Is religiousness a help or a hindrance on the spiritual path? Or is it both? Or neither?
I’m not a religious person. And then again I’m very religious in a sense of the word. I’m a devout Buddhist and I go through periods of being a religious Buddhist and a non-religious Buddhist. Right now the pendulum swings to the latter.
Some Buddhists, like monks, are very religious. Rebirth, karma, tantric deities, etc. can be approached from a very religious outlook. Now, there is a great deal right with that. Our Mind, when focusing on a religious object, takes on a very specific texture, for lack of a better word. You can understand the feeling if you’ve ever been in awe of a particular church or sculpture or religious scripture. This aspect of Mind can be used and focused toward a specific goal such as “enlightenment.” (Which means more to me when I’m in a religious Buddhist phase vs. non religious Buddhist phase).
Keeping various commitments with this religious Mind also gives those commitments a more particular meaning to the individual, which, in turn, enhance the religious framework that the commitments are based upon. Saying, “I’m not going to eat meat because its harmful to sentient beings!” is a whole different enchilada than saying, “I’m not going to eat meat because my cholesterol is too high.” The religious Mind is a powerful tool on the spiritual path.
But the same quality of Mind can be found when you are being inspired by a great work of art or the wonders of nature. In Shambhala Buddhism we talk about Drala principle. Drala is that specific energy that we find in those instances when we are inspired by the world around us. Living here in the desert I am very often in awe of the amazing environment I am surrounded by.
Just as monks do with their religious convictions, we can use those inspirations to drive our spiritual journey. Religious artifacts are only inspiring to the Minds that are inspired by them. The same is so for the Earth and even your own lucky existence on it. A giant saguaro, or even a drainage ditch, can have the same awe-inspiring spiritual inspiration as the holiest religious object when we learn to see and cultivate that texture of Mind.
The sacredness of the entire world can be framed in a religious context. Or it can simply be sacred.
Chad Woodland has been meditating since he was around 18 years of age and in the Buddhist tradition for the last 17 years. Don’t ask his age, that’s not polite! He attends Phoenix Shambhala Meditation Center and Emaho in Scottsdale and is taking the Lam Rim Chen Mo course through Jamyang Center in London. He and his partner have been together for almost 17 years! If it weren’t for Buddhism he would still be single. You can follow him on Twitter @cwoodland.
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