You probably hear these two terms used interchangeably. They are not. At least for me.
I was born and raised Catholic in Vietnam. My father is Catholic and my mother is Buddhist. Me? I have never been 100% Catholic or Buddhist. In case you are wondering, Buddhism is the major religion in Vietnam for approximately 90% of the population. I was very fortunate to grow up in this diverse spiritual culture. Let me explain why.
All houses in Vietnam, no matter Catholic or Buddhist, have an altar for ancestors. Therefore, no matter what religion you have, everyone respects this spiritual side and believes in the blessings from the passed loved ones. This common ground, I suspect, creates respect for all religions and eliminates a lot of hostility toward different religions.
For the longest time, I was a pure Catholic girl. I went to church every Sunday and prayed every day. I felt good going to church with my family although it had always been an occasion to dress up and go out more than to go listen to preaching. Everything changed when I moved to the U.S at age 16.
Without English, I plunged into a deep depression. Desperate, I went to churches, both American and Vietnamese Catholic churches. I became increasingly annoyed at the churches for the way they preached and the way they kept asking for money. I felt no relief for my heavy heart with each tear and prayer. So I stopped. I stopped praying and going to church. Nothing in my life changed.
I took World Civilizations class and I was fascinated at how religions were created. They were all made up by men, with the intention for the better in humanity. I turned atheist. I believed in taking responsibility for my life and stopped counting on God to save me. I felt empowered and honestly, my life changed for the better. I was no longer depressed. I now had a purpose. However, I was not completely satisfied. I felt there should be more to life that I could understand.
I then stumbled across Zen Buddhism. It's more of a philosophy than a religion. I took interest and learned more about life of the Buddha and Buddhism. There is no creation myth or true God. There is only teaching to guide you on a path to eliminate suffering. There isn't even a wrong path!
Ok, this post is neither to differentiate religions nor to tell my life story. Back to the topic! Religious is a feeling of obligation to an organized institution. You're supposed to believe everything the preacher or master says and everything in the sacred texts. If you feel good doing all the rituals and they all make sense to you, great, keep doing them.
It goes wrong when being religious gives you the feeling that you should save everyone else from their "wrong" beliefs. Think about it! Most, I say "most", religious people feel obliged to give the church some money every time they attend a mass. They believe every single word spoken in church is absolute. And there are some people spending their days hanging around street corner with a sign "Jesus saves", believing that they're trying to save others from going to hell.
Stop a minute and think! Isn't that forcing your religion down others' throat? Isn't that forcing your belief on others? That's the original mentality of terrorists. Think about it. How does a particular religion save? All religions were created with good intentions. Same basic teachings: don't kill, don't steal, don't lie. You don't need religion to know what's right or wrong. If you don't know killing is wrong, you need to question your morality. And if somebody doesn't think it's wrong, religious talk is not going to save any life. In fact, a lot of brutal wars and massacres were done in the name of religion.
What about spirituality? It is also a belief. But it's more personal. I think everyone has a spiritual side. You don't need to technically believe in any specific religion. It's just a sense of you connected to the universe. There's probably some forces at play like chances and luck but you determine your own rules and set your own path. You can believe in God or Goddess, in many Gods or Goddesses or in nature, in universe. Whatever lightens your heart and helps move you forward.
Since there is no set rules and there is no right or wrong path but only your path, you respect all other beliefs. There is nothing to force on others because there is nothing set in stone. Does atheist have a spiritual side? Yes. Atheists probably use a different word but they believe in themselves.
What is exactly spiritual people believe in? It's whatever you believe in during your darkest time to give you hope. It's different for each person: ancestor, God, luck, etc. or even something elusive that doesn't even have a name. Despite its broad elusive meaning, spirituality is very important for people. Everyone has several aspects: emotional, spiritual, mental, etc. If one thing is off, people won't be at their best and their success might not be the highest they can achieve.
Religious can be seen as the extreme form of spiritual. But it might not make you happy. In fact, there's no street corner in Vietnam that has religious sign "Buddha saves" or somebody with a big sign hanging there either. Maybe it's the balance of being open minded to accept other religions and being spiritual that make people less uptight and happier. Yeah, the U.S didn't do so hot on the happiness ranking scale, according to Business Insider report.
The point of this blog? I want to say I'm not religious but I'm spiritual. There's a difference. I want to encourage people to not fear and it's ok to think differently and find your own spiritual path. It doesn't matter if your path is uncommon or looked down upon in society or in family. It's you who walks the path. I want to put this blog out there as a small positive thought in the universe for hope that everyone can be more open minded and respectful toward others' beliefs. Let's celebrate the differences, the diversity. Dalai Lama is a great spiritual example! (I love his teaching!)
Comments are welcomed!