Are religion and spiritualism two different school of thoughts? Is it necessary for the new-age spiritual beings to go all-out in making a distinction between the two?

“Spiritual but not religious”  – that’s the most-repeated self-description by today’s youth on Orkut, the virtual ‘community courtyard’ from Google.

So then, what does that mean anyway?

Probably that spiritualism is the new “opium of the masses”.  Karl Marx had once said that for religion. He can say that again, for spiritualism. Or would that be a mere duplication of a rather clarion thought?

Oxford Dictionary defines ‘spiritualism’ as a belief in, and supposed practice of communication with the dead, esp. through mediums! Shocked by the ‘original’ definition of  spiritualism, the spiritualists in us can take heart in the fact that the word ‘spiritual’ by the same authority is said to mean anything of the spirit or soul (spiritual relationship; spiritual home). Unfortunately, however, for today’s spiritual, the dictionary completes the aforementioned description by adding that spiritual also means religious, divine, inspired!

So, where’s the distinction between religion and spiritual? How is a spiritual person not religious? Why is religion being seen as a poor cousin of spiritualism by proponents of the latter?

The thinking, spiritualism-oriented youth would be surprised by the following description of spiritualism by western authors:

Spiritualism is a religious movement, prominent from the 1840s to the 1920s, found primarily in English-speaking countries. The movement’s distinguishing feature is the belief that the spirits of the dead can be contacted by mediums. These spirits are believed to lie on a higher spiritual plane than humans, and are therefore capable of providing guidance in both worldly and spiritual matters. Spiritualism is closely related to Spiritism, a religious movement that originated in France, and is today widespread in Brazil and other Latin countries.

What are they talking about – today’s spiritualists might wonder!

The fact of the matter, however,  is that either you like rock music in its entirety or you, like Yahoo Music, segregate rock music into 29 different categories! One of the categories is called Christian Rock. And if you think it would stop at that, you amaze yourself by finding out that there are 5 categories of Christian Rock!

Evidently, there is the truth –   music, and then there are various names of the truth viz.  rock, ballads, jazz and even spiritual and religious music.

A little peek into history tells us that until recent centuries, the history of spirituality remained bound up within the history of religion. Spriritual innovators operated within the context of a religious tradition, and became either marginalised / suppressed as heretics or separated out as schismatics.

Some western analysts believe Ralph Waldo Emerson to be the pioneer of the idea of spirituality as a distinct field.
The distinction between the spiritual and the religious became more common in the popular mind with the rise of secularism and the advent of the New Age movement.

The idea here is certainly not to challenge the ‘discipline of spiritualism’. The pursuit is to realize how denunciation of religion, any religion, for the sake of placing spiritualism on a higher plane not only lays bare incomplete understanding of religion but also defeats the very idea of spiritualism.

For, shouldn’t a person who is about the (inner, human) spirit and soul realize that religion also talks of there being God in each one us? Shouldn’t the very prevalent habit of mistaking rituals of religion with religion itself be overcome by a truly spiritual person? Shouldn’t a more evolved state of mind be magnanimous enough to give equal respect to every belief?

The fact of the matter is that both religion and spiritualism, if lived in their truest form, would be just as enlightening as one with the other’s name!

In India, the distinction between truly spiritual, religious or nationalist leaders becomes a tad difficult because religion – in spite of the nation being a secular union – is such an integral part of every identity. So whether it is the Arya Samaj in North India or The Art Of Living in the big urban centers of the country, there is no urgent or rigid separation of spiritualism from religion. Something that, while agreed by some spiritualism adherents, is not received favourably by others of their tribe. A part of the reason can be adoption of the same rigidity that had, in their belief, brought them away from religion. So while they might have now moved away from the rigidity of religious rituals, they have imbibed a rigidity in favour of their own school of thought; and in favour of their own school headmaster.

Surprisingly, or should we say disappointingly, while religious symbols  including the deities  are said to be the corrupting aspect of religion, there is no dearth of people who have achieved the cult of ‘spiritual gurus’.  Some are either self-styled Gods while others are called just that by their followers.  Some give discourse on life –   most of which are carried in almost all of the religious scriptures – while others lead you towards “holistic health and well-being”, another form of spiritualism.

Carrying the promise of being a saint, there are some learned people and some not so learned ones, who are addressed as ‘spiritual healers’. Remarkably, most of these gurus are suitably educated and do understand the basic tenets of science too. So, one often hears from their disciples, “Spiritual healing complements the allopathic medicines and reduces recovery time after any illness.”

The belief, even if you do not call the cause ‘spiritual healing’ is a true one. But it is not a unique one. While doctors themselves talk of ‘dua’ (prayers) being just as important as ‘dawa’ (medicines), religion itself talks of the role of love and compassion of the companinion and inner satisfaction and / or desire of the patient to get well as being paramount for an “aushadhee” (medicine) to work.

In other words, whether you call it spiritual healing – by self or through a guru – or call it the love and support of your loved ones; whether you call it your spiritual quest or name it journey towards nirvana; whether you call a person ‘spiritual guru’ or address him as Pandit, Maulvi or Priest, the fact of the matter is that we are intrinsically talking of the same coin. A coin that makes humanity win from each side.

So, why is this desperate need to dissociate one from the other? In fact, it would have been fair enough if it had stopped at that. The truth of the matter is that religion is fast being painted as a dirty word by some sections of the ‘spiritual world’. Keeping in view today’s state of affairs, it is barely surprising. But does that make it just?


Author. Entrepreneur. Filmmaker. Journalist.

Leave A Response