Religion vs. spirituality


How do I find my spirituality? I am looking for something that has to do with beliefs in karma, being at peace within self, embracing the simple beautiful things in life. I am having a hard time finding my spirituality due to past experiences with RELIGION.

—april, USA


What is it about “religion” that disappointed you?

You don’t explain. Was it dogma that dissolved under intellectual scrutiny? A concept of God that proved unsatisfactory? People you admired who turned out to have feet of clay? An expectation of results that never came through?

Each of these could be carefully examined in itself, but in the end it doesn’t matter.

The key to your going forward spiritually now is having faith in your own ability to discern truth from falseness. Having experienced falseness in the past should give you a keen nose for truth.

Disappointment is inevitable. After all, life is a learning experience. Many things we thought to be true turn out, as our awareness expands, not to be. Or at least not true for us anymore. We outgrow them.

If the disappointment is deep, the temptation is to avoid further suffering by playing it safe. Close your heart, close your mind, don’t risk anything, after all, you don’t want to be disappointed again.

Of course, this is a perfect formula for non-growth. In fact, this is a good definition of death-while-living.

Such people think they have lost faith in, well, fill in the blank: religion, marriage, men, women, corporate America. Whatever they thought would fulfill them but didn’t.

What they’ve really lost faith in is themselves. They were taken in and are afraid of being taken in again.

To get out of this trap, which seems to be inhibiting your spiritual adventurousness, first of all, look carefully and honestly at what happened to you. In other words, don’t make a blanket declaration about “religion.” Think rather what was it that misled you? And what responsibility do you have for what happened? Did your intuition warn you and you refused to listen? Were you blinded by desire or attachment or fear?

Learn from that experience, but then go on. Don’t define the rest of your life by what has happened so far.

In fact, religions can be quite helpful on the spiritual path. They pull a lot of material together and make it accessible. They provide group settings where people of shared aspiration can meet. They give many sincere individuals a way to focus their sincerity.

Religion is a detriment, however, when it claims exclusive truth or condemns anyone who doesn’t agree with them. Or, more subtly, plays to your ego by emphasizing how only the very very best are chosen to be part of this group!

Gratitude for blessings received is not the same as puffing yourself up with a sense of being God’s favorite.

Beware of any institution that places itself as an essential intermediary between you and God. I am not talking about the concept of a Guru. That is something completely different.

I am talking about institutions and their priests, dogmas, and rituals that declare only certain people (who usually happen to be the leaders of their group) have access to the divine. Kindly, but firmly walk away.

Sometimes people have told me that they aren’t interested in Ananda because they aren’t into “organized religion.” They think because, we have a Temple, meet on Sundays, have a ritual “Festival of Light,” clergy people who wear vestments, leaders, classes, teachings, and, of course, a Guru, that by definition, disqualifies us.

I think this shows a lack of commonsense.

As human beings, banding together for support, a modicum of organization is required. The key is, does the “organization” serve itself or does it serve the individuals who come for inspiration?

At Ananda, as our example, no one is required to believe anything. In fact, you are required not to believe, until your belief is supported by your own intuition or experience. It is a buffet. Take what appeals to you and ignore the rest until such time (if it ever comes) that they appeal to you.

At Ananda, whatever system we have is only there to help people access the presence of God within.

If it is God that you are worried about, if you are looking for a spirituality that doesn’t include a Higher Power, I am not sure you will ever find what you are seeking. The ego alone isn’t enough. More is needed.

Many people have come to our spiritual path as agnostics, or even atheists. But in time they realize that it isn’t God they have rejected, but only a false concept of God, that, well, any thinking person would reject!

Religion isn’t the issue. Truth is the issue. Have the courage to embrace it wherever you find it. No search for Truth will be successful if, before you start out, you have already declared yourself closed to certain fundamental realities.

Above all, take things one step at a time. Read, study, practice, learn from others, immerse yourself in uplifting activities, spend time with sincere seekers, and, through it all, pay attention.

Don’t allow reactions based on past experiences to blind you to the beauty and truth right in front of you now. Don’t be too quick either to accept or reject. Be patient. Learn to live with a little uncertainty until you have sufficient experience to judge more accurately. Go with an open heart and an open mind, but not an empty one.

Above all, do something. In order to perceive truth you need clear intuition. In order to develop intuition, you have to practice. You need inspiration, experiences, and if possible the company of those who know what you are trying to learn. These are the building blocks for your own faith.

Just because you had a bad experience with Brussels sprouts you can’t stop eating! Strawberry cheesecake may also be served to you on a plate with a fork, just like the Brussels spouts, but if you give the cake a try you’ll find there is a way to tell the difference. And just think what you would miss if you didn’t try!