I, for a while, like most people got confused or opted to retract from engaging in conversations that concern religion and spirituality. Growing up, religion was thrust on me by grandmother, who is a devout Catholic. The schools I went to, both my primary and high schools were Christian schools that didn’t teach anything outside of Christianity, also thrust religion on me.
Luckily I had a mom who was open minded and when she was younger had gone through a process of questioning religion, questioning spirituality and asking, “what is the purpose of life?” What she deduced for sure is that we are not here to compete about which religion knows God best, but we are here to learn to love.
From a young age I was exposed to all kinds of religions, and when I was in Grade 12 I got to go to India for 6 weeks and lived with a Hindu family. They taught me how to meditate and the different Gods they worshipped. This was my first experience with taking from a religion what makes sense to me and connects me to my God and soul, without adopting the religion entirely. 6 years later I still meditate often and feel a disconnect when I go for periods of time without meditating.
We often hear the phrase “Spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) which is also known as “Spiritual but not affiliated” (SBNA). I am definitely this. I do not identify with any religion and yet I respect all religions.
As we all already know, it is uncertain as to what happens to us after death. The religion of Buddhism believes that there is a transcendent state of nirvana, where there is neither suffering, sense of self, nor desire. It is the state where one is released from the effects of karma and from the cycle of death and rebirth. It is also understood as heaven, a concept familiar to Christians, often depicted as the sky above, the kingdom of God, the celestial city, and the abode to God… I’m sure most of us are familiar with these terms. This state of paradise and serenity is often opposed by the concept of hell and purgatory, which is the state of torture, suffering and misery inhabited by the souls of sinners.
It must be challenging for religious minds to fathom that one can be spiritual without the need to be religious or affiliated to any religious doctrine. According to thequestion.com: “as it is understood today, spirituality gives the individual autonomy over his or her interpretation of the soul or spirit, whereas religion implies participation in a communal practice and interpretation of divine belief and worship.” Spirituality is simply a personal journey that one consciously contemplates to connect them to a deeper meaning, which is without the clear and rigid structures of religion. I like having control over my spirituality, I also like being accountable to myself and being forced to go within to really connect with the universal energy and source of the universe.
What I love the most about spirituality is its fluidity, its ability to adopt whatever aspirations from any religion or any practice or teaching of faith towards a higher entity/power. I love that I can totally make it my own. I meditate, which is a Bhuddist and Hindi practice, although other faiths do mention it too; I fast, which is an Islamic practice, and I can pick a day of the week to completely devote myself to connecting with whatever energy that serves me, a Christian practice.
My journey to spirituality has grounded me in love for all humans, living fauna and flora and the Earth. All religions have love in common, although they do often become exclusionary if a person is not of the same religion. I have an utter and total respect for all religions, what they represent, and their cause.
There is no religion that is greater than the other to me. But interesting points to me are that (1) most religions have set creeds and teachings, that are backed by a long history of scholars and text. (2) Religions also have similar beliefs especially when defining acts that are good from acts that are considered bad. (3) In every religion there is a clear structure of leadership, something that is definitely non-existent in my spirituality, lol, it’s just God and me. (4) Hindis, and other religions like the Yoruba, have many different gods, all of which are important with specific powers, but the most respected god is Brahma, the creator. Buddhists have their leader, the Dalai Lama, Christians have Jesus, etc. The only difference is how the religions guide you towards a path of righteousness and salvation.
I have become very conscious about who and what dictates the manner in which I connect to God, and how I treat people. If you are on a spiritual journey, it is best to distance yourself from what you have already learned about religion and spirituality and relearn and then choose what speaks to your spirit and what you would love to adopt, make this journey 100% your own. Namaste.
by Nonhle Matsebula