Yeah, I’m Religious. So What? (And a little poke at Waylon Lewis).
“The religious mind is something entirely different from the mind that believes in religion. You cannot be religious and yet be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist. A religious mind does not seek at all; it cannot experiment with truth. Truth is not something dictated by your pleasure or pain, or by your conditioning as a Hindu or whatever religion you belong to. The religious mind is a state of mind in which there is no fear and therefore no belief whatsoever but only what is—what actually is.”
~ Freedom from the Known, The Second Penguin Krishnamurti Reader
So, you say you’re spiritual but not religious? Or maybe you go one step further and say you’re not even that.
You’re not spiritual, you just practice being a good person (Sorry, Waylon, I had to).
Now, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but I need to tell you something and it just might just sting:
That is a big, fat cosmic wimp-out.
Look, I understand where you’re coming from. You don’t want to go overboard with the whole religion thing. You don’t want to loose your rationality, your individuality, or, God forbid, your sense of humor. You don’t want to let mindless dogma get in the way of what’s really important. You don’t want to go all starry-eyed and start drooling on the carpet from an overdose of dharshan.
But in our quest to avoid the messiness of religion, which is really just the messiness of life, maybe we’ve forgotten what religion really is.
You see, the wish to simply be a good person is a noble one and one that should be nurtured. But unfortunately, being a good person is not a simple thing. We may practice being good people in little ways everyday but when push comes to shove, when the chips are down, it’s “me first” almost every time.
Most of the time it’s almost impossible for us to let go of the belief that we are at the center of the universe and that everyone and everything needs to be all about us. In fact, transforming that deeply ingrained selfishness into “goodness” is one of the hardest things we can do as human beings.
But the reason we have religious systems in the first place is precisely because transforming ourselves is so difficult. We’re selfish to the bones and changing our bad habits takes time, discipline and effort.
It’s not easy. It’s not something we can do only on our yoga lunch breaks, or by lighting a stick of incense before we sit down to browse through the Netflix cue. It takes a real shift in priorities, not just half-baked promises and feel-good aspirations.
A truly religious path gives us so much more than that. It gives us guidelines, steps to follow, meditations we can use to change our minds everyday. All of these things, when practiced diligently over time, can slowly break down our self-obsession, our greed, our delusions, all the things that get in the way of us being truly “good.”
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t honor the little steps we take. Every step on the spiritual path, done with sincerity and a true wish to transform ourselves and others, even if it’s just aspiring to one day be able to truly commit to a spiritual path, is worthy of rejoicing.
But we have to face the music here: if we really want to walk the talk, it’s gonna be uncomfortable. We’re gonna have to, at some point, leave the life of comfort and certainty behind.
The religious life is one in which we aim ourselves in the direction of truth. And sometimes the truth is scary. We have to live with a courageous heart as we seek to transform ourselves, not turning away in fear when what we find is not pretty or easy to handle.
The truly religious path is for people with big, wide-open hearts. It’s not for closed hearts or closed minds bound by blind faith. We have words to describe those things: fundamentalist, rigid, narrow-minded, bigoted.
Those things have nothing whatsoever to do with religion. Religion is much more open and flexible than all of that.
At its best, true religion is a sturdy ship that can, if we follow the directions properly, get us to the shore of the truth. Once we’re there, we’ll see that we can leave the ship behind.
Now, religion isn’t for everyone; some people don’t need it all. I’ve known a few saints in my time and they weren’t Christian or Buddhist or Hindu. But most of us, including yours truly, need a guide, a map and a compass. I know that if I don’t have these things, it’s easy for me to wander back onto the old paths of selfishness and suffering that I’m trying, little by little, to transform.
So if you’re religious, or think you might be, don’t be ashamed of it. It doesn’t make you unintelligent. It doesn’t make you any less of a freethinker. It certainly doesn’t make you any less of a good person.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise
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