“I read your introduction in your website Mohan Sir, where you claim to be an SBNR person, a spiritual but not a religious person. What do you mean by that? How can one be spiritual without being religious?” Paul asked me, adjusting his rectangular glasses that matched perfectly with his thin face.
The genuine love and affection with which he adds “Sir” to my name every time he addresses me nullify my urge to tell him to drop the Sir. Tall, handsome and in his late fifties, Paul looks more like a bank manager of a Public sector bank than a Christian missionary. He was at my office to seek financial support for his institution in providing uniforms and shoes for slum children below six going to Kindergarten. I have been supporting their institution for over fifteen years now.
“I do not convert the religion of any person” vehemently Paul had replied when I had mocked him lightheartedly if he was proselytising in the guise of social service. The good thing about what his institution is doing is that it encourages and persuades parents in slum areas to send their kids to school. Besides, I don’t care if there is an ulterior motive as long as good things happen to the poor in the world. Because you see, I don’t believe in organized Religions in the first place. To me one is as bad as the other.
I stared at him, silently articulating my answer internally, and before I replied he fired away again;
“Do you or do you not believe in God?”
“Paul, what can I say?” I sighed and dropped my head. I lifted my head, picked up the paperweight on my table and began;
“Of course, I believe that a universal intelligence exits of which I am also a part. You call that God. I call it consciousness. If you ask me to objectify my God, I cannot because it is an experience and not an object. To me, God is beyond perception, mind or words. But Religions declare that a God exists separate from me watching above. I do not believe in a separate God watching over me, and I certainly do not believe that Religion will show me my God”, I said.
“As long as you believe in God, you are religious”, Paul said, satisfied and leaned back in his chair.
“No. I am not. I do not believe in worship or rituals since I consider Religion as indoctrination, imposition and most of the times worship is out of fear. All religions believe that if we make God happy, we will not suffer, and we will go to heaven. If we make God angry, we will go to hell. Religion is based on fear. Religions expect loyalty and treat iconoclasts like me with disdain. Religions force us to be content without trying to understand God on our own. ”, I said.
“So what’s wrong with expecting loyalty and faith in something that is spoken by God and accepted for thousands of years?” asked Paul ever so softly like a Good Christian.
“I did not say what the messengers of God said were wrong, Paul. I only object to the insistence of most of the Religions not to question them” I said.
“Christianity never objects to questioning”, said Paul and placed his right elbow on top of his chair and held his right hand with his left.
I put my two hands behind my head and leaned back in my chair.
“Why were Galileo and his heliocentric findings considered as heresy?” I asked Paul.
He fell silent.
“Paul, to me God is truth, Love and Compassion”.
An Indian Cuckoo bird called out so loudly that it gave the moment a quaint serenading effect. Paul raised his eyebrows.
“You see Paul, hundreds of years ago when science was yet to develop fully and answer many questions with evidence, organized Religion helped society with a sense of certainty and security. It comforted those who were afraid and insecure”.
“But today, following religion blindly and to believe that bad things happen in the world because someone ate a forbidden fruit or that Virgins can bear children feels dogmatic to me”, I said.
“You call religion Dogma Mohan sir?” Paul raised his voice slightly.
“Founders of religions who were enlightened masters like Jesus or Moses were deeply spiritual and all of them propagated common tenets…Truth, Love and Compassion. But over time their followers made it into a complex tradition deeply rooted in worship, ritual and creed refusing to change with times and held on rigidly to the tradition” I said.
“That I agree”, said Paul.
“Therefore unquestioned faith became compulsory”, I said and paused.
“But Mohan sir, even science has proved that faith is a good thing,” Paul said, adjusting his glasses again.
I shook my head.” Faith is. Blind Faith is not. Unlike the scientific worldview, Faith doesn’t require evidence to validate its claims, Paul. Belief is enough. The holy scriptures are considered infallible and as the ultimate truth of reality. That is a problem for me”.
“What about Spirituality? How is being spiritual different from being religious?
“Spirituality is about inquisition and self-discovery, Paul. Spirituality is an inward journey. It is more about understanding the truths experientially, particularly what is real and what is not, through an evolutionary process of inner contemplation. Spirituality embraces constant questioning and change. With spiritual practice, ideas and interpretations keep changing until the ultimate truth is realized. Spirituality is timeless, and the journey moves forward instead of getting stuck in medieval times”.
“Hmmmmmm”, said Paul.
“I need to know through direct experience rather than faithfully following the religious Faith into which I was born. My spiritual practices, such as meditation, yoga, silence, and contemplation, taught me about expanded states of consciousness. Meditation helped to experientially validate the teachings of Vedanta and non-duality rather than accepting them on Faith alone. You know something because you have tasted the experience yourself and have allowed it to resonate, as opposed to taking the word of a religion. Spirituality is based on freedom, freedom to seek God as you deem fit”.
There is a famous saying Paul; “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there”.
“What what, come again Mohan sir” Paul sail and leaned forward, turning his right ear towards me. I repeated.
“Oh, I see” said Paul.
“Faith in a religion promises you freedom from pain upon strict compliance to its teachings, while Spirituality makes you understand pain. Spirituality shows you that we are all the same thing at the soul level. Religion declares that only its followers are true children of God. Others are heretics. ” I said.
” Religion divides, Spirituality unites “.
“So you mean to say that Religion builds walls”, Paul said, sounding neutral.
“However, the problem is that even spirituality could end up becoming an institution, the very thing that I object”, I said, stood up.
“By the way, I will transfer my donation amount during the first week of August”, I said. We bid goodbye to each other just nodding our heads.
Corona is in the air, you see.