(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)
Religion is a particular system of faith and worship. It is a collection of beliefs and cultural systems. Religion is the opposite of atheism.
There are many personality cults in this world. Cult’s system of belief is treated as infallible truth by cult members. When the number of followers increases to a big level, the cult starts treating itself as a religion.
Spirituality on the other hand is the search for the sacred. It is the internal experience of an individual.
Religion can be viewed mainly as a social phenomenon, though we cannot ignore its political aspect as well. The spirituality can be understood on an individual level.
In the past, it was believed that the words ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ are synonymous. These words were often used to describe various aspects of religion. However, the word spiritual has in our time come to be associated with the private sphere of thought and Godly experience while the word religious came to be connected with the public sphere of membership in a religious institution with official set of guidelines or code of conduct.
Religion is to follow a spiritual leader, a prophet or Guru, whose teachings are written in a book. A prophet says there is God; and the follower believes that there is God. The follower believes so because the prophet he follows says so. The follower has no personal experience of the God; still he believes that there is God. This is a religious person.
It is possible to experience the God Almighty. This is the mystic experience. When such an experience takes place, the person starts believing in God. He believes in the God, because he has experienced the God. He believes so because he has now personal experience. This is merely a spiritual person.
There are more or less 4,000 religions in the world. The greater part of people in this world follows one of these religions. Majority of people who are followers of any religion are not spiritual persons. It simply means that they have no personal experience of the God. They believe that God exists, just because their religion says so.
A person can be religious as well as spiritual at the same time. It means that spirituality can be sought through traditional organized religions. It means that religion can show the way to attain spirituality.
On the other hand, it is potential that a person is spiritual, but not religious. It simply means that such a person does not follow a specific religion, but he has the mystical experience of the Beloved God. Many people identify themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR). They have chosen a life stance of spirituality that rejects traditional religion as the one and only means of furthering spiritual development.
Here are three examples to explain my points:
(1) A teacher says that there is an XYZ city. His student believes his teacher. Because his teacher says there is an XYZ city, the student starts believing the existence of XYZ city. He has not visited the city. He believes that such city exists because of his faith on his teacher. His teacher’s statement can be true. His teacher’s statement can be false. The student believes him without any doubt. This is merely a religious person.
(2) A teacher tells about the existence of XYZ city. The student goes there and finds himself the city. This is a spiritual person who is religious also.
(3) A person by chance reached the XYZ city and came to know about it. This is a spiritual person.
Thus, there is difference between merely a religious person and a spiritual person.