A magazine I picked up recently had the following title on its cover page: “Towards a Spirituality rooted in Religion”. I said to myself: “Shouldn’t it be the other way round?” The word ‘religion’ itself derives from the Latin religare meaning “to bind” or to link. It signifies the outward manifestation of an inner attitude, the expression of our being “linked” to the divine which we have experienced deep at the centre of our being.
Rituals, it would seem are an indispensable part of religion and are often identified with it. They serve a useful purpose as a pedagogical tool, and are meant precisely to keep alive the initial experience from which they emerged. Experience precedes the ritual. Ritual however has no meaning once it is separated from experience.
Our spiritual experiences grow deeper in proportion to our experience of being loved and being able to love in return. The progressive and in the end complete loss of self in the act of Self-giving enables us to connect with the divine for whom the whole of creation is just the outpouring of the Divine self. Truly, in God “we live, move and have our being”. In love there is no room for fear. One of the characteristics of a genuine spiritual experience is therefore the absence of fear.
The experience of fear is so necessary for ‘self-preservation’. At the physical level it enables us to ward off dangers and minimise threats to life. Yet, we often continue to experience fear long after the threat has disappeared and sometimes even when there is no threat at all. When this happens there has been a subtle shift in the origin of our fear. It is the ego that is struggling to preserve itself. At the physiological level it manifests itself in stress. It is not surprising, therefore, that meditation techniques are prescribed as the antidote to stress. Stress abhors unpredictability and it is so easy for one to use the ‘predictable’ ritual to soothe the pain of the wounded ego. But the ego is not easily deceived. At this point religion parts ways with spirituality. Religion degenerates into magic. A spirituality based on such a religion is nothing more than a caricature. Meditation on the other hand as the art of learning to “pay attention”, becomes the link between the ritual and the spi-ritual.
In a New Testament scripture text that is familiar to most Christians, St Paul describes love, among other things, as ‘never quick to take offence’ and ‘keeping no score of wrongs’. Love gives one the freedom not to see another’s transgression as a personal offence. That knocks the stuffing out of the other’s aggression real or imagined. There is no room for fear because no threat has been perceived. One can then love in freedom. It is the practice of meditation that enables us to slowly begin progressively functioning not from our ‘ego’ but from our true Self. The true Self is God and God is love.
When religion is based on true spirituality, we are able to understand that differences need not cause divisions. Returning to our contemplative traditions and meditative practices is the surest way to eschew violence in the name of religion. It allows us to restore the original purpose of the ritual which is to enable us connect to the experience of God within. We need no security other than the awareness that we are in God and God is in us. Perfect love casts out all fear.
– Christopher Mendonca