Religion has indeed become a point of discussion nowadays. The interest in it has of course proceeded out of curiosity. Even the savants of religion betray a curiosity-impulse in the forms of religion. They have conceded that it is a social phenomenon, socially useful for coherence and cooperation and unity, rather than a phenomenon that urges man to a different relationship with reality other than the social or the economic or individual freedom from wants and fears. Natural Religion almost divided its interest between the social and individual realization of the sense of holiness in life. All life is holy, because the whole is valuable for itself. The other interest that had dominated the religious philosopher has been the cultivation of a sense of harmony and happiness in all persons because of their being inheritors of the spiritual life of God assumed as the creator and father of all. It was held to be useful as a restraining influence on the pugnacious and marauding spirit of man and both the ruler and the ruled found in religion and God their security. There has however in modern times grown a sense of futility of the ancient superstitions of religion thanks to the so called advance of scientific techniques. Religion and science have arrayed themselves against each other and science has now become the modern religion which commands awe and reverence. Science halls, rather than churches, nowadays are holy places. Such a transformation of the situation has its own lessons to offer. Firstly, it is increasingly being realized that real understanding of reality demands the cooperation of knowledge, competent if possible, verifiable, and useful to life. Religion if it is based on belief that relies on no such cooperation of the inner demands for knowledge, not exactly logical, cannot instil faith. Faith is not a matter of the head it is sure, but it is not void of head either. The cumulative effect of modern knowledge would certainly win men to the understanding of the need for a different approach to Reality than the sensory empirical and the economic hedonistic.
Secondly, men have to cast off the fear that religion is an opium, a drug that religious addicts more and more need only to make them more and more imbecile. The fear of this drug, so well expressed by Marx and the materialists, is a real fear. The release it offers is said to entail an illusory freedom but it is an escape-phenomenon. When men cannot think they seek refuge in religion.
Thirdly, we have modern substitutes for religion, may be they hardly improve upon religion. Educational institutions, humanistic hedonistic organizations have been able to harness the creative sympathies of man and women, even as in early times religion harnessed them. The nearness of the ideals and the goals fixed by modern plans give a concrete object for fulfillment within a limited and prescribed time, unlike religions which more and more have begun to feel that they are just idealisms which never can arrive at their goals. Concern for post-life is not a matter of the moment and preparation for it is deemed to be the job for an idler, or misfit.
But all these are criticisms have been growing in volume and intensity during the past two or three centuries. The said period can be said to be the period of transition to secular knowledge. The knowledge of the world we live in is paramount over the knowledge of the other-world, the life here is more important than the life in the next, and it is clear that we can understand this world surely and more correctly thanks to our capacity to devise instruments of observation and experimentation. To say that the known world is inexplicable is unwarranted and has been shown to be just nonsense. Science has given the lie to this illusionistic superstition. Philosophy also has changed its master, science has become its guide in matters physical and psychical, and religion has been abandoned as irrational belief. Morals even have become scientific and laws of morals have been framed with the sole object of proving that happiness is what all desire and seek to promote, whatever this happiness may be, whether all inclusive or otherwise hierarchically arranged according to intensity or extensity and altruism or universalism.
Such is the condition of religion which has become in its forms the bane of life, with its clash of tenets and dogmas and myths that man has just claimed to be above them by abandoning them. This at least was fundamentally true of the earlier period namely first half of the twentieth century. Rationalism and Empiricism joined hands against the religious Moloch. But during this period we have had very important seers who work from within, throwing up all the hidden fears and diseases even as the homeopathic drug is said to do. The work they did has begun to bear fruit. More and more men, though struck by the remarkable advances of science and happiness among men, have begun to see that it is one thing when all things are done by secular persons and quite a different thing when done by spiritual men. Not mere disinterestedness alone but dedication and direction are the cardinal principles. The happiness that scientific advance provides, is physical, economic and hedonistic; it hardly touches the core of man’s being; the direction of man’s life is for a larger comprehension of his own truth, his facts of freedom from larger fears. It is true that thanks to the advance in medical science we are in a position to increase the longevity of men, decrease the death rates, abolish previously incurable diseases and liquidate all types of threats to life. The amazing success of medicine is one which has been achieved through science without superstition. Religion is now becoming more interested in winning clients through such service, doing what the scientists had been doing all along, The idea of course of service of the suffering is quasi religious though very early in the history of religion it played an important role. The priest and the medicine man were one and the same for a community. Healing through religion however is of a different order, but slowly the naturalistic medicine displaced the super naturalistic or the religious power. Christianity and Buddhism were always devoted to the service of the poor suffering. Cure of the suffering of soul however has been paramount in all religions and herein we can see a broad division of religions which saw to the care of the soul’s suffering, not to be identified with its physical suffering, and those which catered to the alleviation of the physical as a means to the further alleviation of the spiritual or physical.
It is surely a stooping to conquer when the attention of religion directed more to the physical suffering rather than the spiritual. Men are at any rate materialistically minded for the pain of the body is what incapacities a man from doing anything. It has become a modern truism to affirm that life must first be before it is enfranchised. The Spiritual can wait but the physical cannot. Secure happiness for the body, then the spiritual will follow. Indeed one need not worry about the spiritual. The theory of mutual contradiction between the spiritual and the material has been given up. Somehow men have come to believe that they can have the best of both worlds. The theory of niskama karma so thoroughly attenuated by the modern theory of disinterested humanism has provided for the hope of the best of both worlds, spiritual and material, here and now. The result has been the world of post-life has been of no concern at all. The two worlds previously referred to the iha and para, here and beyond, but they refer to the harmony of the spiritual and the material life of each and every individual.
But it must be clear to all those who have endured so much and thought much that the picture of reality today is rather somber, too somber indeed for our likes. Human societies suffer from some ineradicable diseases as human individuals do. The distempers of society are much more difficult to eradicate and demand quite different approaches. It has been realized that all isms, racialism, communalism, religionisms, capitalism and communisms etc. are all signs of collective disease. No doubt thanks to the two world wars we are becoming aware of the presence of these as viruses and diseases, for men probably have not forgotten that these have been considered to be virtues which have to be cultivated in a civilized society If caste much less legitimately becomes a target of criticisms, is it not surprising that today men hug to these isms with fanatical zeal? Is it not also a fact that social irrationality has become a danger and has risen to pathological proportions? A larger isms is much less commendable when in addition it has no justification either in nature or in ultimate reality of spiritual experience.
Our way to peace then will entail a close and clear inspection of the religious life. Not only that it must start with a clearer perspective of what we want for man as a whole.
Let us proceed to re-evaluate our religious thought and life. Men have of late shewn greater interest in the phenomena of personal realization rather than collective superstition. Men have taken to the path of personal exploration. Unfortunately it does not happen to these persons even to think whether they are equipped for the task. Short cuts have been proposed and have indeed been availed of. But they have not been sufficient to give results. Men have been flitting from one teacher to another. Almost a new ‘Heno-guruism’ has come into being displacing the ancient ‘henotheism’ graphically described by Max Muller. The path of course is clear to those who have the will to pursue the larger and fuller life of the spirit which transcends the physical and the physical happiness of this life. That it has quite a new claim on man is also clear. This is the inescapable search that one enters into when he enters the religious life. Not humanity but godhood is the God that demands man’s dedication, for we are discovering that the service of man has always been deteriorating if not digressing from the real goal of human life itself.
Peace sparely we require but it is the peace of the soul in fulfillment that should be the ultimate goal. We hope that the international, inter-communal, inter-racial and inter-caste peace may be real steps towards it. On no other theory than the organic interdependence of all, both in the individual and the collective or communal, can there be an abiding peace, which is recognized and pursued as such. This is the true morality on which a rich and true spiritual life can erect itself. Without moral fitness neither sacrifice nor service of humanity can survive for long.
HINDUSIM is quite clear about these in its conceptions. Truth, Knowledge and Peace (Ananda) are the ultimate values of life, these are the substance and Being and the true participation in them is attainment and perfection and realization. This is the GOD or Brahman whom all describe variously.