Spirituality/Religion are characteristic of humans from the earliest recorded history. Even today in an increasingly material world with all of the advances of science, Spirituality/Religion persists and in some areas thrives. In addition, as people get older they become more and more spiritual or religious. What accounts for its pervasiveness? Why is it so ubiquitous in wide ranging societies from primitive to very advanced, widespread areas throughout the globe, and over wildly different eras of recorded history?
I believe that the pervasiveness of Spirituality/Religion results from an ever-present unchanging awareness. When looking at our sensory experience we come to realize that there is something that appears to be seeing, hearing, touching, tasting smelling, feeling. There is something that seems to be looking out through our eyes, listening through our ears, etc. There seems to be something there that is constantly witnessing whatever is going on in the environment. There even appears to be something there that is listening to our thoughts and internal speech, that’s observing us reviewing our memories, and that’s watching us plan for the future.
Whatever it is, it appears to be always present and always the same. As we’ve aged it’s always been there and has never seemed to vary. When we were a child we had the same awareness that we now have as adults. Our ability to think, our storehouse of knowledge and experiences, our wisdom, our bodies, and our emotions have all changed over the years. But that which is witnessing it all has never changed.
This internal entity appears to be making decisions and guiding behavior. It is the unseen chooser. It is the ever present director of our actions. It is what’s responsible for our volition, our free will. It doesn’t actually guide the details of action. These seem to be well learned and have become automatic. Rather, it appears to be what lies beneath making the decisions and guiding and directing the general course of our actions.
It is that never changing sense of presence, of being, of watching, of willing, of choosing that makes us feel that there has to be more than simply physical existence. We experience it as something that transcends the physical, something that cannot be simply explained by biology, physics, and chemistry, something that isn’t just a very complex computational device in action. It is the underlying awareness, presence, and being that just seems to be our spiritual self.
We are aware of this even if we can’t put our fingers on it exactly. There just seems to be something enduring and special about us that transcends the physical. This leaves us in a quandary. We can understand and work with the material world. But, how can we grasp awareness? What does it all mean?
This is where religion comes in. It provides an explanation for where it comes from what it is, and where it’s going. This can be very comforting. If we can’t quite accept someone else’s explanation as outlined in the texts or dogma of the religion, then the approaches of eastern spirituality become a solution. We can seek out an understanding through contemplative practices. These approaches do not provide answers but produce comfort by providing a methodology, the answers can be found through internal reflection.
All of this is not necessarily processed in a logical way or even in a conscious way. But regardless, the urge to grasp and understand our being is compelling. It motivates the need for a frame of reference for existence. Spirituality/Religion provides that. It always has and probably always will. Right or wrong, it satisfies a very basic human need and so is likely to continue far into the future.