See religion not as a cultural phenomenon, but as a spiritual process

People in various parts of the world often follow different religions. Even if they are affiliated to the same religion, the ways in which they follow that religion vary according to regional cultures.

Seeing such diversity among religions, some people, especially academic scholars of religion, view religion as a cultural phenomenon. For example, they may theorize that people living in woodlands deified the nature around them and started worshiping wooden images.

Such theorizing conflates the expressions of religion with its essential purpose. That purpose is to raise human consciousness from the material level to the spiritual level. The Bhagavad-gita (09.02) indicates that religion, when practiced with philosophical understanding, gives direct experience of spiritual reality.

To appreciate religion’s spiritual purpose, let’s compare the raising of consciousness to climbing up a mountain, material consciousness to the bottom of the mountain, and spiritual consciousness to the mountaintop. Various paths up the mountain may start from varying terrains such as rocky, sandy, watery, marshy or snowy. Climbing by a particular path requires equipment appropriate to its terrain. But the equipment is not the essence of any path – the ascent to the mountaintop is.

Similarly, material conditions vary in different parts of the world. To help people rising from those conditions toward the spiritual level of consciousness, the practical religious processes naturally vary in language, rituals, architecture and so forth. But these culturally-specific expressions are not the essence of any religion – the spiritualizing of human consciousness is.

When we focus on religion’s overarching purpose of elevating human consciousness, we can appreciate both its diverse cultural expression and its universal spiritual essence. By this educated vision, we can respect the spiritual potential of religious practices different from ours. And we can follow our own religious practices, not ritualistically, but purposefully for spiritualizing our consciousness.

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