Rugged Individual Spirituality
Published on June 15th, 2010 | by Harmonist staff32
“I’m spiritual but not religious.”
It’s a trendy phrase people often use to describe their belief that they don’t need organized religion to live a life of faith.
But for Jesuit priest James Martin, the phrase also hints at something else: egotism.
“Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness,” says Martin, an editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York City. “If it’s just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?”
Religious debates erupt over everything from doctrine to fashion. Martin has jumped into a running debate over the “I’m spiritual but not religious” phrase.
The “I’m spiritual but not religious” community is growing so much that one pastor compared it to a movement. In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72 percent of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they’re “more spiritual than religious.” The phrase is now so commonplace that it’s spawned its own acronym (“I’m SBNR”) and Facebook page: SBNR.org.
But what exactly does being “spiritual but not religious” mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?
Did you choose “Burger King Spirituality”?
Heather Cariou, a New York City-based author who calls herself spiritual instead of religious, doesn’t think so. She’s adopted a spirituality that blends Buddhism, Judaism and other beliefs.
“I don’t need to define myself to any community by putting myself in a box labeled Baptist, or Catholic, or Muslim,” she says. “When I die, I believe all my accounting will be done to God, and that when I enter the eternal realm, I will not walk though a door with a label on it.”
BJ Gallagher, a Huffington Post blogger who writes about spirituality, says she’s SBNR because organized religion inevitably degenerates into tussles over power, ego and money.
Gallagher tells a parable to illustrate her point:
“God and the devil were walking down a path one day when God spotted something sparkling by the side of the path. He picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand.
“Ah, Truth,” he said.
“Here, give it to me,” the devil said. “I’ll organize it.”
Gallagher says there’s nothing wrong with people blending insights from different faith traditions to create what she calls a “Burger King Spirituality — have it your way.”
She disputes the notion that spiritual people shun being accountable to a community.
“Twelve-step people have a brilliant spiritual community that avoids all the pitfalls of organized religion,” says Gallagher, author of “The Best Way Out is Always Through.”
“Each recovering addict has a ‘god of our own understanding,’ and there are no priests or intermediaries between you and your god. It’s a spiritual community that works.”
Nazli Ekim, who works in public relations in New York City, says calling herself spiritual instead of religious is her way of taking responsibility for herself.
Ekim was born in a Muslim family and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. She prayed to Allah every night, until she was 13 and had to take religion classes in high school.Then one day, she says she had to take charge of her own beliefs.
“I had this revelation that I bow to no one, and I’ve been spiritually a much happier person,” says Ekim, who describers herself now as a Taoist, a religious practice from ancient China that emphasizes the unity of humanity and the universe.
“I make my own mistakes and take responsibility for them. I’ve lied, cheated, hurt people — sometimes on purpose. Did I ever think I will burn in hell for all eternity? I didn’t. Did I feel bad and made up for my mistakes? I certainly did, but not out of fear of God.”
Going on a spiritual walkabout
The debate over being spiritual rather than religious is not just about semantics. It’s about survival.
Numerous surveys show the number of Americans who do not identify themselves as religious has been increasing and likely will continue to grow.
A 2008 survey conducted by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, dubbed these Americans who don’t identify with any religion as “Nones.”
Seminaries, churches, mosques and other institutions will struggle for survival if they don’t somehow convince future generations that being religious isn’t so bad after all, religion scholars warn.
Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College in Massachusetts, says there’s a lot of good in old-time religion.
Religious communities excel at caring for members in difficult times, encouraging members to serve others and teaching religious practices that have been tested and wrestled with for centuries, Walters says.
“Hymn-singing, forms of prayer and worship, teachings about social justice and forgiveness — all these things are valuable elements of religious wisdom,” Walters says. “Piecing it together by yourself can be done, but with great difficulty.”
Being a spiritual Lone Ranger fits the tenor of our times, says June-Ann Greeley, a theology and philosophy professor.
“Religion demands that we accord to human existence some absolutes and eternal truths, and in a post-modern culture, that becomes all but impossible,” says Greeley, who teaches at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.
It’s much easier for “spiritual” people to go on “spiritual walkabouts,” Greeley says.
“People seem not to have the time nor the energy or interest to delve deeply into any one faith or religious tradition,” Greeley says. “So they move through, collecting ideas and practices and tenets that most appeal to the self, but making no connections to groups or communities.”
Being spiritual instead of religious may sound sophisticated, but the choice may ultimately come down to egotism, says Martin, the Jesuit priest, who writes about the phrase in his book, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost Everything).”
“Religion is hard,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just too much work. People don’t feel like it. I have better things to do with my time. It’s plain old laziness.”
I have long classified myself as spiritual not religious.
The problem with being “religious” is that being “religious” most usually means that a person is locked into a particular faith or belief that most always leads to the arrogance of religious prejudice due to the rigid belief in only one religious faith.
Being spiritual but not religious means that a person can see the spiritual elements of the different religions and appreciate them all. Being “religious” means that one is most usually fanatically devoted to a single teacher or sect of religious belief in defiance of all other religious beliefs and holy missions.
The bigotry we see so fully saturating the Abrahamic religions is all the evidence we need that being “religious” is subjective. One person might consider himself to be a great saint with great faith and another might see him as a meat-eating derelict.
That is why being spiritual is preferred over being religious because as we can see it is the religious people in history that have committed the genocide while the spiritual thinkers have embraced the true in all religions. There are too many cruel animal killers in the world posing as religious persons to accept the claim that being religious is better than being spiritual.
Being “religious” in one’s own mind leads to a sense of personal superiority and a corresponding ego of being above others.
(Hence the top-heavy ISKCON where gurus are as plentiful as fleas on a dog.)
It’s always better to just be humble soul full of spiritual knowledge than a “religious” person full of bigotry, arrogance and contempt.
I guess you are saying here that one can appreciate the goodness in other people even if they are eating meat, I agree.
Then you say here,
There are too many cruel animal killers in the world posing as religious persons to accept the claim that being religious is better than being spiritual
Here you say the opposite animal killers cannot be spiritual and hence, you show that you have not gotten ridden of the bigotry of others you are attacking.
I know you will come back and make arguments about suicide bombers, dogs,fleas etc, but it would be good if could answer the points raised instead of enjoying blasting everybody.
I disagree. How can there be any goodness in meat eating? Without developing compassion there is no question of goodness in an individiual; what is perceived perhaps as goodness there is only sentimentalism still sprung up of ignorance. I believe Srila Prabhupada spoke about that when he insisted, while discussing good and evil with Christian leaders on ocasions, that there is no question of fraternity among Christians until the commandment “Thou Shall Not Kill” was fully comprehended as to actually mean vegetarianism.
Perhaps Bhima was in ignorance too for eating meat. Similarly Aquinas from the Christian tradition was sentimental with no goodness.
Only after Srila Bhaktivinoda stopped eating meat, he came to the mode of ignorance. There was no goodness in him for the first 35-40 years of life.
Perhaps you are right, I should reassess my beliefs and feel that I am superior to everybody above on account of myself not eating meat. It feels great to feel superior to 99% of world population and from that pedestal condemn everybody as they are in mode of ignorance. I really enjoy that.
Gaura-Vijaya, this to second your, and my, opinion and views on the above theme, and coming from an online vegetarian resource group, I believe it is rather telling:
On a more personal note, I did dabble, for many a year, with a classic Hindu-style lacto-vegetarianism before my inquiries in and around, and ruminations on a number of subjects germane to the broader issue of concern here led me to extricate myself from that imposed straitjacket and renew my erstwhile omnivorous ways. I sure have no intent of revisiting this stance, for it suits my temperament, lifestyle and persona more than amply.
As an aside, I should also point out that a quick look at the world around us would, sans a shadow of a doubt, indicate that many of the most compassionate people alive today subscribe to a well and truly non-vegetarian diet, notwithstanding that some on this board would summarily dismiss them as mode-of-darkness ignoramuses. Going by your gratifyingly latitudinarian posts, however, I do reckon that sympathising with this adopted above position of mine would be easy for you.
Activities that seem to contradict the bahavior of a liberated soul, such as Bhima’s or Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s meat eating, are said to be activities within the context of sacred lila and so they are not representative of the meat eating of ignorant jivas.
No, we are not to feel superior on our own account, but it is indeed a superior position to be free of meat eating due to being enlightened by actual knowledgeable spiritualists such as our acaryas.
I don’t interfere with other people’s choices and I have to admit that many people who do eat meat are superior to me in many respects. However, as the practice of yoga recommends vegetarianism and the Gosvamis recommended this practice, I follow it. I like to be vegetarian and it suits me very well both psychologically and physically. However, it does not stop me from admiring people who occasionally drink wine or eat meat, but I don’t think it is necessary for me to adopt their cuisine and diet to inculcate the positive qualities they have. I just want to follow the vegetarian diet and inculcate their positive qualities. I respect your choice of your lifestyle and people have to decide individually.
“Activities that seem to contradict the bahavior of a liberated soul, such as Bhima’s or Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s meat eating, are said to be activities within the context of sacred lila and so they are not representative of the meat eating of ignorant jivas.”
So all souls apart from those studied by GV are ignorant? When St Francis( I am not sure about that though even if it is true my admiration for him does not decrease) and Aquinas eat meat they are ignorant souls, but people who are high in estimation of GV are doing so only in context of lila. So advanced souls are patented by GV, right?
That is so good.
I again totally chime with what you’ve written, for one’s eating habits can only be, as you rightly proclaim, an intensely individual choice.
I do appreciate the goodness in a non-vegetarian person. Bhagavad-gita says everyone is a combination of all three modes, so meat-eaters are ignorant about the evil of meat-eating but can still have some measure of Sattva-guna in their characters. My point was about “religions” and being able to see some good in all the religious ideals of the many religions, not so much about the people who proclaim a faith though they be habituated to some very cruel and violent culture of callousness to the suffering of innocent and simple animals. A spiritual but not religious person is not shackled to a dogma or a sect. A religious person is many times a Texas Beef Rancher who preaches in Church on Sunday about believin’ in Jesus and gettin’ saved.
Sorry, but that is not a religious person to me.
Conversely prabhuji, a person may claim to be spiritual, i.e., to not adhere to any particular religion and proudly state that they honor the goodness in everyone and everywhere, and yet unable to understand the fundamental logic that ahimsa, compassion, is a defining element of spirituality.
There is no goodness in meat eating. Its the line on the sand.
Prabhupada said so clearly.
It is said that even Saint Francis of Assisi ate meat despite his so called compassion to all creatures. This is why Christian principles, remaining on this side of sentimentalism, falls short and are ultimately just restricted to religion, i.e., faith in the mode of passion at best.
Spirituality is the stroke of divya-jana, real knowledge imparted in a descending manner. Of course not all non meat eaters are automatically spiritualists, but a genuine spiritualist has automatically crossed over on the compassionate side of the line.
In ahimsa you can’t surpass the Jains. They don’t even take a bath because they want to avoid killing microbes. They wear a mask to breathe less living entities and never go out during rain time. So should I consider Jains to be the most advanced spiritually?
First of all I am not sure if St Francis ate meat. But even if he did, I am sure he is superior to many of the so called practitioners of GV in today’s time. They can’t even come close to his selfless and humble nature that made even an atheist like Russell admire him.
If you really care for things to the extreme, you should be vegan not vegetarian as milk production involves a lot of violence. Similarly production of sugar involves violence.
Thanks for your response K B prabhu. I really appreciate it.
Following is a passage from my book Journey to Ecstasy: Vaishnava Viewpoint on the issue:
“”Religion / Spirituality
Nowadays, people often reject the very term “religion” and prefer to substitute “spirituality.” Often this is because they reject organized religions believing that an organization somehow cannot promote genuine religious experience, believing that spiritual experience must come from within and be a personal, not social experience. Perhaps they have witnessed only rituals in organized religion, similar to my experience as a child. Although this is sometimes the case, it need not necessarily be so. But again, the logic of the premise is faulty, as it is entirely feasible that an organized religion can promote spiritual experience among its congregation. In other words, an ecclesiastical organization of quality can harmonize the seeming perceived discreprancy between “religion” and “spirituality.” Vaishnava ecclesiastical organizations harmonize this by promoting mass spiritual experience through kirtan, congregational chanting of the Holy Names of God, Krishna, as well as through japa, individual chanting of the Holy Names of God, Krishna. This also demonstrates that “religion” and “spirituality” aren’t mutually exclusive; hence I use the terms interchangeably. By definition, also, they can be seen as equivalent. In the dictionary (7), “religion” has two roots: “re” meaning again, and “ligare,” which is Latin to tie or bind. Religion binds, ties and re-links us to God; this is also the literal definition of yoga, meaning to yoke or link the individual soul to the Paramatma in the ashtanga yoga system or to link the soul directly to Krishna in the bhaki yoga system. Spirituality (7) is defined in part as “sensitivity or attachment to religious values. ” Spirituality obviously refers to matters of spirit, which we can define as soul, the symptom of which is consciousness, of which Krishna consciousness is the prime example…””
Copyright 2008, 2009 Jeff Ratner All rights reserved.
Gaura-Vijay, no no Jain’s or any other’s – Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s is the real ahimsa. And we as aspiring followers of the Gosvamis should understand what real ahimsa is. Otherwise soon we wouldn’t be able to explain the difference between a vegan and the Six Gosvamis of Vrindavan; the difference between morality of this world and the natural dharma of the jiva. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur explains in his masterpiece Jaiva Dharma the difference between the calculated non violence of a religious mind and the spontaneous giving of a truly enlightened jiva.
I think there is merit to Gaura Vijaya’s point that there are many who eat meat yet despite that are far kinder people than many followers of Gaudiya Vaisnavism who don’t but who feel superior about it. Even within GV there is a world of difference between the sadhakas who follow vegetarianism out of a sense of duty to the guru and/or the teachings and those who do so out of genuine compassion. The former could easily be dismissed as merely “religious” while the other is spiritual.
How can a person be kind despite the fact of his meat eating? How? Such statement is a contradiction. What precisely is that person’s kindness? If he again and again engages in violence without a trace of either awareness and/or compassion, where is this claimed kindness?
There are no random acts of kindness. Everything happens for a reason. Kindness is born of association with sadhus.
“Kindness is born of association with sadhus.” Obviously the sadhus are patented by GV alone. There can’t be sadhus that can help you inculcate kindness except the sadhus in GV.
How can a person be kind if he eats sugar and milk coming from animal exploitation? Even SP used sugar and milk in spite of his disciples talking about the exploitation involved. Was he cruel? He said he offered it to Krsna, so it will benefit the cows. What about tons of ghee, milk etc used in temples for bathing the deity and cooking prasadam?Aren’t the devotees ignoring the exploitation of cows there? They are because I personally think most devotees including me don’t give up milk because of the need to indulge in sense gratification(gulab jamuns etc), not so that the cows will be benefited by offering milk products to Krsna. But some of these devotees will be called kind by you. Yogis used deer skin to sit for meditation and that involved killing of innocent creature like deers. Were all yogis cruel? Everybody is guilty of exploitation to some level or other and they can be trying to do what they can. BVT wrote the Krsna Samhita and many books while still eating meat. Should you reject all those books now? Where was BSST kindness when he wanted to serve meat to British people?
Francis of Accissi led a very simple and ascetic lifestyle where he tried to take minimum from nature and acknowledge the food he got from God. I had posted the youtube video for that purpose. Obviously there are some people who still claim he was vegetarian though you conclusion is supported better academically.
Devotees are crueler to humans than animals I think.Though debated but some claim that hitler was a vegetarian in the latter part of his life. Obviously that did not prevent him for slaughtering humans.
“Obviously the sadhus are patented by GV alone. There can’t be sadhus that can help you inculcate kindness except the sadhus in GV.”
The Gaudiya Vaishnava understanding reached by the Gosvamis is the highest sadhya achieveable. Its the very source of any conceivable kindness manifest in this world. And it is not inculcated but gently and sweetly placed in the heart due to the process being non different than the goal itself.
You are not sensitive to the plight of cows from which milk is derived. One more thing. You must know that it is mentioned in the S.B that Vishwamitra had to eat dogs when there was nothing available to eat. And then Rama had to eat meat etc etc. SP opposed animal farming in the present times and not meat eating per se. In one of his conversations he asked Harikesa Maharaja to even eat meat and preach. SP was aware that kshatriyas could eat meat but he opposed mass slaughterhouses of modern times. Similarly, BSST was willing to serve meat to the British and preach.
Ok, only Gaudiya Vaisnavism is real. That is good for me and my ego. Nothing more to say.
PS- This video covers some details on how to harmonize eating meat and loving nature( St Francis) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRkimlmrn0k&NR=1
This is very much in the spirit of how we offer milk and sugar to krsna though it comes from violence.
“I don’t interfere with other people’s choices and I have to admit that many people who do eat meat are superior to me in many respects. However, as the practice of yoga recommends vegetarianism and the Gosvamis recommended this practice, I follow it. I like to be vegetarian and it suits me very well both psychologically and physically. However, it does not stop me from admiring people who occasionally drink wine or eat meat, but I don’t think it is necessary for me to adopt their cuisine and diet to inculcate the positive qualities they have. I just want to follow the vegetarian diet and inculcate their positive qualities. I respect your choice of your lifestyle and people have to decide individually.”
No offense but, coming from someone expeting to represent the Gaudiya point of view, this speech borders the ludicrous. First of all, the Gosvamis DO NOT recommend vegetarianism because its favorable for yogic practices. They recommend vegetarianism because compassion is intrinsic to receiving the seed of bhakti in one’s heart. No compassion – no bhakti; bhakti and compassion go hand in hand, a softening of the heart from inside out, to the point of joyful self sacrifice, and sacrifice that generates only joy.
Vegetarianism for a Gaudiya vaishnava is not a choice, a “lifestyle”, but a decision made by higher sources, and accepted out of true knowledge.
People who eat meat are in ignorance, there is no defending their position at all, and admiring such, what can be said, can be only classified as a patch of foolishness in one gibberish of a landscape.
I was foolish enough to even think about representing GV. I agree I made a mistake and I hope I don’t repeat it.
I did not say that Gosvamis recommended because they found it favorable for yogic practices. I said I choose the diet because Gosvamis recommended it and also as bhakti is a form of yoga and yoga niyamas also have that I follow that.
I asked you a question about use of sugar, milk, deer skin and how BSST wanted to serve meat etc but instead of that you attacked me.
Ok, I accept I am foolish and you are the person who can represent GV better. I accept defeat at your hands. I accept my ignorance and bow down to your enlightenment if that satisfies you.
The issues of dear skin, milk, Bhaktisidanta’s alleged non veg dinner – they are exceptional elements in an overall concept which ultimately seeks to abrandize any tendency to exploitation. They belong in the principle of removing a thorn with a thorn, so to speak, and do not in any way condone meat eating.
Again, I am sorry, but its foolish to defend meat eating, whatever angle you shape it – did you expect a medal?
Do you drink milk and sugar personally? I just asked that. If you do then you also are guilty of exploitation, but you ignore these facts about yourself.
I was not defending meat eating. I just said there can be people who eat meat and are better than people who don’t eat meat in many ways.
No I did not expect a medal for that and I already said that I accept that you know more than me about Gaudiya Vaisnavism. I truly believe that GV has no place for opinions like me and the opinions like you represent the majority of the people in GV and the real face of GV. My opinions are just my independent opinions that are mental speculations. Nothing more. I have nothing to do with GV. Thanks for bringing me to my senses.
Gaudiya Vashnavism is not about opinion but about facts.
I try to make these exchanges about the principles under discussion rather than our personal lives. But if you must know, I do take sugar sometimes, and I do drink milk that I am lucky to get from Krishna Caitanya’s cows.
Yes, I understand GV is about facts and you are more aware of those facts than me. I accept that already. You judge other people’s personal lives so easily. I was hurt to see you judge other persons in such extreme language, who I feel are pretty advanced ( St Francis or Radhanath Swami for example). Atleast I know that you are representing the real GV. The fact that most people from GV tolerate people like you( or in fact 80% of people are like you) and even allow you continue with your comments makes me take my move away from GV community firmer.
Yes I cannot support a community that feels great about criticizing others without seeing that they are not spiritually realized to comment on other people. Perhaps I am in ignorance and I will realize my folly in time.
Regarding spirituality versus religion, this is something that really interests me. I was speaking with Nitai-sundara not too long ago about the difference between perennialism and traditionalism and this idea came up. To make it simple, it goes something like this:
Imagine a giant mountain….
When we start climbing from the base we can’t see any other path except the one we’re on. I can’t see the countless other people heading for the summit on their own paths because the base of the mountain is so wide. From the perspective we each have at the outset we think we are on the only path. Ours must be the right one because we see no other paths and if you are not on my path then you must not be on a path at all!
By the time we get to the middle of our climb the mountain narrows and if I look way off into the distance on my left or right I can start to see other people working their way to the top as well. “Oh, damn! I guess I was wrong. My path wasn’t the only path to the top. Those people are clearly trying to go where I’m going–to Truth, to Wisdom, to Reality.”
At this point in the journey, since one sees that they are not the only one on the mountain, they can begin ridding themselves of all the dogma that they erroneously clung to when they were so sure they had the inside scoop to the top of the climb back at the bottom of the mountain.
So, the perennialist says that all the religions are guiding people to the top. For the perennialist, it doesn’t matter how one gets there. This opens up the door for the “spirituality” that people subscribe to these days. It’s a free-for-all, a spiritual smorgasboard. The perennialist says you can do some Buddhist meditation one day and some yoga the next. You can go to church, do some crystal worship, get your chakras balanced—“It’s all good”.
This sort of spirituality may allow people to dodge the unpleasantness and untidiness that inevitably comes along with organized religion, but I would argue they miss out on a lot! Here’s why…
In contrast to perennialism is traditionalism. The traditionalist IS a perennialist in the sense that they think all the paths are indeed heading to the same Truth. HOWEVER, not all perennialists are traditionalists!
There are some subtle variances but traditionalism generally suggests that “religion” holds a very important key that the spiritualist/perennialist overlooks. The traditionalist says you have to pick a path and adhere to it completely. Engaging in the traditions’ practices slowly reveals something to the practitioner that the smorgasboard spiritualist and perennialist will not have access too as they bounce around from practice to practice.
The notion of “faith” is that it connotes an element of “trust” that adhering to the practices outlined in their tradition culminates in the revelation of greater truths, which will in turn carry them further in their spiritual endeavors culminating in the Absolute Truth at the top of the mountain. If one never commits to the practices, presumably because of a lack of trust, at best there is a much weaker spiritual progression.
All religions have dirty laundry for sure and GV is no exception. But the practices outlined by bonafide religious traditions have something built-in that free form spirituality fails to recognize.
Now, for clarification, while I think the Ultimate Reality at the top of that proverbial mountain may be the same for all religions, I do not think the experiences one has with that Reality are the same at all. It seems reasonable there are different experiences of the same Reality. However, I think those experiences are reached most effectively through adherence to a particular religious path…not some spiritual, pick and chose, buffet.
Thanks for this Jason–well stated.
When I was at the Sivananda asrama years ago the director, a seasoned yoga practitioner, told me that at a certain point in my spiritual journey the eclectic sampling must end; that I must choose a path and stick to it and only then would I begin to move in a meaningful way toward Truth. According to my experience he was spot-on. Being “spiritual” without structure or a greater conceptual framework (sambandha-jnana) can easily lead to one thinking one is enlightened when one is actually not even in control of one’s mind and senses. This is the egotism the Jesuit priest in the article was talking about, and it’s rather common. The lack of submission to a higher authority works well for the Western mentality but goes ill with genuine spiritual pursuit.
You’re right Citta-Hari. And while this all makes sense to me, it’s still hard sometimes to commit to a path. Not sure why. I should take my own advice 🙂
As with so many things in life: easier said than done.
The difficulty with commitment is that once you decide you want to be one thing is that you have to give up all the other ways that you wanted or imagined to be. It it this painful process of letting go that does not allow people to commit.