“Spirituality is man’s relationship with the Divine. Religion is crowd control.” Succinctly, that’s the difference between the spiritual and the religious. The two aren’t merely dissimilar. They’re often polar opposites.
Religion is about commandments. Much stupidity and cruelty in the name of religion stems from misinterpretation of scriptures. A story explains this. A village blacksmith found an apprentice, willing to work hard, at low pay. He began instructions. “When I take the metal out of the fire and keep it on the anvil, I will nod my head. Then hit it with the hammer.” The apprentice did what he thought he heard. The next day, the village had to find a new blacksmith.
However, spirituality is all about forgiveness and acceptance. Hafiz explains, “People fall in love, I fell into God.” A priest, a godly man, once told a lie. It troubled him endlessly and he wept copiously for his sin. A saint, who could converse with God, was passing by. The priest begged him, “Please tell God I’m sorry for my sin.” The next day he asked eagerly, “Did God reply?” “Indeed! He said, “I’ve forgotten it. Why does he remember?”
To its followers, religion seems to advocate abstinence, at all times. A priest, who supported celibacy, died. Soon after, his disciple too died. In heaven, imagine his surprise when he saw his Master with an extraordinarily beautiful woman on his lap. “Congratulations!” he greeted him. “God is indeed just. What a compensation for your penance!” “Idiot!” scolded the Master. “I’m not being rewarded. She’s being punished.”
Spirituality however is inclusive of all experiences, seeing God’s presence everywhere. Kabir avers, “What good if your saffron robes fill you with pride, but you’re colourless inside? Or you maintain silence, when there’s no music within?” The Master, to the shock of newcomers, enjoyed the good things of life too much to be termed holy. They found it hard to appreciate his sheer ordinariness and complete humanity. Finally, when they met him, wineglass in hand, they were compelled to question him. He replied, “When God makes a Master, he does not unmake the man.” A Sufi saint summed it up. “A good-natured sensualist,” he said, “is far better than a bad-tempered saint.”