Our religion, with its set of customs, traditions and beliefs, gives us an identity. These doctrines and practices, no matter how illogical or irrelevant they may seem, are held sacred by us. In fact, through its stories, symbols and rituals, it shapes our understanding of the world. It gives our life meaning and a sense of coherence. These beliefs and traditions go on to become a part of our religious heritage, and as a source of our collective identity, our religion provides us with our cultural nourishment. However, this identity — which is established on the basis of subjective narration of ideas, notions, beliefs, myths and superstitions — makes sense to a group of people. But the intuitive reality of religion is essentially a limited and incomplete version of the ultimate truth, which is infinite and perfect.
Although religious truths are subjective in nature since they are perceived from a frame of reference, it is held as the ultimate truth by those who believe in it. Since the intuitive-subjective narrations of religion lacked evidence, belief in them depended entirely on one’s faith. It is for this reason that “religion” is also referred to as “one’s faith”. Religion primarily served as a window to understand the mystery of the cosmos and the nature of existence. But when people began to draw their identity from it, it became an extension of their ego. And as such, people began to glorify and defend their beliefs rather than practising them.
When the assertion of the superiority of their beliefs, which is a pure antithesis to the preaching of religion (any) gained precedence over its essence, religion became a source of conflict rather than of harmony. The emergence of the fundamentalists and the fanatics who spread violence and inflicted injustice in the name of religion, caused people to turn away from drawing their identity from their religion. Instead, they turned to spirituality.
So, HOW is ‘spirituality’ different from ‘religion’?
The spirit of all religions lies in its ethical code of conduct. The common denominator of all religions is its message of love and peace. When our conduct reflects this spirit of love and peace, we are spiritual. Spirituality, in essence, is a way of life which is in conformity with our essential nature (svadharma) and based on ritual ethics of deeds (code of conduct/dharma) as well as ethical dictates of our conscience (sadharana dharma). Being spiritual requires us to exercise restraint on our natural urges of sex and violence and tame our instinct to dominate and exploit others. By working on ourselves (sadhana) we are able to achieve our spiritual goal. Unless we put into practice what our religion preaches, our religion is just a label, an extension of our ego rather than our being (spirit).
Spirituality is the execution of the ethical ideas established by our religion. The understanding of these ideas endorsed by our religion transforms us into humble creatures, and this conquest of our ego/sublimation of our ego is the aim of all religions. This makes spirituality the new religion, since, in the final analysis, our identity stems from our individual conduct – not from our collective beliefs.