"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) is becoming popular phrase among those seeking higher dimensions of life. In fact, we can see from below cited statistics that the usage of word “Spirituality” in literatures has increased from 19th century beginning to 21st century beginning while that of word “Religion” has declined significantly during the same period.
Historically, the words Religious and Spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion. But the modern trend differentiates or considers one better than other. This leads to a question, what the difference between Spirituality and Religion is.
Spirituality signifies, that which is concerned with spirit or soul. It is based on the knowledge that one is not just gross body but a soul. The body is controlled by a mind, a mind is controlled by an intelligence and an intelligence is controlled by the actual being, soul. A question may arise what the soul is made of? Like everything else, soul is also made of energy. What kind of energy? Finding answer to this question is not a matter of experiment but experience. Vedic Literatures inform us that soul is made of three energies: 1) Sat - Eternity energy, 2) Chit - Knowledge energy and 3) Aananda - Bliss energy. This is confirmed by great realized seekers of Truth. An ordinary person can confirm this by observing that he seeks to keep his existence full of knowledge and bliss for eternity.
Knowing that we, being eternal soul, have accepted particular body for particular time period, leads to questions like: On what basis soul enters into particular body? Does soul eternally keep changing bodies? Did soul enter into material body at some time? Did soul come from outside the material world? What is the eternal activity of soul? Etc.
Due to unperceivable nature of soul, we cannot find answers to above mentioned questions by experiments or hypothesis. Human experiments and hypothesis are affected by four inherent defects: 1) Imperfect senses 2) Tendency to commit mistake 3) Tendency to be illusioned (mistaking one thing for other) & 4) Tendency to cheat. Perfect knowledge about spiritual matters can be received only from Supreme Soul whose knowledge energy is not covered by any defects. Supreme Soul distributes this spiritual knowledge among human beings from time to time by appearing himself or through his representatives. He gives spiritual knowledge in particular part of world based on time, place, circumstances and consciousness of human beings therein. And he also teaches the process of practicing and taking benefit from that spiritual knowledge. Such process of practicing spiritual knowledge forms a “Religion.”
Various practices and disciplines ordained in particular religion have some or other spiritual significance. Even though there are varieties of religions, based on differences in time, place, circumstances and consciousness of followers, all have same spiritual principles. Goal of all bonafide religions is to bring back the soul to its’ eternal blissful existence in relationship to Supreme Soul.
Srimad Bhagavatam, one of the most authenticate literature on spiritual knowledge, informs us of constitutional position and activities of the soul. Soul being the part and parcel of Supreme Soul (Lord) is eternally engaged in loving service of the Lord in Spiritual world. There all the souls enjoy unlimitedly by giving enjoyment to the Lord. But when particular soul desires to enjoy by taking enjoyment instead of giving enjoyment, then the Lord makes arrangement to fulfill desires of such soul by sending it to material world from spiritual world.
Because the soul is in its’ unconstitutional position in this world it always fears the end of its’ existence and always seeks pleasure. When soul decides to give enjoyment instead of taking enjoyment, then it becomes free from existential anxiety. When the soul understands its’ constitutional position as part and parcel of Supreme Soul and starts rendering loving service to Him, it becomes joyful and liberated from dualities of material world. Just like hand detached from body is useless but as soon as it’s connected to body it become useful. Simply reading some spiritual book is not sufficient to come to the mentality of serving the Lord. Because our consciousness has developed a deep wrong impression that we can be happy by taking enjoyment.
Religion gives set of disciplines, following which one can gradually purify his consciousness and come to spiritual position of rendering loving service to the Lord. Religion is practice of spirituality, by which soul becomes eternally happy. Thus spirituality without religion is just theoretical knowledge and religion without spirituality is set of meaningless rituals.