The Future of Religion (VII)

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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.

Religion of Oneness
We have discussed so far various possibilities for reformation of religion and their advantages and drawbacks. None of them are entirely adequate for a total spiritual transformation of religion. There is one more possibility which may perhaps help religions to discover their highest spiritual source of unity.

Towards a Spiritual Religion of Humanity

There are two things which are needed for the spirit of religion to recover its highest truth and prevent it from falling again into division and darkness. First is an Idea or Ideal sufficiently universal and non-dogmatic to prevent the formation of cult-ego and its assertion “my path, my prophet, my God is the only way to heaven”. Second is an inner and outer discipline for making the idea concrete and real for the consciousness and life of the whole mankind.

First is the Idea or the Ideal. As we are insisting constantly in our discussions, in religion idea is not enough for a narrow idea leads to a narrow experience or a narrow interpretation of the inner experience. There should be a broad and universal idea, acceptable not only to the religious mind but also to the modern secular mentality. We have in our modern age, the ideal of secular humanism based on the triple values of the French revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity. The strong point of modern humanism is its emphasis on the unity and equality of the whole humanity. This is a futuristic concept because the future destiny of the collective evolution of humanity lies not in the “liberty” of the individual and the communal ego but in the inner and outer realization of the fraternity of the whole humanity. In fact, this ideal of fraternity is also one of the essential messages of all religions. A brotherhood of all souls or believers in the City of God is one of the common themes of all religions: As Sri Aurobindo points out.

“One thing seems to me clear that the future will deny that principle of individual selfishness and collective self-interest on which European society has hitherto been based and our renovated system will be based on the renunciation of individual selfishness and the organization of brotherhood — principles common to Christianity, Mohemadanism and Hinduism.”[1]

The main defect of modern humanism is that it is an intellectual and political creed trying to realize an idea or sentiment in the external life by organizing the needs and interests of conflicting individual and communal egos, without making any attempt to make the idea real and living to the inner being of the masses. The defect of religious fraternity is that, in most of the religions, it is a sectarian brotherhood in which non-believers are not only excluded but also predestined to hell! But the brotherhood which Sri Aurobindo mentions in the passage we have quoted above is not the phony sectarian brotherhood but a universal inner brotherhood which includes all humanity. Only a progressive inner moral, psychological and spiritual evolution of humanity leading towards the realization of its own inner spiritual fraternity can bring about the ultimate millennium dreamed by the religious and secular thought of humanity. So this ideal of inner Fraternity is the key-factor which can perhaps embrace and synthesize the secular and religious aspirations of humanity and give it a unified direction to a single goal. Sri Aurobindo envisages this new Ideal of the future in a spiritual religion of Humanity:

“A spiritual religion of humanity is the hope of the future. By this is not meant what is ordinarily called a universal religion, a system, a thing of creed and intellectual belief and dogma and outward rite. Mankind has tried unity by that means; it has failed and deserved to fail, because there can be no universal religious system, one in mental creed and vital form. The inner spirit is indeed one, but more than any other the spiritual life insists on freedom and variation in its self-expression and means of development. A religion of humanity means the growing realization that there is a secret Spirit, a divine Reality, in which we are all one; that humanity is its highest present vehicle on earth, that the human race and the human being are the means by which it will progressively reveal itself here. It implies a growing attempt to live out this knowledge and bring about a kingdom of this divine Spirit upon earth. By its growth within us oneness with our fellow-men will become the leading principle of all our life, not merely a principle of co-operation, but a deeper brother-hood, a real and an inner sense of unity and equality and a common life. There must be the realization by the individual that only in the life of his fellow-men is his own life complete. There must be the realization by the race that only on the free and full life of the individual can its own perfection and permanent happiness be founded. There must be too a discipline and a way of salvation in accordance with this religion, that is to say, a means by which it can be developed by each man within himself so that it may be developed in the life of the race. To go into all that this implies would be too large a subject to be entered upon here; it is enough to point out that in this direction lies the eventual road. No doubt, if this is only an idea like the rest, it will go the way of all ideas. But if it is at all a truth of our being, then it must be the truth to which all is moving and in it must be found the means of a fundamental, an inner, a complete, a real human unity which would be the one secure base of a unification of human life. A spiritual oneness which would create a psychological oneness not dependent upon any intellectual or outward uniformity and compel a oneness of life not bound up with its mechanical means of unification, but ready always to enrich its secure unity by a free inner variation and a freely varied outer self-expression, this would be the basis for a higher type of human existence.”[2]

We may include in this spiritual unity, the ideal of modern ecology, unity of man with Nature. But here also, like the humanistic ideal, the ecological ideal has to be spiritualized. In the spiritual vision, Nature is not only physical but also psychological and spiritual. Nature is the creative force of the Divine Unity and the source of all physical, psychological and spiritual energies in our own being and the universe. Our human nature is part of universal Nature. Not only our physical being is part of the physical energies of Nature but our psychological and spiritual energies are part of the corresponding energies in universal Nature. So in this spiritual vision, ecology means unity and harmony with Nature in all levels of our being – physical, psychological and spiritual. When we integrate the spiritual vision of human unity with the spiritual vision of the unity of Man and Nature, we have the Religion of Oneness, Oneness of all existence in the divine unity of the Spirit.

But we have arrived only at the mental form of the Ideal of oneness and not yet at its spiritual core. For the aim of spiritual religion of oneness is not to establish the spiritual ideals of unity in the thought and life of the human mass. This may be a part of the work but only a part. If it stops here it will end in the same way as modern humanism or ecology, an intellectual, scientific or political creed with a marginal or considerable impact on the thought and life of humanity but not a radical transformation of human consciousness. For this higher transformation, the ideal of oneness has to become a concrete psychological and spiritual fact to the inner experience of humanity, like for example, in the same way we feel our own body concretely as part of our own self. To do this, first of all we must know what is precisely the psychological and spiritual nature of this unity. We give here below the personal experiences of two great seers of the modern age which may give some understanding of the inner nature of the unity-consciousness:

“On that first day, while I was in that state and more conscious of the thing around me, I had the first most extraordinary experience. There was a man mending the road; that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; the very stone he was breaking was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the road mender, and I could feel the wind passing through the tree and the little ant on the blade of grass I could feel. The birds, the dust and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance; I was the driver, the engine and the tyres; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything or rather everything was in me; inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm and all breathing things.”[3]

I contain the whole world in my soul’s embrace: —
To whatever living form I turn
I see my own body with another face
All eyes that look on me are my own eyes;
The one heart that beats within my heart is mine
The world’s happiness flows through me like wine
Its million agonies are my agonies.[4]

So the essence of the experience is the complete disappearance of the ego or the separate ‘I’ and the sense otherness, leading to the consciousness of an all-inclusive Oneness in which all creation is felt as a part of our own self. To generalize and establish this experience, and not just the idea, in the consciousness of humanity will be the aim and mission of a spiritual religion.

The Culture of Oneness

But the most important part of the work of a spiritual religion of the future is to discover the path which will lead the individual and collective consciousness of humanity to the Oneness-experience. We will discuss briefly here the basic principles of the path.

The first step is to unify our own individual being. Only like can perceive the like. To feel and perceive the unity and harmony that governs life and world we have to unify and harmonize the various parts of our own being–our body, life, mind and soul—and feel harmonious and whole within us. So integration of our body, life and mind around the spiritual centre of our being is the first step in the path towards unity.

The second principle of the path is that unity is not something to be created. It exists as an eternal fact in the spiritual dimension of our own being. We have to become conscious of this eternal fact of life which is within us. So the second step is to create a system of education and culture by which each individual can become conscious of the truth of unity either by entering into the spiritual depth of his being through a discipline of active introversion or allow the unity-consciousness in the depth to invade and possess his external being through a discipline of passive, silent and receptive openness or a dynamic surrender. The educational challenge here is to make the ideal of oneness compelling and attractive to all the parts and faculties of our being–thought, feeling, will, emotions, sensations and the dynamic vital force–so that it leads to a concentration of the whole being on the idea. The ideal of education is to help each individual to find his own path towards oneness. Here, we have to apply all the psychological principles of Yoga, some of which we have discussed in our previous article.

We must remember here that there is not a single experience of oneness or a single path to it. There are many paths each leading to a unique experience. It can be experienced as the unity of our own impersonal and universal Self through a path of knowledge. Or else it can be experienced as the unity and universality of an impersonal divine Love or that of an all-beautiful and all-loving divine Person through a path of love, devotion or surrender. It can also be experienced as the unity and universality of an impersonal or personal divine creative Force and Wisdom through a path of works and action. By a synthesis of all these paths we can experience the integral fullness of the Divine Unity and Oneness in all its aspects.

The third principle of a oneness-culture will be renunciation of ego. For ego is the source of division and conflict in human consciousness and the main obstacle to the perception of unity. So a clear experiential understanding of the structure of human ego and a progressive dismantling of the ego from the inner being and the outer life of man will be an important and integral part of the education and discipline of a oneness-culture.

This inner discipline and education of the individual has to be supported by a collective environment which actively promotes, encourages and rewards every activity which leads to or helps in the understanding and expression of oneness and the values of oneness like unity, mutuality, harmony, sharing, and self-giving. In other words, the present competitive culture has to be replaced by a partnering culture in which every individual and the collectivity makes a sincere and creative effort to link himself or itself with other individuals and collectivities in a mutually complementing harmony.

Finally, the ideals, principles and values of oneness must move not only the thought and feeling of people but also the action and decision levers of the society leading to a massive mobilization of the economic, material and human resources for building oneness in the inner being and outer life of humanity and in the planet as a whole. This requires some broad guidelines for decision-making. Here is one from Mazini:

“Love, humanity, ask yourself whenever you do an action in the sphere of your country or your family, if what I am doing were done by all and for all would it advantage or injure humanity. And if your conscience answers it would injure humanity desist, desist even if it seems to you that an immediate advantage for your country or your family would ensure from your action. Be apostles of this faith, apostles of the brotherhood of nations and of the unity of the human race.”[5]

We may spiritualize this aphorism of Mazini in the light of our integral vision of oneness and restate it in the following lines:

“Love and know the Spirit and Self in all which is the ultimate ground, depth and source, the indwelling divinity and the sustaining unity of man and universal Nature. Enter deep within your own being and find your deepest and true self in which you become spiritually one with all humanity, all Nature and all existence in the essence of your being. Live in conscious communion with this higher Self and for its cosmic purpose in humanity. Whenever you have to do an action or take a decision in the sphere of your family, community, organization, nation or humanity or Nature ask your spiritual self if what I am doing is done by all will it lead to the awakening, realization and manifestation of divine oneness in humanity? And if your spiritual intuition answers in the affirmative then do it. But if the indication of your spiritual self is negative desist, desist even if it seems to your reason, social sense, ethical conscience, or humanistic sentiment that it will lead to some immediate short-term advantage to your family, community, nation or humanity. Be the apostles of this faith, apostles of the oneness of all existence.”

References:
[1] Sri Aurobindo, Essays Human and Divine, p. 61
[2] Sri Aurobindo, SABCL., Vol. 15, 554-55
[3] J. Krishnamoorthy, A Biography, Pupul Jaykar, p. 48
[4] Sri Aurobindo, SABCL., Vol. 5, p. 131
[5] Quoted by Rishabehand, Sri Aurobindo, Life Unique, p. 219fn.