Spirituality vs Religion: Which is Best for You?

Ask the hard questions

It’s daunting embarking on the journey of deciphering what your life’s purpose is, if an afterlife exists and what it consists of, or even formulating stances on certain ethical issues. Nevertheless, navigating such thoughts plays a critical role in your personal development and ultimate well-being. The answers to these types of questions often fall under the umbrella of organized religion, but they don’t have to.

Religious Struggles

For years, I rejected both organized religion and spirituality, believing they could only exist together. Various aspects of religion I encountered didn’t sit well with me. Although, I fully support anyone else’s decision to follow the faith of their choosing.

Personally, I found that simply receiving answers to the existential questions I pondered from one single book was nonsensical. For such massive philosophical and spiritual undertakings, boiling it down to a scripture or verse that was meant to resonate with all of humanity didn’t add up.

Church paralleled the downfalls of the education system, in my mind. You weren’t meant to ask too many questions, and you did what the scriptures (or “religious textbook” per se) said. God was something to fear more than a source of comfort. I felt that my own life wasn’t in my hands, but someone else’s. My efforts seemed futile if this being didn’t approve.

This was my own experience and I know others may have had different encounters with faith, but this is what turned me off of spirituality for a long time.

Spirituality vs Religion

These two concepts often coexist, but they certainly don’t have to.

Spirituality occurs and exists within. It’s an experience that one harbors inside their soul and mind.

On the other hand, religion exists within the masses. You join others in one set of beliefs to practice and worship a higher being and holy books that exist outside of yourself.

Look at religious leaders if you need help distinguishing between the two. They weren’t part of the religion they created, but spiritually-oriented individuals. Buddha didn’t subscribe to Buddhism and Jesus didn’t subscribe to Christianity. They weren’t religious, they were spiritual.

People can also be religious but not spiritual if they don’t view themselves as containing the ultimate knowledge they seek and simply accept the word of another individual or establishment without question. Or if religion and spirituality function as a trend or something to tout over other people, you unquestionably are not spiritual.

The Spirit Science identifies 6 key differences between spirituality and religion:

  1. There are no rules in spirituality
  2. Spirituality is based only on love and not fear
  3. Religion tells you the truth – spirituality lets you discover it
  4. Religion separates, Spirituality unites
  5. The difference between karma and punishment
  6. Spirituality allows you to walk your own path

Why Spirituality is Important

If you inhibit the mind from pondering questions of destiny and ethics, you shut yourself off from the true potential inside yourself. Through not embarking on a spiritual path, you don’t allow total self-discovery. Without truly knowing yourself inside and out, it’s impossible to fully contribute to the world around you.

The feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment so many religious and non-religious people feel could most likely resolve itself through the inner-reflections of spirituality. How does one even begin finding their “purpose” without first establishing why they’re looking for one in the first place?

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How to Practice Spirituality

The greatest aspect about spirituality lies in how individualistic it is. It involves looking within and defining a system of belief that takes root within your own dispositions. No one can instruct you on the perfect way to practice spirituality because ultimately only you know how.

However, you can take certain steps in beginning your journey.

Start asking yourself the hard questions. What motivates you to act certain ways? Where do you find peace? What do you believe happens after death? Why do we exist? Meditating on or sitting with such questions does wonders.

The University of Minnesota notes these questions as the hallmarks of spirituality:

  1. Am I a good person?
  2. What is the meaning of my suffering?
  3. What is my connection to the world around me?
  4. Do things happen for a reason?
  5. How can I live my life in the best way possible?

Religious texts and philosophers can also assist you in this journey, if you like. I prefer combining a culmination of wisdom from different texts or individuals with my own beliefs. Spirituality is never-ending, you can always listen closer or learn more.

Really just investing time in discovering yourself beyond what defines you physically and ties you down to this world or level of consciousness is spiritual.

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Why Spirituality Makes Sense (To Me)

After years of rejecting organized religion and subsequently the label of spirituality, I realized a gap existed within my life. Something I could only find deep within myself. Things that once brought me immense joy no longer satisfied me. Life was a routine, not an ever-evolving experience. The desire to re-discover what I had lost led me to spirituality.

Through journaling, meditation, and extensive research on other people’s spiritual and religious journeys I began formulating answers to the aforementioned questions that makeup spirituality.

The moment that I knew I defined myself as spiritual and not religious (before I had even confirmed that was something people did) was when I noticed a massive similarity between organized religion, specifically Christianity, and my own current path.

During the years I attended church at school and with my family, I remembered hearing the words “mind, body, and spirit” repeated over and over. Essentially meaning, God is with your mind, body, and spirit.

These words popped in my mind and something occurred to me. All of the practices I partook in to improve myself and discover my role in this world based themselves in the same places that “God” supposedly resided in. I aimed to further my mental capacity (mind), allow my body to move and exercise in the ways it pleased (body), and look for my connection to existence (spirit). Then I realized that everything I looked for already existed within myself, not in an outside deity.

Furthermore, through this revelation, all of the similarities between organized religion became incredibly clear. Fundamentally, religion guides you to find answers outside of yourself. When, in reality, the answers currently exist within you. They are just waiting to be unlocked.

Religion is belief in someone else’s experience. Spirituality is having your own experience. – Deepak Chopra

Ask the Hard Questions

While spirituality is the path I follow, finding your own answers and spiritual-existence through organized religion is equally as honorable. Essentially, I just urge you to ask the hard questions and deeply analyze the answers you receive. Never stop exploring the greatness inside you whether that is by your own means or with the guiding hand of religion.

Cover image via Unexplained Mysteries

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Also published on Medium.

Sarah is a sophomore studying journalism at the University of Miami. She...