Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
Religion has become one of the most controversial and misconceived topics in the present era. The word ‘Religion’ refers to a particular system of faith and worship. Oxford dictionary says, ‘Religion is recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny and as being entitled to destiny and as being entitled to obedience, reverence and worship”. As such this dictionary meaning is applicable to diverse religions and there should not be any conflict among various religions. But it is not so and religion has been misinterpreted and misused by a section of opportunistic followers. That is why countless crimes have been committed in the name of religion and a net of hatred has been spread by the fanatics all over the world.
The present day world is heading for disaster and to rescue it from ruins man has to do something. If we go deeper into this problem, we will find that all the chaos has arisen due to man’s over-emphasis on materialism and hence it is imperative to revive spiritualism to solve the problem. In spite of all the progress that has been achieved by science, man is tired, lonely and bored to death amidst everything. He is craving for peace and to be free from his anguished existence. Radhakrishnan believes that for attaining peace spirituality is indispensable and spirituality can be achieved only in religious experience, which is different from ordinary experience. Religious experience cannot be expressed through codes or rules. It is termed as experience, because it produces an objective awareness, a sort of inner satisfaction. It is called religious because of its uniqueness that cannot be found in any other experience. Religious experience makes the effort to raise the finite spirit to a higher spiritual level.
Radhakrishnan says that religious experience is real and it has value. According to him, it has become a fashion to dismiss such experience as nonsensical and imaginative. But he says, “However much we may quarrel about the implications of experience, we cannot question the actuality of experience itself”. Radhakrishnan makes this kind of statement due to the fact that while profound intuitions do not normally occur, their milder forms are possible in case of everybody, as for example, in the case of pure aesthetic joy. When we experience the illumination of a new knowledge, the ecstasy of poetry, the subordination of self to something greater; family or nation, the self-abandonment of falling in love, we have faint glimpse of mystic moods.
For instance, in the feeling of love, or in any feeling of this kind, we forget everything and get absorbed in some experience of the ‘beyond’, Radhakrishnan says that whenever a man does anything with sincerity, he has this kind of experience. In his “Religion and Society”, he says, “Any serious pursuit of ideas, any search after conviction, any adventure after virtue arises resources whose name is religion. The search of the mind for beauty, goodness and truth, is the search for God. The child nursing at the breast of his mother, the illiterate savage gazing at the numberless stars, the scientist in his laboratory studying life under a microscope, the poet meditating in solitude on the beauty and pathos of the world, the ordinary man standing reverently before a sunlit sky, the Himalayan heights or a quiet sea, or before the highest miracle of all, a human being who is both great and good, they all possess dimly a sense of the eternal, the feeling of Heaven”. It is a fact that man can forget his worries at least for some time and that clearly indicates that it is possible for man to attain his salvation, which is the goal of every religion.
Religious experience has the highest value and it determines the nature of religion. If we delve into history we will find that religion has often been identified with feeling, emotion, sentiment, instinct, cult or religion or perception. Radhakrishnan says that all these views are right in what they affirm, but wrong in what they deny. Religion does contain all those elements stated above, but it is more than that. It may be said that religion is a synthesis of all those.
Radhakrishnana says that the conflicts amongst religions arise because emphasis is laid on one aspect of religion, ignoring others. But the other aspects are equally important. If one goes deeper, he will find that there is a basic unity amongst all religions and the conflicts of various religions do not affect the essence of religion. Actually these conflicts arise due to our misconception of religion. The followers of any particular religion lay emphasis on one aspect of religion and hence the conflicts arise. We interpret the Absolute Reality in our own way. We use certain symbols to represent the Absolute Reality and we do not realise that at the heart of every symbolic representation there lies something beyond them. It is very true that we do need some symbolic forms for religious concentrations, but we must realise that the form is not the reality. There may be diverse forms, but reality is one. Because of diverse forms, different religions have come into existence and all these conflicts as well. But actually the essence of all religions is one and the same, only due to ignorance we do not realise it.
Radhakrishnan says, “Religion is not a creed or a code, but an insight into reality”. This insight reveals to man that there is something greater than himself, which is permanent in the human soul. This is the Absolute Reality, which is present in every soul. But we are not aware of the truth. Therefore Radhakrishnan states that religion is a kind of discipline, which enables man to “make a change in his own nature to let the Divine in him manifest itself”. Religion implies a faith in the ultimacy of absolute spiritual reality and a way to realise them.
According to Radhakrishnan salvation is the ultimate goal of human beings and only through religious experience salvation can be attained. But it is not an easy task; one has to fight against himself to subdue his baser instincts. As Radhakrishnan says, “It is easy to fight non-human nature, forests, floods and wild beasts, but it is difficult to fight the passions in our heart, the illusions that we embrace”. Two stages may be noted in this internal fight. First is the preparatory stage and the second is the final stage. In the preparatory stage we have to bring about some changes in our intellectual, ethical and emotional attitude. The first stage comprises Doctrine, Devotion and Worship and the second stage contains Meditation, Contemplation and Love.
Discipline is extremely necessary to regulate our mental process. Disciplining human nature is meant for putting a restraint on the passions and feelings of man. Purity of mind is required for bringing a change in the intellectual stand point and purity of body stands for ethical discipline. Passions mislead a man and do immense harm to our spiritual endeavour. Hence they must be put under check. Man is a bundle of emotions and consequently he develops personal attachments and strong worldly bonds. That has to be controlled for getting a proper direction in life. Of course there is a great difference between emotions comprising passions and religious emotion, which implies an emotional relationship of devotion and love to the Supreme Reality. Religious emotion is necessary for the development of our spiritual nature, which the emotions, comprising passions, are detrimental to our spiritual development.
Passions become prominent because of our over-emphasis on ego due to ignorance. As long as we are confined to the ego, we cannot share the delight of the universal spirit. Therefore we must get rid of ignorance to attain true knowledge. It is extremely necessary to know the truth, which happens to be the reality. To realise the truth we must come out of the shell of body, life and mind. This is what Radhakrishnan calls “intellectual progress”. This process helps the man in freeing his mind from errors, illusions, ignorance and falsehood. This wisdom cannot be attained easily. It requires constant effort, demands endurance, struggle, pain and suffering. It is achieved through rigorous discipline and maximum sacrifice. According to Radhakrishnan it is the duty of every man to sink his self and grow out of the world. Therefore, “every individual must subdue his senses, which make room for self-assertion, pride must give place to humanity, resentment to forgiveness, narrow attachment to family to universal benevolence. This requires self-less practice of love, even of self sacrifice.
The goal of every religion is to realize the Supreme Being. Man can achieve this only through an inward change in his mental process. The soul must withdraw itself from the senses and the ego and mediate on the Supreme. That is the teaching of every religion and as such there should not be any enmity between the followers of different religions. All the dogmas and ritualism, though necessary for our concentration on a Higher Reality, do not really form the essence of religion. Once we can come out of our illusions, there should not be any scope for quarrel concerning religion. We should remember that religion is a unifying force and it would never promote diversity.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)