RELIGION! The very word conjures up in the minds of many people the positive feelings of faith, hope, reverence and salvation. In many others it conjures up the negative feelings of brainwashing priest-craft, moneymaking, unproven dogmas, and that religion preys upon the gullibility of people. Still, there are others in whom religion conjures up hardly any sentiment at all. Such diversity of reactions, or lack of them, depends on the varying levels of religious awareness of people. Some people believe, without questioning, in what is written in their holy books, or in what they are taught by religious teachers. Some people question all the basic tenets on which religion is based, and, by not finding adequate answers, they relegate religion to the “dusty storage areas” of their minds. Some people become atheists and deny the existence of God, while others become agnostics because they do not know whether or not God exists. Thus there are these four categories of people:
1. Those who believe in God and adhere to a religion;
2. Those who are atheists and deny the existence of God, and follow no religion;
3. Those who are agnostics, not knowing whether or not God exists, and thus they “sit on the fence”.
4. Mystics. Those who are in this group get only a fleeting glance or none at all from the public. The reason is that its adherents follow no organized religion, and seek no praise or recognition, but quietly endeavor to realize God within themselves and in others. To this group belong the saints and saviors of the world. To this group God is the only Reality on which the transitory manifestations of the world and the universe depend for their existence. In this article I shall outline what religion really is, and how it can be used to achieve the goal that its adherents wish to achieve.

Before proceeding further, it is necessary to define religion. The word is derived from Latin “re” and “ligere” and means to “re-unite or bind again”. Now, what needs to be re-united or bound together again? The answer to this question will supply the foundation on which religion exists. Religion deals with the Soul and God. The soul is erroneously thought to be separate from God, and it is the work of religion to make its followers realize the unity of the Soul and God. The Soul is Spirit, and God is Spirit. Neither can be sub-divided. “Re-uniting” them is thus the sole function of religion. All other virtues, good deeds, worship, love, charity, kindness, purity of heart, etc., are mere details that prepare the personality for realization of that UNITY. Knowledge obtained by constant training and practice, and not mere belief, is necessary for this realization. This experience is called Self Realization, or God Realization, or Liberation, or Salvation of the Soul, etc. When the soul becomes aware of its own Eternity, it must, by definition, be saved, and the work of religion comes to an end.

As you can see, the goal of life is God Realization. Religion is only the means by which this realization takes place. Yet there are many people who make religion the goal instead of the means, and end up causing so much religious strife, confusion, intolerance, bigotry and hypocrisy. If we are to progress spiritually, we must effectively use religion as a tool to achieve the desired end. Professor Allport stated: “Religion is the search for a value underlying all things, and as such is the most comprehensive of all the possible philosophies of life. A deeply moving religious experience is not readily forgotten, but is likely to remain as a focus of thought and desire.” The “value underlying all things” is God, Who is Omnipresent. Lord Buddha said: “The gift of religion exceeds all gifts; the sweetness of religion exceeds all sweetness; the delight of religion exceeds all delight; the extinction of thirst overcomes all things.”

Religion is said to be the lengthened shadow of one man. Such a man is a saint, a prophet, a saviour, or a Satguru (Eternal Teacher). There have been many of them in the world. Their pure “shadows”, however, have been distorted by “clouds” super-imposed by well meaning religionists who are often swept up by “Religious Mania”, and lose sight of a logical, simple and natural approach to a religious life. Such religionists, though zealously motivated, are at varying levels of spiritual darkness, or conversely, of spiritual wisdom. Spiritual enlightenment comes only when the mind is set free from the various prevailing dogmas and doctrines, and is allowed to inquire within where the seat of all wisdom resides. In this connection Allan Watts stated: “The work of the church in the world, is not to teach the mysteries of life, so much as to persuade the soul to that arduous degree of purity at which God, Himself, becomes her teacher. The work of the church ends when the knowledge of God begins”. Spiritual ignorance is the greatest handicap to a spiritual life and salvation, and spiritual ignorance is rampant in the world. How then can people derive any benefit from the religious life they are following?

Examine the current problems in the world, and examine the hearts of people and try to correlate the world situation with the number of religious people in the world. Can you not allow yourself to ask the question: “What is religion doing for the world?” Think of the wars and bloodshed of innocent victims; the murders, suicides, abortions, child sexual abuse, and pornography; and the hate, greed, intolerance, anger, selfishness, cheating, stealing, lying, bribery, etc. One does not need to extend the list further. How can people have peace, harmony and love when so many things all around are disruptive and anxiety producing? The infallible Law of Karma (the Law of Cause and Effect), will definitely see to it that suffering continues until everyone cleans his or her spiritual house. In connection with the suffering in the world, Satguru Kabir stated, “The secret of escape from this plight is within thy body. But you do not find it because, with lamp in hand, you search for it outside (in mosque, churches and temples).” The whole creation is engulfed in the fire of passions and sorrows, and consumed by worldly desires and ambitions. Without the knowledge imparted by the Master, man – the bond-slave – will keep on wandering aimlessly. Satguru Kabir said, “Listen dear seeker! A day will come when you will have to pass from here, leaving behind even the loin cloth covering your nakedness. Of what value are all your worldly desires?”

What do we need to do to improve the world and us? The world’s wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of each one of us. In order to make any progress, we must first set the mind free from the shackles of those religious teachings that are not consistent with the realization of the unity of the Soul and God. This unity can be realized only when life is purified to the utmost degree, by discarding all passions of lust, anger, attachment, greed and egotism, and replacing them with love, service, giving, humility and meditation. These must be practiced from childhood so that the personality can be molded into a spiritual one, and they must be practiced daily so that they become automatic manifestations of the personality. Only then can the purified Soul realize its UNITY with the pure Being of God. This is the ultimate goal of all of us!

Dr. Jagessar Das

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