There has been and continues to be much confusion over what is religion and/or spirituality. In actuality, these two words have an identical meaning. "Religion" comes from the Latin root "religio" which means "to link-back" to the spirit. This is the identical meaning of the word "Yoga" which comes from the Sanskrit "Yuj;" i.e., "to yoke" to the spirit. Even before the word "Yoga" was used, the Vedas (Hindu scripture) use the word "Yajna" which essentially means "sacrifice." The word "sacrifice" comes from the Latin translation "sacred doing." With this understanding, one becomes aware of the inseparable nature of Yoga/Religion/Spirituality.
Religion is also about moral/ethical rules and various rituals. If the goal is "to link" or "to yoke" to the spirit (Spiritual-Realization), how does one arrive at this "ultimate" destination? This is precisely where religious rules and rituals come into play. If we liken Spiritual-Realization to the top of the mountain, the path is the rules and rituals–the sacred doing–that leads one to the summit. Of course, the classical yogic disciplines supply the necessary rules and rituals that the dedicated aspirant can choose to follow.
It is enlightening to realize that all religious traditions have as their foundation moral rules and various religious rituals or ethics and devotion, thus we see the universal nature of the path to Spiritual-Realization. Of course when we begin to use specific terminology, then do we define the various religious/spiritual traditions of the world. This is only natural and makes common sense. For example, the Ten Commandments and Mass immediately define Catholic Christianity, while the Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga immediately relate to Hinduism.
If we return to the analogy of the mountain, the many paths to the "Oneness" at the top represent the many spiritual/religious traditions. As a spiritual seeker, one may spend years traveling around the base of the spiritual mountain sampling the various paths, but to finally reach the summit, one must at some point find a path that is comfortable to them and travel its length. Certainly, this complete experience would be vital before one could ever hope to be a teacher of a specific path.
Religion is also about organization. In reality when as few as two get together and begin discussing "things spiritual," we have the beginning of a religious organization. As the number of spiritual friends increases, so do the rules–no smoking, please take your shoes off, lets meet at 8:00, for example. This is not only inevitable but also practical and makes perfect sense. Naturally, the opposite of organization is chaos which is no way to live and certainly no way to effectively attain to Spiritual-Realization.
With these thoughts in mind, it should help one to clarify much of the general confusion over these sometimes very emotional topics. The modern cliche "I am spiritual but not religious" then becomes an oxymoron. The tendency to try and create a so-called "universal spirituality" while paradoxically using specific terminology becomes naive, at best. The many great religions of the world are made up of individuals who have similar likes and desires on their journey to the spirit. Naturally, the teachers come from among those whose interest and experience is keen and matured.
Of course, throughout history there has been much violence in the name of religion (and much non-sense in the name of spirituality). To many this has given "religion" a bad connotation. However given that religion is nothing without those who follow that particular path, we understand the problem. As fallible human beings, we do good and bad, period. Realizing this, it is really not wise to "throw the baby out with the bathwater." For example in various societal organizations, such as police and educators, a mature individual realizes that there will be a certain amount of corrupt police and teachers. This realization however does not illicit an emotional response to destroy these necessary institutions. The solution is obviously to simply get rid of the "bad apples." Interestingly, however, many react in just that way when it comes to religion. When it is discovered that there is something or someone that is corrupt, the outcry is to destroy all religion. This is not only naive but self-defeating. Relative harmony will come through the respect of the many religions not through the naive (and violent) attempts to eradicate all religions and the effort to make a one religion for all. Unity through Diversity is the key–not unity through "sameness" (fundamentalism) nor "unity through blindness (new-age universalism).
In an interesting psychological twist, many who have a distaste for religion (which is really only a lack of knowledge) claim to be following a spiritual tradition and not a religion. Of course with an understanding of the identical meaning of the words religion/spirituality this becomes an oxymoron. "Humorously," this claim is often followed by the assertion that one is following "the" universal spiritual tradition (of course, all the while using specific terminology that is unique to one or another of the world religions). This is like trying to simultaneously follow all paths up the mountain. One never reaches the top and certainly never fully knows any path. This is actually the indication of the formulation of a (potentially dangerous) "spiritual" cult. This attitude of "I am following the universal spiritual path" is found in "Yoga" zealots who naively assert "Yoga is not religion but the universal spirituality" and in those Christians who believe "Christianity is not a religion but the universal way." Hare Krishnas often assert they are not a religion but represent the universal spirituality (all is a reflection of the "reality" of Krishna). Devotees of Sai Baba claim the same "universal spirituality" of course, it is all a reflection of Sai. Will the real Universal Spirituality please stand up!
It is a common (conscious or unconscious) "tactic" to attempt to create a so-called "universal spiritual path." This seems very tempting and tends to draw in the innocent. Of course, the "theology" of the group is almost always made up from existing religious traditions. The group soon formulates its rules and rituals (bingo! religion), and most often the "leader" becomes the focal point. Paradoxically, in their so-called "universalness," they are quick to denounce all other religions (though they freely "borrow" from them). This scenario is clearly visible in the unethical "modern yoga movement" which is nothing short of the violation of the established yogic/religious/spiritual traditions of Sanatan Dharma/Hinduism.
The various spiritual disciplines of Yoga constitute the religion of Sanatan Dharma also known as Hinduism. (Sanatan Dharma also "gave birth" to the Buddhist, Jain and Sikh religions, therefore yogic disciplines are ethically taught within the context of those religions as well.) One does not, for example, go into a Christian church and greet them with "Namaste" and then proceed to do puja to Ganesha, chant Aum, sit in Lotus and meditate. These are all specific to the yogic path of Hinduism. To not understand and respect these facts is to be uninformed, at best.
Many come to learn so-called "yoga" and have no idea that this is all about the religion of Hinduism. Naturally, because the so-called "teacher" is not even aware of what is yoga. Again, one would not go to a Mosque, for example, and expect a Swami or a Rabbi to be teaching. This is in no way a denunciation of the Muslim, Hindu or Jewish religions, but simply a matter of common sense and respect for the uniqueness of the many spiritual/religious paths. Obviously the teacher of any aspect of Yoga/Hinduism is, firstly, a Hindu. (BTW, just as anyone can become a Christian, anyone can become a Hindu.)
Sadly, much of what should be common sense is simply not realized. There is a saying "There are no bad students just bad teachers." Unfortunately, many naive Hindu teachers have presented the various teachings of yoga in this misunderstood "universal" way, thus the illusion is perpetuated. In some ways this is understandable. When one is only exposed to a specific religious tradition, it is easy to falsely assume that all else is nothing but a reflection of one's own tradition. Thereby, we create the "universal spiritual tradition" illusion.
The Eternal Journey to Spiritual-Realization is a reality to be experienced. Each one must find the path that is comfortable to them. One may choose an already established path thereby reaping the benefits of all those who have gone before-gaining help from below and well as above. One may also discover a new path-who knows? Whatever the case may be, each one must make the journey to the top and then will one realize, from experience, the truth of the universal/omnipresent nature of Spiritual-Reality. From a distance, the spiritual mountain appears as one. When we begin to climb, however, we realize the necessity of finding a path. When we reach the top, then does one enter the true experience of "Oneness." you to tell a story and let your users know a little more about you.
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