Religion involves a set of beliefs and practices that aim to establish a relationship between human beings and divinity. It usually includes the practice of rituals, which cultivates discipline, focus and surrender in a person. Following a religion is all about imbibing the lessons of humanity – this is usually done from religious texts, ancient stories and sayings. Hindu religion is especially replete with stories of Gods and their avatars such as Rama and Krishna. These are told in form of anecdotes which remain relevant to this day. If there were newer versions of Ramayan and Mahabharata made for the television, I am sure they would be great hits with the audience even today.
More importantly, religion teaches us surrender to the higher consciousness. Having surrendered your vices and negative attitudes caused by ego, your I-ness is likely to slowly perish. A person who starts chanting mantras, and hearing stutis and stotras in time becomes captivated by them and is sucked deeper and deeper in their meaning.
However, following religion by rote without understanding the significance of practices rituals has no meaning. It ends up making you fearful (also rigid and dogmatic) of God instead of embracing God. Whether you’re doing an abhishekam or Homa, chanting a mantra or doing japa, an aarti, of shtahpana of kalash, navgraha, deities or shodash matrika, you must know the significance of what you’re doing and what you are chanting.
I believe that following a religion or a Guru provides the framework for a person’s serious/committed spiritual search and this evolves into spiritual unfoldment. It is spirituality that makes a person a good person. I would say that religion is the first step and spirituality the next step and following the path of spirituality makes a person a good human being.
Most people I know have had a tryst with spirituality. Once you follow the framework, develop surrender, develop a routine and become disciplined, it can change your life in many ways. Meditation is an important aspect of spiritual life and the practice of all religion includes some form of meditation or the other.
When you become spiritual, you will start connecting to the Universe, the boundaries of the self will dissolve to encompass the whole of humanity. Ultimately, it is not you and me anymore but about life. Know that where religion ends, spirituality begins and it will help you a deeper meaning to your life, your core – which is Sat Chit Anand (Truth, Consciousness and Bliss).