A World Astir|Nov 12, 2003 3:41 PM| by:

Is Religion under Threat?

Recently, I was visiting my niece’s school in New York.  While waiting for her to come out of her class, I began to talk with a young student in the corridor.  I think he was around 15 years of age.

His remark in some context took me by shock and set me thinking.  “Yes, I do believe in principles but I do not have any!”  I think young George was right; he does know where to get his principles from.  As young children, our parents and teachers are our icons.  As we grow up, it could be the pujari in the temple, a priest in the church, a mullah in the mosque.  As we enter our working lives, they could be corporate CEOs, bureaucrats, and politicians.  At another level, for the young minds, sportsmen and musicians emerge as their icons.

Today, people from all walks of life are facing disappointments.  I have just been halfway around the world, Japan, US, Europe and the Caribbean.  All the icons are falling apart.  A high level Catholic priest in the US is charged for homosexual behavior.  The senior officials of Enron are in prison for financial manipulations and scams – only 18 months ago, it was rated to be the most admired company in the world.  The Mullahs in many parts of the world have been involved in state politics.  Politics by itself is a domain with lowest credibility and esteem.  Sportsmen have been accused of rape, dope and financial irregularities.

The culmination of the prevalent state of affairs in the world was of course the attack on the World Trade Centre – New York.  This has shaken the people of US beyond imagination.  A strange phenomenon was the fall-out of this calamity.  It has brought families together.  They are beginning to question the current value systems of their society and the uncertainty of life.  I have noticed, throughout the world history, when a calamity hits, there is always a new change that takes place.  At this moment, I am beginning to see a powerful sign of change.  The practice of meditation and its value to a human being is spreading very rapidly around the world.

In Tokyo, it was a wonderful sight to watch men in grey suits, seated in a park at lunch-time in meditation.  At six in the morning, when I drew the curtain to look out of my room in Ghanzong, a Southern city of China, I saw many people walking toward a small hill at a distance.  I rang up the telephone operator requesting her to explain what was happening.  “Oh!” she said, “They are going to the hill of silence to meditate”.  “Is there some festival today”, I asked her, “No, they just do it every day”.  There are classes being held teaching people how to meditate.  What is surprising is that people of all ages and all professions are meditating.  Even corporate offices are creating spaces for people to meditate and be with themselves   I think, people are beginning to realize that they need to depend upon themselves to seek silence and peace.  The outward religious rituals and symbols still persist – more out of habit – they are however being questioned.

Terrorism is the name of religion, disrupting a nation on historical issues of a temple and a mosque, two nations killing innocent people over the years, arguing about the ownership of a holy city.  It is beginning to dawn on people that they should be looking within.  They have to become independent of religious bodies and seek God in their own way.  They realize that they do not need to be preached to anymore, they can read and interpret their way.  This has already sparked off hundreds of religious books being published in every language of the world.

The growing tendency of people to seek God within themselves will help them to set their own standard of ethics and morality, give clarity to the blurred differentiation between right and wrong.  I think we can begin to see a glowing light at the end of the tunnel.  It is obvious spirituality is beginning to replace religion.  This liberates man from old dogmas and beliefs, unwarranted clash of religions, unites the people in peace and leads to harmony.

Sri Aurobindo has beautifully articulated this movement in his Synthesis of Yoga and through hundreds of letters that he wrote to his disciples on this subject.  The future that he had predicted many, many years ago is beginning now.  It may take time to fully manifest itself but the movement has begun.  I believe it will get more and more powerful as men get surrounded and marooned with frustrations and helplessness.


Ram Sehgal

[Ram Sehgal]

Ram Sehgal

(Ram Sehgal is Group Adviser at Rediffusion DR & R and its group companies. He also oversees Wunderman, Everest and S&H. He has been chosen as A & M Advertising Man of the Year and elected to the “Hall of Fame” by the Advertising Club of Kolkata. He studied and grew up at Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry.)

  • http://Website L.

    Dear Mr. Sehgal,

    You wrote (November Issue/ Is Religion Under Threat?): <>

    I appreciate your intent and the spirit of your column, but I beg you to reconsider your point of view that holds the Israelis in the same moral light as the Palestinian terrorists. I’m not the most articulate one to make the case, but the Israelis are targeting terrorists, and occasionally kill true innocents. They put their soldiers at risk in their attempt to spare innocent lives. They’re not perfect, of course but please do be careful when comparing them to those who aim to kill innocent families as their target.

    Thank you, and I hope you don’t mind my commenting on the one thing I disagreed with in your otherwise very helpful article.

  • http://Website Ram Sehgal

    Dear L,

    I had absolutely no intention of hurting anyone’s sentiments or beliefs. In any kind of dispute, both sides seem to think they are in the right. I was only attempting to point out that all the events in the world seem to be driving the people in the right direction-that is to go inward and find their very own way to reach the divine-it does not matter which divinity they believe in.

  • http://Website L.

    Dear Mr. Sehgal,

    I may have mistakenly grouped you in with those who see the Palestinians and the Israelis as being on the same moral plane.

    I wish I could believe that terrorists all over the world, including those in the Middle East, were going in the right direction and turning inward. But they seem to be animated by something very dark to justify targeting innocents and celebrating those murders. They also celebrated after 9-11.

    I’m not trying to continue the argument. But I do wish I could see evidence of terrorists moving in the right direction.

    I pray your words become fact.

  • http://Website Ram Sehgal

    The issue is not whether the terrorists will transform themselves and get out the rut they have got themselves into. It is the collective seeking for peace and harmony by millions of others around the world will impact these evil forces. This has happened so often in world history. Hitler is an example. Did anyone believe that he can be stopped and then defeated. In fact, these very terrorists are driving people of the world towards ardent prayer for peace. God has strange ways of finding solutions-although sometimes they are very painful and sometimes the action is delayed.

    Finally, the good always prevails, doesn’t it?

  • http://Website shonar

    (An article written by Nolini Kanta Gupta has been reproduced here as it was felt to be speaking on a similar idea as the one being discussed in the correspondence above. We hope it shall prove both interesting as well as enlightening, for it is perhaps a constant battle for each of us to rationalize evil when we see it manifesting all around us.)

    There’s a Divinity by Nolini Kanta Gupta
    There’s a Divinity that shapes our ends,
    Rough-hew them how we will. *

    That is what man can do at his best, and even at his worst, rough-hew. Ignorant as he is, crude as his instruments are, he can do no better (and happily, no worse either). The ideals he has do not go very far, not much beyond his nose—they are limited by his senses, by his notions, by his immediate reactions to the circumstances of the moment. Even when the ends are commendable, the purposes decent, even when he is happily inspired, the materials and means at his disposal are crude and he uses them in a rough and ready manner. What he can achieve in this direction is not even a near but a very far approximate. And when he is otherwise inspired, when suggestions and impulsions come to him from the Hostiles, well, he hews his way, as Hitler did—and some others are doing now—to wrong ends; even there he does not succeed wholly, realises his design very partially, grosso modo. The stone club in the hand of the palaeolithic man and the atom bomb in the hand of the modern are equally rough instruments, and the ends which they serve, whether for good or for evil, are also gross, neither far-visioned nor deep-inspired, but superficial, strait and narrow, blindly immediate. In either case, however, the Divine remains unaffected, firmly seated behind and in and through both, in and through their ignorant and perverse wills, it is His Will that works itself out and finds fulfilment in the end. Whether one is for or against the Divine, whether one is a God or an Asura, each in his own way contributes to the progressive realisation of the Cosmic Purpose. From a certain point of view even it may seem as though nothing helps or hinders, all are like a straw in a rushing current.

    In our human reckoning, we seem to help the evolutionary course sometimes and sometimes hamper it with our efforts in so far as they are well directed or ill directed. In the practice of spiritual life too, one may be tempted to find a measurable proportion between the personal endeavour and the attainment. However that may be, at the end of all human efforts, the finishing touch always comes from the Divine Grace. Whether we succeed or fail, whatever be the human judgment of the situation, the Grace is sure to intervene in the final stage: to success it will bring more success giving it the peak of fulfilment, and failure too it will transmute into a glorious triumph.

    * Hamlet, Act v, Sc. ii