We are participating in an explosion of new age teaching, interest in eastern religion, and a general curiosity about the usefulness of everyday spiritual practice. When you turn on the television, it seems just about every talk show host is discussing how to maximize human potential and help viewers become a more advanced version of self.
In our effort to reach higher, spirituality is a major interest in the books we read, the classes we take, and the inner peace we want to find. Accordingly, there is growing dialog concerning differences between traditional religious teaching and a form of spiritual practice termed: everyday spirituality or spirituality of the market place. Interestingly enough, the usefulness of spiritual practice in everyday life is an ancient teaching, and lies at the heart of human development systems like Sufism; where travelers are taught, through ordinary daily activity, to align with the Higher and make life a prayer.
To help travelers add this practical approach, we will examine the basic difference between traditional religious form and spirituality; offering various ‘things to know, and things to do’ while following a personal spiritual path.
Religion may be compared
To a great river that feeds the land.
The River winds its way as a mighty force
And smaller tributaries are formed to serve the distant regions.
Some are satisfied
To drink of the small stream
And forget they must travel
The river to its Source.
Beyond the river’s gate
The Ocean is waiting.
Religion &. Spirituality
For spiritual travelers, at some point, it becomes clear that new age and eastern systems offer techniques that speak to the basic difference between religious form and personal spiritual experience. While all traditional religious systems are based upon spiritual teachings, inner personal experience is not always emphasized and many travelers leave the religion of their birth with a deep, inner hunger that religious form did not completely fill.
In the beginning stages of any learning, adherence to form is essential; and as the traveler matures in their traditional religious training, a deeper more personal experience may be available. However, many travelers leave for a variety of reasons or get ‘turned off’ long before this happens. One of my spiritual teachers used to say: ‘after you have studied with me and experienced the Light, you will return to the religion of your birth and become a better Christian, Jew or Muslim.’
External Form. In viewing traditional religious teaching and spiritual experience, it is important to discuss the difference between internal and external reality. Most of us are familiar with the external form of religious teaching; usually this was the presentation offered during our early child hood and emphasized standard prayers, teachings, and social prescription which was directed at a large segment of humanity.
Over the centuries, this is the part that looks different, because it is and changes; external form varies depending upon culture, geography, historical context, and the changing needs of the receiving community. Because this part is not the same, and is tied to time and place, it confuses people; this is the part that travelers argue and fight about it. Yet, internally all forms at their highest level are one, united in spirit.
Internal Form. The internal or spiritual essence which gives life to the external religious form is a living, vibrant element. This part, termed the Light in some presentations, is the inner core or life current to the external form. This is the part which fuels the updating of the Teaching into a newer presentation, and the grace which enables the living teacher or exemplar to function. This is the spiritual essence, the new age traveler seeks to embrace, and become one with.
Religion is like a beautiful maiden, who to fit the changing weather, wears an assortment of clothing. Some days, because the weather is cold or sunny, her outer garments are different. If you were to describe her on these days, one day she would be the maiden in the tall woolen hat, scarf across her face and long coat, and on another day, the women in the light, bright, yellow cotton dress. On the first day, not seeing her covered face, some observers might be fooled and argue or disagree about the woman’s identity or description on the second day; not realizing underneath the various clothing, it is the same young woman wearing the light cotton dress.