Religion is defined as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitude, beliefs and practices as well as the service and worship to a higher being or the supernatural.
Meanwhile, spirituality signifies an experience of connection to something bigger than us – living life in a reverent way or in a sacred manner.
Origins of Religions and Spirituality
Religion: Religions are usually often based upon the lives, teachings and beliefs of historical or archetypal figures such as Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad and Jesus. The details of these people’s lives to be holy or becoming highly evolved beings have been passed down to us over the years through oral tradition or sacred scriptures. At the same time, these religious figures are the subject of both worship and devotion as well as the foundation of the respective religious practices and rituals in the sect.
Spirituality: On the other hand, spirituality is based on the practical application of the founder’s teachings. Spiritual seekers would follow the advice of the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.”
Having said that, we often find the definitions of both spirituality and religion tend to cross each other’s territory. We may know people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious or vice versa.
To help clear things up, let us take a deeper look at the most significant differences between religious and spiritual paths. Do take note that there are no absolutes in distinctions but are merely just general markers meant to better understand the qualities between them with equal and valid approaches for those seeking the Truth.
1.Objective vs. Subjective Experience
Religion: On the whole, a formal religion is often an objective experience as there is usually a greater focus on the externals which include:
- Houses of worship
- Sacred books or scriptures
That said, this is the equivalent of object-referral in which our focus is placed upon the objects in our experience.
Spirituality: Meanwhile, spirituality tends to lean more toward self-referral or the internalization of your awareness of your soul. Spirituality is understood as an inward journey that involves a shift in awareness as compared to some form of external activity. Thus, spirituality is more about the inner understanding than external worship. However, this doesn’t mean that worship is not part of spirituality, but it is where the devotion and worship that are directed:
- To an external practice, object or figurehead
- To your soul, higher self or divinity from within
2.Organized vs. Formless
Religion: One of the hallmarks of religion is its organizations where it is often structured and is frequently rule-based construct where to some degree governs the behavior of its members.
Moral rules, laws, doctrines, and specific codes and criteria were implemented and followed in order to create an organized structure that holds the religion’s specific belief system. Back in the past where the times were more uncertain, rules and dogma of organized religions provided society a sense of security and certainty to help and guild those whose faith was lacking.
Spirituality: Spirituality breaks free from restrictions and rigid structure. Spiritual seekers have the flexibility to find their own path of self-discovery. They do not need to follow a set of external rules but their own inner call to discover. That said, spirituality can often be perceived as a rebellious act of going against the herd – of which is not necessarily a bad thing to do.
3.Traditional vs. Evolutionary Approach
Religion: With centuries to millennia-old histories and origins, religions are often to be deeply rooted in tradition, ritual, creed and doctrines. Many religions have conservatively guarded their practices and values – rigid to the past and the original interpretations of the founder’s teaching. It is understandable that all religions want to preserve the essence of their teaching so it would be accurately spread in the current time as well as the future.
Spirituality: Contrast to religion, spirituality does not focus as much on the rigid traditions but takes on an evolutionary mentality approach. Thus, spirituality tends to be a more flexible and adaptive approach towards the core teaching of the great wisdom traditions. Spirituality embraces change and the evolution of consciousness, thus, spiritual practices, ideas and interpretations will change according to the times as we and the world move forward into the future.