There are parallels between our spiritual lives and our carnal (physical) lives. The two states of being are intertwined.
Take the life of a child, for instance. When we are born, our first experience is losing the comfort of our mothers’ bodies. It is suddenly cold, and loud and bright. These new changes lead a baby to cry. It is suddenly different. Then we calm down as we try to perceive and learn about our new surroundings. While you are still in utero you can hear your mother’s voice so by the time you arrive you can instantly recognize her. Babies are short sighted and can only see clearly within breastfeeding distance therefore are more familiar with their mother’s face and also learn the mother’s smell within days of birth.
Having made this connection at/and before birth with our primary caregiver, we then trust that they will protect and provide for us through a safe and secure life of personal and physical development.
We become curious about our spirituality (as with our physical development) when we seek to understand abstract concepts about life and death, and our reason for being.
We are handed a social blueprint as a starter pack in the form of religious and cultural traditions from the community we are raised within. These blueprints are not necessarily without problems; chief among them being the need for social conditioning for purposes of conformity with tradition. On the outside, this might appear to serve purposes of unity with the community perceiving and believing the same thing/s. On the other hand, coercive conformity for purposes of social control along structures of domination is hardly the starting point for personal growth and spiritual fulfillment. As individuals with personal prerogative and agency this must not be subsumed for the ‘greater good’ through attempted erasure of our attempt at self-determination and self-discovery. The so-called common good for the wider community, which is composed of many individuals, cannot possibly come through the suppression of individuals’ freedoms.
As His Holiness the Dalai Lama asserts in ‘Ethics for the New Millennium’;
‘Religion I take to be concerned with faith in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another, an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or supernatural reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or nirvana. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayer, and so on.
Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit — such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony — which bring happiness to both self and others.
While ritual and prayer, along with the questions of nirvana and salvation, are directly connected to religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however. There is thus no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system.
This is why I sometimes say that religion is something we can perhaps do without. What we cannot do without are these basic spiritual qualities.’