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Salon.com
AUGUST 3, 2009 6:56PM

How spirit differs from religion - Part I

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Dove release

 A dove is often seen as a symbol of Spirit. Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill sets free a dove during his visit to Simferopol, Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine, Friday, July 31, 2009.  (AP Photo)


 

The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.

        Job 33:4

 

There are many who argue that spirit and religion are one and the same. In an ideal world, that is so. What happens so often however is that religious institutions want to claim authority over spirit which is only controlled by the Creator.

The Sanskrit word for spirit is Jiva and means "the vital principle or animating force within living things". In Hebrew, ruach means "breath" and Greek "pneuma" again is breath. Without breath the vital principle and animating force of a life dies. Because of the importance of breath not just in our living bodies, but also as part of our sacred self, most religions offer breathing meditations to teach the believer how to be in touch with that vital energy within each human being. With all of the world's science and discovery, we know how a human being's lungs work and the function in the body. Life can be restored once breath is lost at times, but only the Creator can breathe the sacred breath that creates a living creature. The word "spirituality" is born from the word "spirit" and like the wind and the breath, we can be aware of spirit but spirit is not an object we can hold in our hands.

Religion means so many different things to many people. Often times it has come to convey a negative connotation due to a misuse and abuse of tenets created to give room for spirit to grow within each person. All religions focus on God (some religions have many gods and this is called 'pluralism' or 'polythesim'), and most religions have a savior, god, leader or figurehead who shows the way for others to come into communion with the larger Creator God. Religions most often have parameters and limitations. While one can study similarities of history and theological thought, each religion believes that there is one path to reach God, Allah, nirvana, heaven. Most religions have dogmas, tenets, rules to follow in order to be considered a holy believer or true believer.

Another definition of religion is more vague "strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny" and is more in line with the understanding of spirit, but what happens so often is that as a religion becomes an "institution" the way of the spirit gives way to the way of dogma, rules and concepts. So often, for an institution to thrive, the rules and dogmas become rigid thereby squashing spirit.

Spirit is the source of all goodness and hope. Spirit is that which, or rather who connects us with the Creator. The concept of spirit as something separate from religion is seen in many writings and teachings regarding spiritual growth. In the Hebrew scriptures, when the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they wanted to build an idol to worship, a "thing" they could hold a religion they understood. Moses called the people through the power of the spirit to walk into the unknown wilderness of the Middle East when the people had known only slavery. Moses was given a name to call God -YHWH and that name was ambiguous meaning "I am who I am." This was the God who would not be tied down to any one place or thing although God associated with a people. As the faith of the Israelites grew so did the rules and regulations. Originally there were only 10 Commandments (or a better statement would be guidelines for a good life). As the people grew, the rules grew so large and numerous that people could no longer keep up with all the rules of the religion.

Then came Jesus. Jesus was born into Judaism, raised in the temple and new the rules and the regulations of the temple and the holy life of the Jewish people. The spirit moved in Jesus to speak out against the rule makers/enforcers (pharisees and saducees). God was not a "thing" to be contained in the rules, regulations or temple and its rites. God was spirit and spirit is in humanity. Because Jesus continued to speak out through the spirit, most often against his religious upbringing, he was crucified as a traitor.

In Buddhism, there is a saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him." That statement is Buddhism's way of saying that God cannot be pinned down. God or spirit is a happening God. While the paths of religion can and often do reveal spirit and path to us, they can also become walls to the spirit that block out spiritual growth.

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"God was not a "thing" to be contained in the rules, regulations or temple and its rites. God was spirit and spirit is in humanity."

These two sentences explain why I have trouble with theocracy.
rAted!
I graduated from a fine Jesuit run high school - Boston College High in 1960. I remember walking to a subway station one day after school and apropos of nothing the thought crossed my mind that the Church either did not know reality or did but either way they are not coming clean with me. Perhaps they have the knowledge written down and squirreled away in the Vatican Archives?? Well then I thought, it is up to me to find out for myself because, after all, I and only I am responsible for myself.
You have very clearly delineated what can be had from religion and spirituality which is a great jumping off point. Jesus is quoted a saying that standing on a busy corner dressed in ritual trappings is not the way to go. Rather get thee into thy closet and pray there.
AA could be a way as it is described by one of it's founders as a spiritual kindergarten. It worked for me as it has for may others who haven't been so badly damaged spiritually by Religion that only unbelief works for them.
The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox and A Course in Miracles
are two books that have been helpful to me.
I do not trust the people who run organized religions because they seem have the welfare of the organization above all else.
this was good for my spirit as are your letters when you do write them.
the part about "kill buddha" was interesting.
rated as this carries consciousness of walls and that might help keep them down
Your last line expresses my feelings about religion precisely. Too many people with too many agendas; not enough spirit. Nice job.
Excellent post! Truly -- sometimes it's like I've had to get past the "rules & dogmas" of my early religious training to reach the spirit, and during all the moments of life when I've felt real peace, the spirit has won out.
Very, very interesting.
Bless you, Robin, for touching on a subject that is a source of so much confusion. Michael and I never cease to be bewildered by the blatantly anti-Christ hypocrites who crusade for bigotry and oppression in the name of God. The Jesus we know is so contrary to the Jesus preached by the sheep-clothed wolves running Churchianity, we can scarcely believe the words coming out of their followers’ mouths. Like the 45-minute “conversation” I had with my uncle about Proposition 8 on Christmas (ironically). That he could believe God actually wants him to deny civil rights and equality to gays and lesbians shows the extent of his brainwashing. How can they not distinguish the blaring difference between the closed fist of hate and the open palm of love?

Obviously, this is a subject dear to my heart :-)

I’ll part with a recommendation to read the poetry of U.A. Fanthorpe, whatever you can get ahold of, but Selected Poems is a wonderful place to start if you’re lucky enough to find a used copy for cheap. Sadly, Fanthorpe departed this world just a few short months ago, but her partner, Rosie Bailey, survives her. I think you’ll find her a sister in every sense of the word. Her poems are both deeply moving and achingly hilarious. I pasted one example, “Getting It Across,” into a comment on one of Mr. Mustard’s recent posts if you’d like a sneak preview.

—Melissa

P.S. Oh, and because you love dogs, you might also enjoy this one:

The Sheepdog
by U.A. Fanthorpe

After the very bright light,
And the talking bird,
And the singing,
And the sky filled up wi’ wings,
And then the silence,

Our lads sez
We’d better go, then.
Stay, Shep. Good dog, stay.
So I stayed wi’ t’ sheep.

After they cum back,
It sounded grand, what they’d seen:
Camels, and kings, and such,
Wi’ presents—human sort,
Not the kind you eat—
And a baby. Presents wes for him.
Our lads took him a lamb.

I had to stay behind wi’ t’ sheep.
Pity they didn’t tek me along too.
I’m good wi’ lambs,
And the baby might have liked a dog
After all that myrrh and such.
I am going to have to think a bit on the "If you see Buddha on the road" quote... don't quite get it... but I loved the reflections on spirit in this, especially the quote "happening God."
"If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him." Eckhart Tolle explains this very well in his book, “A New Earth”. Basically, to know God, reach cosmic (or God, Christ or Buddha consciousness, aka enlightenment) one must find this state for one’s self. Almost all religions, at least at inception – before they become distorted, are “pointers”, not the “end all”, to enlightenment and may be used by the individual in their search.

In the end, however, religion lets us down. Another Buddhist saying explains this, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon”. In other words, religion is not God. Once you put all your faith into a religion your search for God has been side tracked. Religions are put together by people using human conscious, trying to explain the spiritual.

The spiritual cannot be known by human consciousness, hence the need to transcend this consciousness. Religion can only start you on your way. Once you buy into the dogma you are stymied. Which brings us to the odd idea of Buddhists killing Buddha.

The idea is that since following religious dogma is counterproductive to knowing, as opposed to merely believing in, God one must leave behind one’s religion once it has taken them as far as it can. For instance, Buddhists would “kill” Buddha; Christians would “kill” Jesus. This is a figurative way of saying words and thoughts, religion, can never describe the ultimate force behind everything we know. Go beyond these things, leave them behind, kill them.

Trust me, Tolle explains this much better than I. If you yearn for spiritual advancement his book is the best thing going for the western mind.
Re: fingers pointing at the moon - Another simile that comes to mind is this:

Imagine you are standing on a road somewhere in California. And there is a sign that points to Chicago. It points east. There are a group of people who have gathered there, because obviously this sign is right. Nobody is actually walking or driving in that direction, because who wants to leave the true and correct guide? What's important is that their sign is right, and Chicago is indeed in the East. Meanwhile, in Minnesota there is another group of people who has gathered around a sign that is also pointing to Chicago. It points south. It really makes little difference if they are closer to Chicago than the people in California; after all nobody is actually going in the direction of Chicago. They clean the sign, they meet every week to talk about how correct their sign is. Word has come that there are people elsewhere who believe (imagine!) that Chicago is to the East! Something must be done to rid the world of these heretics! They send out their missionaries to California, build signs that point properly south, and win some converts. Some even go to war over it. Some succumb (but only to a safe degree) to logic and found the "Southeaster" group. This goes on and on and on for so long that there are now signs pointing in every direction, and a bountiful history of wars fought over the subject. Some begin to doubt if there is any such thing as "Chicago" in the first place, and still others spearhead a movement to deny its existence entirely. It really doesn't matter in the long run because none of these folks has ever actually gone in the directions the signs pointed; some have never even bothered to look. And thankfully, Chicago continues to be Chicago, completely independent of what anybody thinks about it.