Of late, one thing I see quite often see making rounds in philosophical discussions is, the mix up between the words 'spiritual' and 'religious'. Do they denote the same ? Let us analyze here. What is Spirituality ? This will be discussed in the Indian context as it was here that the first seeds of spirituality was sowed at the dawn of creation. Spirituality can be explained as a person's journey into himself in pursuit of the secrets about his own self. This has resulted in the famous discovery by the Hindu Rishis of the 'Atman' (or the Self) many many millennia ago.
They saw, through a series of subtle processes called as yogic methods, that the Self was the dweller in the sheath of body with its paraphernalia of senses, mind,and intellect. The process of inner search was called saadhnaa and the end point was called as realization. And What is Religion ? As the seeker refined and refined his search towards this realization, he saw that his own experiment can be replicated in others too. And the Rishi started teaching this to others. For this many lifestyle changes were necessary.
Also, the student needed to be put through a different routine of growth than he previously used to. Over a period of time, many such Rishis emerged in India . They all emphasized a lifestyle suitable to self realization. These set of guidelines were later famously called as religion. Religion is the practical expression of spirituality in life.
Religion and Spirituality- Is there a conflict ?
As we saw, spirituality is the terrain on which religion flourishes. The stronger the spiritual belief the stronger is the religion. The more refined the spirituality, the more refined the religion. The universal the spirituality, the universal the religion.
Where did the misunderstanding arise ?
Since time immemorial, there was only one spiritual theory and only one religion, that is of Sanatana Dharma or Arya Dharma or Vedic Dharma. They had its roots in Bharat that is India and spread its roots across the globe. Sanatana Dharma, which came to be called as Hinduism later, gave its valuable thoughts to Buddhism and Jainism. Buddhism later gave its ideals to Judaism and Christianity. Islam evolved out of Christianity and Judaism. So, there emerged many spiritual theories. The problem with emerging theories was that they confused religion with spirituality. There was no clear marking. I would even say that religion predated spirituality in the case of Christianity and Islam. They adjusted spirituality to adjust religious practices. For example, Christianity was born as a refined version of Judaism. But Judaistic religion predated them and as a result the hold of religion on matters of spirituality was great. In Al Qoran, one will see only a great deal of commands rather than descriptions of the Self. Notice that a way to a place is spirituality and religion is only a map. The rulers of those times in Israel and Europe found that spreading religion was more profitable than infusing spirituality. Thus was born the Church culture. In other words it meant every person had to be a churchist before he is christist. So religion took a front seat.
Not even that, religion was so inseparably mixed with spirituality that the Semitic religions became a mixture of these two. This can be told like this. If one is spiritual, he automatically HAS TO BE religious and vice versa. There was no escape. And the way to salvation was wholesale. Sentences like "the Church is my body" as being said by Jesus were added to the Bible.
The Indian context:
The scene in Bharat was and is totally different. The way to realization, called yoga, saw each human being as unique with his/her own ideosyncracies . Thus Hindu Rishis had come to a bold, divine, unprecedented conclusion that " The path to Realization is Individual". This is the single, most brilliant , and mind boggling aspect of Hinduism.
As each individual has the freedom to explore his inner self, the aspect of religion became optional or irrelevant. That is why you see intensely spiritual people in India, who have conquered their senses, mind and intellect who are totally devoid of any religious binding. India then became home to an enormous amount of Yogis who achieved the ultimate in their own unique ways without the bondages of religion. Kapila saw the oneness of the Self with the universe, Vyasa saw the Ultimate in Himself or rather saw himself in the Absolute, Sankara saw there was no two existences between the Absolute and the individual.
Kannappa Nayanar Saw God by his violent devotion, while the refined Appar saw him with a disciplined devotion. Even atheism is a legitimate part of Hinduism. The Indian born Nobel laureate, Sri Chandrasekar, said, "I am a Hindu atheist". In no other religion does rebels get accommodated. The reason is Hinduism is a spiritual way first. Second is it is not God centred but has God as the ultimate achievable.
The Hindu can be spiritual without being religious and vice versa. The Hindu also has a most beautiful religion, which is coloured by an endless array of cultures, distinguished by an equally endlessly different human varieties, flavoured by more than a hundred sweet languages.
The Hindu religion- will it reinvent itself ?
Since Hinduism showed such care to its individual member, and since each member continued to refine his ways to realization, Hinduism was never a rigid body of ideas. It has, over the period, shown an enormous ability to reform itself and evolve. All this was because Hinduism was born of an effort at free enquiry. For example, over two thousand years ago, Hinduism was totally different than the present one. Vedic thoughts reigned supreme. There were no temples. People worshipped the Absolute Brahman through Yagyas .
When this Vedism developed religious rigidity, great Rishis like Sankara, Maddhwa, Ramanuja, Appar, Sambandar and a host of saints gave a new way to Hinduism. When Buddhism had all but swallowed up the whole of India, Hinduism, invented itself anew. Thus was born the new Vedantic religion as envisaged by Sankara and others. Temples came up. Gita became a new beacon light in Hinduism. Hinduism, the resurgent, had such force that it absorbed Buddhism and Jainism into itself. Over the period, there have been many unwanted flab like casteism that have crept into the religion. But as usual, the Hindu diaspora will shrug it off and march on, giving the world newer directions.