Before getting started with spirituality, let’s discuss ‘Religion’, because of which I am where I am and love being today!
Religion to me is like that teacher who places a nut with its hard shell in the hand and tells us to “believe” that there is something in it. When the nut is shaken out of curiosity, there may not be anything immediately perceptible in the case of a very tightly packed nut. At such point, 1 of 4 reactions is possible:
- One rejects it because the inside is not immediately known/perceptible-atheists.
- One becomes so obsessed with the nut itself, its shape, colour, beauty and thus becomes “nut obsessed” that they even forget the possibility of something existing inside of the shell-extremely religious folks whose entire life is consumed by and ends at religion.
- The nut obsession itself is pushed so far that the obsessor himself turns into a nut (hehe sorry I simply couldn’t hold that back)-religious fanatics who won’t stop short of even killing.
- Holding the nut long enough in the hand based on some initial belief induces curiosity and questioning to the point where there is a frantic search for a tool to crack open the shell to look at what’s within it. Philosophy is that tool to crack open the nut and voila, the core is exposed-those driven into Philosophy through initial instillation of belief/faith by religion.
Points 2, 3 and 4 above clearly indicate a grounding in some belief without which the nut would have been discarded, as in 1.
It is only when that core of the nut is exposed that its very purpose is served! Similarly insist the wise, Religion has served its highest purpose only when it has led to the core of it, God!
A little about ‘Beliefs’!
It takes very little honesty for each of us to acknowledge the fact that even the religion we subscribe to is not completely ‘belief-free’. What is a belief? A belief is an unverifiable or unprovable (here and now) idea that our mind willingly subscribes to. A sincere, open-minded read into the Holy Books of all major Religions immediately makes evident one thing, that without exception, all of them have in them ideas which are immediately unverifiable and without immediate proof.
We believe in a set of ideas presented by the Religion of our choice and believe staunchly too. No harm in that for, all that is important is if a particular belief system sits well in our intellect and thereby helps further our growth, development and evolution. Some people charge ‘believers’ as being fools for believing without proof! But their very ‘non-belief’ is as much a belief (in the opposite of course) and as invalidated too for, what can’t be proved can’t be disproved either! Whether it is a belief in an eternal heaven and eternal hell as subscribed to by the Abrahamic religions or the belief in the doctrine of karmA and rebirth (which is quite the opposite) as subscribed to by Eastern religions or a total non-belief in anything, everyone is entitled to hold onto his set of beliefs freely without disturbing and disrupting others.
The true, vedic intention for religion is to serve as a ‘means’ rather than the ‘end’ itself.
When Religion is the ‘means’……..
……..it serves as a powerful tool to polish, strengthen and makes clear a mind and also helps keep man’s overactive ego under check through prescriptions in the form of prayer, worship and austerities. When we scrutinize the actual process of worship of any Religion, the body language symbolises surrender in any which way whether with folded hands, kneeling down, prostration, etc. While every other secular action only strengthens and feeds man’s ego to become bloated and overactive, sacred actions accomplish the exact opposite by softening the ego and going as far as sometimes even bringing out the beggar in us (when we beg and plead for blessings)!
A conducive attitude for clensing is where we indulge in prayer/devotion for its own sake with absolutely no axe to grind, that is, not using prayer as a means for happiness, power, wealth or even a heaven for that matter! Now someone might ask, “Is prayer for happiness, wealth, etc. wrong?” Like the wise say, there really can be no such thing as a “wrong prayer” (unless the intent is total malice). (What is being discussed here is in the context of spiritual growth and concerns only those interested in it)
Any growth involves giving up a prior condition to assume the next, like giving up youth to grow into middle age, giving up anger for love. Similarly, to grow spiritually involves giving up prior attitudes and ideas surrounding religion and adopting a conducive, unselfish attitude to aid spiritual evolution.
When Religion is the ‘end’………..
……..it leads to chaos, confusion, and even killing in extreme cases because one becomes so strongly identified at the level of religion and is therefore incapacitated to think beyond, “I am Muslim”, “I am Christian”,etc.
Religions are many and their prescriptions vastly varying all owing to customs, traditions, time period, culture, circumstances, etc. surrounding where the religion was born. Even within a religion practices sharply differ as seen even within vedic religion. Vedic religion is not the “one size fits all” kind! We are allowed to pick practises and kind of devotion that appeals to us based on our mental makeup but the only condition is, we are expected to grow from there forwards! Scripture asserts that no matter what path we choose, when one sincerely strives on with committment, that will automatically purify one’s mind enough to lead one to the Truth. Unfortunately, this is where we humans hit the biggest obstacle. The mind deceives, distracts and distances us from others by making us overly identified with things like the path/religion itself, its practices, its heads/teachers, etc. All these certainly have to be respected, valued and followed with utmost respect, loyalty, sincerity, dedication and commitment but while doing so, if it slowly starts evoking hate and disrespect for those who are not on the same path, that becomes cause for our mind to retrograde instead of evolve. Afterall, a mind that holds onto hate or anger is like the wick of a candle which nothing but self destroys!
Paraphrasing Swami Vivekananda words in the context of organized religion he says,
“If loving means loving your people and hating all others, its better not to indulge in such love at all”
The truly wise are able to fully accept the differences and live with it in peace for their understanding is deep and complete. I am reminded of a beautiful explanation in this regards:
There is a very huge enclosure with thousands of people all over. There is only one exit to the North. Each one is given a compass and asked to follow its guidance to help exit out North. Based on every person’s relative position in the room, each one gets a different prescription in terms of path to follow. All the wise, thinking people in the room quietly follow their own prescriptions and exit out. But some meddling people, not understanding that not following ones own prescription based on relative position cannot help one make it out, force their prescription on others who they ‘presume’ are lost/confused!
The need for the hour is World Peace! For collective peace to become a possibility, every individual has to learn to be at peace with himself first! Religion, when practised mindfully by conscious, caring, peace loving individuals only serves as an opportunity for peace, growth and more learning. While driving a car, the onus is completely on the conscious driver to drive with utmost caution and safety and certainly not on the car. Practicing Religion is really no different from driving a car! Religion itself is just a broad framework/guideline to base our life and actions on. Onus is completely on us conscious individuals who practise it, to do so in a safe, unhurtful manner furthering love, growth, tolerance, kindness and peace. Selfishness is not something foreign to us and this would be the ideal context to worry about our growth alone. Peace will automatically follow such selfishness!
So for those of us who practice religion, let us allow it to do its job by opening our hearts and minds to love and accomodate one and all beyond all differences. Let us use it as a tool to help weaken the ego. When Religion has thus been used with deliberation, spirituality steps in as a course of natural progression. Like the wise say, religion helps weaken man’s ego and spirituality cuts asunder that ripened ego, thus freeing man! Religion has served its true, complete purpose when it elevates our standpoint of identification/life perspective even as we continue practising and staying in it. Its like running on a treadmill on the exact same spot and at the end of the hour, inspite of being exactly where we began, we have covered a distance of 6 miles! Religion has served its highest purpose when it elevates our identification to “I am a living being” (not even ‘human’ for in that there is room to discriminate plants and animals) rather than “I am a Hindu”, “I am a Muslim” etc. even as we continue to stay within its fold practising it.
Every path/religion/practice is to be used as stepping stones or a flight of steps to take us to the Higher. Whether you get there first through your ‘highway to Heaven’ or I go first taking the slow, scenic route isn’t the point, THAT we go is of utmost importance!
Picture credits: pixabay.com