Spiritual Questions and Answers with Radhanath Swami

Is Religion different from Spirituality?

By on September 19, 2012 in Insights with 57 Comments

Religion Or SpiritualityIs Religion different from Spirituality?

Question to Radhanath Swami: Thank you. Swamiji that was really really execellent lecture. Just one small point how would you define the difference between a religion and spirituality?

Answer by Radhanath Swami: If we try to understand the actual meaning of religion, we will find that there is no difference. But if we view the way religion is often followed in the world today, there is a big difference. The word religion comes from the Greek word religio, which means ‘to bind back’ or ‘to reconnect’—to reconnect our hearts, our consciousness, with God. The word Yoga means exactly the same—to reunite the atma with the Paramatma, to reconnect our consciousness with the Supreme, and to reconnect our consciousness with each other through our connection with God.

Religion is the path of purification. We understand that love of God is dormant within the heart of everyone. The mind is like a mirror. When you look in a clean mirror, you see yourself. But if the mirror is covered with dirt, dust, pollution, and all sorts of other coverings, all you see in the mirror is the dust, the dirt and the pollution—and you think that’s me. Similarly, when the mind is clean, we see Krishna, the all beautiful all loving object of our love, and we see our own eternal soul as the lover of Krishna. But when the mind is covered by arrogance, greed, envy and passion, we think that’s me.

What is religion? My Gurudev Srila Prabhupad would say that real religion is not about being a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew or a Jain or a Sikh or a Parsi or anything else. Real religion is about awakening love of God. And the first commandment of the Bible is to love God with all our heart, mind and soul. And if you love God with all your heart, mind and soul, what comes next? Naturally, spontaneously, we love our neighbor as ourselves—and every living being happens to be our neighbor. Every living being is our neighbor because every living being is a part of God.
Krishna tells in the Bhaghavad Gita:

sarva-dharmān parityajya
mām ekaḿ śaraṇaḿ vraja
ahaḿ tvāḿ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

He says, “Abandon all varieties of dharma, (sometimes dharma is translated as religion) and just surrender to me.” What is ‘surrender to me’? It doesn’t mean surrendering in defeat. The mother surrenders to the baby, doesn’t she? In the middle of the night when the mother is sleeping and the baby goes aaahh… the mother surrenders to the baby, she gets up to take care of the child. That’s not surrender of defeat, that’s the surrender of love. Unselfish love is to surrender in love to God and be an instrument of God’s love in this world; that is religion. That is the spirit, that is the essence of religion, and that is the essence of spirituality.

As far as the various rituals are concerned, when we become attached to those things and forget what it is for, it becomes what we today know as religion, where there are so many differences. What are we doing pooja for? Do we really know what it is? It’s meant to tune us into the grace of God. It’s meant to help us focus on the divine power of God’s love. And why do we study scriptures? I have seen people who have studied scriptures and have memorized thousands and thousands of slokas, but their ego and their envy and their greed is as much as anybody else’s. The purpose of studying scripture , the purpose of pooja , mantra , yantra , tantra, mudra, the purpose of all these things is to clean the mirror of the mind and reconnect us to the divine grace.

Becoming religious is about becoming saragrahi. Saragrahi means one who seeks the essence; that is real religion. When we seek the essence of all religions, then we see what is in common. In my book The Journey Home, I give one analogy. When I was living in Patna, I was 20 years old. I stayed with Ramasevak Swami who was about 85, and there was another man who was over 85; his name was Narayan Prasad. Everyday about 11 ‘O clock in the morning he took me to his best friend. His best friend lived at the Magadha X-ray Clinic and his name was Mohammad. Interestingly, Narayan Prasad would speak to him about Bhagvad Gita, Mohammad would speak to him about the Quran, and I would speak about all the different stuff that I knew. One day I asked Narayan Prasad, “How is it that in a place like India, where there is so much conflict between Hindus and Muslims that you and Mohammad are best friends and you are sharing each other’s scriptures like this?” He said, “If a dog has a master, the dog will recognize the master in whatever way the master dresses. Sometimes he may be in a suit and tie, sometimes he may be in t-shirt and jeans, sometimes he may be wearing a dhoti or a lungi , sometimes he may not be wearing anything, but the dog will recognize. If we cannot recognize our beloved Lord when he comes in different times, in different dresses, with different names, then we have much to learn from the dog.” Saragrahi means to seek the essence. Even though there may be differences, if we seek the essence, we will understand what we really have in common, and then there is no difference between spirituality and religion.


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  • deepak bagla

    excellent article

  • govind

    hare Krishna, thank you very much Maharaj for wondeful explanation.

  • Arjun K Ramachandra

    Perfect answer! We certainly have a lot to learn from the dog!

  • anand

    perfect questions and perfect answers

  • shailesh

    Such deep meaning explained by Radhanath Maharaj about religion.Thank you.

  • Excellent explanation… The underlying principle which unites all religions is when we seek out for the essence – Love for God otherwise when one is caught up in superficialities forgetting the essence – one leads to problem.

  • Vidya Patham

    Thank you Maharaj for explaining so lucid;y the interconnection between religion and spirituality.

  • Ravi Garg

    Detailed reply by Swamiji to explain spirituality….thanks

  • Very Nice explanation given by swami & Satisfying to heart. Thank you very much.

  • Sumit Sharma

    Very clear answer about religion and spirituality.

  • Clear cut explanation. Miss using the purpose of religion makes the religion different from spirituality. All glories to HH Radhanatha Swami Maharaja.

  • suresh

    Explaination of Maharaj is very convincing in todays conflict among different religion.

  • Vinay Jain

    Thank u Radhanath Swami for the illuminating answer!

  • navin poojary

    There is a genuine need to guide people to the True Religious purports rather than current affairs of having moving to Wayward , one upmanship and selfish motives being attempted by current day Religions

  • Tapas

    “Becoming religious is about becoming saragrahi. Saragrahi means one who seeks the essence; that is real religion. When we seek the essence of all religions, then we see what is in common.” Then we may call it spirituality.

  • umesh

    thanks to Radhanath Swami for clarifying the difference nicely.

  • biswajit

    Radhanath Swami KI Jai !

  • Ravi

    Very nice explaination………..

  • Kalpana Kulkarni

    Wonderful answer. Clears so many doubts.

  • meghana

    Religion is the path of purification.

  • Milind M Churi

    Nice answer.The analogy of dog recognizing his master given by Narayan Prasad is highly illustrative.Therefore we should understand that God comes in His different forms for different purpose for different set of people.There is no need of keeping hatred feeling in our heart.Thank you very much.

  • Swapnil Gaonkar

    Thank you Radhanath Swami, your answer will help to clarify the doubts on this subject.

  • CS Sandeep Shinde

    Thank you very much.

  • Rajesh

    I really like the example that you gave when you were 20 years old and you were in Patna. Yes we have so much to learn from the dog.

  • kiran yagain

    Simply fabulous…! Thank you very much Maharaj.

  • its all about the essence and thats the same all over

  • Vinay Malani

    Radhanath Swami has made a very pertinent observation – ‘Real religion is about awakening love of God’

  • Kalpana Kulkarni

    Wonderful explanation about the difference between religion & spirituality

  • suresh

    Maharaj wonderfully explain what is Religion and the essence of Reglion.

  • Y. Raja Shekar

    Excellent answer by HH Radhanath Swami which clarifies the so called difference between religion of today and spirituality and nicely guides us to be Saragrahi.

  • CS Sandeep Shinde

    Thank you very much for sharing.

  • amitkhairnar

    This explaination of religion is really required in this world of Querrel and hippocracy
    Religion comes from “Religio” means to reconnect but we see whats going on today………….

  • Pushparaj Maurya

    even reading this answer any one can be enlighten
    its beyond the world

  • real evolution should be like this– The word religion comes from the Greek word religio, which means ‘to bind back’ or ‘to reconnect’—to reconnect our hearts, our consciousness, with God. The word Yoga means exactly the same—to reunite the atma with the Paramatma, to reconnect our consciousness with the Supreme, and to reconnect our consciousness with each other through our connection with God.

  • Kalpana Kulkarni

    Wonderful explanation!

  • Vaibhav Sharma

    It’s really not easy to explain such difficult topics where so much controversy can happen. It is the genius of Radhanath Swami that he knows that art of describing spiritual facts so easily.

    • Piyush Singh

      Exactly. Only a genuine genius can answer a tricky question like this with so much balance.

  • Vaibhav Sharma

    A master piece of an answer. Courtesy Radhanath Swami Maharaja !!

  • Shravan Kumar V

    Amazing and deep lessons from Radhanath Swami. I like this point very much that the purpose of mantras, pujas and memorizing the slokas is to clean our heart not to become more proud, greedy and envious. Swamiji is a real wise person and one who understood the real essence of all the paths.

  • Kaushik

    This answer shows Radhanath Swami has real understanding of religion and spirituality.


    Thank you for the wonderful answer.

  • Tejna Patodi

    Nicely explained. Krishna is Saaragrahi. We should always focus on the details.

  • Deepak

    Radhanath Swami has answered the question so nicely about what is our true religion it is actually connecting to Krsna.

  • As a co-facilitator of a nine-month journey into spirituality, I found such richness in this explanation. Thank you!

  • Arun V Deshmukh

    Loving surrender is the key for Bhakti and we must Learn loyalty from dogs towards his Master.. thank you maharaj

  • Balaram Acharya Das

    Great answer. Thank you Gurudev!!


    Loving all creation of Lord equally is religion.

  • navin poojary

    Very nice point about essence of religion is to seek love of God and not get caught up in ritualistic behaviour

  • Yogesh Gosavi

    Hare Krishna Prabhu — very convincing in todays conflict among different religion.

  • Ashwin

    couldn’t have put it better…haribol

  • Spirituality refers to our relationship with the sacredness of life, nature, and the universe, and this relationship is no longer felt to be confined to formal devotional practice or to institutional places of worship. Religious and spiritual people are both looking for a path to god. Religion was created by people who wanted to pursue spiritual evolution. It is meant to point the way to enlightenment, that is, union with the Divine. Religion is an attempt to point the way to spirituality. Religion insists that there
    is only one Right And True. Spirituality knows that it’s all Right And True.

    Ask The Lama

  • Sourabh Soni

    An amazing lecture by HH Radhanath Swami Maharaj with practical examples from his own life explaining the interrelation between religion and spirituality from multifarious points of view.

  • Kalpana Kulkarni

    Wonderful definition of religion – Real religion is about awakening love of God. Wish we could all follow this principle then there would be no religious strife among people.

  • biswajit

    Wonderful definition

  • Keshav Kishor Das

    I liked the “Saragrahi” explanation…….! Very helpful.

  • Carl Farrel

    When we seek the essence of all religions, then we see what is in common

  • Asha Kanta Sharma

    All religions are like rivers which ultimately merges with the ocean (Ultimate God)