The Guru’s Cat

What is the difference between Religion and Spirituality?
Here is one difference that is probably meaningful to most people:


This usually involves some sort of required ritual varying from the magnificence of a full blown Greek Orthodox service with loads of gold leaf, icons, bells, holy smoke and priests doing odd things behind a curtain, to a simple Baptist service of dunking prospective members in a full immersion swimming pool or nearby (clean) river. All these religions usually have some sort of written creed or statement of belief that members have to sign up to and recite out loud in unison once a week on Sundays to make sure everyone believes the same thing.

Because religions tend to be group activities like football or cricket, they invariably seem to take sides. This is fine for sports (which are supposed to be games and for fun!) but when it comes to different religions having deeply entrenched beliefs which they believe to be right (and therefore everyone else is wrong) it tends to lead to a lot of anger and counter accusations which have sometimes resulted in wars and nasty things like death and ethnic cleansing.


This doesn’t have rituals or rigid statements of belief that you have to adhere to retain your membership as it were. It merely involves an acknowledgement to yourself that there is something more to this world and universe we inhabit than we can actually see with our eyes or grab with our hands. It’s often called a "meaning". What this ‘more’ is, depends on each person and varies from a vague feeling of wonder at the beauty of a sunset or a new born baby or a flower, to a strong feeling that there is something bigger than we are looking after us and our loved ones. Sometimes we might even feel inclined to give this ‘something’ a name such as a Bishop nearly did recently when he daringly made reference to "God as it were" . The addiction fellowships which use a 12 Step spiritual program of recovery refer to a ‘Higher Power’ or ‘God as you may understand him’.

Because spirituality tends to be something an individual has without the need for any complicated sets of beliefs which must be followed, it generally leads to peace rather than war. This may well be inner peace for the individual (a feeling that all is right with the world in spite of appearances); but if all individuals were at peace with themselves then they would be more likely to be at peace with each other. In other words it is unlikely that spirituality will lead to killing other people who don’t agree with you as religion has tended to do in the past (and present).

There is one more difference that is particularly meaningful to me:

Religion is for people who don’t want to go to Hell; Spirituality is for people who have already been there!

I have often wondered how rituals in religion come into existence to the extent that the people who follow them don’t always know why they follow them except they have always done it like that. There is a Buddhist poem that provides an example of this:

The Guru’s Cat

When the guru sat down to
worship each evening,
The ashram cat would get in the way
and distract the worshippers.
So he ordered that the cat be tied
during evening worship.

After the guru died, the cat continued
to be tied during evening worship.
And when the cat expired, another cat
was brought to the ashram
so that it could be duly tied
during evening worship.

Centuries later, learned treatises were
written by the guru’s scholarly disciples
on the liturgical significance
of tying up a cat
while worship is performed.

Anthony de Mello, “The Guru’s Cat,”
The Song of the Bird,
Doubleday: New York, 1982, p. 63./


About barrywhit

I am a retired engineer and I live in darkest Lincolnshire, UK. I am an author and when I retired, published a book in 2004 and another one in April 2008. I am now also a retired author!! If you have ever written a book you will understand what I mean. I am interested in science, aviation, philosophy, spirituality , politics, progressive rock painting (art not rooms) and films. I prefer wide open spaces to city centres. Lincolnshire has the biggest skies in the country and I love it. I am a left wing, liberal Anglican, I read The Guardian and Observer. I am a Republican at heart and an armchair communist!
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One Response to The Guru’s Cat

  1. anna says:

    ..This is great…"religion is for people who don\’t want to go to hell; Spirituality is FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN THERE!"and "gurus cat"…it is so true…most people never even think why they are doing what they are doing…thank you dear Robert…..Great wisdom…

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