Although religious beliefs across the world can vary to a very great degree, the one thing that they all have in common is the concept of a God (or gods). I.e., religious agree that there is a power in the universe that is greater than that of humans and the physical world.
A second universal religious concept is the idea of right vs. wrong. In Christianity, doing the “wrong” thing is a sin and will incur punishment. Note that in order for punishment to occur, a higher power must exist that will serve out the punishment.
Although spirituality also believes in a higher power of sorts, there is also the understanding that this power is not separate from us. Instead, is it a part of us. Or as more commonly described: we humans (and everything in existence) are a part of it. With this in mind, the logic behind the concept of “sinning” starts to fall apart. I.e.: how can we (humans) as individuals be punished if we are not separate from the punisher (God)? The answer, which can be extremely hard to accept at first, is that the concept of sin in the religious sense does not actually exist.
To understand why, we must first remind ourselves that separation from God is due to identifying with one’s ego, instead of his or her soul. And the physical body is simply the manifestation of the ego. In other words, we are not our bodies and we are not our minds: we are souls who experience earth life through our bodies and minds.
Note that I even though I use the term “souls”, this doesn’t denote a separation from God. Souls are a part of God because everything that exists is a part of God. But God has one mind, and many. Just as each cell in our bodies has intelligence, each soul of God has intelligence.
You Are Not Who You Think You Are
Although bodies can become physically sick and minds can become mentally sick, the soul cannot be damaged or harmed in any way. Therefore, when somebody says something unkind to you in “earth life”, it is not you that is hurt by this remark. It is the ego (which you are identifying as “you”). Similarly, if another person harms you physically in any way, it is not you that was harmed: it was the body that was harmed.
You can think of your body as “earth clothes” that you put on to experience physical life. In our lives, we think that we have been hurt, punished, become ill, or fall into depression. But none of this happens to us. Instead, we experience it.
Our experience of life is very similar to the way that we experience dreams. While in a dream, we can become upset by anything that happens to us. But when we wake up, we realize that it was “just a dream”. In the same respect, when we wake up from life (i.e. when we die), we will come to the realization that life was “just a life”.
Therefore, to be at peace with whatever happens, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are not our bodies, and not our egos. We are souls who were created perfect because God created us perfect (as an aspect of Himself). The more we learn to dis-identify with our egos and bodies, the greater the connection we will be able to feel with our fellow souls living as humans. And in doing this, we will also establish a greater connection with God.
The concept of no sin often brings up the following question: If there is no sin, then why can’t I do anything I want? The answer is that you can do anything you want. But just because there is no sin doesn’t mean there are no consequences for your actions.
In life, every action is either based on fear or based on love. Those are essentially our only two choices. And in our earth existence, there is a spiritual law that is popularly known as “karma”. It should be noted however, that karma is not a system of punishment established by God. Instead, karma is simply the universe’s natural way of maintaining balance.
Incidentally, the phrase in the Bible “as ye sow, so shall ye reap” is clear confirmation of the existence of the law of karma. In practical terms, it means that every time we act a certain way toward another person, we will eventually experience those same actions by others toward ourselves. Therefore, if we want people to treat us kindly, we must treat others kindly. If we hate other people, we will also be hated. This isn’t a threat; it is simply a spiritual law.
I would also like to point out that karma doesn’t just apply to actions, it applies to thoughts as well. As with most biblical references, there is some debate as to what exactly Jesus meant when he said: “but anyone who looks upon another woman and lusts after her has already committed adultery in his heart”. What is clear from these words, however, is that thoughts do indeed have consequences. Therefore, it is very important not just to keep your actions in check, but to keep your thoughts in check as well.
Although many people don’t recognize it, the concept of manifestation works on thought-based karma. The idea is that by having positive thoughts, you are attracting positive results. If you think of positive thoughts as a form of energy: you are sending positive energy “out into the world”, which then must be returned as positive energy to you in one form or another.
Life is But a Dream
In the Bible, Jesus is quoted as saying: “unless man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven”. In the Christian religion, this is generally thought to mean that one should be baptized. However, the practice of baptism seems fundamentally “unfair”, regardless of when or how it happens. For instance: should a baby be baptized at birth in order to be saved? Should the child wait until old enough to choose? What if the child dies before being baptized? Etc.
In spirituality, the concept of being “born again” takes on a more “logical” approach. From a spiritual perspective, what Jesus was saying is that a man has to “die to his ego” in order to achieve “salvation”. Accounts of people who have experienced this type of “awakening” often describe it as dying and being born again, even though they do not leave their physical bodies.
The experience of awakening is therefore the process of waking up to the fact that life is “just a dream/illusion” without actually waking up from life (i.e. physically dying). Note that It is also possible to have the same type of experience inside a dream: to realize that “oh, this is just a dream” while still in the dream.
There is one important distinction between waking up from a dream and “waking up” from earth life: the experience of “oneness”. Actually, most accounts I’ve read about an enlightenment experience usually include two things. The first is that it’s simply not possible to adequately describe the experience. And second is that there is a feeling of being interconnected with everybody and everything.
This is not to say that you lose your identity. Instead, your sense of individuality is actually heightened. But there is also a firm sense that you are not separate from other, but instead exist as a part of all that exists.
Another way of saying it: when we commit an act against another, we are actually committing it against ourselves. However, we do not recognize this fact because we have “lost” our identity. We think we are acting as a separate individual, when in fact we are acting against our own being.
The purpose of religion in general is to provide a means for finding God. It is to connect people with God, for those who are seeking Him. In spiritual terms, it means to find or connect with oneself, since the self is God. Therefore, to “Know Thyself” is to know God.
Unfortunately, the stigma of sinning that is a part of “religious culture” is counterproductive to the task of knowing oneself. For example, in direct opposition to what Jesus taught, Christianity teaches its followers to be ashamed of ones sins. This shame prevents people from knowing themselves; instead “sinners” typically hide from themselves out of guilt and self-judgement.
On the spiritual path, however, becoming aware of one’s shortcomings is the first step of self-improvement. To accomplish this task, it helps to keep in mind that these faults lie with the ego, which is preventing us from seeing our true (perfect) nature. And one of the reasons that recognizing our faults is so important is because it is impossible to correct something we refuse to recognize exists. It is only when we allow ourselves to see our shortcomings that we have the ability and the power to improve ourselves.
By improving ourselves, our lives will start to become progressively more harmonious, both internally and externally. Of course, this path is not easy, but the rewards of one’s efforts are great. By recognizing are imperfections, we actually move closer towards perfection.