The difference between religion and spirituality

B.K. Surya

The external form of religion that we get to see – we say, “this person is very religious” – generally indicates that the person is humble, polite, and kind. The other visible form of religion is rituals such as prayer, reading scriptures, and going on pilgrimage. Someone who does any of this is considered religious. But religion without spirituality is like the skin of a fruit, with nothing inside – it lacks power.

Spirituality is that which enriches and strengthens the soul, makes it virtuous. Religion and rules governing its practice can make one fearful — people are afraid of committing sin by doing this or that, or they worry about divine retribution for something they have done in the past. Understanding spiritual principles, on the other hand, makes one wise, strong, and fearless.

But people take more easily to religious rather than spiritual practices. The former, with their ceremony, colour, and – in some religions – song and dance, seem more appealing. Moreover, spiritual knowledge has not been propagated as widely as religion.

Religious figures preach compassion, ethics, and charity, but it is all regarded as part of recommended behaviour, and little thought is given to the spiritual truths that lend them value. Even reading the Gita, a book that contains deep spiritual truths, has become a ritual. Reading a chapter of the book every day is considered a virtuous act. People are content to just read the book, and give no thought to living by its teachings.

Religious teachings benefit us and add value to our life only when we live by them. Once we recognise the fact that we are souls, children of the Supreme Soul, and relate to God with that awareness, we no longer feel the need to seek solace in religious rituals. The fulfilment the soul experiences through a direct mental connection with God ends the search for truth.

But the plurality of faiths in the world confuses many people as to which one to follow. The proof of the right path is that it is simple, purifies and strengthens the soul, and makes life easy and happy. It puts a stop to all our doubts.