spirituality in English is liberal, easy-going, esoteric, fully customizable and individual. My point is mostly that in Taiwan it seems people don't try to conceal the fact they're doing religion by calling it something else.
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