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14286SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION

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  • subhash naik
    Aug 14, 2005
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      Author: P.Rajagopalachari (President of S.R.C.M.)
      (Published in "Principles of Sahaj Marg, Set I. Pages 3-11")

      We assume that the terms '"Religion' and 'Spirituality' are synonymous. It is
      not so. Perhaps these two terms are most naturally misunderstood as far as
      their mutual identification in respect of meaning, systematic thinking and
      obedience to principles and practices are concerned.

      We are no doubt aware that religious feeling has always been one of the
      fundamental emotive aspects of a man's emotional make-up or psyche, and
      this is borne out amply by a study of anthropology from the earliest times of
      man's appearance on this planet. Of course, the expression given to the
      religious emotional content has varied from race to race and from time to time,
      but that hidden craving in man's heart which tended to seek an answer, or
      answers, to the questions which arose in him concerning the creation of the
      universe, the reasons for such creation and man's own place and part in it,
      has not varied. Expression depends on development of thought; thought
      stems from ideas; and ideas of course are governed by the development of
      various features of man's mental make-up, including such diverse factors as
      physiological, environmental and social.

      A study of the history of ancient and modern religions, combined with a
      parallel study of anthropology, reveals that religious sentiment was almost
      simultaneous with man's own appearance. In the beginning, the religious
      sentiment expressed itself mentally in terms of fear and awe leading to the
      worship, at least in bygone times, of animal life, vegetable life, the
      phenomena of nature, etc. All these later became ritualized into general forms
      of worship where the object of worship was nature, fire in its various forms,
      and worship of the dead. This form of worship prevailed through most of early
      man's history, and was almost the only form of worship available and
      prevalent throughout the world up to the middle ages. Nevertheless, their very
      prevalence up to the emergence of higher forms of worship would appear to
      indicate that, in some measure at least, they had served to satisfy man's
      internal craving for some form of communion with what may be called his
      Maker or Nature or Universal Spirit, or whatever else it may be called.

      Later, this religious sentiment turned its attention to somewhat more
      sophisticated objects of worship and, at this stage, we can see the
      commencement of the representation of God in terms of anthropomorphic
      forms, i.e., in terms of human figures which the human imagination enriched
      and endowed with higher powers than merely normal human powers by the
      addition of extra arms, extra heads, a higher stature, and diverse other similar
      embellishments. The craving was the same; the mode of expression of the
      emotive sentiment was the same; all that had changed was merely the object
      that was now worshipped in place of the earlier primitive ones.

      Yet later in the history of humanity there arose even more purified religions
      where we find the beginning of what may be called ethical codes and laws
      being given to the people, often through a leader of the people themselves,
      who was proclaimed as a religious leader or the giver of the law, the revealer
      of the truth and so on. We have historical personalities such as Christ, Moses,
      Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Krishna, etc., in the various religions as an
      illustration of this development. This stage of development in religions can
      roughly be stated to cover the past few millennia of human history.

      Analyzing the religious content and the modes of religious approach of those
      coming under its fold, we find that all religions have heavily relied on two
      important instruments for regulating and controlling the behavior of the flock
      under their control. These two instruments, by and large, have been fear and
      temptation. It is perhaps beyond any reasonable debate that this is an
      established fact. Religions have always held out to their devotees the
      temptation of redemption and a place in heaven, whether during the course of
      this life itself or after death. They have always tried to control and canalize
      man's behavior in a desired direction by trying to induce him to accept this
      temptation for the fruits offered by the respective religions. This is one side of
      the picture. How to enforce a man's behavior in the pursuit of the goal was the
      next question and here fear came in all too handy-the fear of punishment for
      swerving from the performance of religious rituals stipulated; the fear of
      punishment for not supporting the body of one's own religion in its continued
      existence; the fear of retribution for acts forbidden; and so on and so forth.
      Therefore, fear on one hand, and temptation on the other, would be a fair
      representation of religious activity, and religious control.

      Modern psychologists will no doubt agree that an imposition on the human
      mind of two opposing forces of this nature could do nothing but create tension
      in the mind of the individual, and this tension cannot be eradicated by the
      practice of religion, because religion itself is the very force that created the
      tension in the first place. This would appear to indicate the necessity for a
      source outside religions to eradicate such tensions, and to normalize the
      human being at least in his mental make-up.

      Perhaps the appearance of such diverse phenomena as the cult of hippyism,
      the associated habit of the taking of drugs and narcotics, the widespread and
      deeply penetrating discontent of the human being with his personal
      existence, which appears to pervade all sections of humanity at every stratum
      of social existence, all these would appear to be the results of such religious
      training which have not satisfied the real nature of man, nor given answers to
      his fundamental questions referred to earlier. You will pardon me if I therefore
      suggest that religions have not kept up with man's innermost needs and
      requirements of the soul. At this stage I may be permitted to add that it is not a
      failure in religion itself because, at the time when these great religions,
      whether Christianity, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Islam were founded, at that
      time the religious leaders who established them had molded them into such
      shape, and given them such form as fulfilled the needs of humanity of those
      times.

      It may also be noted that the founders of all great religions have preached
      love as being the only proper approach to the Creator, and this love, when
      properly cultivated by religious sentiment and religious practice, was
      expected to reflect in love for all that is contained in creation. How this has
      been forgotten, and religions have had to depend on temptation and fear, is
      the sorry story of religious decadence. Nevertheless, the fault can be
      attributed to lie in the fact that religions have become stultified, and to some
      extent petrified, and they have not altered or evolved in keeping with man's
      own evolution. I humbly suggest that the evolution of religion has lagged
      behind the evolution of man whom it is supposed or expected to serve for his
      vital inner spiritual needs.

      This being the case as far as religion is concerned, what is it that spirituality
      has to offer? Now the term 'spirituality' has nothing to do with religion, as
      commonly understood Spirituality really begins where religion ends. While
      the basic education of man can be undertaken by religion, his further
      development when he has reached what may be termed adulthood can only
      be offered by spirituality. Spirituality is easily identifiable with mysticism in all
      its aspects. Religion enforces an externalization of the mind in man's search
      for God. Mysticism or spirituality internalizes the search and directs the mind
      to the heart of man where the search should really commence.

      One of the great tenets or principles of all religions has been that at the heart
      of the human being God Himself resides. Of course this may be thought to be
      the mere doctrine of immanence; but it is true that God is immanent within us.
      When the search is externalized, the first thing man loses sight of, or touch
      with, is himself. The goal is taken to be far away, very often in some far distant
      sphere of existence not easily accessible to us. The search is therefore begun
      on the premise, often founded on solid theological doctrine, that the search
      will in almost all cases be futile and the goal inaccessible. The search is
      therefore begun and undertaken in a spirit of frustration and a foreboding of
      non-achievement of the goal. How can such a search ever help anybody? On
      the contrary spirituality focuses man's attention on the Divine effulgence
      radiating in one's own heart, which effulgence is created by the presence of
      the Creator Himself in the heart. This immediately presents the Divine in an
      altered light, and brings Him to a proximity with one's own person that can
      hardly come any nearer. Being within us such a Person is not only always
      accessible but readily reachable, and all that spirituality requires of us to
      achieve the sense of oneness with the Ultimate is to focus the mind inward
      upon the Person. Apparently, therefore, spirituality is by far the easier method
      of the two to achieve the goal of human life.

      Again, religion concentrates heavily on ritual worship. Taking a parallel from
      the childhood development of the human being, toys may serve children but
      real living things alone can bring happiness to adults. Therefore, performance
      of ritualistic modes of worship may be given in the formative years of a human
      being's life but, after a certain stage, they cease to have meaning and, for a
      majority of human beings, degenerate into mere mockery. Spirituality on the
      other hand does not specify or advocate ritualistic approaches. In spirituality
      all that is required to be done is to sit comfortably in a comfortable room, close
      one's eyes, turn the attention from the external world into the heart, and
      meditate on the contents of that heart in the shape of Divine effulgence
      emanating from the Being seated therein. Here there is no mummery or any
      other form of bewilderment, or what can in some religions even be classed as
      trickery, but there is an honest approach to the search for the Ultimate.
      Further, in the spiritual practice there are no associated threats or fears of
      retribution, nor are temptations held out to the seeker. All that is stated is that
      one's development depends solely and entirely on one's effort. If the practice
      is not indulged in, there is no benefit, and that is about all that there is to it.

      Turning our attention once again to religion, it is a well-known fact that
      religions, while accepting or even arrogating to themselves the role of
      preservers of law and morality, have often signally failed in this duty for a very
      important but, at the same time, a very little noticed fact. I would like to
      emphasize this by inviting your attention to it, and it is this. Most religions
      while giving out their code of ethics or laws have only told their people what
      not to do. Therefore, these codes of behavior can at best be termed negative
      codes or negative laws, because most of them do not tell man what should be
      done to attain a better life. I agree that we must know what not to do, but
      certainly this cannot be taken as more than negative wisdom, nor can strict
      adherence to such laws be taken as more than negative virtue. But all too
      often we come across people who ask, "Well, I know what not to do, but it
      does not help me in knowing what I should do," and this again creates not
      only confusion but a tension in their minds, leading again to mental distress
      and possible ultimate deterioration in character itself. Spiritual edicts, on the
      other hand, have mostly confined themselves to precise and simple sets of
      injunctions stating very understandably to the seeker what exactly he should
      do. It is my contention that once a man knows what he should do, whatever be
      the field of action, whether professional, moral, social, it at the same time
      excludes the entire field of activity which should not be indulged in. The
      contrary, unfortunately, is not true. To know what one should do it is not
      enough to know what not to do. This, to my mind, has been the greatest failure
      of religions throughout the world, and this was sought to be rectified by great
      spiritual Masters of the world.

      It is common knowledge that religions have divided man from man, brother
      from brother, and often turned the father against the son, the husband against
      the wife, inciting much of humanity during history to violence against each
      other; because religions have their own separate gods of worship and the
      modes and rituals by which such gods should be worshipped. Religions, to
      hold their flock, have had to insist upon a strict adherence to their own
      religious paraphernalia while simultaneously forbidding even the thought of
      the gods of other religions. One of the paramount and deep-seated forces of
      hatred has been created by religion, and I believe this does not need any
      proof.

      Spirituality on the other hand invokes no names, confers no attributes,
      demands no subservience to any such artificially created gods of the human
      mind, but focuses man's attention on the Infinite Ultimate Source of All Being
      Who, as aforesaid, is nameless, formless and attributeless. It is, I believe, a
      matter for easy agreement that such an approach to the Ultimate can serve as
      an integrating force and bring together human beings of all lands and all
      religions in oneness in the most fundamental aspect of human life, which is
      sadly lacking today. Spirituality, if widely practiced in this spirit of a humble
      approach to the Ultimate, is perhaps the most potent force that can bring
      about such an integration.

      Unfortunately, there have been no spiritual systems as such comparable in
      power to the great religious systems, and this is surely the fault of man
      himself, in that he has allowed himself to be guided by the nose and made to
      subscribe to established bodies and organizations without examining in detail
      either their make-up or his own. Nevertheless, spiritual teaching and
      instruction, even from the Middle Ages, has not been lacking. There have
      been great mystics and Masters of spiritual teaching in all lands at all times.
      You have had in the West such great figures as Jacob Boehme, St. John of
      the Cross, and in the Orient there have been great savants such as the great
      rishis of Hinduism, Buddha-the founder of Buddhism, Confucius and Lao Tse
      in China. Masters have therefore not been lacking, but the fear element in
      religion has successfully kept away aspirants from coming out of religions and
      embracing spirituality
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