In the Light of ...|Sep 27, 2004 1:32 PM| by:

The Future of Religion – II

     When we look at the contemporary religious scene we find two contradictory trends. On the one hand a strong and brutal resurgence of religious fundamentalism; on the other hand, in the more enlightened minds, a seeking for a more universal and personal spirituality beyond the church, dogma and the priesthood of organised religion. We have to understand the source of these trends from an integral perspective with an eye on the future.   

Some of those who are inclined towards universal spirituality are dismissive of religion and tend to think or say that the age of religion is over and the future belongs to spirituality. Undoubtedly, the age of certain types of dogmatic and religious assertions is over and spirituality is likely to be the governing idea of the future. But does that mean the age of inspired scriptures, mythologies and philosophies, symbols and gestures of worship and the beauty and grandeur of the temple and the cathedral are also over? All these are part of religion and it would be a rather sterile spirituality which rejects these beautiful elements of religion.                

    We have to reject all the negative distortions which have crept into the spirit of religion. But at the same time we have to preserve the positive elements and use them or renovate them with a clear understanding of their significance for our progressive religious and spiritual development or they may take new forms under a new spiritual inspiration of the future.

  Perhaps none of these positive elements of religion will be missing in the spirituality of the future, but they will be used with a new and better understanding of their significance or may even take different forms while expressing the new values of a future spirituality. In this series of articles we will be viewing religion in a balanced and futuristic perspective, in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s vision, looking deeply into the luminous as well as the dark side of religion, critically examining various approaches suggested for its renovation and gazing into its future destiny.

                                                                                The Failure of Organised Religions

In our previous article we have discussed some of the positive potentials of religion. But when we look at the actual historical fact of religions it makes us wonder how such a tragedy can befall on this human institution and activity which sprang from the highest and the noblest aspiration of humanity? What is the distorting factor which spoiled the whole thing? Let us look at this darker side of religion, the causal factors and the possible remedies.

Follies of Religion

History of human civilisation is replete with the crimes and follies committed by organised religions: its bloody religious wars, the horrors of its persecutions, its hatred for science and philosophy, its scorn for­ those belonging to other religions, the tyranny of its priest craft, the oppressive rigidity of its social customs, and in our modern age, religious fundamentalism of all kinds. Many noble souls like Joan of Arc fell victim to religious persecution. A great scientist like Giordano Bruno was burnt alive at the stake in the name of religion. The words of Christ that “Letter Killeth” literally comes alive with the red letter of blood in the history of organised religions. Curiously, one of the greatest exponents of religion in our modern age was so strung by the evils of organized religion, he went to the extent of saying:

“If you want to be religious, enter not the gate of any organized religion. They do a hundred times more evil than good, because they stop the growth of each one’s individual development. Study everything, keep your own seat firm. If you take my advice, do not put your neck into the trap. The moment they try to put their noose on you, get your neck out and go somewhere else.­ As the bee culling honey from many flowers remain free, not bound by any flower; be not bound. Enter not the door of any organized religions. Religion is only between you and your God and no third person must come between you. Think what these organised religions have done! What Napoleon was more terrible than those religious persecutions? If you and I organize we begin to hate every person! It is better not to love, by loving only means hating others. That is no love, that is hell”.[1]

What is the reason for this miserable failure of organised religion? To answer this question, we must have a clear understanding of the structure of a religion. Any religion can be viewed as a collective organism with a physical, vital, mental and spiritual body. The inner most core of every religion is a spiritual intuition or realisation revealed to a prophet or a sage or many such religious leaders. This is the spiritual core of a religious organism. Then comes the mental body of religion made of its philosophy or theology; the next outer layer is the vital body of religion made of its mythology, ceremony and rituals and the social customs; and finally the outer most shell or the physical body made of the church, mosque or temple and the priest. The organised religion belongs to the most physical and vital body of a religion. What we mean by organized religion is some concept of God revealed in a scripture and institutionalised in the Church, plus some mythology, ceremony and rituals, and priesthood which claims to mediate between God and Man, sometimes asserting that its path or prophet as the only way to God, and without any vivifying spiritual experience, knowledge, practice or presence which is the real soul of a religion.

All these four dimensions of religions are needed for an integral spiritual life. But the soul and life of a religion is its inner spiritual core. All the other three outer layers of religion derive their life from this inner dimension. A religion can live and do its spiritual work only when this spiritual core is kept living, active and progressive with a constant stream of spiritual aspiration, experiences and realisation. When this inner core of religion becomes stagnant than the religion begins to die. The main problem with most of the organized religions is that they have strayed away from their life-giving spiritual source and what remains is a skeleton of dogma and rituals. The major mistake of organized religions is that they ignored in practice, while professing in words, the warning of Christ “The Spirit saveth, letter killeth”. These religions instead of relying on the “Spirit that Saveth” have clung to the “Letter that Killeth”.

The Great Fall

And when the Spirit withdraws, the Ego, cult-ego, takes over, the mental ego with its rigid and inflexible dogmas and the vital ego with its urge to dominate, possess and rule. So the history of organized religions has become mostly a part of the political history of humanity, rather than its spiritual history, with the mental and vital ego trying to conquer the world in the name of God!

But interestingly, this motto of organized religions to conquer the world for God is not altogether false. It is, as Dr. Mangesh Nadkarni pointed out in one of his talks, an egoistic distortion of a truth of the future destiny of humanity. According to Sri Aurobindo, return to the spiritual source of our being, which is the spiritual aim of all religions, is not the highest destiny of human evolution. This is only the first step or an aspect of our spiritual destiny. The next step or the other aspect is the return or descent of the divine Source on our earthly life culminating in the divinization of human life and the world of mind, life and matter or in other words a spiritual conquest by God or the children of God over the world. This spiritual quest is realized by an inner victory over ego and desire in every part of our nature, in our mind, heart and body, and making them into conscious and perfect channels or instruments of the divine Power, culminating in a Kingdom of God within as well as without. The battle cry of some of the organized religions to conquer the world for God is perhaps a distorted reflection in the vital ego of this higher spiritual destiny. But this spiritual conquest of the world belongs to a more distant future. The present condition of the organised religion is something opposite. It is the vital and mental ego trying to conquer the world in the name of God.

This brings us to the question why or how such a degeneration comes about? It happens to all human institutions, a process of disintegration or entropy which pulls everything into the mud. In religion, the story runs somewhat along the following line. A great spiritual teacher arrives spreading Light all around. The Light radiating from the teacher spiritually elevates or liberates a few of his close disciples, awakens a spiritual aspiration in a few more and initiates a more or less widespread religious, moral and intellectual awakening in the community. The great Master establishes a spiritual idea in the collective consciousness of humanity. And one day the Master leaves his body and soon after begins the Fall. The teaching spreads more and more into the masses, but at the same time the great and luminous thoughts of the Master pass into ignorant and darkened minds, and in the process gets diluted, distorted and betrayed by the ego, desire, passions, prejudices and superstitions of the lower nature of the followers. Finally when the “teaching”, twisted, and bruised in the torture chambers of ego and desire, emerges, it is a dark opposite of the original thought — masking itself with the divine Name. What remains is the great Name, the Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Nanak, the legends and the temples built around them. As Sri Aurobindo describes the process in splendid muse:

“A glory of lightning traversing the earth-scene,
Their sun-thoughts fading, darkened by ignorant minds,
Their work betrayed, their good to evil turned,
The cross their payment for the crown they gave
Only they leave behind a splendid Name.
A fire has come and touched men’s heart and gone;
A few have caught flame and risen to greater life.”[2]

Worm in the Rose

So the canker, the worm in the rose, is the Ego. And the most pernicious form of the Ego in religion is the dogmatic assertion that my path or prophet is the only way to God or heaven and all others who follow other paths belong to the Devil and are condemned to eternal hell. It is this ignorant assertion which is the source of all fanaticism and fundamentalism in religion and has made religion into an instrument of division and hatred among people. All other aspects of religion like scriptures, mythology, ceremony, rituals, symbols can remain in the future, because they are necessary aids in the progressive spiritual evolution of the soul. But this dogmatic and exclusive assertion is a phantom of the past and has no place in the future. Some orthodox sections of the society may cling to these phantoms and they may rise aggressively to the surface as it is happening at present, in the form of fundamentalist terrorism. But they are allowed to rise in order to be eliminated. This is one of the methods of Nature for getting rid of things of the past which are harmful or no longer helpful to the future evolution of humanity. As Sri Aurobindo explains:

“Nature uses such means, apparently opposed and dangerous to her intended purpose, to bring about the fruition of that purpose. As in the practice of the spiritual science and art of Yoga one has to raise up the psychological possibilities which are there in the nature and stand in the way of spiritual perfection and fulfillment so as to eliminate them, even, it may be, the sleeping possibilities which might arise in future to break the work that has been done, so too Nature acts with the world-forces and meet her on her way, not only calling up those which will assist her but raising too, so as to finish with them, those that she knows to be normal or even the unavoidable obstacles which cannot but start up to impede her secret will.”[3]

So we need not be too disturbed by the growing menace of fundamentalism and religious terrorism. They are allowed to rise in order to be thrown out. If the warrior-energies of nations, instead of fighting amongst themselves, join together to fight the menace instead, then it can be defeated.

The Remedy and the Alternatives

But inflicting a military defeat on the forces of fundamentalism is only a temporary solution to the problem. The permanent solution to the problem lies first, in the mental preparation of the whole of humanity with an education based on the ideals and principles of universal spiritual humanism; and ultimately on a spiritual education based on the principles of Yoga leading to the transformation of human nature in the unity-consciousness of the Spirit. This is the highest alternative to organized religions and also the ultimate solution to the evolutionary crisis facing humanity today. We will come to this solution at the end of our discussion. But this is a long-term solution which cannot be imposed on an unwilling or unprepared religion or humanity. Religion and humanity have to arrive at this solution through a process of natural evolution. For religion, this evolution is best achieved through a renovation of its inner and outer life in all the dimensions – physical, vital, mental and spiritual.

Some people suggest a pure inward-turning spirituality or Yoga discarding all outer supports as the alternative to organized religions. But such a pure inner Yoga can be pursued only by a few, while religion is for the many, the masses. Religion cannot be so elitist because it is, whatever may be its shortcomings and degenerations, the only means available at present for the spiritual elevation of the masses. Thus religion as an institution has to be rejuvenated and not discarded. This doesn’t mean creating a new religion, but creating a new life in all the four dimensions of religion – physical, vital, mental and spiritual – and revitalizing them with the light and life of the Spirit.

How does one do this? Two methods are suggested: first is the outer reformation of religion and second is the inner regeneration of religion. The first method is the approach and attitude of what we may call as the “reformist mentality”. There are three kinds of reformist minds: first is the rational reformer who wants to purify and reform religion by applying reason to all its forms and activities. The second is the social reformer who wants to add a social dimension to religion and make religion into a reformer of human society. Third is the seeker of the formless God who looks at all physical and vital forms of religion either as unnecessary or looks down upon them as lower forms of worship. There are serious flaws in the approaches of the reformist mind towards religion but there is also a kernel of truth in all these attitudes.

The second method, which is perhaps more in harmony with the dharma of religion is the inner regeneration of religion. Here also there are two possibilities; the psychological renovation of religion and a spiritual regeneration of religion.

In our subsequent articles we will be discussing the advantages, drawbacks and utilities of all these approaches and try to arrive at some form of a synthesis and a third alternative, which we believe is the future ideal towards which religion is heading.
[1] Swami Vivekananda, Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 474
[2] Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, SABCL., 28, p. 7
[3] Sri Aurobindo, SABCL., Vol. 15, p. 557-58

  • http://Website Unmesh

    M.S. Srinivasan’s article (The Future of Religion) is indeed excellent. This message will touch the youth [especially Indian] and will free them from the dogmatic approach of organised religion that they are born in.

  • http://Website Gayatri

    This was very interesting and thought provoking.Yes, it is true that religion is being misused, particularly touching were the thoughts on what happens to great spiritual leaders o n leaving the body, the fall begins, distortions and misuses, till only the names remain. !!! How very true, but education can always highlight the good tenets of all religions and great leaders so that a true understanding is gained.