Life

Is Religion Being Swallowed by Spirituality?

Disclaimer: I want to lay out my definitions of “spirituality” and “religion” as I see it before this article is read, to give better context

Spirituality – Encompasses practices and lifestyle habits unique to each individual that promote the well-being of our physical, emotional, and mental states
Religion – Structured set of practices and lifestyle habits passed down through generations that includes the belief in a higher power

Being born and raised in the multicultural city of Toronto, Canada has exposed to me to the multitude of religions that co-exist in this society. This was enhanced with the Sunday classes I took from Grades 1 through 12, which focused on learning about each of these religions and embracing the universal messages that each religion teaches. I had the foundation laid down for me to explore and discover my own beliefs and perspective on my relationship with God.

Although my family is Hindu, throughout the latter years of high school and throughout University, I began to distance myself gradually from the traditional Hindu practices, including regularly going to the temple for prayers. I began to identify myself as a more spiritual person, rather than a religious person.  I focused on removing my identification of God/Higher Power with any particular form and dedicating my prayers to the universe in general in English, the language I can understand and speak the most fluently. My focus is on my physical, emotional, and mental well-being, whether that is achieved through meditating, writing, and whatever other practice allows me to feel more in tune with myself.  This is constantly changing as I grow and experience life.

The reason that fuelled this disassociation from religion was that I was not able to connect and find meaning in the more specific practices that my parents’ generation performed for their entire lives. I wonder if other people feel the same way, especially in Sri Lanka, where religious practices have a greater presence in their day-to-day lives. That is not to say that I have settled on being only more “spiritual” and no longer more “religious”, as I believe it comes down to how aware and knowledgeable you are behind the motive and intention of specific religious practices.

That last statement came to me when I was with my grandmother during prayers for Navarathri (a 9-night Hindu festival worshipping three Hindu Goddesses of Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswathi). My thoughts during those prayers came in the form of this short poem I wrote immediately after:

Have we lost religion within the ancestral blood that is fading within our vessels?
These sacred flames burn in cold winter homes, only providing warmth to the eyes, but not to the soul.
I’ve seen ashes become dust, but simply because it lays untouched by the heart as our skin becomes thicker and indifferent.
Mantras land on my ears like a familiar song that’s been played out so much that it’s spit back out of necessity than devotion.
We don’t have time to contemplate on these idols who’ve blessed our ancestors with reassurance, hope, and passion.
Such concepts are now sought from each other through the layman’s language.
Perhaps it has taken these countless centuries to kindle strong independent spirits that burn with no need of a structure.
Or perhaps the truth we all seek for has been lost in the winds that have been broken and split within hungry metropolises.
We pray for an answer to heal our Mother, but refuse to accept the secrets she has offered to help us heal ourselves.

I am still trying to find my place in the pathways of spirituality and religion (perhaps, one cannot exist without the other), as I still have a lot of curiosity towards the origins and practices of my parents’ religion. I feel it is much easier for those raised in a city of many different religions, like myself, to follow a more secular lifestyle that has less ties to any religion. Perhaps if we are all able to tap into the very roots of why religions have become as structured as they are, we would be able to bridge the gap with our understanding of why we do what we do.

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