In the Light of ...|Jan 29, 2005 6:12 AM| by:

The Future of Religion – VI

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.

Inner Regeneration of Religion
We have been discussing so far the outer reformation of religion. But religion is in its essence a path of inner transformation. No amount of outer reformation can save religion unless the inner dimension of religion is illumined and vivified with the light and life of the Spirit. Here two approaches are possible: first is the psychological approach, in other words, application of psychology to the religious and spiritual development of the individual; second is to revive the spiritual core of each religion and reinvent or reshape the other outer dimensions in the light of this recovered spiritual intuition and experience.

The Psychology of Religion

The psychological approach is one of the unique positive features of eastern religions. While most of the Semitic religions are based on belief and dogma, eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism evolved their disciplines based on deep psychological insights into human nature. The main principles of eastern spiritual psychology are:

i) Self-knowledge and self-mastery are the basis of spiritual development.

ii) There is perfect equality only at the spiritual level but not at the psychological level. In the psychological level, human beings differ widely in their nature, temperament, capacities and development. Every seeker should be given some understanding of the highest spiritual ideal. But for practical discipline, each seeker has to be taken as he is in his present condition of development, provided with an ideal and discipline which are in harmony with his present nature, capacities, temperament and in this way slowly and gradually, step by step, raised to the highest ideal.

iii) An ideal religious system must be able to engage the whole being of man and all the parts of his inner and outer being – physical, emotional, intellectual, dynamic, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual. There must be a symbolic physical activity for expressing the inner adoration in an aesthetic gesture and a physical discipline for maintaining sound health; a beautiful symbol or interesting stories for the emotional being; an idea for the mind to hold on; an ethical discipline for moral development of the individual; a psychological and spiritual discipline for the spiritual development of the inner being, and for the realisation or manifestation of the inner divinity in man.

iv) Similarly, an ideal religion should have a path or a discipline for the spiritual development of every type of seeker–the physical man who lives predominantly in his bodily consciousness, the emotional man who lives in his heart and feelings, vital man who lives in his dynamic life-force and will, the intellectual who lives in his thinking mind and the more inwardly advanced yogic or the mystic type who is capable of going within in deep meditation.

These are universal psychological principles which are valid for all times, not only for religion but for human development as a whole. They are also some of the principles of Indian Yoga. We believe that the religious and spiritual discipline of the future has to be based on the principles of Yoga[1].

But in religion, psychology is only a means towards spirituality or spiritual experience.

Spiritual Regeneration of Religion

This brings us to the second approach of the inner regeneration of religion. We mean by spiritual regeneration, revival of the original spiritual experiences which gave birth to the various religions and rediscovering the inner discipline for arriving at these experiences. We would like to remind here that spiritual regeneration does not mean reviving the spiritual idea behind each religion and making some form of an intellectual or vital synthesis of the ideas and forms of all religions, calling it universal or integral religion. There are many such attempts in the east and west. We are not making any critical comments on such an approach. All attempts towards unity and synthesis are welcome and helpful in the evolution of humanity. But in religion the primary emphasis should be on spiritual intuition, experience and realisation.

But even this spiritual revival of religion, going back to the old spiritual experiences and disciplines is not without its defects. The conception of some tolerant religious minds that all religions in their essence proceed from the same truth but differ only in form and dogma is not entirely true. The inner subliminal and spiritual consciousness which is the source of religions, is not a single white monotone. It is a vast and infinite realm with a multitude of mansions, poises, and levels, each one giving birth to a unique experience, sometimes contradictory to each other. So all religions need not be inspired from the same level of consciousness. And also the same experience may be interpreted variously by different minds. For example there are mystics who have had a deep and profound inner experience but still believe in the divisive dogmas of their religion. There are also cases of mystics who have had the experience of the universal Divine, but interpreted it in the symbols and dogmas of their own religion and believed that only those who had faith in their prophet can have such an experience. So spiritual experiences need not necessarily lead to freedom from dogma.

We had in modern India, the unique spiritual phenomenon of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was able to realize and synthesize in his own being the core spiritual experiences of all religions. But the example of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa cannot be generalized because very few have the exceptional spiritual capacity of Ramakrishna.

But reviving old spiritual experiences may not always be helpful for a progressive march into the future. For Spirit and Nature are never static but always progressive. Nature in evolution always moves forward towards new, deeper, higher or larger ideals and experiences. Here comes a major defect in the spirit of religions: its conservative spirit which asserts all the truths of religion or life or man or God are revealed once for all, for all eternity, in a single scripture and no further progress or revelations are possible. But the Spirit is not only a static eternity beyond time but also a dynamic and progressive Force, manifesting its timeless and infinite potentialities in unending time. This progressive revelation of the Infinite is an unending process. As Sri Aurobindo wrote in a letter to a disciple with a touch of humour:

“Truly, this shocked reverence for the past is a wonderful and fearful thing! After all the Divine is infinite and the unrolling of the Truth may be an infinite process — not a thing in a nutshell cracked and its contents exhausted once for all by the first seer or sage, while others must religiously crack the nutshell all over again, each trembling fearful not to give the lie to ‘past’ seers and sages.”[2]

Swami Vivekananda also said something similar in one of his lectures:

“Is God’s book closed? Or is it still a continuous revelation going on? The Bible, the Vedas, the Koran and all other sacred books are but so many pages and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded. I would leave it open for all of them. We stand in the present but open ourselves to the infinite future. We take in all that has been in the past, enjoy the light of the present and open every window of the heart for all that will come in the future. Salutations to all the prophets of the past, great ones of the present and to all that are to come in the future.”[3]

So no scripture of the past, present or future however luminous and profound it may be, can contain the entire truth of the Spirit. No revelation or written word can entirely express the Infinite. In fact each scripture or spiritual teaching or revelation expresses only that much of the truth of the spirit which the humanity of the age, epoch or the civilization can understand and assimilate. As the human consciousness progresses in its course of evolution, new vistas of the Spirit are revealed to the illumined vision of yogis, seers and sages giving birth to new religions, scriptures, philosophies and teachings. This process will go on until a day may come in the future when outer intermediaries like scriptures and prophets will be no longer needed because humanity as a whole will be ready to receive the direct guidance of the Spirit from within. And until then, religions, to remain alive and relevant for the future, have to break away from the prison of their conservative attitudes and keep their mind, heart and soul open to new revelations of the Spirit.

[1] A term often misconstrued as the physical exercises which in truth are only one aspect of the entire discipline of Yoga.
[2] Sri Aurobindo, SABCL., Vol. 26, p. 135
[3] Swami Vivekananda, Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 374