“Spirituality” or “tradition” is based on solid, time-tested knowledge.
The distinction between spirituality and religion, as I understand it, is as follows. A tradition of what many call “spirituality” is not founded by any one individual. That is to say, tradition doesn’t begin or end with an individual. And in the vast context of a living tradition, teachers are not as important as the tradition itself. Teachers contribute to the growth and development of the tradition, but they are not equivalent to the tradition. If a particular teacher turns out to be not so good, it really doesn’t matter—his or her incomplete or erroneous teachings will slowly fade away, and all that will be left will be the solid knowledge that, by its own intrinsic virtue, has remained consistent for generations. That is what we mean when we talk about spirituality or tradition.
Religion, on the other hand, tends to prioritize the figureheads over the teachings. First and foremost, religion grows out of personality worship. It starts when a particular individual is followed and supported by a group of people, generally in the name of God. When the followers begin to worship that individual, putting him or her on a pedestal, then a religion is born. In its infancy period, it’s called a cult. When that cult continues growing and growing, it turns into a much bigger cult. When it is accepted more widely and acquires more and more rules and regulations and followers, then it is called a religion.
There are other signs and symptoms of religion: Religion discourages knowledge and self-growth in the name of dogma. It says that human beings cannot find salvation here and now. It creates clergies, or figureheads, who are said to stand between an individual seeker and the goal being sought—whether that goal is God, heaven, or enlightenment. Whenever an individual—a personality—stands between a seeker and the goal of his or her spiritual quest, then that is called religion. Exploiting human frailties of fear or greed, and feeding on guilt and self-condemnation are still other signs of religion.