Spirituality can exist without religion


Being religious and being spiritual are two completely different things.| Graphic by Jen Garcia

Growing up, life felt like a warzone. I could never tell when I would face ambush.

In elementary school, an array of timed homework assignments were thrown at me. So, I could never finish anything on time. In high school, I was attacked with standardized testing formats I could never comprehend. So, I often remained in the C-grade range.

Being Indian-American, I had interests and talents that contradicted the stereotype so I was barraged with judgment.

Now I feel judged when I watch the news, seeing a man running for president leading in the polls by preaching insanity, hate and fear.

I began to wonder: How can there be a higher power of justice when reality is unjust to begin with?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, spirituality can help people cope with everyday stress and keep them grounded. It also helps maintain good mental health.

My spiritual journey began last December with a group of 75 other seekers through Chunmaya Mission Houston.

We embarked on a journey to understand what role spirituality played in shaping this world, our lives and what our purpose was.

Upon visiting four different ashrams and immersing ourselves in the culture of sainthood, purpose began to unfold. I realized that the warzone I was trapped in was my own mind. Our ability to make life a heaven or hell lies in our mentality alone.

I came to understand how important spirituality is in empowering one’s mind and soul.

Whether one is religious or not, spirituality remains at one’s disposal, especially in recent times, where philosophers like Sam Harris, who build momentum through the New Atheist movement.

“The way we think can profoundly influence our lives and the lives of others,” Harris said.
Without following a religion, he came to the same conclusion I did after spending time in various ashrams.

“Spirituality is not about subscribing to a religion,” said history senior Hayder Ali, founder of the Secular Student Association. “It is a feeling that there is something out there more meaningful than the material world.”

This means spirituality can exist without religion. It all lies in one’s mentality and outlook on life.

However, faith also plays a drastic role in shaping one’s mind and health for the best.

“Because of faith, I find that my anxiety is reduced in a self absorbed manner,” said Ved Chitale, a third year law student who is an active member of Chinmaya Mission. “When I worry about winning a case or getting the grade I want, I am, ironically, more likely to fail. With faith, I am able to do my best without any worry about the result. That gives me the peace of mind needed to perform at my potential. Even if I fail, I still know I did my best.”

Faith is about trust. When one trusts in God, the universe or even Newton’s third law stating that every action results in an equal opposite reaction, he is able to sacrifice anxiety for the fruits of action.

Through knowledge about spirituality, I learned about the importance of controlling my own mind.

By practicing mindfulness, I cognitively started to see that happiness is much more than an emotion, a goal or even a lifestyle. It is an active choice one makes daily.

Opinion columnist Krishna Narra is a marketing junior and may be reached at [email protected]


  • Sadly, we’ve not been offered the author’s definition of “spirituality”, a vital piece of information too often missing from these sorts of essays.

    My experience has been that the subtext of “I’m spiritual” is often “I don’t want to argue religion with you, so let’s pretend to agree without actually talking this over”…

    • “It is a feeling that there is something out there more meaningful than the material world.”
      Perhaps not a definition in the traditional sense, but nevertheless, it’s there.

      • It’s perhaps not a definition whatsoever.

        That snippet alone leaves us to wonder specifically what sort of feeling[s], what manner of something[s], what type of meaning[s], and what sort[s] of rationalization[s] or justification[s] for the author’s appeal to immaterialism we should be considering?

        If my waitress asks for my food order, and I tell her “I feel there should be more to life than pizza” I don’t think I’d get fed any time soon…

        • Well at a basic philosophical level all of those things differ from person to person, so explicitly defining them in a way that I think you’re looking for introduces bias and an attempt to influence others into a particular way of thinking about something as abstract as spirituality.

          • Sure, so spirituality is subjective and not objective. That’s every existential quandary: You’ll never know specifically what I experience. I’ll grant that much.

            But that doesn’t relieve me of my obligation to try and share that experience with you, particularly if I’m the one who raised the subject in the first place.

            If I told you “Wow I had a great time last weekend!” and you asked “Why? What happened?” it would be at the very least inadequate of me to reply “Ah, you just had to be there.”

            That would, or should, leave you at least wondering why I brought the matter up in the first place.

            Likewise, when a claim akin to “Some of us share in our spirituality” is met with “Explain it to me”, it seems rudely dismissive to brush it off with “Well it’s a subjective experience” yet that seems to be all we ever get on the topic: vague generalities.

            Which makes it, I think, not unreasonable to question whether there’s anything of substance there at all to begin with…?

            • Nice parable, but to use it against you I would say it is arguably more annoying when someone feels obligated to share their experiences with you unprovoked.
              It’s different when asked, such as when a coworker comes to you and asks how your weekend was (which is usually met with a nondescript, “good,” anyway).
              Conversely, how annoying is that one guy in the office who goes around talking to everyone about how great his weekend experience was?
              Better yet, how often has someone described their fantastic weekend to you only for you to think that it didn’t sound very fantastic at all compared to your weekend?
              Sure, there are some who want an explanation and perhaps guidance on how to feel about spirituality, but there are just as many who have their own ideas in mind and don’t want to be told which idea is the correct one or even that their idea is false.
              On the notion of substance, we’re debating something that we’ve both conceded is subjective and abstract. We can go back and forth all day without producing anything substantial, but I don’t think that’s the point of philosophical thinking/debate to begin with.

              • Had the author opined that one’s religion could be supplanted by say, notions of the ‘slurphligatorious’, I think the point of my objection might be more obvious.

                “Slurphligatoriosity is a feeling that there is something out there more meaningful than the material world” would have been unsatisfying enough to most, I think, to have probably raised more questions than it attempted to answer.

                I’d hope enough people would find the assertion provocatively indistinct enough to demand far more substance on the matter of slurphligatoriosity itself.

                But for some reason, we too often give a pass to notions of spirituality, which really don’t seem any better defined…

                • I understood your original argument, but assigning a made up word a meaning isn’t helping prove your point.
                  I guess I don’t understand why that definition of “spirituality” is so unsatisfactory for you.
                  A word like “camaraderie” carries a lot of the same opaqueness, but I can’t imagine you have the same dissatisfaction for its meaning.
                  No respectful person is going to answer a question about spirituality with, “figure it out, stupid,” but claiming it is a personal revelation about the immaterial and life beyond this one is satisfactory to me at least.

                  • “A word like “camaraderie” carries a lot of the same opaqueness, but I can’t imagine you have the same dissatisfaction for its meaning.”

                    Agreed. But people tend to use it with sufficient context, e.g.: the camaraderie of the men of the who “stormed Normandy”, “fought at Kien Long”, and even “escaped from Alcatraz” et al carry experiential distinctions and similarities absent from Googling ‘spiritual’ which yields:

                    “…empowering one’s mind and soul…” [this article]
                    “…move on in one’s inward journey into new realms…” [Campbell’s ‘Hero With a Thousand Faces’]
                    “…a process of continually asking questions…” [wikihow]

                    My point, I’d hope, is not lost: ‘Spiritual’ is so obtuse as to be virtually meaningless without a comprehensive elucidation that the people who throw the term around are routinely reluctant in providing us…

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