Spiritual or Religious?

To be Religious or Spiritual?

Corné van Nijhuis

As a Dutch child, I grew up in a family that, like almost everyone around me at the time, went to (Protestant Christian) church every week. It was the late 60’s early 70’s. A time when the generation born around the Second World War tasted the fruits of prosperity. The feeling that material prosperity was the most desirable and that the future was ‘feasible’ was rampant. More and more people felt that they were completely capable of living life autonomously. The ego was big and seemed more than strong enough to do it alone as an individual. The feeling that there was more between heaven and earth faded away. This meant that secularization made its debut with a vengeance. Religion gradually became something of the past. The connection with the church also disappeared in our family. No weekly visit, still at Easter and Christmas, but that was it. And not much later there was no longer any attention for religion at all.

The years that followed were all about studying, building a career, living together and earning money for a happy life with hopefully some children and, above all, a lot of luxury. Until middle age, my life path also followed the mapped out route. But like in everyone’s life, something will eventually come your way that will hold a mirror up to you. For me it was a coincidence. Change of relationship, children leaving home, a different view on work and a physical wake-up call. Together, in retrospect, the basis for a reset in your life.

At such a moment of reorientation, the question of ‘existence’ naturally arises. What is it, where does it come from, where is it going? The self-confidence that materialism is the highest goal and that life is feasible has then completely disappeared. But what and how?

Fortunately, this vacuum on my life path made me think. And of course you think again about the faith you had in the past. Something that you knew would offer many people something to hold on to. It gave them answers to life’s questions. However, for me from my own experience, ‘faith’ was synonymous with ‘the Christian church’, something that, in addition to doctrines, included an institution that I could not connect with at all. But of course there was more under the sun than ‘the Christian church’. So I decided to look into that myself.

An important insight that I developed for myself was that ‘religion’ for me is synonymous with ‘belief’. Belief in the sense of having a belief in life (confidence) that there is a ‘power’ outside yourself, which has powers that you do not have to influence ‘existence’. Almost all religions are based on strong doctrines: unsubstantiated doctrines that are also not disputable. For me, belief became something like ‘trusting what others say’. That was really a bridge too far for me. I needed a sturdier foundation.

In the further search for answers to life’s questions, it turned out that there was much more than the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). From nature religions (such as Shamanism), Indian religions (such as Hinduism) to non-theistic philosophies (such as Buddhism). However, during this search it also became clear to me that I had to rely mainly on myself. I call it ‘following my feelings with reason’ (and not the other way around). And gradually it became clear to me: the way to insight into the essence of existence is the way inward. Only there are the answers hidden. This search within is what I call ‘spirituality’. This journey of discovery knows no dogmas and no institutions. It is a pure discovery of what exists within yourself or actually of what you essentially are. I wish everyone finds their way.

To be religious is to believe what others say.

Being spiritual is trusting what you experience yourself.

Corné van Nijhuis is a scholar who has travelled widely, has wide interests and has studied Vedanta deeply for several years. His contributions to this magazine are well-known to all.