Why do we need Religion?
A note based on work of Swami Vivekananda)
आत्मानं रथिनं विद्धि शरीरं रथमेव चबुद्धिं तु सारथिं विद्धि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च |
इन्द्रियाणि हयानाहुर्विषयांस्तेषु गोचरान्आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः ||
(Kaṭha Upaniṣad 1.3.3–4 )
Human civilization has witnessed a well documented fact that throughout the human history, people worshiping the same God, believing in the same religion have stood at each other’s side, with much greater strength than they would do to a person of same descent or even brothers.
Considering the facts and incidents we have witnessed during the dusk of 20th and at the dawn of 21st century some of us would present the argument that the concept of religion has brought only violence and despair to the human society. However before jumping on to a conclusion and labeling that religion has not or perhaps done very little to eliminate the sorrow and misery of humans let us take a deeper look into the concept of religion.
The Origin of Religion
Although many theories have been proposed to describe the origin of various religion but only two theories have gained acceptance amongst the modern scholars.
One of the theory is the Spirit theory, according to which the modern day religion originated from ancestor worshiping which led to the development of many religion specially evident in the South American nations and they have commemorative days for their ancestors. The other theory that discusses origin of religion is the evolution of the idea of infinite, leading to the origin of Personification of the powers of nature.
A study of the ancient religions of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese and sections of ancient Hindus we can find traces of ancestor worship, and it makes a strong case for the spirit theory. On the other hand if we study the works of ancient Indian scholars and literature such as Upanishads and Vedanta we find no trace of ancestor worship, Greeks, Ancient Germans, Scandinavians and all other Aryan races show abstracted nature worship, which also makes a strong case for the view that religion has its origin in the personification of the forces of nature for example be it Thor, Zeus or Indra they all represent a strong force of nature, the thunderbolt.
At the surface the two views may seem contradictory in the initial stages, but once you look deep it reveals that in either of the cases, it is the man who aspires to transcend the limitations of his senses,to go beyond what his senses reveal to him and in this pursuit he either seeks the spirit of his ancestor or tries to understand the phenomena of nature.
Understanding the infinite:
A common statement made by all the organized religions of the world is that the human mind, at certain moments, transcends not only the limitation of the senses, but also the power of reasoning. In this transcend state founders, prophets, messengers, all of them came face to face with facts that normally no one would have sensed or reasoned. It is evident that all the religions acknowledge the presence of unit abstraction, either in the form of an Abstract presence, as an omnipresent being, as an abstract personality or as God or even sometimes as moral law and the ideal unity. We the common men are always trying and struggling to raise ourselves up to that ideal of infinite power or infinite pleasure and most of the struggle around us is for this infinite power or pleasure. However a few of us were quick to understand that neither the infinite power or pleasure can be reached through the senses, as the senses itself are too limited and the body is too limited to express the infinite. It is then the man learns to give up trying to express the infinite into finite and this giving up, this renunciation is the background of ethics. Renunciation is the base upon which the ethics stand.
Ethics and quest to conquer ourselves:
Ethics and ethical behavior have always been preaching man one thing ‘ Not I, but thou’. Its motto is not self but non-self and thus teaches to put ourselves last and others before us. On the contrary the senses say ‘Me, Myself first’, thus all codes of ethics are based upon renunciation; destruction of the individual on the material plane. The utilitarian standards can not explain the ethical relation men to the infinite as no ethical law can be derived keeping in mind its utility. The ethical laws and moral laws are based on the relation of man with his society and nature.
A man is a man as long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both external and internal. It is very good and grand to conquer external nature but yet grander to conquer our internal nature and understand the laws that govern the passion, inner feelings and will of mankind,. These subtle workings of the human mind belong entirely to religion.
Usually in a society the majority of men and women understand and find pleasure in everything that is external, but in every society there is a section of people for whom the pleasures are not in the senses, but beyond and higher than matter and they struggle to reach it. It is clear that lower the organisation, greater is the pleasure in senses, for example it doesn’t matter how delicious the food is no man can match the gusto with which a wolf eats its food. Spirituality on the other hand is a higher plane and the subject being infinite the pleasure associated with this plane is highest for those who can appreciate it. Having said that we must understand that all those great men who were world movers, who had the ability to ignite others mind with spiritual fire always had the spiritual background. Thus the strength of every race lies in its spirituality manifested as religion, while the death of the race begins the day spirituality wanes and materialism gains ground.
Religion in the modern world:
In today’s context the religion must be studied on a broader perspective than it has been done, meanwhile all narrow mindedness, all sectarian ideas tribal or national must be given up or demolished, including the idea that each race or nation must have its own particular God and the idea that every other religion is wrong at best be abandoned or should belong to the past.
In today’s interconnected world religions of the world have to become as universal and wide, embracing all good and great and at the same time must have the scope for development. The religion of today must be inclusive and must not look down with contempt upon other religion as only these feelings are responsible for tremendous harms that have been caused in the name of religion. Thus what we need now is a fellow feeling among the religions and their believers so that we can attain the true potential and realize the infinite energy which is the birthright and nature of every human being.
Image link: Yoga meditation at sunset stock image Dreamstime.com
*************************************************************************************** The views expressed in this article are authors own and like any idea of Vedanta they are also subject to introspection and discussion. The author appreciates reader views, queries and comments, which if any can be mailed directly to: [email protected] or [email protected]
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About this section
This page hosts articles that are produced from my contemplation on topics and principles of Vedanta, which I prefer to see in the context of modern life and scientific education.
One question that has been bothering mankind since time immemorial is, what happens to us, where do we go once our body is dissolved. Various theories have been proposed by systems after systems, the dualists speak of threefold eschatology, where when a man dies he goes to heaven or goes to the sphere of the wicked persons to roam as ghosts and demons or falls back to earth only to be reborn as animals, here the non-dualists or Advaitists ask, how can one come and go, and to what place, especially when one is infinite? The very question of birth and death concerning this soul turns out to be nonsensical, as the soul or the self of the man is omnipresent and everywhere and the talks of birth and death, of havens and higher, havens, are a childish dream and vanishes the moment one realizes the truth.