Has Spirituality Become Like Religion?

Via Nadia Ballas-Ruta
on Feb 22, 2011
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Has spirituality lost its way?

A few weeks before I began kindergarten, my father sat me down and proceeded to tell me about how he and my mother came to America.

He went on to explain that they came from two very different religions and that one of the reasons why they came here was because of religious freedom.

He then told me that due to their religious differences, they decided that I should have the freedom to pick whichever religion I wanted to follow. He also told me that all people are equal and that no one faith is superior to another.

Being that my parents gave me a lot of freedom to choose what I wanted to believe, I became fascinated with the concept of religion.

Although my mother was not a devout Catholic, whenever someone that we knew was in trouble, she took me to church and we would light a candle in prayer for whomever was in need of help. I used to love these outings. Entering the church felt like entering a house where you knew you were loved without a doubt. The smell of incense and the whole décor filled my heart with joy.

When one of my friends invited me to go to a synagogue, I jumped at the chance. The joy that I felt in church was the same as when I was sitting in the synagogue. It occurred to me that in both places I had the same feeling; unconditional love was a constant and freely given.

By the time I was in college, my fascination with the Divine had morphed into a sincere love of God. I had no clue what to call myself because every time I read about a different religion, I saw the beauty in it.

This lead to a sense of feeling lost because I never could buy into the belief that one faith was superior to another. Then spirituality entered my life and I thought this was the answer I was looking for.

During most of my twenties and thirties, spirituality reigned supreme in my consciousness. I was a devout follower. I read every spiritual book that I could find. I traveled to India in search of meaning. Eventually, I was initiated into one of the highest Vedanta orders in India and almost took final vows as a nun.

While on the monastic path, we studied every major religion that exists and we studied with the intention of realizing that each faith, although different in some ways, ultimately teaches the same concepts. I loved what I learned and eventually, the time came for me to leave that path because I couldn’t give up on not experiencing marriage.

So I re-entered the world and delved back into spirituality. However, something had changed but I couldn’t put my finger on it. That feeling lasted for nine years. I continued to read spiritual books and talk to people on the path but something just felt off. It was not until last October when I realized what was happening.

Many people condemn religion because it is very rigid and judgmental of those who disagree. Spirituality, initially, was to offer a kinder and gentler alternative to religion. However, that kindness has morphed into a dogma that is becoming very similar to that of its predecessor.

I have seen spirituality focus so much on crystals, chakras, channeling of archangels, and such to the point that the field seems to have totally disregarded the fact that there is some greater force at work here. Some call this force God and others call it The Universe.

In my mind, call it whatever you wish, just recognize that every single thing you do, creates a ripple and that ripple will eventually find its way back to you. Every single faith in the world agrees on that point. Every single faith agrees on the importance of being good and kind.

The similarities between religions are staggering but people focus on the minute differences. Spirituality is doing the same exact thing. Spirituality was initially designed to help people realize that there is more to life than what you see. It was not designed to negate the existence of God or The Universe or whatever term you want to use.

So when did God become a bad word? I have no clue but what I do know is that the Divine is being pushed out of spirituality and that is just sad. It is like pushing Buddha out of Buddhism.

When the focus becomes crystals or when people start to talk about themselves in the third person, it kind of takes away from the beauty of spirituality.

Because of my spiritual experiences and my past, so many people contact me with questions about crystals and channeling and all that stuff. I cringe every single time I receive such a question.

I cringe because that is not spirituality. You can have all the best crystals in the world but if your heart is not rooted in the belief of really being compassionate, no amount of crystals is going to help you find joy or inner peace. If it were that simple, the world would be filled with so many more happier people.

Forgive me if this sounds harsh but please know that I write this all out of love. Do I love God/The Universe? Yes, I do and with every ounce of my being. My love for Buddha is equal to my love for Jesus, Moses, Shiva and every single prophet and true messenger of God that existed. Every single one of those beings was wise and worthy of respect.

Do I think spiritual people are superior to others? No. Some of the most spiritual people I know are atheists. Do I think religious people are superior to others? No.

Religious and spiritual labels mean nothing in my eyes. You can go to church every Sunday or meditate twice a day but if you treat your fellow human being like dirt, then your religious/spiritual actions mean nothing.

What matters more is how you live. Ultimately, every single act and entity on this planet is spiritual at its core. There is no need to give it a special label. It just simply exists.

Live with compassion and try your best to add beauty to the world. That is much more important than what you choose to call yourself.


About Nadia Ballas-Ruta

Nadia Ballas-Ruta is a former attorney and almost took final vows as a Vedanta nun with the prestigious Ramakrishna Order. She has traveled the world, lived in India and so much more. She currently is working as a freelance writer and photographer. The focus of her work as an artist is to help people recognize their inherent Divinity. She is also a regular contributor at Think Simple Now.


35 Responses to “Has Spirituality Become Like Religion?”

  1. YesuDas says:

    Beautiful, Nadia! I am a Third Order Franciscan in the Episcopal Church, and I love Ramakrishna and Vivekananda; I just introduced my book group to "Karma Yoga," and they loved it. People are so either/or, as though both/and were not an option.

    I, too, am dismayed at the way people seem to want to be able to self-ID as "spiritual" without being involved with Spirit, acknowledging God, or taking on any kind of moral rigor. Your observations here are like a disclosing tablet for all that, and I thank you.

  2. *K* says:

    oh my goodness what a lovely post. I had a similar upbringing and spiritual experience and I can't help but wonder at how many people "escaped" religious dogma only to carry their previous habits and judgments into a new realm of practice…very timely and well-written, thank you!

  3. Hey YesuDas!

    Thank you so much for all that you wrote. And it is good to know that I am not alone in wondering why people are so willing to push out the Divine from spirituality.

    By the way, I am not surprised that your book group loved the "Karma Yoga" book. Vedanta is a thought system that I think appeals to many people because of how accepting it is of all other faiths.

    Hope all is well with you and have a beautiful day!

  4. Hi K,

    Thank you so much for the positive feedback. And I loved your observation about how some who "escaped" religious dogma carry it over to other aspects of life. So very true and so very sad. I think many people want to feel good about themselves and so they look to some type of dogma to give them confidence. The irony is that true confidence comes when we can be tolerant and open to those who may see the world a bit differently than us.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nadia Ballas-Ruta, megan griswold. megan griswold said: Has Spirituality Become Like Religion?: Has spirituality lost its way? A few weeks before I began kindergarten, … http://bit.ly/hWWzHB […]

  6. Rosemary says:

    Hi Nadia, what a beautiful post this is. I very much agree with you that God, The Spirit, Higher Source, The Universe…whatever name we like to put on the essential essence of spirtuaity that is The Divine has no need to come under the banner of a religion… of any name. Having said that I still believe that Jesus, Buddha, Shiva, Allah and all the other messengers of God encompassed The Divine. But we don't need to belong to a religion or some 'brand' to take ownership of our spirituality or to worship God when The Divine lives within every one of us, in each indidivual heart and soul. It's strange that humans still feel the need to form groups and become evangelical…maybe it's a sort of pack instinct hangover from before we got up on our hind legs and became… ahem… individualistic. I love your bottom line Nadia:
    "Live with compassion and try your best to add beauty to the world. That is much more important than what you choose to call yourself."

  7. Padma Kadag says:

    I know that my comments on EJ, to most, sound as though I am a "Buddhism Cop". I assure you that I am not. My understanding of Buddhism is very limited but there are things said here that, to me anyway, aren't quite right when Buddhism is discussed. So I comment on them. "My love for Buddha is equal to my love for Jesus, Moses, Shiva and every single prophet and true messenger of God that existed." This statement, if I read it correctly, is stating that the Buddha was/is a messenger from god. I understand your idea here but this is an incorrect assumption and assumption it is for there is nothing in any teaching, scripture, or mind of any legitimate Buddhist teacher which could or would support that assumption the the Buddha was sent by god or a particular god or Buddha's teachings were born from a god.

  8. Padma Kadag says:

    If I might add…..The Buddha actually liberated gods and goddesses from their own karma and samsara. He taught that neither paths of extremism, eternalism (god) and nihilism(nothing), are capable of ultimate spiritual fruition and are the very thing which keeps our minds steeped in cyclic suffering. So he revealed the Middle Path after his enlightenment. All of those that want to waive the banner of all religions and spiritual paths are ultimately the same are missing the point of the Buddha. When Carl Jung wrote about Archetypes and Joseph Campbell used this to support himself by showing the so called road map of all religions…this was the popular beginning of this idea of one goal in all religions. I think that it is an assumption bordering on a bit of ignorance if we spend our time trying to validate all religions as one when we ourselves have not carried one of the endless paths to it's highest goals ourselves.

  9. Hi Rosemary,

    Thank you so much for the kind words and for sharing your thoughts. I found myself nodding along with everything that you wrote. 🙂

    Have a beautiful day! 🙂

  10. AlanHaffa says:

    Honestly, I can't comment about the state of "spirituality" because the closest I come to practicing anything like spirituality is meditating in Yoga class. From what you have written, it seems that you are reacting to the commercialization of "spirituality," and the resulting attitude that one can buy it if they just know which crystals to buy or which book to read. Many people I gather turn to spirituality because they reject the organizational and hierarchical structure of organized religion and the accompanying pressure to turn worship into a product as well.
    I think you are probably onto something but it really doesn't surprise me that it has happened and I doubt you can do anything about it. All spiritual movements tend to have these lapses where secular influences take over and then at some point a new "reform" movement comes along to purify the believers. It is just the way of human nature. My advice is to let it go and focus on your own spiritual practice and actions–you can't change what is bothering you and by looking outward in that way all you are doing is disturbing your own sense of spiritual peace.

  11. Hey Padma,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Assumptions are never a wise thing to do. 🙂

    Each religion is beautiful in its own way and each religion ultimately teaches the same thing. Each religion encourages people to be compassionate, not to kill and so much more. To think otherwise is a reflection of why this world is so messed up.

    Tolerance and compassion are what the world needs. (Buddha was big on compassion and tolerance is a form of compassion.) To insist on the idea that one way is better than another is arrogance. And the world does not need more arrogance. As I said in the post…labels mean nothing. How we live means more. 🙂

  12. Hey Alan,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and you raised some great points. And no worries…I am not bothered by it anymore. It is funny how healing writing can be. The minute I wrote this article…all feelings about the issue disappeared. Life is funny that way. 🙂

    Hope all is awesome and have a great day!

  13. Ramesh says:

    🙂 Funny I never thought there were so many divisions between spirituality and religiosity. Wherever you look, divisions, fragmentations, this and that … people debating vegatarianism, veganism, feeding on fellow sentient beings etc…. one thing I have learned, our ego will find great use of 'spirituality' or whatever label du jour. Our ego also finds great of non-dualism as well. Time to take the garbage out, ALL of it.

  14. Amen to that, Ramesh! 🙂

  15. Padma Kadag says:

    Yes I would agree with you regarding compassion. In regard to your Tolerance remark…have you mistaken my comment to be disparaging toward your god while praising the Buddha? I certainly hope not as that is not a point I would profess. Rather, my point is that the Buddha, as clearly stated in the teachings, does not draw his doctrine from the gods nor is his origin from god. But that is not to say that gods either do or do not exist. Your response did not address my question regarding your "messenger of god" statement and the Buddha. Care to comment?

  16. helene_rose says:

    Beautiful! Love this: "You can have all the best crystals in the world but if your heart is not rooted in the belief of really being compassionate, no amount of crystals is going to help you find joy or inner peace."

  17. Thank you, Helene Rose! 🙂

  18. Hey Padma,

    Yes, I did address your comment. That is why I wrote "assumptions are never a wise thing to do." You assumed that I think Buddha was a messenger of God. And I never said (directly or indirectly) that Buddha drew his teachings from god.

    Even though I almost became a Vedanta nun, I have been a student of Buddhism for over 13 years and so I know Buddha's stance on the whole God issue. You assumed that I did not. As a result, your interpretation of the line was not in alignment with what I meant and said.

    The purpose of that statement (which you quoted in your original comment) was to show that I love all teachers from all faiths and that all faiths are worthy of respect and admiration. In my eyes, all are one.

    If you recall, I addressed some of those teachers by name (Buddha, Shiva, Moses, Jesus) and since there are numerous religions in the world, I chose to refer to those other faiths/teachers as being "every single prophet and true messenger of God that existed." So as you can see, you interpretation of the line was not in alignment with what I meant.

    Hope this clarifies things for you. 🙂 And by the way, what does it bother you so much if someone did decide to see Buddha as being from god? If that is how someone chooses to see him, then so be it. There is no harm in that if that is what they need in order to be loving and compassionate. All roads ultimately lead to the same destination which is liberation/enlightenment.

    With palms together. 🙂

  19. Hi, Nadia.

    Thanks for a beautiful article, and for generating a great discussion as well.

    As someone with a variety of in-depth experiences with organized religion myself, I can personally relate to what you're saying.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)
    Follow on Twitter

  20. Padma Kadag says:

    Thank you for clarifying your point regarding the "messenger" statement. If you refer to and see the Buddha as a god then by all means do as you like. There are many Buddhists, themselves, that regard the Buddha as an eternal god. An eternal god whether identified as being within one's self or some exterior god that sits in some other place known as heaven. I have no problem what so ever with your perceptions and concepts of reality….after all, all of us carry them. But I will say again that why would one refer to Buddha's teachings as originating from god or refer to the Buddha as a god when this is nowhere to be found in the Buddhist canon? Just for the record, I personally do not feel that all roads lead toward liberation or enlightenment. If this were the case why is it that we need to relearn with every lifetime basic Love and Compassion? Why do we continue to suffer?

  21. Padma Kadag says:

    This idea which was professed by Campbell and Bill Moyers that the Hero with a THousand Faces is ultimately following the same path who's destination is the same is an intellectual concept based on a hypothetical roadmap to enlightenment. Those that profess this concept (ie. westerners) have not followed a path to it's ultimate goal. Yet westerners want to state that all spiritual paths have the same destination. There is no evidence of this.

  22. Hey Padma,

    You raised some really excellent questions and I would love to answer them but to do so on here would not be right because my answers would be really long and will be somewhat deep which may put off some people. Plus, I am in the process of getting ready to move and as a result, things are hectic.

    So here is my suggestion: please email me at nadia [ at ] happylotuslifestyles [ dot ] com and we can talk more about this over email. Sound good to you?

  23. Hey Duff,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. My point was that some people focus so much on crystals, they forget the essence of spirituality which is to be compassionate and so on. If a person can focus on the essence of spirituality and yet love to use crystals, then good for them.

    Essence always trumps form. For example, as I wrote in the article, most atheists that I know are extremely spiritual people…even though they don't consider themselves that way. Hope this helped clarify things. 🙂

  24. Hi Bob,

    Thank you so much for the positive feedback and for letting me know that you can relate to my experiences. It is good to know that I am not alone in that. 🙂

    Have a great day!

  25. Your choice, of course, Nadia. But we love long and involved discussions here on Elephant, if you're willing.

  26. Thanks for the input, Bob. 🙂 It is not a matter of being willing, I am always open to discussion. It is a matter of time (because we are getting ready to move in three days) and effectiveness.

    In order for me to fully address the issues that Padma raised, I would need a lot of space and time because what I would shared (based on all that I learned during my monastic days and other experiences) would inevitably upset someone else or raise more questions which is totally understandable.

    And since I will be on the road for a while, I would not be able to answer all those questions. and I would feel so bad about that. So that is why I think it is best to either discuss this with Padma over email or maybe cover the issue in another article. 🙂

  27. Padma Kadag says:

    Hi Nadia..I really do enjoy commenting with you. It seems when we do comment in a public forum…so many things one comments on will open up other avenues of commentary for other folks. This usually is distracting from an original idea or comment. So i appreciate your willingness to discuss "undercover". Thank you. From the deepest place within me I respect your view. However…haha..I think I have made my point about the Buddha and god…but I believe it serves no good to profess this idea that all roads lead to enlightenment. Those who have gone before to enlightenment will no longer conceptualize intellectual assertions. "All roads" is just that, an intellectual assertion. If though this idea gives one comfort then that is fine but I am not sure the result will be lasting. I understand why you feel this way…but when i have felt that all beings were there standing with me in perfection and Love…the method I employed was not ordinary nor was it arbitrary.

  28. Makes sense, Nadia. I understand. Please do bring the most interesting fruits of your discussions with Padma into new blogs. We'll all be the beneficiaries.

  29. Hi Padma,

    Why do you think that my feeling of all roads leading to enlightenment is not from the heart?

  30. […] example, I am of the firm belief that all religions are equal. It is really hard for me to think that one road to Divinity is superior to another. Not everyone […]

  31. Neeraj says:

    The TRUTH will SET you FREE …in LIFE, to be in communion with God, one’s THOUGHTS….WORDS….and…ACTION…must be as one and righteous, then that person is PURE Hearted and TRUTHFUL, however nowadays, people think one thing, say another thing and end up doing something completely different. This attitude is creating a great RIFT, a GREAT GAP between HUMANS and GOD….ponder this…are you one such person?

    (basic goal irrespective of religion)

    Thank you very much.

    Godbless ^^ (love the article, very truthful and commendable)

  32. Roger Wolsey says:

    Here's an alternative perspective. I'd say that spirituality isn't enough like religion. See: "Spiritual But Not Giving a Damn" http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/03/spiritual-

    I offer it as a mirror to gaze upon.

    Peace. – Roger