This post is also available in: Dutch,French,German,
Spiritual vs. Religious Life
I’m sharing a lot of spiritual texts, articles and quotes. People start asking me whether I’m a religious person, the ones knowing me with quite some surprise. For me the two things are not at all the same so I decided to write this post to clarify where I am.
My religious background
My mother, when I was a child and before she died, taught me the very basics of her Christian upbringing. She mostly talked about Love, Kindness and Compassion. She told the stories around them but emphasizing that they were stories to illustrate the core qualities of a good human being. When I was about 12 I started my Sunday classes because my father thought it would be helpful not to be without a formal religion (let me not enter into the discussion about “what if the Germans come back”). Sunday classes made a gentle believer into a fierce atheist. I rejected en block the rigidity, the rule based living and the magical thinking that they tried to teach me.
Fast forwarding to my early 20s, I stumbled on a Zen Buddhist text that made me shiver in pleasure so I tried other texts. They all spoke to me heart more than to my logical mind which led me to do some months of meditation to see what it would do to me. It didn’t do much because I soon got caught into the busy life of a husband, father and business man and couldn’t maintain and build on the discipline.
My spiritual background
Fast forwarding again 20 years I had again a deep call towards meditation and actually invested the time and energy to do it and progress this time. I’m not enlightened or anything, I still fight my inner demons more often than not and consider myself as a beginner in the topic. Nevertheless I started understanding that Buddhism, at its core, is not a religion. What Buddhism asks to do in the practice is to listen to what is already there and discover my personal version of the truth. It gives tools and methods to make that listening easier. It shows a path to enlightenment but doesn’t tell you what the truth is beyond basic images and stories. It doesn’t talk about a God or about angels or demons. Buddhism is more a psychological toolkit towards freedom from any prison that may restrain us than anything religious. It is a spiritual path because it encourages connectedness and kindness, a life of service and some basic values.
Religious readings of Buddhism
Like my friend Ken Albertsen nicely describes in his book Buddha, Jesus and the hippie, the writings we have of great spiritual leaders were mostly put on paper 100th of years after the events that made them famous. In those years, stories built around them that are inspired from the truth but are also very much infused with planned or unplanned inflation. What speaks to me about Buddhism is not the magical stories about Buddha but his core values and the technique he taught to make them blossom in my heart.
Why having a spiritual life?
There is a dimension of religion that is important to me, it’s the ability it gives people to believe that the future will be brighter. This belief gives hope and hope allows to let go of control. Letting go of control allows in turn to trust the present moment and catch all the sweet miracles, the small rays of sunshine and the daily magical interactions with the world without hesitating or holding back. My hope for a better future is the message of the Buddha that says “I teach about suffering and the way to end it”. This is the only forward looking belief I hold to and it makes my healing possible.
Which Spiritual Life?
It doesn’t matter, chose one that speaks to your heart and engage with it, make it Yoga, Sufi Dancing or whatever feels right but stick with one if possible after your initial discovery. But beware of how you feel, we tend to stick harder into practices that are really tough because they make our Ego feel special but the goal of Spirituality is to make you and others happier and more connected. I quote here Jack Kornfield because I think it’s a good rule of thumb for choosing: “If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, what good is our spiritual practice?”. Does your practice make you more happy, free and connected? Then continue and invest yourself. Does your practice withdraw you from the world, make you feel sad or anxious? Flee an flee fast.
Be Kind, be Loving, be Joyful with yourself and others. Balance yourself out, connect with the world and you are a spiritual person.