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Rick Lipschutz reflects on the continuum which stretches from religion to spirituality. Drawing on the Mother's distinction between spiritual realization, spiritual philosophy, occultism and religion and her perception of a complementarity in their workings, the author calls for a more integral understanding of the yoga and its stages and processes.
The human mind works naturally, and too often, through simple contrasts, strong distinctions. It is our famous foible to see and see well only one thing at a time and try to put the pieces together into some kind of construction. We tend to take sides, ignoring nuance, lights and shading; easier to make decisions that way, though they may not be the best decisions. We tend to construct the simplest of dichotomies between religion and spirituality and this is problematic. I would like to try to try and see the grayscale in this simple dichotomy. Because, to me, they seem more like stages in a continuum or relations to be linked — spirituality being a further stage of the aspiration and impulse that religion leads to, but not in any straight, forward or simple line; more through a spiraling inclusiveness.
I see us staking opposite sides of a position and loudly calling names. And yet, somehow truth does exist, it must, and it must have a more stable, concrete existence than anything in our little world: rocks and shrubs and chimps and chips mimicking minds — it must be somewhere beyond our rock-solid oppositions, our chirping contradictions, and smiling and assimilating them, finding some place for every perception and position, however greatly changed.
Where does each of us fit into the scream of things?
According to Sri Aurobindo, as I understand, religion takes aim at the Divine. It starts from the felt perception of a deep disparity between ourselves and what we feel must be the Divine. Religion, at its best, is the impulse towards a truer spirituality. In the West, religion tends to be comprised of three elements: “faith, works and pious observances.” In India religion tends to have a wider range; it “briefly” is “Dharma…, the whole life being governed by religion.” Sri Aurobindo also differentiates “true religion” that “seeks to live in the spirit,” from “religionism” that lays “stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some fixed and rigid moral code” (these quotes are from pp. 132 to 134, “Glossary of Terms in Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga,” Sri Aurobindo Ashram 1978).
On p. 134 Sri Aurobindo writes, “If we give … to religion the sense of the following of the spiritual impulse in its fullness and define spirituality as the attempt to know and live in the highest self, the divine, the all-embracing unity and to raise life in all its parts to the divinest possible values, then it is evident that there [has been] not too much of religion but too little of it. [SABCL14: 433]” He also, as I mentioned, writes that religion sets up a gulf (an “immeasurable gulf” between us and the divine power), which “Yoga in its culmination abolishes … for Yoga is union. [21:528].” But note that he states that this gap is abolished by yoga-in-its-culmination. How close are we, yet, to this culmination of yoga? I, for one, have some ways to go.
The founder of Integral Yoga also write in his Letters on Yoga, p. 151: “The spiritual life (adhyatma-jivana), the religious life (dharma-jivana) and the ordinary human life of which morality is a part are three quite different things and one must know which one desires and not confuse the three together.” Our aspiration in the yoga is for the spiritual life, and it is a distinctly different aspiration from the religious life and much more different from the ordinary human life. But through the process, the dynamics, the ongoing of our yoga, we have to take into its embrace ordinary human life and the religious life, still never losing sight that it IS the spiritual life we want: a spiritual life that somehow includes all of life; does not lose connection with ordinary life and with the religious life or at least the truth behind religions.