Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Religion vs. Spirituality

I don't think of myself as a religious person, but I love anything that will expand my conscious
ness. Last weekend my husband went out for sushi in Seattle with Dr. Wayne. My friend Chaya, the acupuncturist, called and said, "Dr. Wayne Dyer??!" I had the same initial response. My husband's funny that way. He often says surprising or bizarre things very matter of factly. I can remember when he came home one evening and said, "I had a nice time at Starbucks with the Rinpoche." I had to ask, "And which Rinpoche might that be?" and he said, "The one I met in the library." I guess he met a holy Tibetan Lama in the Seattle Public Library and took him out for hot cocoa at Starbucks and a walk around Greenlake. When Seong Yoon came home from his evening out with Dr. Wayne, he had an armful of reading material that we have been devouring ever since. He hardly noticed our mailbox that lay in pieces across the street in front of our house. While he was dining on sushi and discussing psychology and religion with Dr. Wayne, I was picking up mailbox pieces and talking to police officers. It was the second time there was a car accident in front of our house since we've lived here. The neighbors claim it has happened more than 10 times in the same spot. Perhaps the culprit is a spirit, a black hole or maybe it's just a blind intersection which needs a stop or yield sign. So, anyway, one of the books he brought back from his dinner out is titled Introducing Ken Wilber: Concepts for an Evolving World. Wilber describes how all people grow upward along a spiral of development. There are different stages along this spiral just as there are stages of human development starting from the infant stage and continuing on to old age. Humans often get stuck in a particular stage of development and live out there entire life in this stage. Wilber uses colors to denote the stages. The color blue describes people who are stuck in the 6-11 year age bracket. Under the color blue are the words traditional, conformist, ethnocentric and agrarian. According to Wilber, 40 percent of the world's population live in this stage. If you are stuck in this stage, it will be difficult to understand the other stages of development because you have yet to pass through them. At the top of the spiral, which is represented by the color Turquoise, the words holarchial, integral, mature, worldcentric and informational are written. People who have passed through all stages of development can see the value of earlier stages. However, people stuck in earlier stages, will disregard anything that doesn't fit into their picture of the world. I find this very fascinating.

Recently, one of my colleagues at the college asked me to be on a panel on a discussion about "religion" and "spirituality" in her Cultural Issues class. The panel included one Muslim, one Christian and one Buddhist. I was the Buddhist, although I don't think of myself as a Buddhist. I am just a person who practices meditation. The goal was not to strike up an argument, but to find the commonality amongst all religions. The first question for the panel was What do the words "religion" and "spirituality" mean to you? We all agreed that the word "religion" may be the cause of separatism amongst groups of people. We can ask the question "What's your religion?" and from the answer we are given, we have already drawn a picture in our minds of this person. So, if you say you are a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Christian, you are, in effect, identifying yourself with a title. The definition of that title varies from person to person. Spirituality, we decided, is very different from religion. Spirituality describes a "oneness". It is something all of us can have. This word doesn't seem to discriminate. Spirituality is a quality that is in every human being's nature. Whether or not one chooses to develop it is up to that individual. It is a personal thing but, once developed, includes all things. This is where Wilber's idea of the spirit being something that we develop makes sense. The last question for the panel was What do you think is common or shared across all religious or spiritual practices? Our panel came up with many answers along a similar vein. One is that we as humans have a goodness inside of us. Also, that many people feel a sense of happiness or peacefulness when practicing their given faith. Last, if people are truly following their religion or spiritual practice, love, compassion, peace and wisdom should arise.


  1. Can people belong in several stages simultaneously?

    And I also believe that "religion" is a word that categorizes and thereby separates certain groups of people from others. A lot of belief-based conflicts are fought the name of a certain faith. In reality, however, the battles are fought to maintain these categories, to allow those involved to maintain the deluded sense of pride, arrogance, of belonging to an exclusive group of believers.

    Since belief, spirituality, and religion is such a integral part of many people's lives--especially in Asia and much of the Middle East--it is fantastic that there are people who actively seek to find commonalities between different ideas. But the differences do exist, and many times, they speak louder than the common themes...which is unfortunate.

    Sorry to blabber. The ultimate point of my comments is that I really enjoyed this post.

  2. Just as we move through developmental stages from infant to old age, we don't lose what we learned. Everything we learned through the stages remains part of us. The book talks about how an enlightened being may still carry a body and therefore have to use past stages in order to carry out a certain tasks on a mundane level.

    Yes, what you say is very true. It is unfortunate that the differences and conflicts that arise from the differences in religion speak louder than common themes. Perhaps one reason is that 40 percent of the population, according to Wilber, are in a child-state in their spiritual development. If 40 percent of the population choose to remain in a fixed state, evolution, you can imagine, is slow.

  3. Before reading your post I thought about what my own perceptions of the difference between religion and spirituality. As I read through your pose I found myself broadly agreeing with your points. For me, religion is about an organised collective - often organised in such a way that the hierarchy controls the laity and places an impediment between the laity and the deity. Spirituality is about the individual - or if a deity is involved then the direct unimpeded relationship between the individual and their deity.

    Without having read Wilber's book I can't comment authoritatively, but the scientist in me wonders just how he came up with the percentages quoted. Also, the words associated with the top level of the spiral are peculiar.

  4. Hi "wandering photographer"! Yes, I agree with you. Hierarchy and the "organised collective" can often hinder rather than help. Often we are told what to believe and how to act by the organised collective. Spirituality lets us have our own experience.

    I think you must be ORANGE (rational, scientific, modern, worldcentric and industrial). Just joking with you here. I only read a chapter of Ken Wilber's work, but am fascinated. The book I read was by Lew Howard. The percentages come from research by psychology professor Clare Graves from 1960-1980. Two of his students, Don Beck and Christopher Cowan verified and extended this work in a book called "Sprial Dynamics".

  5. hi.. im a moslem, but i do believe in spirituality too.. im not a radical one like you might saw on your screen :D im indonesian ;)

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    thanks :)