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Belief Versus Spirituality

S.P. Austen has practiced, written on and taught the subject of meditation for over 40 years.

Image by: jaefrench

Image by: jaefrench

There are many religions in the world today, and countless sectarian groups amongst them, all claiming to possess the one and only path to God. One source estimates that Christianity alone has something in the region of 33,000 separate organizations! Most of them are saying that their way is the only way to God.

This reminds me of the story of a sage who came across a large crowd that had gathered around two men who were arguing fiercely. The sage made an inquiry of one of the arguing men, and the man explained his side of things.

The sage nodded, then replied to him, "You're right."

Then the sage listened to the argument that the other man presented, equally as convincing. The sage nodded calmly, and then answered, "You're right."

Someone in the crowd then protested, "Wait a minute, they can't both be right!"

The sage turned and looked at the person in the crowd and responded, "You're right!"

Then the sage went on his way, leaving his audience standing with their mouths open.

This just about sums up how most religions work. Yet the sage knows that in all of these belief systems, elements of truth are found nonetheless. Each belief is but a fragment of the whole. However, the false perception of rightness, is only that, a perception, not an infallible Truth.

Creed is not Truth

It is very easy to become enmeshed in the creed of beliefs and forget the essential core belief which should emanate from the heart of the believer. As soon as the creed takes over, the heart of the belief is lost.

Jesus tells the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan, in which the beaten man is left dying by the roadside. A priest comes by and ignores the beaten man, then a Levite passes and also ignores the beaten man. But the hated Samaritan is the one who acts from the heart and helps the man, saving his life.

I recall two instances, in which I was directly involved, where a 'religious' person whom I worked with did not offer assistance to a lady struck by a car, and another in which a less conventional, ‘spiritual’ person did not offer help to a homeless woman who merely wanted a cup of tea.

I am constantly amazed how it is that so many religious types are quick to inform all and sundry that they have been 'saved' or are led by the 'Holy Spirit' as if to vainly (and might I add, egotistically) suggest that there is something that is better about them than the rest of us mortals, who must clearly be condemned to hell if we perchance do not subscribe to their particular brand of 'truth.' They seem to be under the delusion that merely believing in their peculiar and select religion is enough. Everyone else who does not believe in their brand of religion, is of course, wrong.

Image by: StockSnap

Image by: StockSnap

We have to seriously ask ourselves that if the religions of the world truly had all the answers to the meaning of life, then there could not possibly be so many divisions and denominations amongst them. Truth is One. It can't be made into branches that each tries to masquerade as the tree.

The branches that form each sectarian group, are only that, branches originating from the trunk. But if the trunk dies, (that is, the essential teaching has been lost and forgotten) so does the branch, and hence why religion has largely failed most of us. The branch has no life left in it, if the trunk has already died.

We must remember that it is the heart of Truth that is real, just like the sap which rises in the trunk of the tree and nourishes all the branches. By themselves, the branches, with all their elaborate creeds and rules have no real life of their own.

Bhakti (Devotion)

In Eastern mysticism, acting from the heart is called bhakti which is the Sanskrit word for devotion. That devotion is principally devotion to the Godhead, but by way of inference, it equally means devotion to others.

When asked which were the greatest of the commandments, Jesus’ response was;

1) Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

2) Love others as you love yourself.

These two commandments sum up religion, spirituality and metaphysics in a nutshell. I would say that by extension, we need to include all living things, such as animals, insect life and plant life under the second commandment.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto yourself" must surely apply to all living beings, not just human beings. It means placing yourself in the position of the other being; what if this was my situation?

If a struggling fly is trying to escape from a closed window, then we should let it out, just as much as we might help someone who has fallen in the street. It's all one, and it's all part of living a spiritual life, whether we actually subscribe to any kind of belief system or not. This is real bhakti or devotion.

Many an atheist shows as much compassion, if not often more, than the religious type who is stuck in a narrow creed. Many atheists have called themselves humanists, and there is a Humanist organisation that believes in goodness, regardless of belief in the God concept.

In the first commandment outlined above, we might interpret 'God' as 'Nature' if the term God is a stretch for some people, and again for the second commandment, 'others' refers to all living things.

When we extend this bhakti to all living things, we have already discovered God, whether we conceive of a concept of God or not.

Again, Jesus tells us that when we feed another, comfort them or simply give them water if they’re thirsty, we are doing this for God. Loving God and other beings is interchangeable, amounting to the same thing. The religion you subscribe to has no meaning if it lies outside of the heart of bhakti, or devotion.

Image by: johnhain

Image by: johnhain

Not a single one of us has yet attained the perfected nature as expressed by Jesus, Buddha or Krishna for example, but we can get closer to it when we drop the petty little details of our belief systems and embrace devotion to God, (i.e., Nature or the planet, Earth) to mankind, and to all living things.

Walking the spiritual path is not a competition to get into Heaven; it is doing good and living in goodness for goodness sake, regardless of the outcome, regardless of any 'reward in Heaven' and regardless of belief or unbelief. It's what makes us true human beings.

© 2018 S P Austen

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