It is a complete accident that you are born into any specific religion. Most likely, your parents and your parents before them never questioned the religion that was handed down to them by their forbearers. When your belief is inherited, it is as arbitrary as your hair color or shoe size. This belief can only be second-hand; it cannot be true unless you have come upon it yourself.
Jesus was born a Jew but became Christ. Siddhartha Gautama was born a Hindu but became Buddha. Mohammed had no religion before preaching what was to become Islam. Those who become enlightened have no religion – they are in direct communion with the eternal.
All the organized religions are only watered-down versions of the pure essence that is God, the universal, the infinite – whatever name you choose to represent that which we all share in our deepest self. The watered-down version is easier to swallow, no real work is required. Becoming truly religious is an immense undertaking – that is why so few ever become enlightened beings.
I was born a Jew to Jewish parents and was raised in Hebrew school, going to the synagogue on Friday evenings, saying the prayers over the Shabbas candles, becoming a Bar Mitzvah on my 13th birthday. But it always felt inauthentic to me. I never had any relationship with the Hebrew God. I resented being forced to attend services and I was a troublemaker from early on, sneaking out whenever the chance presented itself, ignoring the lessons from the teachers.
After having a Bar Mitzvah, I made my parents swear I’d never have to return to the synagogue. It was only for them anyway, and their parents, that I had to go through with the farce up to that point. For them it signified part of a cultural belonging, but they were as spiritually unawake as anyone else.
And so for ten years, I had no religion. I did not believe in any God. I believed in nothing. I did not even think about it. I was only interested in living, in the material world, the world of pleasure. I was a hedonist.
I went to India just before my 22nd birthday. I had not gone searching for spirituality; I was only following a friend and the chance to leave an increasingly meaningless life in New York behind. Most of the early days in India we spent inside smoking hash and lying in bed – it was a hundred and ten degrees outside – and just a few minutes in the sun was exhausting and suffocating.
One day I wandered alone into a temple of Shirdi Sai Baba not far from our home. I had seen crowds spilling onto the street and was curious to see what lay inside. Sandalwood incense perfumed the dry, hot air of the temple. Songs of Hindi prayer floated from a speaker and people swayed in devotional joy. I started crying. I looked upon the marble statue and felt Baba’s gaze deep in my heart, shifting something that had never been touched before.
Indians pray to Sai Baba as an enlightened being, a realized incarnation of God. I took Baba as my saint but stopped short of ascribing to any religion. Baba himself had no specific religion – it is unknown whether he was born a Muslim or a Hindu.
On that same trip in India I was in a bookstore, a small store with thousands of books piled one on top of the other, no semblance of any organization or alphabetized categories. One plain-looing book in particular called out to me. It was Osho’s 365 Meditations for the Here and Now. I had never heard of Osho, but something compelled me to buy that book. It was only after returning to the United States that I delved into it, and what I read changed my life forever, resonating in the deepest parts of me.
Osho spoke of finding religion within yourself. He spoke of a religion-less religiousness. It was not that he gave answers, it was that the questions disappeared.
Real spirituality will find you, but only if you are an authentic seeker, only if you are ready to say that you don’t know. It will come only if you are empty and quiet can you hear the subtle whisper of the soul.