I got asked this question yesterday at the Bhutan Dialogue, and honestly, for me this is the most difficult question to answer – especially in a Vajrayana country. What does it mean to be religious? What is spiritualism?
So here is my struggling reply: 🙄🙄🙄
“For me it has been a lifelong balance between my search for inner peace and stability (infact in Bhutanese languages, Buddhism translates as Religion of The Inner – nangpa ghi choe) and fulfilling the inherited rituals and traditions. As a leading member of my clan of some 50-55 people, and a descendent of several religious families and lineages, I have inherited some 17-18 deities and gods and goddesses to seek refuge and protections, and to conduct some 4-5 large annual rituals in four different locations. With the help and participation of my family, we fulfil this responsibility dutifully. I also do it with great honour and pride, afterall not everyone has that privilege. Interestingly this gives me peace and stability too.”
With time and age, I have also realised there is difference between being religious and being spiritual. The former refers to being part of an institution, its dogma and the inherited traditions – an important responsibility – a social responsibility perhaps? The latter is to be in continous dialogue with myself: who am I? I practice this by making pilgrimages to sacred sites – such as Bumthang or Paro. While I find this more liberating, one cannot ignore either of the two. Afterall, you are who you are because of where you are born into. In a collective society like ours there is only a blurry difference between the social self and the inner self.
The two, I guess, are the two sides of the same coin, the coin being myself. I can call these two sides the religious me and the spiritual me. As a layman I have not been able to merge the two. I hope to be reborn again and do it – like my two living masters, Tsugla Lopen and Rangshikhar Rimpoche – and the masters of the past – especially Drukpa Kuenlay and Terton Pema Lingpa.