Mon. Jul 15th, 2024


powerofloveBy: Dharmacharya Gurudas Sunyatananda

Drawing on the essential teachings of the great spiritual teachers, philosophers and freethinkers throughout time, Dharmacharya Gurudas Sunyatananda (retired Archbishop Francis-Maria Salvato, O.C.) has been regarded as a provocative, revolutionary “voice of reason” within the field of religion and spirituality, since 1983. Having the distinction of being one of the few openly non-theistic, openly-gay and post-denominational thinkers ever to serve as Bishop-Exarch and spiritual leader of the autocephalic Eastern Catholic Franciscans in North America, Gurudas is the author of more than 600 articles, eight books and currently serves as the spiritual advisor for a non-theistic, intentional spiritual community, The Spiritus Project. He can be reached at:

Spirituality and religion. Far too often, I would suggest, we accept the notion that these two phenomena are both complementary and necessary for the other to exist.

Spirituality concerns itself with the individual. Spirituality, in and of itself, has nothing to do with gods or goddesses, or any religious beliefs and practices. Spirituality, in its simplest and purest of senses, is the individual’s quest for meaning, peace and growth. Therefore, it is possible for a person, such as myself, who finds no particular need to adopt theistic concepts or irrational superstitious “beliefs” in this god(dess) or that, to still consider myself deeply and richly spiritual.

In humanity’s quest for answers, both individually (spiritually) and anthropologically, the primitive cultures relied on myths and legends to explain those things that were not yet explained by science and reasoning. Thus, melting of polar icecaps became the legend of the Deluge. Thunder became the anger of the god(s). The seasonal changes became the result of Persephone’s quest for her daughter, and so on.

As these legends became intertwined and more widespread, they gave rise to the phenomena known as religion. Today, thousands of years later, there are still adherents who cling to these same superstitious and irrational explanations for things that might otherwise be explained through science and reasoning. But perhaps the most unfortunate part of the phenomena is that many people seem to have selective blindness with regard to religious superstition.

As a Christian literalist what they think of the great gods of the Roman or Norse legend, and they will tell you that those are myths. Ask them about Mithra, the famous hero-son of the Persian god, or Horus, the great Egyptian Sun-God and they will tell you the same thing. But when those same story-lines are overlaid upon the narratives of the historic and revolutionary Rav Yeshua – the Nazarene therapeute, called Jesus – their response incredibly changes. Suddenly, these otherwise intelligent people revert to the primitive and irrationally superstitious cults of almost seventeen hundred years ago, when Emperor Constantine succeeded at introducing the myths and legends of Sol Invictus into the traditions of a peaceful Jesus Movement. Of course, these interpolations were occurring elsewhere, for about 150 years prior to Constantine’s conquest, as often occurs with religious mythos, but the emperor “stepped up the game” considerably.

As someone once noted, “Faith doesn’t provide any answers; it simply discourages you from asking questions.” Religion attempts to explain the unknown by obfuscation. As David Brooks writes, in The Necessity of Atheism, “To explain the unknown by the known is a logical procedure; to explain the known by the unknown is a form of theological lunacy.”

It is unfortunate that many people, when making the mature and logical choice to disengage from religion, seem to think that they have to abandon their spiritual quest simultaneously. Perhaps that occurs, because their spiritual quests were never really personal… never really about themselves… but all about the external legends, saviours and myths. In such a case, these individuals never engaged in a mature quest for spiritual growth, but were captives of fear.

I would suggest that the wounds, both emotional and spiritual, caused by religion, can only be healed by reinvigorating one’s spiritual quest, and discovering that spirituality never had anything to do with religion – that religion often attempts to co-opt spirituality, and nothing more. Thomas Paine described religions best, I think, when he said, “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

While religions can metaphorically be seen as ideological tumours, for which we must continue to hope for a cure; spirituality offers the greatest opportunity for humanity to reclaim its potential, and awaken.

Spirituality seeks answers to the important things… not who created the world, or whether the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa… but how can I avoid suffering, and what can I do to prevent others from suffering? At the foundation of spirituality is compassion and a desire for peace.

Spirituality is a facet of human nature; while religion is an invention of human design. Idealistically, religion intends to help one advance on their spiritual quest, as we can see in the intentionality of many of the spiritual leaders of the past two or three thousand years. But once a religious tradition seems to go from the organic stages of midrashic teaching, to the dreaded “organisational” stage, it seems that all hope for good is often lost.

I would suggest that there are relatively few religions today, in which the good has been maintained and perhaps even outweighed the drawbacks of institutionalism. Among the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) this might be true, save the minor unfortunate schisms and divisions that have occurred over the role of the bible or the tendency for some to overlay the common Christian myth of a saviour into an otherwise sound and balanced spiritual approach to life. For Hindus, the tendency toward institutionalisation has largely been avoided, and their spiritual traditions have remained organic and unfettered by hierarchy and its machinations.

Among Druids, Wiccan and Celtic practitioners of the “Old Religion”, descendants (as are the Jews and Muslims) of the old shammanite spiritual path, we find relative freedom from dogmatism, censorship and the tendency not shared with shammanite offshoots in the Jewish and Muslim sects, toward non-violence.

Some would tend to want to include Buddhism in this list, yet I will refrain from doing so, as a Buddhist monk, because I believe that among those for whom Buddhism has retained its authentic and pure essence – that is as a philosophy and way of life – the Dharma is not a religion. And among many who have corrupted the tradition, superimposing their cultural and religious superstitions, myths and legends upon it, and those who adhere to rigid literalism in their interpretation of the Buddhist canon, then those folks have created a religion like any other, and have unfortunately used and abused their religion as a means of controlling people, extorting from those in their control, and as a means of justifying violence and intolerance, even on the most subtle levels.

In Buddhism, we teach that the object of Buddhism is not to create Buddhists, but to create Buddhas. In this spirit, Sri Chinmoy, the Bengali guru and spiritual leader, wrote:

“The essence of religion:
Fear God and obey God.
The quintessence of spirituality:
Love God and become another God.”

Spirituality is not concerned with the past. It regards the past as part of our personal heritage, and allows the experiences of the past to inform us and remind us, but it recognises the only moment we have in which to grow is right now. Where fear is the domain of religion, love is the domain of spirituality. Where worship is the feature and expression of religion, spirituality is about respect and interior renewal.

If we want to learn the path of integrating a healthier approach to (and use of) religion, we can turn our attention to the great saints and mystics of the historical narrative – Buddha, Rav Yeshua, Rav Hillel, Francis d’Assisi, Teresa d’Avila, Ernest Holmes, Catherine Ponder, Rumi, Hafiz, Shirdi Sai Baba, Gandhi, Emma Curtis Hopkins and Mother Teresa of Calcutta – and find in them, the potential that exists for adherents to religious traditions to integrate such practices into an holistic and healthy approach to spirituality.

Religions, it has been said, are founded upon the fear of the many and the guile of the few. H.L. Menken observed that “religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind–that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.”

I am inclined to agree, and offer the simple, unremarkable lives of the Contemplative Order of Monks of the Eightfold Path and its non-monastic equivalent, The Spiritus Project, as evidence that those seeking fellowship and support on their personal spiritual quests can do so without religion, without gods or goddesses, and without hierarchy or dogma.


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  1. Loved the Spirituality vs Religion article and totally agree that one has pretty much nothing to do with the other, seeing as I am a spiritualist, yet abhor religion and I also agree about the Mithra and Horus (and Krishna) – all gods WELL before this Jesus fellow came on the scene and all those “mythical gods” had an awful lot in common with Jesus – I blogged about it some months ago on my domain, so it was kind of vindicating that a person “in the know” agrees with me.

    Incredibly insightful.

  2. You might call me a Christian Buddhist. I believe that Jesus existed, but I look past what the religions teach and look at what Jesus was really trying to teach. It’s quite different from what you hear in the churches. I think Christ set a good example for people to follow if they look close enough to see what he really did and taught.

  3. Thank you for this article. While some of the comments were lost, there was a lot of positive feedback. As always, you outlined in understandable terms what so many of us strive to get across. Being “good” and doing “goodworks” does not require a membership card in any orgainized religion. Indeed if one requires that sort of pass, the arguement could be made they are not doing good for goodness sake, but rather because of fear and/or shame. Neither of these are conducive to actual true compassion. Thank you.

  4. Yada, yada, yada… all sounds very nice, because this “spiritual” position appeals to intellect and pride. It also requires nothing of you, really. There is a singular Truth and it doesn’t need you to agree with it to be true. However, you’ll agree when you stand before the Almighty God and wet your pants because you thumbed your nose at Him in this very short life.

  5. It’s all been said before. You share nothing new with the world.

    Not to mention that a quick look over of your site reveals you are more interested in people giving you money so you don’t have to take care of yourself, AND you SEEM to be more about how everyone else hates you, nobody likes you, why don’t you go eat some worms.

    You really need to get over yourself. Who else would post a blurb about their accomplishments BEFORE the article? Everyone who has a blurb about themselves, and they are few and far between (which also talks about pride), has their “blurb” after the article. Like Marco said, “…Pride…” (I don’t much agree with anything else he said, but hey… that’s why we are free to disagree…)

    Then you solidify it with the following:

    Thomas Paine described religions best, I think, when he said, “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

    Uh… isn’t that exactly what you are doing? At least that’s what it looks like from the outside looking in. Now you may very well just be writing your little rants, and ridicules, but it does appear you are trying to create yet another way for people to be controlled: by you!

    Sorry, but your article simply holds no water and you speak in dualities. Must be that dual personality disorder of being what kind of catholic, and a buddhist for how long? No sir, I’ll stick with my “nature” based belief system. At least I see the results of my faith experiences. What about you? are you better off, or do you just want more people to support you financially.

  6. Deb, Cal and Grainner, thank you for the kind comments and contribution to the discussion.

    Marco, because I believe that religious fundamentalism is a mental illness, and find Christianity to be one of the most pathologically disturbed misappropriations of the teachings of the (possibly historic) Rav Yeshua (Jesus), I will simply respond with one word: “Namaste”. I continue to pray for your psychological and emotional healing.

    Mondragon, your comments are baseless and demonstrate the kind of violence with which you apparently treat yourself. (I’ve actually spoken on that very thing here: (

    Those familiar with the Contemplative Order of Compassion, and its two constituent sites: and, know an can attest to the things you conveniently chose to overlook in your in-depth assessment:

    1.) There is no hierarchy in our spiritual community. Therefore, I do not have the “authority” to override things, simply because I am the recognised lama of this particular spiritual path. That means that I don’t get to arbitrarily choose what gets put on the website.

    2.) The website was created by several members of our community, while I was completely incapacitated with a shattered arm. It’s not even hosted on our server, so I have been unable to get to it to remove some of what I consider “fluffy adulation” and “lamaism” (guru praise), that is unnecessary. I have addressed those concerns to the community, and expect to be given consent to offer strong suggestions for a revamp of that site this coming month.

    3.) I have never taken money from the Order for personal use. Period. For 27 years, I was, in fact, the sole financial benefactor for the Order, including six monastic/contemplative houses, and 48 monks. Only in the past year have we asked our students to consider helping with several needs that have arisen out of my being no longer able to work. If that’s offensive to you, it’s your right to think so. I find nothing unethical about it.

    4.) Finally, I am well aware of who you are, and your agenda (having been exposed in our own blogs) is pitifully demonstrative of deep psychological issues, for which I sincerely hope you get some help. I would, however, suggest that if you’re going to comment here, you add some substance to your remarks, since unsubstantiated attacks are little more than sophomoric jabs, and make you look pretty petty.


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