The Difference between Religion and Spirit – A look through Burmese Lenses

Someone told me yesterday I was getting too religious and hence difficult to get along with.

That certainly caused me to go look in the mirror and consider my shortcomings. I was hoping that deeper spiritual growth would mean a kinder gentler me. Obviously, this person didn’t think so.

Possibly, in my pursuit of beauty, justice, truth I was becoming more legalistic and judgmental…
Possibly, in leaving everything to a higher being up there, I had become irresponsible.
Possibly, in my pursuit of the divine, I’d forgotten people, those nearest and dearest to me…
Possibly, I had been pursuing the trappings of religion and left love and spirit out of the equation…

In Myanmar I saw the many facets of faith:

There is the ancient urge to worship material objects meant to represent the divine…

Mahamuni Buddha

… as evidenced in the  Mahamuni temple in Mandalay. This temple, which houses one of only 5 Buddha images made in his life, is believed to be imbued with the image of Buddha’s spiritual essence and venerated as an expression of Buddha’s life. Thousands of devotees flock to the temple, seeking answers to their prayers. Often, when a prayer is answered, or even before, devotees buy pieces of gold-leaf and paste them on the Buddha image as an offering.  Over the years, so many petitions have been made and answered that there’s now  a 9 inch layer of gold-leaf covering the body of this image said to represent the essence of Enlightened Man.

There is the building of cathedrals …

… bricks, mortar and gold so beautiful they do draw men’s eyes heavenward as the Ananda Paya temple and it’s beautiful Buddha meditative Buddha do

Bagan Ananda Paya 5 Bagan Ananda Paya 7

Mandalay Book Temple 4

There is the very human desire to codify all that’s been taught into a theology that human minds can understand …

… as seen at  the Kuthodaw Pagoda, with it’s 730 leaves and 1460 pages of the canons of Theravada Buddhism carved into 720 marble slabs.  A marvelous work by King Mindon to ensure that the teachings of the Buddha (the Dhamma) would remain etched in his country despite encroaching British rule.

Children Young Monks at ShweDagon Mandalay Inwa Temple School

There is the formalization of religious life …

… as seen in the initiation of young Buddhist men, who are required to become monks for at least a week upon reaching puberty and before full adulthood.

And the doing of good works …

… as seen in a simple monastery school run for poor children.


In the marketplace … In the little huts the devout retreat to for summer meditation … In the hands of children building a temple of mud and flowers …

Shrine Nyaung U Market Bagan Meditation Hut Mandalay Inwa Children

I look in the mirror again, looking for that kinder and gentler self engendered by spirit. I look for pride and self-righteousness, perfectionism and anger. I give up. The trouble with a  flawed self trying to find the flaws is … we look with clouded eyes and what we see is clouded.

All I can do is leave the heart door open and hope to catch spirit as it flies.

Bagan Temple Rooftop 1 view

What do you think? How can each one of us be a channel for love and light? How can we avoid the trap of self-righteous judgment and pride? Leave a comment.

7 Responses to “The Difference between Religion and Spirit – A look through Burmese Lenses”
  1. I start with a smile and am forever thankful for this life and the people I share it with.

    • Audrey Chin says:

      A smile. Wonderful! I just read today that if I start a day with 3 thank you emails, then the rest of the day will be great. Thank you Kath!

      • I agree with Kathleen below….you are one of the kindest most giving, not to mention interesting and talented people I have had the pleasure of meeting through TW.

  2. Audrey, I don’t know how anyone could ever think you “too religious,” or legalistic or judgmental. I think of you, most definitely, as a channel for love and light. I suppose, to answer the question you posed, we have to keep asking ourselves at every moment, “have I become self-sufficient?” and press into God again. The photos are gorgeous, by the way; every single one tells a volume in itself.

  3. Audrey Chin says:

    And thank you Kathleen. Feeling a little fragile right now. That’s what happens if one leaves the heart doors open I guess. Press, press, press… that’s what I need to do.

  4. Elena says:

    Audrey, I think people see in us reflection of themselves, we are their own projection…you know how if you are happy everyone seems okay, of you are healthy everyone seems well, but if you are unhappy you see bad everywhere. Hard to see good things around you if you are not happy….So I am sure you are just perfect as you are, it is just that other people sometimes have hard time accepting us changing, as we start reacting to things differently than before, living from a different place and it makes them uncomfortable….
    Just my two cents 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: