By Jyots Bhattacharjee
What is religion? The meaning found in the concise Oxford Dictiory is that it is a “particular system of faith or worship”—or “human recognition of a super human controlling power and especially of a persol God or gods entitled to obedience and worship”. Many theologists have offered other interpreting definitions as well, which are varied, yet all of them imply a kind of mankind’s response to the divine. Religion indicates a close relationship between the finite human beings and an infinite invisible reality, which happens to be the controlling power of every activity and event in the universe.
Whatever may be the definition, there is no doubt that religion is intrinsically related to humanity—so much so, that without man there can be no religion. It is the connecting link between the visible and the invisible. Regarding the origin of religion diverse theories have been put forward by the intellectuals. Possibly it arose from a feeling of want, which human beings felt in pre-historic times or from the fear of the unknown. None knows for certain how religion arose in the first place—since as far as our knowledge goes, religion of some sort was always there since the advent of human beings in the earth. Many scholars have remarked that primitive man possibly saw that his life was uncertain—and there were certain forces he could not control. As such he had to believe in the existence of some deities, ruling over various spheres of the universe and worshiped them to protect him from the evil forces—and religion came into existence. But it is also true that the potentiality of the infinite must have been present in every finite human being—as finitude points to an infinite reality.
Unfortutely religion in this age has assumed a sinister implication—and it has become an excuse for massive destruction and mutual hatred—so much so that the term ‘religion’ has been scrupulously avoided by many of the intellectuals. Commul frenzy and religious faticism have often caused immense harm to the fragile social fabric. Many people therefore have tried to do away with religion by terming it as the cause of social discord. They believe that science has solved the hitherto insoluble mysteries of the universe—and to believe in some superior power transcending the world of appearance, is absurd in their view. Karl Marx contemptuously rejected religion as the opium for the masses—fed by the rich to exploit the poor and the down trodden.
Yet the need for religion to give significance and value to our fragile existence does not need much elaboration. Religion is so intimately connected with human ture that it cannot be discarded so easily. Human life is rooted in religion. Therefore, the question is not whether there is need for religion—but what kind of religion. Is it a religion of love and brotherhood or of hate and power? Actually the wrong interpretation of religion has given rise to needless controversies and hatred. In fact, religion is an absolute necessity to keep humanity in a cohesive order and to enlighten man’s mental outlook. A healthy and progressive religion is capable of responding creatively to the challenges which confront humanity from time to time. But if it fails to do so then it goes on a decline. The wrong approach to religion leads to breakdown of society.
We live in an age or science. Science has made incredible progress in recent times—and it has almost conquered the world of ture. It is turally difficult to accept outdated dogmas or exclusive revelations in this scientific age. But religion is not mere dogmas; it is something more than that. It is the great cohesive force to unite the whole of mankind. Most of the saints and prophets have preached the religion of humanism, which is the highest kind of religion according to them. Religions, which are insensitive to human suffering and social crimes, do not appeal to the modern man.
Religions are supposed to foster unity, understanding and coherence. If a religion gives way to division, discord and disintegration, then it is not a religion worth its me. It is unfortute that some people consider religion to be opposed to science—but it is not correct. All religions are based on the study of the empirically observed facts. The theologists, who attempt to construct the theory of ultimate being from the survey of the facts of ture, actually adopt the scientific method.
The materialists discard the notion of a spiritual reality and hold matter to be the ultimate reality. According to them accidental combitions of atoms have given rise to this world of ours. Yet it cannot be denied that the mind of man which splits the atoms must be superior to them. Science demonstrates the superiority of human kind over matter since it is the mind which has achieved such brilliant achievement in every field. The ture of cosmic evolution suggests the reality of an underlying spirit. Albert Einstein in his book, “The World as I See it” observes that the scientist’s “religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of tural law, which reveals an intelligence of such high superiority that compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection. This feeling is the guiding spirit of his life and work, in so far as he succeeds in keeping himself free from the shackles of selfish desire. It is beyond question, closely akin to that which has possessed the religious geniuses of all ages”. The scientists search for truth—which is really pursuit of God, as he is Truth. Mahatma Gandhi declared “I don’t care for God, if he is anything but truth”.
Scientific speculations lead to the refinement of religion. Religion in this age is no longer identified with magic or witchcraft or superstitions. It is not to be confused with outdated dogmas, or incredible superstitions, which really spoil the spiritual life. Any intellectual exercise must depend on experience—but experience is not limited to what is visible or tangible. There can be experience of spiritual states as well. Therefore we can say that all religions are based on experience.
Religion is not confined to mere ceremonial piety—rather it is a spiritual adventure. It is the fulfillment of man’s life—it is a kind of divine experience in which every aspect of his being is raised to the highest extent. Till he attains a higher spiritual stage and allows the current of universal life to flow through him, he remains an unfinished product in the view of Dr. Radhakrishn. Those who are able to achieve that higher state of life can realize their latent possibilities. It can be done only by inner contemplation—and not by outer experience. To reach the highest level of life, it is necessary to detach the soul from confused sense impressions, disturbing emotions and pulsating desires. It has been done by saints and prophets, who remain as example and guiding force to the ordiry people like us.
The great scriptures of the world have recorded what the prophets said. We do not have to accept them on authoritative value. The truth of these views can be discovered in man’s inner experience. The Buddha asked people to accept his words only by examining them and not out of regard for him. Blind faith and superstitions have no place in true religion. Man has the inner power to judge the views of the great saints and find out the truth.
All religions of the world aim at liberation and regard human life as an opportunity for self-realization. By striving towards that goal, mankind may attain the true self and immortality in this mortal world. But the path towards liberation is hazardous and fraught with many formidable obstructions. Only a very few persons can attain the objective through determition and detachment. A truly religious person realizes that God is the universal reality and all the beings are his children irrespective of race or religious belief. He is the highest wisdom and absolute love. In each human being this god-consciousness is there—only it must be awakened. When mankind realizes this essential truth, the notion of universal brotherhood will necessarily arise in the mind. The man, who can awaken his god-consciousness, will learn to love all creation and he will be free from hatred. Such a truly religious man will work for the good of all and he will boldly oppose any form of violence and cruelty.
In the true sense religion is a unifying force, which brings all the human beings together. The present age has witnessed violence, commul clashes, terrorism, religious faticism and intolerance in the extreme form. Many intellectuals hold diverse religions responsible for some of these incidents, and therefore they are skeptical of religious truths. But no religion ever preaches violence or hatred—the crimes are actually perpetrated by some mindless fatics, without the least idea of the teachings of their own religion. They misinterpret their own religious preachings and follow their selfish ideals. History has faithfully recorded the unsavoury incidents of commul hatred and religious frenzy through the ages. These tragic incidents are due to the illusion cherished by man that his religion is the best—and all others are inferior. Due to the faticism of these dogmatists the world has profusely bled—and even in this scientific age, the religious skirmishes are going ubated—and thereby the high ideal and moral value of religion is being denigrated, due to the machition of an unscrupulous section.
Reality is larger than any religion and each religion recommends diverse paths to reach the Supreme Being, who is not confined to any particular place of worship. Those, who think that they have a mission to bring the entire humanity to their way of thinking, miss the significance of the true sense of religion. No religion can claim to have discovered the fil truth—they can only strive to do so.
All great religions of the world preach respect for other faiths and other ways of life, whatever their beliefs or practices may be. Love for all is the central point of all religions. A truly religious man can never hurt another person belonging to a different religion. Every religion has the same goal—which is to bring about an inner revelation in the life of man. Whatever religion we start from, if we are sincere in our effort we can get to the Supreme. Gandhiji said, “I hold that it is the duty of every cultured man or woman to read sympathetically the scriptures of the world. A friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty”. In this age of turmoil it has become absolutely necessary to awaken our God consciousness, potentially present in each human mind and develop love for the entire humanity—so that we can become better human beings.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)