Spirituality vs. Religion: Going Beyond the Surface

How accepting and respecting another's truth can help you discover your own.

We are living in a time of dichotomies and contention, so it may be no surprise that spirituality has become a hot-button issue. Spirituality and religion are often conflated, or at the very least equated, and they’ve both become about whose beliefs are “right” and whose are “wrong.”

But as Deepak Chopra points out in The Book of Secrets, every life is spiritual. Religion is a personal or institutionalized set of beliefs and practices. Spirituality, on the other hand, fuses our “actions, thoughts, and feelings to create our reality.” According to Chopra, everyone is a creator, and all our individual realities create the greater world.

Because of this meshing of our realities with the realities of others, our lives are full of conflict and harmony, peace and violence, virtue and vice, and it is those differences (and similarities) that cause us to ask why and search for answers. This is also what causes us to vehemently, some might even say violently, disagree with those whose realities are different.

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Woman praying


Give three different people the same piece of writing, and you’ll get three different interpretations of it. For some reason, when this piece of writing is a religious text, the differing views can cause hatred, bigotry, violence, even wars. But Chopra says the best way to accept others and their beliefs is to accept that we all live in multidimensions.

Sounds like a nonfrightening Stranger Things, but in this sense, Chopra is using dimensions to refer to domains of consciousness. This means that not only do we have the ability to live in each of these dimensions by merely bringing attention to them, but it also means that we already are living in these dimensions when we interact with other humans whose own realities are also of their own making. There are domains of consciousness we can all access, as well as the overlapping consciousness (or reality) of each individual. This is why one person can interpret a Bible passage so differently from another, why one person can prioritize her life in a way that makes no sense to you, or why two people can believe firmly in the same thing yet go about supporting it in ways that seem contradictory to each other.


Girl looking into the future


Some may say there is one reality and an infinite number of interpretations of it—that is, one reality and one interpretation for each person. If that’s the case, can reality truly be known without including all versions? The answer would be no, so either way, the key to delving deeper into reality, into a greater understanding of our own secrets, is transcending our own beliefs and our own levels of existence. This means looking beyond the physical, visible world—which can seem intimidating—but it can also mean simply engaging with other people and asking what their realities are.

An excellent example of this is a simple dichotomy that we see all the time: science and spirituality. For some reason, many tend to feel that science is somehow contradictory to spirituality, as if science challenges our beliefs or our faith. In truth, science is just another lens for us to look at reality through. We can find answers in studying the universe. And using that “evidence” to support something does not negate any other type of evidence, just as each person’s reality does not directly challenge the legitimacy of yours—or, as Chopra puts it, “perception is flexible enough to let go of the addiction to duality.”


Lotus in the hands of sandstone Buddha.


If we can accept that not everything is black and white, right or wrong, yours or mine, we can achieve a whole new level of understanding. Our own beliefs and opinions become fluid. When we were children, we were more open to this concept. The idea that we could be 100% right or know everything would have been laughable when we were young. We were constantly open to hearing about a new fact or seeing “evidence” that would open up a new reality to us.

As adults, we may have to work at it harder, but we can do the same thing. By embracing the idea that every life is spiritual and that we live in a reality that is made by each person’s own perception of it, we can start to see we don’t have to give up one thing to become another. We don’t have to reject one thing to accept another, and we don’t have to think of isolated individuals, instead of one part of a beautiful, complicated whole.



Illustration: Marie Guillard


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