I grew up inside India’s Hindu culture. Religion is everywhere. Myriad Gods with their own stories, sundry festivals with their own rituals. Temples, mosques and churches all around, some old and forgotten and some newly marked on the side of the road just as an orange blob on a stone with flowers. Religious leaders, the Gurus, the Shankaracharyas, the Fathers and the Moulavis…these were all representatives of one or the other brand of after-life. Spirituality and religion were synonymous to me at the time, and continued to be long after I left home. The question that’s posed above in the title wasn’t even something I spent too much time thinking about. Now I know better, if only a little better.
All food is not the same. Mexican food tastes very different from Chinese, and both taste different from Italian food. But there is something that’s common to all food— eating food makes hunger pangs go away. When we are hungry for food, we’re not specifically hungry for Italian food or Indian food. We may crave a certain taste, but our hunger knows no taste. It’s an experience that demands fulfillment, a question that begs an answer. Hunger wants to be replaced with fullness.
There’s another kind of hunger. A kind of hunger that cannot be answered by eating. This hunger makes us feel incomplete, unfulfilled and unfinished. We spend our lives looking for ways to satiate this hunger, but all efforts fail. This is spiritual hunger. It cannot be expressed in words, but everyone knows the experience. A yearning, a hope, and an emptiness that screams out a cry for completion. Every external quest to answer this spiritual hunger goes unanswered. It remains just as it was. Questioning. Like a blinking cursor on the screen, waiting to be answered.
There are people through the ages that have addressed their spiritual hunger permanently. When they experienced for the first time this unending peace, they knew that the spiritual hunger was gone. They had become “whole”, these holy men, and there was a method, some method that got them there. These methods became the recipe that they handed down to their followers, and then from generation to generation. Now the cultures all have the recipe books remembered loosely as the religious traditions of their culture. The ingredients may have shifted over time, and fusion cuisines created to be more palatable to the changing tastes of the cultures. Religious traditions are just cuisines from different cultures for this spiritual hunger. Maybe you grew up in the Hindu tradition, and the Hindu religious tradition offers hope for your spiritual hunger temporarily. Maybe you’re a global citizen, eager to try out other tastes from other traditions. It doesn’t matter what your taste in food is. The hunger that these religious traditions try to solve is of the spiritual kind.
When I hear someone say that they are spiritual but not religious, l hope they know that their spiritual hunger is beyond being just a matter of taste.
Religion’s role as spiritual food is not just to be palatable— it must make us whole.