Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ten Differences Between Spirituality and Religion

1.) Religion tends to be heavily preoccupied with the world of concepts. These concepts- whether in the form of theology, dogma, philosophy, or personal interpretation, play fundamental roles in mediating and coloring an individual's understanding of Reality or Divinity.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is preoccupied with the different levels and dimensions of the experience of Reality or Divinity. In other words, spirituality is advocating that one's spiritual experience, at some point, should not be mediated by concepts, theories or interpretations.

Concepts may be acceptable up to a certain point, but the general consensus of the perspective of spirituality is that, ultimately, concepts lead one away from the truth, not toward it. This raises the problem of how one is to go about differentiating between, on the one hand, imagination or fantasy, and, on the other hand, truth or reality, but this is another matter.

2.) Religion often gives emphasis to issues of salvation. As such, one of the key motivations underlying many religious acts involves doing something because that action will help one gain heaven, while simultaneously helping one to avoid projected negative ramifications which come from sins of commission or omission.

Spirituality doesn't deny the metaphysical realities or issues of salvation which are associated with the positive or negative consequences of our actions. The motivational orientation of spirituality, however, is entirely different.

In spirituality, one's motivation should be to do things because of the intimate nature of our essential relationship with Reality or Divinity, and not because of what we might receive as reward or avoid in the way of negative consequences. The emphasis should be on doing things out of love, service, sincere worship and gratitude, rather than as a means to some further, personal end or desire.

In short, religion is about what human beings seek from God. Spirituality is about what God seeks from human beings.

3.) Generally speaking, religion operates on the basis of trying to change people from the outside in. Spirituality concentrates on helping people to change from the inside out.

More specifically, religion is concerned with imposing a doctrinal framework onto the individual. This framework must be internalized in order for the individual to be considered a properly functioning member of the religious collective.

Spirituality is concerned with the realization of one's true identity and essential capacity. Proper intention, thinking, understanding, awareness and activity all flow from a realized inner nature, not internalized external doctrines.

4.) Religion tends to place great emphasis on the exoteric. In other words, one usually is required to perform rituals, irrespective of whether one understands the nature and purpose of those rituals. The important feature is to comply with the ritual and, therefore, conform to the letter of what is perceived to be religious law.

In spirituality, the emphasis is much more on the esoteric dimension of whatever forms of practice one may pursue. One should try to be receptive to the spirit of a practice. One should seek to understand the nature and purpose of such practices, not just conceptually, but experientially.

5.) In religion, faith is, all too frequently, a matter of a blind, static, rigid, narrow acceptance of some belief, value or practice. In spirituality, on the other hand, faith is intended to be a dynamic, living, flexible, continuous growth of one's understanding of the nature of one's relationship with Reality or Divinity.

Religion often equates faith with an emotional or conceptual commitment to a belief system. Spirituality treats faith as a species of knowledge rooted in realizations drawn from personal experience.

6.) Religion often becomes entangled in politics. This is so both within a religious collective as well as in the manner in which a given religion relates to the surrounding world.

Spirituality, by and large, seeks to avoid the political sphere, preferring to contribute to society directly, and, where possible, anonymously. These contributions come through the beneficial effects of moral qualities such as compassion, patience, charitableness, tolerance, kindness, honesty, integrity, forgiveness and so on.

7.) Religion tends to gravitate toward a authoritarian modus operandi in which submission is demanded of individuals. Spirituality, on the other hand, is centered around the command and respect which a person's recognition of the authoritative nature of Truth brings. Submission is freely given.

8.) Generally speaking, religion is governed by rules, whereas, spirituality is governed by principles. In religion, one needs to know what the rules are before one can act, and in the absence of specific rules, one tends to become disoriented. In spirituality, once one understands the principles, one is able to deal appropriately with any situation even if none of the available rules seems to be relevant to the present situation.

9.) In religion, the participation of the individual often revolves primarily around interaction with an institution such as a church, temple, mosque or synagogue. Personal interaction with the leader of that institution tends to be of a secondary nature, if it takes place at all.

In spirituality, on the other hand, participation primarily revolves around one's personal relationship with a teacher or guide. Participation in some kind of institutional activity is of secondary importance, if it occurs at all.

10.) The term "deen" in Islam does not mean religion. Deen refers to those experiential processes which are directed toward helping the individual to realize various dimensions of the essential nature, or fitra, of human spiritual potential.

When Muslims are informed in the Qur'an about God having brought to completion their Deen, it is not a religion which has been completed. Rather, what has been completed is the establilshing of the Divine means, method or way which, God willing, can assist human beings to work toward fulfilling and realizing the purpose and nature of created existence


Rockin' Hejabi said...

Well articulated! So true, so true.

Sadiq M. Alam said...

very nice.


kevin said...

asallam alaykum

hope, your Eids and New Years was nice.

That is a very nice definition of Deen, I had not heard that before.