I finally compiled a bunch of quotes comparing religion and spirituality that I’ve saved over the years. Enjoy!
- All content in “quotation marks” is directly from the original author.
- All content is organized into my own themes.
- Emphasis has been added in bold for readability/skimmability.
- Quick Note & Overview
- Guides, Pointers, & Signposts
- Right & Wrong, Good & Bad
- Belief, Attachment, & Identity
- Awareness, Awakening, & Self-Inquiry
- Truth, Revelation, & Realization
25+ Deep Quotes on the Differences between Religion & Spirituality
Quick Note & Overview
Personal Note: The difference between religion and spirituality has been life-transforming to realize as someone who was raised Catholic and went to church twice a week through grade school (which is 13-14 years old). My lived experience growing up was that Catholicism was about memorization, repetition, ritual, rules, etc. There were authority figures, right and wrong ways to say and do things, etc. What a revelation to learn in my 30s that the word “catholic” actually means: all-embracing, involving all, of interest to all; on the whole, according to the whole, in general; broad-minded & wide-ranging in sympathies, tastes, or interests; universal/comprehensive in extent; inclusive/inviting. Needless to say, a world of difference.
Overview: A quick online search of “religion vs spirituality” brings up a lot of generic quotes like:
- “Religion is belief in another’s experience. Spirituality is one’s own experience.”
- “When people are together, they become religious. When people are alone, they are spiritual.”
- “Religious people will talk at you for God. Spiritual people will talk with you about God.”
- “Religion is following the messenger. Spirituality is following the message.”
- “Religion divides. Spirituality unites.”
There are some nuggets of wisdom in there, but it’s more nuanced than those quotes make it appear:
|Indirect path||Direct path|
|In/of the mind||Beyond mind|
|Thinking correctly||Seeing clearly|
|Transferring information||Transformational inquiry|
|Duality (good/evil, right/wrong, in-groups/out-groups, etc)||Nonduality|
|Socialized/conditioned self||The Self|
The key point is that “religion vs spirituality” is a false dichotomy. It’s not religion versus spirituality. Religion is a description of spirituality (whether it’s written scriptures, oral storytelling, etc). Religion is meant to be a guide pointing to spirituality!
Religion is the finger pointing at the moon of spirituality. Religion is the menu describing the food of spirituality. But, many get stuck in religion and completely miss spirituality. They worship the finger or read the menu and never see the moon or eat the food.
Ask yourself: What have you seen/realized in your own first-hand, direct experience (beyond your socialized/conditioned mind)?
Guides, Pointers, & Signposts
“Spirituality is to be awake; to drop your illusions; to never be at the mercy of any event, thing, or person; to have discovered the treasure inside of you. Religion is meant to lead you to this.” — Anthony de Mello
“Spiritual teachers’ words are (in the traditional Buddhist metaphor) fingers pointing at the moon; if you watch the finger, you can’t see the moon.” — Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching
“‘The one who knows, does not say; the one who says, does not know.’ All revelations, however divine, are never any more than a finger pointing to the moon. As we say in the East, ‘When the sage points to the moon, all the idiot sees is the finger.'” — Anthony de Mello
“In the service of the Truth, religious teachings represent signposts or maps left behind by awakened humans to assist you in spiritual awakening, that is to say, in becoming free of identification with form.” — Eckhart Tolle
“The concern is not with an academic or intellectual understanding of our religions, rather, our focus is the experiential path of the individual as it reflects the key revelation of our enduring religions.” — Bernadette Roberts
“While revelation is first and foremost experiential, religion is usually the intellectual medium that conveys and passes it on. However, as already noted, where revelation is passed on solely by way of intellectual concepts – with its endless diversity of interpretations – it soon becomes obscured and corrupted. Only through repeated experience is a revelation continuously verified and perpetuated.” — Bernadette Roberts
“On an experiential level it enables us to integrate, understand and appreciate various religions in a way not possible on a purely intellectual level. Solely from a scholarly or cultural perspective, our profound religious truths often appear incompatible or contradictory, whereas, encountered on an experiential level in the process of the journey, different religions can be understood as the progressive stages of God’s on-going revelation.” — Bernadette Roberts
Right & Wrong, Good & Bad
“If Jesus, Buddha, and Confucius were all alive and gathered in the same place, would they argue over who is right? Or would they respect and admire one another’s teachings?” — Haemin Sunim
“Humans have long endured fighting over which is the right or correct religion. But this conflict can only exist when each religion is taken seriously—that is, literally. All religions peacefully coexist when they are taken as metaphor.” — Chris Niebauer
“The religion that makes people good makes people bad, but the religion known as freedom makes all people good, for it destroys the (inner) conflict that makes people devils.” — A. S. Neill
Belief, Attachment, & Identity
“No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea.” — Shunryu Suzuki
“Many people are already aware of the difference between spirituality and religion. They realize that having a belief system – a set of thoughts that you regard as the absolute truth – does not make you spiritual no matter what the nature of those beliefs is. In fact, the more you make your thoughts (beliefs) into your identity, the more cut off you are from the spiritual dimension within yourself. Many ‘religious’ people are stuck at that level. They equate truth with thought, and as they are completely identified with thought (their mind), they claim to be in sole possession of the truth in an unconscious attempt to protect their identity.” — Eckhart Tolle
“Partly as a result of the spiritual teachings that have arisen outside the established religions, but also due to an influx of the ancient Eastern wisdom teachings, a growing number of followers of traditional religions are able to let go of identification with form, dogma, and rigid belief systems and discover the original depth that is hidden within their own spiritual tradition at the same time as they discover the depth within themselves. They realize that how ‘spiritual’ you are has nothing to do with what you believe but everything to do with your state of consciousness. This, in turn, determines how you act in the world and interact with others.” — Eckhart Tolle
“What we look for in man’s spiritual development is a religion’s key revelation. This revelation, however, must not be confused with the religion’s historical development or its extraneous accruements in the course of history. By ‘accruements’ I mean the philosophy, theology, rituals, and cultural overlays that often identify a particular religion. Although these factors are the practical and cultural outgrowth of revelation – or what develops in the living of a particular religion – our present focus is on the revelation itself minus its cultural overlays.” — Bernadette Roberts
“The reason we find a religion’s most authentic history in the individual journey is not only because the light of revelation is first hand, but because this same light, filtered through a group or social prism, becomes diffused according to each one’s level of reception. It is this diffused diversity of interpretations that has divided our religions into numerous sects and denominations, sometimes to the point where the original is no longer reflected at all.” — Bernadette Roberts
“The point is that everyone, regardless of their religion or belief system can come to know the furthest reaches of God’s revelations, know them long before they become known (accepted or rejected) by a particular group.” — Bernadette Roberts
Awareness, Awakening, & Self-Enquiry
“When I move from one religion to another, has the ‘I’ changed? Do I have a new ‘I’ or is it the same ‘I’ that has changed? In other words, is my name an essential part of me, of the ‘I’? Is my religion an essential part of the ‘I’?” — Anthony de Mello
“God is going to be much more pleased by your being transformed into a loving person than by saying, ‘Lord, Lord.’ It’s infinitely more important that you be waking up. That’s spirituality, that’s everything. If you have that, you have God. Then you worship ‘in spirit and in truth.’ When you become love, when you are transformed into love.” — Anthony de Mello
“The fact is that you’re surrounded by God and you don’t see God, because you ‘know’ about God. The final barrier to the vision of God is your God concept. You miss God because you think you know. That’s the terrible thing about religion. That’s what the gospels were saying, that religious people ‘knew,’ so they got rid of Jesus. The highest knowledge of God is to know God as unknowable. There is far too much God talk; the world is sick of it. There is too little awareness, too little love, too little happiness, but let’s not use those words either. There’s too little dropping of illusions, dropping of errors, dropping of attachments and cruelty, too little awareness. That’s what the world is suffering from, not from a lack of religion. Religion is supposed to be about a lack of awareness, of waking up.” — Anthony de Mello
“Innumerable methods under different denominations, such as yoga, bhakti, karma, each again with many modifications, are being taught with great skill and in intricate detail only to entice the seekers and confuse their minds. So also are the religions and sects and dogmas. What are they all for? Only for knowing the Self. They are aids and practices required for knowing the Self.” — Ramana Maharshi
“Only if one knows the truth of love, which is the real nature of Self, will the strong entangled knot of life be untied. Only if one attains the height of love will liberation be attained. Such is the heart of all religions.” — Ramana Maharshi
“Religion does not consist in erecting temples, or building churches, or attending public worship. It is not to be found in books, or in words, or in lectures, or in organizations. Religion consists in realization. We must realize God.” — Swami Vivekananda
Truth, Revelation, & Realization
“We always have to be on alert to see that religion doesn’t come in the way of truth.” — Anthony de Mello
“I realized that Truth is not the exclusive property of any one religion.” — Haemin Sunim
“Throughout history, there have always been rare individuals who experienced a shift in consciousness and so realized within themselves that toward which all religions point. To describe that non-conceptual Truth, they then used the conceptual framework of their own religions.” — Eckhart Tolle
“Realisation is real religion, all the rest is only preparation—hearing lectures, or reading books, or reasoning is merely preparing the ground; it is not religion.” — Swami Vivekananda
“The truth is unbelievable.” — Bernadette Roberts
“‘Revelation’ is God’s disclosure of Himself to man. Thus ‘God’ is ‘That’ which is revealed – can only be revealed. This gratuitous revelation is the essence and foundation of man’s ‘religions’. Without this, I hold no authentic ‘religion’ is possible.” — Bernadette Roberts
“Where there is no revelation I hold there is also no true religion, but instead, mere philosophy, speculation and myth. Without revelation no certitude is possible, not even the certitude God exists. We might add, ‘That’ which is revealed never identifies Itself by the term ‘God’ or says anything at all. The term ‘God’ is man’s term for ‘That’ beyond which nothing exists. My use of the term ‘revelation’ is restricted to a firsthand ‘seeing’ or ‘knowing’ God.” — Bernadette Roberts
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