Religion and Spirituality
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
People often identify religion with spirituality, but actually they are not identical. They are distinct entities. Religion, generally speaking, includes certain rituals, which are followed by different sects. Diverse religions follow diverse rituals, some of which are edicts laid down in the religious texts and some are injunctions ordained by the priestly class. Hence religion has certain dogmas which are absent in spiritualism. The object of spiritual pursuit is to attain the one God, that is formless and which is distinct from religious issues. Religions usually believe in a persol God, with whom the devotees can communicate. But in spirituality persol God is not needed.
God has been conceived in different ways by different people. We have to enumerate the qualities of God in order to reach a spiritual meeting point between different religions. Some Hindu scriptures enumerate God at two levels. The Para Brahman is the ultimate God and Para Brahman has no form or activity. At the beginning there was nothing other than Para Brahman, which was alone with nothing else existing. The Upanishads state that Para Brahman was one and it decided to become many. The desire led it to mutate into Apar Brahman, which is also formless like Para Brahman, but Apara Brahman is active. Para Brahman is like the energy stored in the battery, while Apara Brahman is like the electricity flowing in the wires. Bothe are formless, but one is ictive while the other is active. Apar Brahman is formless, just as wind, gravitation or electricity has no form. Yet it has activity and movement. Electricity cannot be seen, but it can make the lights flash and fans rotate. Similarly God cannot be seen, but He makes the world move. Thus God has to be the starting point of an intertiol discourse on spirituality.
Philosophy is different from religion. Philosophy is an intellectual study, while religion is a kind of emotiol pursuit. God of religion has to be persol and only with a persol God we can communicate. We want God to listen to our prayers, to solve our problem, to help us in every way, and to protect us from adversity. Only a persol God can satisfy our emotiol urge. How can we be happy with a God who is formless, qualityless and devoid of any persolity? In Indian philosophy the stika systems do not believe in a persol God of religion. The Samkhya system belongs to the stika group. The world according to the Samkhya system is the product of ictive Purusa and active Prakriti.
An alysis of the content of the God-idea brings out the following points, which are implied in it. First, God must be one. A suggestion of more than one God not only creates metaphysical difficulty of explaining the continuity and harmony in the world-process, but also religious difficulty of explaining a uniform magement of man, his proper responsibility and his whole-hearted worship and prayer. Then God must be an ultimate Being and this follows from His oneness, because ultimacy of a Being prevents plurality. Two or more Beings cannot be said to be ultimate, only one of them can be ultimate and the rest must be secondary or subordite. From this it follows that being ultimate also implies that it is the Absolute and self-sufficient Being, which depends on nothing outside itself. The idea of Being suggests that God is the Reality. The term Reality implies that it confers reality on all that is evolved, but it is the supreme cause, which is underived.
God must be a ratiol being. If He is not ratiol, then the whole existence will be chaotic, without beauty and harmony, full of evils and misery, without any ratiol ideal for man to follow, without values to realize. Then God is not a static reality, but a dymic one, whose dymism consists in his self-objectification into the world-process or world-evolution as his self-expression. The relation between God and the world is like that between Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover” and the world that moves. In evolving the world God operates as the cause of the universe, not as an efficient one, but as a ratiol and teleological cause, pushing not from behind, but pulling from ‘before’, as a true teleological cause should. It is not by ‘push’, but by ‘pull’ that God attracts the world towards “Himself” as the home of values. God is also described as an individual. The individual selves enjoy their limited individuality and persolity in their action and reaction with other individual selves, but aspire after the Absolute individuality in which all antagonism between themselves and other selves, is reduced to a minimum. Here ethical individuality, which means moral responsibility and freedom in the relative sense of the terms, approaches the individuality of the Absolute, in which ethical individuality is transcended and approach to this highest or ideal individuality coincides with religion.
Then God must be conceived as an embodiment of absolute values. The world-process is teleological and tends towards the attainment of values in its different states. The whole history of the world is a progress towards realization of values. God as the embodiment of the highest and absolute values expresses Himself through the evolution of the world and the higher the world rises in the scale of evolution, it manifests higher and higher values and approaches the value constitution of God as Ultimate Reality.
To sum up, God is the one Absolute Spiritual Reality, the ultimate principle of individuality and values which immanently works out the evolution of the world of things and selves and tends to realize the absolute spiritual values whose unity is God Himself.
Man’s belief in God or gods is as old as his relation to the world. In his transactions with the world he often finds himself facing many problems, which cannot be solved. He finds that his wishes, desires and activities, his coming into being and passing out of it, his good fortune and misfortune, his health and disease are beyond his control. tural events like the winds and rains, floods and famines, the seasons of the year, tural disasters etc also appear to be baffling to them. They create in him the feeling that he is too small, insignificant and helpless. He then comes to believe in a power which seems to control not only his destiny, but the destiny of the world as well. From such beliefs various religions started and they have gone through diverse stages. Feeling or faith is the essence of religion. In religion emotion rules the whole mental process and excludes the element of reason and volition. God has been interpreted differently by different religions.
All theistic religions have conceived God as identical with the Absolute. Even Hegel, who was a strictly logical thinker, could not avoid the theistic conception that God is not only Absolute, but also Persol. But some thinkers have denied the identity between the Persol God and the Absolute. In both philosophy and religion the mind seeks to attain the Universal, which can be done only by super sensuous consciousness. It is the super sensuous consciousness or intuition that gives a vision of God. If God of religion is nothing but the Absolute and Universal Reality, then only intuition or super sensuous consciousness can be competent to grasp such a Reality.
In philosophy too the subject matter of inquiry is the Universal or Absolute Reality. Such a Reality can never be grasped by the senses, it can be comprehended only by intuition. Some people believe that the aim and attitude of religion and philosophy must be different from one another. But it is not true. Religion and philosophy, both aim to comprehend the Universal and the Absolutely Real. Unless philosophy joins religion to make it a ratiol living force in human life, religion will degenerate into dogmas. There is no antagonism between reason and intuition, between philosophy and religion, because it is the same Reality that intuition synthetically grasps and realizes in religion while reason alyses in philosophy. The apparent differences that may be said to exist between philosophy and religion is that religions consciousness directly experiences Reality as a Divine Being embodying the highest qualities. These qualities are re-oriented into the ultimate objective values of Truth, Good and Beauty to constitute His being. Philosophy is a theoretical study, and it is a theoretical interpretation of experience as a whole. It is very close to religious consciousness as the vision of that which unifies all values to perfection. But philosophy always maintains its theoretical attitude of ratiol understanding distinct from the attitude of practice and conviction that we find in religion.
It can be stated that philosophy and religion are closely connected, as both are concerned with the search for Reality, yet their approach is different. Philosophical approach is intellectual while religious approach is more or less emotiol. In religion the emphasis is upon a communication with a Persol God, but in philosophy it is an attempt to alyse and understand Reality.
Sankaracharya of the Advaita Vedanta School stressed on an Absolute Reality, which is ‘nirgu’ or qualityless. Sankara said that quality or attribute limits the Brahman or the Absolute Reality. Hence no quality can be ascribed to the Reality. But in that case religion will not be possible, as a worshipper cannot communicate with a nirgu Brahman, which is impersol and devoid of quality. Sankara said that there is only one Reality and the world is nothing but maya (illusion). As we mistake a rope for a ske, so also we mistake the world for Reality. Actually according to him the world is a stage and due to avidya or ignorance we believe it to be real. Obviously Sankara’s Advaitavad makes religion and morality impossible. We cannot communicate with a God who has no persolity and who is devoid of quality. If the world is an illusion then religion, morality and all the higher values of life also become an illusion. But we cannot accept a theory which denies religion, morality and the values. Possibly Sankaracharya himself realized it and he said that God of religion may be accepted only from the Vyavaharika (practical) point of view, but He had no reality from the paramarthika (transcendental) point of view. But human beings cannot be satisfied with a God who has no transcendental reality. Hence Sankaracharya’s Vivarta Vada cannot satisfy the religious urge of the people.
Ramanuja of the Vedanta system advanced Parima Vada to satisfy both the intellectual and emotiol longing of the people. For him God is sagu and has all the excellent qualities. According to Ramanuja the God of religion and Absolute of Philosophy is the same Reality. Ramanuja’s conception of God is acceptable since it satisfied both religion and philosophy. For us God must be the Absolute Reality and He also must be Persol, since only with a Persol God we can communicate. We want a God who can respond to our problems and who can solve our problems. We pray to God for His blessings and it is our belief that God will protect us from all adversity. He is omnipotent and omnipresent. There is nothing impossible for Him. There is an emotiol bond between man and a benevolent all-powerful God. God is kind and loving.
It is obvious that Sankaracharya’s Brahman cannot be conceived as the God of religion, since a ‘nirgu’ Brahman cannot have any persol and emotiol bond with the worshippers. Which is so necessary for religion. But Ramanuja’s ‘sagu’ Brahman may be identified with the God of religion. A devotee can never be happy with a Reality, who cannot respond to his appeal. We believe that God is the Absolute Reality, who can help us and protect us from all evil. He is kind and benevolent. Only a Persol God can satisfy the religious sentiments of the people, which cannot be done by a ‘nirgu’ Brahman. For religion God is a spiritual transcendental Reality. He is also the creator of the world. According to some philosophers after creation of the world God remains aloof from it and does not maintain any connection with it. As a watch maker makes a watch and then leaves it, so also God creates the world and then leaves it to fend for itself. But we need a God who is with us and not outside us. We want a God, who is both transcendent and immanent, that is, He is beyond the world, yet He also remains in it. Hence for religion God is spiritual, but He is also concerned with the world. He remains in the transcendental sphere, but is also present in the phenomel world. The spiritual nirgu Brahman apparently has no connection with the world. After creation of ‘many’, Brahman remains aloof from the world.
Spiritualism implies going beyond the world of experience and mundane things of the world. A person, who practices spiritualism concentrates on the Absolute Reality and his only aim is to attain ‘moksa’ or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. In religion one has to follow certain dogmas, as introduced by various sects. In religion it is believed that certain rituals have to be performed in order to get blessings from God or the Gods. In ancient era too various rituals were performed for getting diverse boons and benefits from the gods, as we learn from the ancient literature. We have come to know that “jagyas” were performed for various benefits to be obtained from the supertural deities. One had to go through severe pence to gain the desired object.
Hence it seems that religion depends on various forms of rituals. Even today we perform pujas of various deities for some persol benefit. It is believed that rituals are very necessary to propitiate the gods and goddesses. In fact whenever we worship any God or Goddess, it is always with the hope of some gain. It is only tural, as we are ordiry human beings and our wants are many and our prayers are connected with our desire for something. Spiritualism may be present in religion in the sense that the deities are conceived as spiritual beings, who remain in a transcendental region. But religion is also based on earthly phenome and desire of the worshippers.
In spiritualism there is no place for earthly gains or benefits. The person who practices spiritualism is totally devoid of any earthly considerations. His only aim is to attain the Supreme Reality and to gain liberation from the world. There is no ritualism or code of conduct in spiritualism. It is a kind of concentration and meditation on the Supreme Being. Hence we may say that religion and spirituality cannot be regarded as identical.