I’ve often come across the term spiritual but not religious; quite honestly I find this term to be vague. It’s not that I don’t see the difference between the two, there certainly can be differences. Yet, the definition of spiritual and the definition of religious can have assorted meanings to various people depending upon their culture and upbringing. I was raised that the purpose of religion is to connect you with Spirit/God, yet the people who use this term either don’t relate religion with spirituality, or they have an aversion to religion in some way, for some reason. Perhaps this aversion to religion can be attributed to various religious wars or human brutality caused by religious fanaticism often viewed through widely spread world news reports, or simply because of an annoying experience with an overzealous religious practitioner.
The word religious has its root in the Latin verb ligo, or religo, meaning: to tie or bind over again. If it is to bind ourselves to our commitment to live as inspired, enlightened human beings, ready to have spiritual liberation through love of God and love for all our neighbors, I would say religion could serve a wonderful purpose. Yet, if it is to keep us bound to a particular belief system that does not serve humanity as a whole, nor inspire us to be admirable individuals, then, I would say: that particular religion might not be the right choice.
I’ve found evidence that these assorted issues involving religion may be largely due to language barriers. Continuous re-interpretations of scripture over the years has contributed to the gradual erosion of the original divine and transformative teachings, often leading people to believe in half- truths which eventually lead to assorted critical accusations about those who interpret things in a different way.
Every culture is subject to re-organization and societal advancements within their communities; thus, change is inevitable. While, earlier civilizations viewed religion (which is not a term commonly used in bible scripture) as a path to follow in order to experience the divine within themselves and others, it appears that our more modern man seems to abuse or avoid this path. Yet, these issues are not due to religion itself. They are caused by individuals who narrowly interpret scripture which, consequently, results in limited views of both humanity and divinity.
Whenever there is war, there is misunderstanding and lack of acceptance. Misunderstanding begins with a defect in communication whether spoken or written. To remedy this problem, Spiritual Masters have appeared on earth many times to correct assorted misunderstandings of scripture: a time when change is necessary or interpretations need clarification. If we analyze just a few you might agree: The Buddha, for example, appeared at a time when cultural transformation was evident and change was necessary. Buddha removed the necessity for animal sacrificial rituals commonly learned from Vedic Books. These holy and inspiring books date back to writings of enlightened people of the times, who, by intuited spiritual wisdom wrote various practices and prayers that at that time were crucial to the spiritual development of the people of that age. Buddha was stressing the importance of compassion and saw no direct need to continue the sacrifice of animals. He was highly criticized for making this change, as many people of the time were caught in the belief that rules shouldn’t be changed.
Jesus of Nazareth attempted to clear up misinterpretations of the Old Testament, and was killed. This was not the “Jews” fault, as some people like to proclaim, but of the individuals at that time that misinterpreted Jesus’ intention to clarify certain things. “The Sabbath was made for man”, he said, “and not man for the Sabbath”(Mark 2:26-28) was one correction he stood for. The people, at that time, had simply used the rule to the extreme, and Jesus wanted them to know that loving mankind always came first before the rule. The rules were made so that it could help the people – never to hurt them. Yet, any good communicator knows, that speaking isn’t all there is to communicating. How a person “listens” is just as important. When Jesus spoke, each person heard from a place deep within themselves, where all their education, life skills, spiritual practices, ego, language, beliefs, and life experiences reside. Often, the New Testament quotes Jesus as saying “…He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). He knew that the listener was just as important as the speaker. This is one of the reasons he spoke to them, mostly, in parables. Parables, which are metaphoric stories, gave the listener an opportunity to relate to an experience within their own life, rather than a sermon based on the beliefs of the speaker.
Jesus, spoke to the people in the language of the time, Aramaic. Aramaic was a contextual language in which one word meant many and only could be absorbed by the people within a certain context; the context of their time. Later when it was translated to Greek, a linier language, like English, we lost much of what the people of that time heard when Jesus spoke. For example: The scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, in his book The Hidden Gospel, explains that the Aramaic words, legau men, often translated as within (from the Greek entos) , can also mean within, among, from, out of, at, on, or by.
Most scholars have agreed there are over 40 writers of biblical scripture, each bringing their own unique teaching in accordance with their outward observation and their inner intuited wisdom. Each had a particular audience to which they spoke. The apostle, Matthew, for example, had a Palestinian Jewish viewpoint and spoke primarily with a Jewish audience in mind, while the apostle Luke had a Greco-Roman viewpoint and spoke primarily to an audience of Gentiles. Thus, what was stressed in their biblical accounts was determined by these factors and what, exactly, they wanted their audience to hear. Neither had a wrong account, just an account that expressed the experience of what they heard and an account that was suitable for the times and the people at hand.
I have encountered religious fanatics from one religious group and then discovered an individual in the same group that brought inspiration and joy to my heart. I assert that, true religion always resides in the heart of the people, not their various interpretations; my experience of the divine within them should never be based solely upon their interpretations or religious affiliation.
So how does one make the clearest interpretations? I love to read the most ancient writings I can find, and then try to understand the language they were written in, and a scholar who can help explore the culture and the listening of the people at that time. For the Christian Bible, I’m impressed by the Aramaic translations and scholars like Rocco Ericco and Neil Douglas Klotz. I enjoy reading Elaine Pagels’ commentaries about ancient Gnostic teachings. I particularly love the many books written by Swami Kriyananda on ancient Christianity and the more eastern Sanatana Dharma. The ancient writings of Patanjali and yoga are wonderfully explained by Sri Swami Nithyananda and easily found on Youtube.com. For the Muslim religion, I honor the writings of the poet “Rumi”, for this poet has the true essence of the divine in his heart.
All Spiritual Masters including Jesus, Gautama Buddha, Mohammed, and Bhagavan Krishna have stressed that the most important thing necessary to achieve the highest spiritual state is devotional (or one-pointed) love for God (as you understand God to be) and love of your neighbor. We see this, also, through the writings of Blessed Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, St. John of the Cross and many others. Each spoke in a language that was impactful to the people of the times. Anyone can practice devotional love of God, if they choose, through most any religion — and, for the spiritual, but not religious, this may prove to be a useful practice as well.