Are You Spiritual Or Religious?

I seem to gravitate toward discussions of faith and religion.
I find myself having conversations with people regarding their beliefs and traditions all the time – on the train, sporting events, and sometimes in line at the grocery store.  Perhaps it’s the uniform that encourages the discussion – nevertheless, I appreciate hearing people’s personal way they define and practice their spirituality…well, at least most of the time.
Lately, I find myself having more and more conversations with other Sikhs about Sikhi and somewhere in the discussion they’ll say, “Well, I consider myself more spiritual than religious.”  That’s usually the point where my eyes glaze over.  Not that I don’t care about their opinions and personal views on  connecting with God, but at that point I no longer feel we’re having a conversation about Sikhi. 
I feel my definition of a Sikh and Sikhi is quite broad, but if a goal of a Sikh is to let go of our ego and become a Gurmukh (literally, face toward the Guru) through learning Gurmat (the Guru’s way), then where do all these individual views on “spirituality” fit in?
This debate over being spiritual versus religious is not isolated to Sikhs, and is actually quite popular amongst Americans who seem to be drifting from organized religion and in to a more nebulous category of “spiritual.”  And although a quick Google search will show you how passionate the debate is on either side, the definitions of what is “spiritual” and what is “religious” are still quite vague.
If I try to strip away biases each side has toward these terms, spirituality seems to be associated with developing an inner relationship with God (or higher power).  God is spoken about in more close and personal terms (in your heart rather than in heaven), there’s more tolerance of other faiths, and more references to being God-loving versus God-fearing.  But the primary focus seems to be on the individual journey to enlightenment rather than subscribing to any specific rituals, practices, or “rules.”  Religion, however, takes inspiration from the past, has traditions and customs that go back generations and is often based on scripture.  Religions provide a framework, guide, and sometimes a set of rules and/or practices to reach enlightenment.  Religions tend to have a more defined following and build structures and institutions to support the congregation.
Reflecting on these two thoughts and relating it to Sikhi, I think there is clearly spiritual elements – in fact it is one of our primary goals in life to overcome the five vices, self-realize, and recognize Waheguru within ourselves. That to me is a very personal journey – but for a Sikh, does it stop there? 
Guru Sahib also tells us to surround ourselves with saadh sangat, others who are seeking truth (or already found it) so we can collectively more further along the path.  So how “individual” is this journey after all? 
If we look at history, the establishment of dharmshalas to the initiation of the Khalsa all points to creating a sense of community, structure, and institutions.  This to me is far beyond the boundaries of spirituality’s inward journey. 
And the creation of the Khalsa, along with its discipline and uniform, is designed to take that inner spirit and proclaim to the world that we are sons of daughters of Guru Gobind Singh – and here to serve a greater good….so where does this leave us?
Where does spirituality and religion fit in Sikhi?  Or better yet…
Which are you?  Do you consider yourself Spiritual?  Religious?  Both?  Or Neither?

About RP Singh

Writer. Poet. Organizer. View all posts by RP Singh

10 responses to “Are You Spiritual Or Religious?

  • Anonymous

    This subject specifically can make for either great conversation or tense debate amongst so many different people. I was raised a Christian but have been on a spiritual path just recently to learn much,much more about Sikhism and the teachings of the Guru. I consider myself both spiritual AND religious. I don't believe that you can be one or the other if you commit yourself to a path of healing, helping, praying, and gaining self-knowledge and experience. I am technically a baptized Christian, yet I feel as I am on my way to being a baptized Sikh. I have my own qualms with how that sounds to someone who may make a judgment, but then I remind myself that they may not know much about me or my personal history, and Sikhism is such that when you begin this path, you begin to let go of judgment. If that is such, then why judge yourself as only either spiritual or religious? Just be, and be positive.Just my opinion. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Sometimes it is just a more politically correct answer. Due to all the wars going on in the name of religion. "Religion" almost seems to have a negative connotation. To avoid a long and tedious discussion, it is best to say "spiritual".

  • Narinder Singh

    The "religious" live in a box they've become too comfortable in, and the "spiritual" are under the impression that one can grow without discipline.One thing I am sure of is that Sikhi is no religion. Religion is based on belief, Sikhi is dealing with fact.Religion ( set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.2.a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.3.the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.4.the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.5.the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.6.something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice.7.religions, Archaic . religious rites.8.Archaic . strict faithfulness; devotion: a religion to one's vow.—Idiom9.get religion, Informal acquire a deep conviction of the validity of religious beliefs and resolve to mend one's errant ways: The company got religion and stopped making dangerous products.How much of the above is in line with the Sikhi of Guru Nanak, not what we've turned it into today?Just some thoughts – Guru ang sang sahai

  • Anonymous

    Wjkkwjkf, Good blog,Spirituality lends to self discovery….Religion lends to a concept of western taxonomy of a 'set' of ideas so to tag a person as either being X, Y or Z inclined.Sikhi to me, it is my FAITH.A faith in acknowledging the presence of what I do not understand, faith in believing that our Gurus understand what we cannot comprehend, faith in their bani, and that that this bani can shine a light to achieve greater understanding.Having faith in what cannot be measured in tough, so I personally hold faith that my faith may increase further, so as further understanding and may follow. Sikh, learn.I have faith in learning.

  • Narinder Singh

    Dear brother/sister, faith itself comes from belief, to my understanding, Guru Sahib never wanted for us to have "faith" in his world view or perspective, he wanted for us to experience it. How can one experience it? Only by testing it. One who already believes or has faith will not test it.When one experiences, that experience cannot be termed as a faith or belief, it is then a fact.Also, I do not think our Gurus gave us a perspective that can not be understood.Just some thoughts…


    A religion is never started as a religion. It is a movement within, and the person who is carrying over the thoughts, is the religion himself!The followers give it a name, and start following the same steps which helped the "founder", and slowly over the time, those steps become rituals… this is the case with every movement which turned into an organized religion…Guru Arjan says in Sukhmani, "Sarab dharam meh sresht dharam, Har ko Naam jap Nirmal karam", O my mind, if you adopt divine qualities and maintain pure conduct, that living alone is the highest of all the religions.I think if we start living our lives per Gurmat, we will know where we stand and what to do next…bhul chuk di khima…

  • Harkiran Kaur

    Great blog and discussion!

  • Rubin Paul Singh

    Wow, awesome discussion! Thank you brothers and sisters – not only for taking the time to share your thoughts, but for all that I learned personally through your responses. Narinder Singh (I had a feeling you would weigh in on this :)), surely none of those definitions of religion resonated wth me, and I agree with both you and Babiha that Sikhi is a "movement within" and something one must experience – but until you've experienced, don't we rely on belief/faith? Don’t we start somewhere? To me, my faith/beliefs are my reality, and my reality is well…fact. But as some of our Anonymous commenters stated – as we proceed down this path of Gurmat and catch a glimpse of the Guru's light…does it really matter what we call it? Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this and other topics! Akaal Sahai!

  • Narinder Singh

    I'm lovin' this discussion as well :)Honestly, I think this journey could start from belief, but for some it starts from doubt, and others, curiosity.From the little understanding I've gotten from reading Gurbani, I think Sikhi is too vast and large to be defined or categorized. The word definition by definition means "limited" or "bound". Gurmat is infinite.Maybe that's why I have a problem with all the labels we put on Sikhi? Who knows…Guru ang sang sahaiNarinder Singh

  • Anonymous

    Rubin Paul Singh Ji, Firstly, I just want to say I think this is a great blog. I had never heard of your blog until today. As I look around more and more young people are facing the same call to action that you have faced your life. I myself have gone through similar changes in the past few years. I am a young Sikh woman, and about a year ago I adopted full white bana (white daastar, white clothes, and I wear a chuney on top everyday). I too have had similar experiences in discussing these matters with people on planes, stores, etc. I do believe the uniform provokes those discussions and that is why I rejoice in it day after day!Secondly, in response to this particularly blog, the ultimate truth is that these are word games–"spiritual" vs. "religious"–all are the same. It is what is in your heart, and the purity and passion of your way. Yes, religion has been given the negative connotation of being the rules, and yes spiritual has been vied as more of an individual connection, but ultimately if you are connected with Guru, then who cares? Right? People who debate about these things (like the person you were talking to) are immersed in Maya, that is why they debate…if they were truly connected then they would rather be praying and meditating than wasting their time debating, and through such mediation they will be enlightened to realized what maya such distinctions truly are. If you are going to distinguish between religion and spirituality then ultimately you are living in duality. Guru Himself says we need to rid ourselves of the duality. So why do we even bother making these distinctions? "Ik Onkar"–God is one; me and God are one–it is one, not two–spiritually and religion are one in the same. [Of course, I understand you have to get involved in these distinctions when talking to someone like that in hope and attempt to let Guru flow through you and enlighten that persons–because that person is stuck in maya, we must also discuss the maya-related issues–but this is the core understanding that we should all have.]Thirdly, after reading some of your blogs, I started researching you, but was not able to find any contact information. I am interested in talking with you more and finding out your views on other things related to Sikhi, that I don't believe have been addressed in your blog. Is there some way for me to contact you?Thank you so much! Many blessings to all who are reading these blogs and getting involved in these posts. It is such a joy to see these beautiful posts!

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