Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spirituality or religion?

Polls cited in Newsweek indicate that more and more Americans consider themselves spiritual but not necessarily religious. You may be one of many who have given up their childhood creed, but feel drawn, nevertheless, to spiritual questions and practices. You may find organized religion too limited by its rituals and belief systems, too focused on archaic symbols and stories, and not sufficiently concerned with supporting you in your search for direct spiritual experience.

Religions generally begin with a vital spiritual impulse — look at the lives of Jesus, Mohammed, or Buddha — but often grow rigid over the centuries like an old tree and lose touch with their living spiritual essence. Genuine spirituality keeps resurfacing within religions, however, as an esoteric undercurrent. The establishment may view it with skepticism or even scorn but allow it to flourish as long as it doesn’t threaten the status quo. Judaism has its kabbalists and Hasids, Islam its Sufis, Buddhism its Zen masters and forest monks, Christianity its Franciscans and Carmelites. If you want a sense of meaning and belonging that comes from viewing your life in a broader metaphysical and historical context, conventional, name-brand religion may be your cup of tea. But if you want to awaken to the meaning of life and seek the inner transformation afforded by the practice of meditation or some other spiritual discipline, you’re better off ferreting out one of the esoteric undercurrents within the religious mainstream — or simply following a meditative practice that offers the possibility of direct spiritual experience but has no affiliation with traditional religion.

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