RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND PRACTICES #1
People all over the world, belonging to different religions and different cultures, practice certain rites and ceremonies, and hold certain beliefs that are not logical, and which serve to hinder their spiritual progress. Many times a whole religious system will become a victim of such practices and beliefs. Sometimes the ones in “religious” authority teach and perpetrate these beliefs and practices. In religious life, as in any other walk of life, people must practice that which makes sense, and which is conducive to their material and spiritual welfare. But many people believe and practice what have been handed down to them, without examining the value of those beliefs and practices. As human beings, endowed with the faculty of “Vivek” or rationality, especially in spiritual matters, we should try to believe and practice those things that make universal sense. This will be possible only if we examine our beliefs and practices with an open mind, and be willing to make changes, rather than to adhere to certain things that serve to keep us in spiritual bondage.
Take for example the offering of gifts to departed ancestors practiced in many cultures. These gifts take the form of food, clothing, flowers, incense or other materials as ordained by certain religious precepts. The major religions teach that the soul is Eternal. They also teach that people will reap what they have sown. According to the Law of Karma, people need not reap in this life time all of what they have sown in this current lifetime. They can also reap them in another lifetime, and actions performed in previous life times can be reaped in this lifetime. This holds true because the soul is Eternal and will keep on changing bodies until it attains perfection in union with God. Now, after a soul departs from its discarded body, it must take on another body in order to reap what it had sown. The soul in “limbo” cannot accept anything. It must have a body before it can accept anything. Otherwise it will be like expecting electricity to do some work when it does not have anything through which to work, such as a television set or any other electrical device.
Let us speculate for a moment that the departed soul has been reborn and is now in the world somewhere. To whom is the devotional person making his offerings? Suppose that soul is born within his own family, or perhaps is his own child, and his child is beside him as he is making his offering to the departed soul. Suppose the person takes his child along to offer gifts to the departed not realizing that that departed soul has already taken birth and is going along with him to offer gifts to himself? The practice becomes meaningless and foolish. That is why Guru Kabir fought against such practices that lead to self-deception rather than self-illumination. In one of his sakhis he said, “Offering a handful of rice to his departed father, he makes a crow his father.” (The crow eats the handful of rice left outside for the father.)
Lets us take another example. Many people of all religions believe in holy shrines, temples, rivers, mountains, statues, etc. Many believe that visiting the holy shrines or bathing in the holy waters, or circumambulating holy temples, and praying to statues will remove their sins. They give magical powers to these various places. If bathing in the holy rivers, e.g. Ganges, can remove peoples’ sins then, after the bath, all these people should have perfect lives. But this is definitely not the case. If sprinkling holy water from any holy river can purify or heal anyone, then all his accumulated ‘karmas’ should be removed, and he should have perfection. But this also is not the case. The Law of Karma is exact and will operate in spite of all the holy pilgrimages and baths. The most holy shrine is the “temple” in one’s own heart. If one would visit that temple where God manifests as life and consciousness, then he may be able to attain freedom from sins. No shrine that exists outside of one’s self can have any greater power than that shrine that dwells within the Self. When you go to a holy shrine God goes along with you, because He is that living, conscious presence that animates you. Why then go into all the trouble to visit “holy places.” Why not go inside and “visit” with God directly? Think about it!
Dr. Jagessar Das