I received one of those Dalai Lama quotes in email today -- I suppose we all do -- and found it right on target:
"I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another--an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of metaphysical or philosophical reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or hell. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayers and so on.
Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit--such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony, which bring happiness to both self and others. While ritual and prayer, along with questions of nirvana and salvation are directly connected with religious faith, these inner qualities need not be, however. There is thus no reason why the individual should not develop them, even to a high degree, without recourse to any religious or metaphysical belief system. This is why I sometimes say religion is something we can perhaps do without. What we cannot do without are these basic spiritual qualities."
I sometimes think we make a grave mistake when we confuse Buddhism with religion, and in particular, when we confuse state religion with Buddhism. I have been privileged in this life to personally know and spend time with several highly realized Buddhist masters. I do not recall any of them as being particularly religious men; rather, I recall them as deeply spiritual men. Yet, in the majority of cases, these men operated within the context of organized religion.
This may be a question we'll all have to answer for ourselves in the future--
Have we, in fact, mislabeled Buddhism?
If we have, are we selling ourselves short?