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Pujya Dr. K.C. Varadachari - Volume -2



The study of religion has always been one of the most important and interesting things for a mind alive to the existence of facts beyond the sensory order. That the religious experiences present a world-view of a different kind from that of the world-views or the ordinary man of the world is well known. But this world-view has something in it, which claims to be true and real in a sense that is more urgent than that of the scientist is also to be noted. Thus a philosophy of religion attempts to present the weltenschaung or world-view and is not to be considered to be merely an account of the experiences accounted to be religious.

There are many who think that a science or religion is more important than a philosophy or religion. It is all the competition of science against philosophy. In one sense sciences seek an empirical method or careful observation of data pertaining to a field of enquiry, in this case of religious experiences, and in another sense they seek to avoid a total explanation or Reality.

Religion might be claimed by some to be beyond the realm of experience. We might perhaps grant that religious experiences fall outside the sensory field, which alone is open to observation in the manner of physics, chemistry, and biology too. But this does not mean that religion like mathematics seeks to arrive at deductions from apriori assumptions given in reason or to reason. Nor are they capable of being subjected to verification in the same sense as the assumptions or hypothesis are in sense. The assumption cannot be made that religion is purely of the revelations already given : for it is one of the most important concepts or assumptions of religion that the revelations have not come to a stop but could be renewed again and again in the lives of the Prophet or Seer. Thus religious science is different in its methodology. As philosophy it is an attempt to present a religious world view or reality.

Its method whilst being empirical is to deal with all facts of experience which belong to levels of experiences, sensory, vital, mental and supramental (revelational). Religion as Experience falls with the scope of the empirical method.

The empirical method demands in the spirit of science and philosophy that all facts should be surveyed, certainly all the facts that are relevant and have a bearing on the subject of religion. It should however take into consideration all the principles assumed as self-evident and critically check them up and thus examine their validity. Each science has certain assumptions, which are deemed necessary for systematic knowledge of that science. The scientist not only deduces the consequences of the a priori principles or assumptions, and applies them to the facts gathered but he also tries to verify them by methods devised for the purposes.

As already pointed out the field of religious experience includes revelatory and immediate apprehensions of the areas of reality not open to the perceptive and inferential and apriori principles. Indeed it has been quite a common phenomenon to find that the a priori principles, which are also assumed by the principles of experience of self-certainty undergo changes and modifications on account of the revelationary experiences open to one.

It must also be emphasized that the empirical method in its widest sense is absolutely necessary for religious science or philosophy, for a theoretical unverifiable phenomenon cannot be truly religious. Religion is more practical in its approach to the Highest and Ultimate Reality rather than theoretical : it involves a dedication and union with that Highest Value : It is much larger than the physical and physiological sciences and concerns itself with values such as we know from the questions that we usually ask : as to what is better to do ? What is Right thing to do? What is sinful or ugly or unholy?

A constant awareness of the value-world is one of the biggest differences between the physical scientist and his tribe who are only attempting to know the how and not the why, who are egged on in the pursuit o what is rather than what it is for?

Thus we find that whilst the method is empirical and the approach is empirical, it does not rule out the theoretical basis of science as an attempt to understand the world and area or religious experience as a universal phenomenon. It includes the experiences of the trans-sensory and trans-rational or inferential order. It includes the experiences of value and their hierarchy.

Religion has been defined as entailing a concern with experiences regarded as of supreme value, as expressed by devotion to that Ultimate which is assumed or believed to be originating such values or conserving them, and as manifested by rites and rituals or symolisations of those values. He almost exclusively drops the most important factor of uniting or attaining that Supreme Value. The definition falls into three parts, the theoretical, the affective and active : in a deeper consideration it should be clear that the concept of religion has a triple reference : the natural-physical, the psychological and the divine or Ultimate. These three are known as the adhi-bhautika, adhi-atmika, and the adhi-daivika aspects of Ultimate value-approach, which reveals also that the Ultimate Value is being represented darkly in Nature, consciously in oneself and divinely and purely in God.

Religion differs from magic in being devotion to the highest Ultimate Value and not to the lower natural forces. It differs from science which is the concern with is and not with values. Religion resembles ethical and moral values and art too in being concerned with the Ultimate Value rather than with the values of good and beauty. It indeed goes beyond the value known as truth, which is the concern of philosophy, for it seeks not merely a knowing and creating, and living but a Being one with the Ultimate.

1.      Philosophy aims at understanding experience as a whole and to correlate all problems. It is not exclusively concerned with value – value is also one of the problems it seeks to explain and solve. It aims at discovering the unity of all experience, and of forging a coherent and unified definition of the Real.

          Religion as being more practical search for Value and uniting itself with It is different from Philosophy. Philosophy may lead to Religion. Religion however being the union with the Ultimate can help the fuller exposition of the nature of  the Unity and Whole than the reason on which philosophy largely depends.

          It is not merely its practical and emotional attitude towards Reality that makes religion valuable : this is the western conception : it is on the other hand that which makes for a higher cognivity and value of the Total Reality which integrates the whole personality of the individual and makes for integral knowing which is the ideal of  Philosophy, but which philosophy at present day does not realise.

The philosophy of Religion attempts to give a rational interpretation of religion and its relations to other types of experience, even as philosophy itself is a reational attempts to explain the nature or Reality. Truth has itself been defined by some as an intellectual attempt to define realty or it is the interpretation by intellect of reality. I is contended by some, that it is not necessary that those who write on philosophy of Religion should be religious or have religious experiences: it is sufficient if the philosopher or religion considers the several interpretation of religion and systematically unifies them. Thus the whole method followed in his work is a systematic study of the philosophies of religion by other thinkers, and not a direct approach to the problems of religion as such. The subject matter or a science of religion might be the experiences of religious people but a philosophy of religion thus according some thinkers  is a consideration or the theories of religion not the experiences of religion. This of course is restricted to the western philosophers who have written on religion, which view  is unduly restricted and narrow.

The restriction of religious theories to religious experiences provides the science of religion: but the philosophies of religion have to take into consideration the science of religion. Surely Religion is a fact. Treated as a fact it falls  into three divisions: as History, as Psychology and as Sociology. Thus a history of religion will narrate the manner of Religious growth and evolution and how people had actually practiced it and are practicing it. The genetic approach towards religion will take into consideration the primitive religious tenets and practices. The danger arising from this kind of study lies in the fact that one seeks to explain higher religion by means of these beliefs or in terms of these primitive beliefs. Anthropology following the Morgan’s principal has sought to explain the higher as growths or mere extensions of the primitive. Primitives of the present day are degenerates of the original common ancestors of the present day primitives and ourselves. Thus the research in modern beliefs of the primitives misses the truth rather badly.

The primitive religion cannot give a direct cue to the higher evolved religious life or experience. This is the ‘fallacy of primitivism’ which is also called the fallacy of modern speculative evolutionism. The law of Parsimony (Lloyd Morgon) is utterly unhelpful in this field where creative evolution is more suited than the ‘emergent’ or any other type of evolution, for here there is the constant operative the value principle which is implicit in the principle of creative survival.

Thus animism, spiritism and other genetic theories reveal how different kinds of men at different stages have worshipped and yet continue to worship. Animism is the theory which holds that man treats everything as animated because he finds movement etc and by analogy endows all with the same powers as himself, whether they are organic or inorganic. ‘Man claims kinship with the world and attributes to it life and movement’. It treats all that have movement will.

Spiritism believes that the spirit survives bodily death, and distinguishes between the body and the soul or breath that survives. The worship of the dead and the practices concerning the Dead reveal the basic belief that the soul survives the body but hovers on the earth level itself. The burial customs, the building of Graves and Cemeteries reveal this aspect. For many the death rituals are religion.

 Totemism is another aspect of religion : totem is connected with the well-being of the tribe and life of the tribe in some mysterious way. Thus each clan and tribe has its own totem symbol which it will not forswear. Undoubtedly this has much to do with the inter-tribal relationships also such as marriage etc., Though totemic beliefs and customs are not as universal beliefs and closely knit yet it is a very important aspect of religious unity and unification of the tribe.

The explanation of all phenomena in terms MANA (Orenda etc) is based on the belief that there is one power or force which is the cause of the religious experiences. It is characterized by a magical property inherent in the objects of worship. The theories of magic and animism resemble this mana-theory.

But these theories do not explain the higher developments of religion, though it must be confessed that all these theories do operate in some way in all peoples however glossed over or rationalised.

The second stage is  the National or Priestly stage. Religion as national, develops the broad division of men into those who follow and preserve the religious observances or a tribe or community and those who obey these men who are in charge of the observances: thus priestly rule in matters pertaining to religion obtains, and the non-priests called lay men become and ruled. Later on the temporal power may also be assumed by the priestly class. Social organization reveals two stages: the priestly and the non-priestly, and the priest and ruler. The shrines and temples begin to be built for the residence and worship by the priestly class. This is followed by rites to suit the occasions and size of the people, and sacrifices too are made and these may vary from corn and plant to animals and men too. All these develop ideas of magical efficiency in addition to being offerings to the Powers of the higher order. Thus we find elaborate and esoteric developments and symbolic and suggestive methods adopted by priests and the rulers to keep the institutions going. Incantations and mantras are discovered or invented and sacred writings come into being. Lives of the saints and priests get written. Discussions on the nature of soul and immortality feature in the life of the priest and moral codes get written and applied to the society on a national scale. Religion thus gets full blown as objective and the gods or Nature and Death are also included among the worshippable.

National religions are thus unifying the tribe and geographical or racial groups. However the process of this consolidation never gets completed. Indeed it can be seen that the primitive (so called) is revealed in the formations of the National religious attitudes. The consolidation of the religious community however does not stop at this point. For there have always been prophets who bring to man the message of the universal values and known as God to the national and even tribal consciousness. Indeed the prophet is the first person who has brought these higher values into the life of men from the very beginning. Shamanism had its own prophets and so have Casteists and priests and rulers too.

Prophetic Religion however mixed up with the others has certain broad features. Prophetic religion depends on the revelation of a prophet who is recognized as one who speaks an authentic voice of God.

Prophetic Religion:

All prophets are convinced that they are speaking the authentic voice of God, by whatever name He is denoted. They consider also that they are the spokesmen of God; indeed they even consider that they are the sole spokesmen of God. They are convinced that the truths they utter from their vision or hearing (for some prophets claim to have heard God and some to have seen God or felt Him and so on) are universally applicable and they even emphasized that there was no other way. Thus the prophet Amos, the Hebrews and others have thought that religion as the prophetic truth is universally legislative and to be accepted. Buddha and Mahavira are said to have counseled this method. The question about Buddha and Mahavira is some what different: they did claim revelation but realization. Prophets seem to have claimed a uniquely different status for themselves contrasted with the priests (who were waiting on rituals and rites for illumination). The Vedic Rishis were also not of this order or prophets, as they prophesied nothing but spoke about their relationship with God and its possibility. The contention that prophetic religion includes these cases of the Vedic rishis   (who do not belong to tribal religion of national religion) and the great founders of the Religion of Buddha and Mahavira,is not coreect.  Ethical religions and social religions do have prophesies about the futue of mankind.

Religion of course awakens to its own stature when it is counseled to be an invidiual’s realization of the truth and fact of the prophetic voice or the Rishis counsel. It is not a scripture to be accepted: a  voiced merely to be listened to : for it is inherent in religious counsel to advice inward realization of the God within. In this sense the verification of religion is within oneself and individual.

Religion does not counsel the going beyond ethics or bye-pass ethics. Ethical preparation is the necessity, for it requires that the lower nature (passions and prejudices, greeds and wants) have all to be submitted to the control of the goal of life, the inward realisation of the Ultimate value. Though the religious experience is what one does with one’s solitariness to use the phrease of Whitehead (A.N.) yet the governing passion of the religious realisation is the eschew all that leads one away from this realisation. Man’s lower nature or emotion, passion, instinct and want and ambition, all take one outwards. Thus the ethical life is one of inward dedication to this inner realization, which is the ultimate Good. God is the ultimate Good for the eastern religious consciousness: in the west ethics is a different kind of value and is tied up with social welfare and so on, and is uncertain of its content yet. Purity, of mind and body and vital being covers indeed the whole hose of virtues of ethical life. The cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage and temperance and justice are all derived from the nature of the Deity or God though it is thought that these are means towards it or to attain it. Ethics as respect for others, as meaning social cooperation rather than competition, and economic and political justice are in a sense enhanced with this realization of God rather than abrogated. Indeed it has been of course a scandal in religious life that fanaticism and extreme asceticism had led to as much of anti-religion as anti-ethics even as the other extreme of thinking that religion means the 'enjoyment  of  bliss of God' and all  that is His has led to liberatarian license in familial and individual relationships. Thus true religious life had insisted on the virtues of chastity, non-violence and non-killing of all creatues or life, truthfulness and trustworthiness, absence of greed and self-control in talk and silence. Ethics without God had led to what we may call the acceptance of a second-line God (the prophet himself becoming a godhead).

Religion also has entailed the intellectual development of man. It demands that no one will accept the words of the prophet also without considering its rationality: one ought to think for oneself before accepting even the words of a prophet: even more so when the prophet is a revolutionary who has risen against traditional customary modes of worship and values. This is of course closely linked up with the individualism of religious realization: traditions have to be again and again tested and verified and accepted and not blindly followed. Tradition as well as the prophetic voice or truth (for prophets do become and found traditions too which lead to blind acceptances by society and forms its norms and so on) demand verification through application. They cannot remain just dogmas or beliefs. It is also true that whilst most religious truths are trans-intellectual and may not be capable of being explained as coherent with the world knowledge at any time, yet they demand application for the very change of the assumptions of the world-knowledge at any moment. They share the stature of institutions of science, which have revolutionised our world knowledge.

Religion also is mystical. It is stated by some that mysticism means that which concerns inward life and experience. It is said to reveal, the inward yearning for Vision, and prayer and self-surrender and silence and fast and so on are included in the mystical practices. The distinction between mystical and religious experiences is almost blurred in the Western philosophies of religion. Religion yearns for union with God accepted and chosen as such: it is a yearning for ultimate dependence on the Ultimate being who is known as the self of all. Mystic experiences on the other hand have the yearning for freedom and liberation from samsara or this world attachment and return to this world consciousness. Earth is not their concern but yonder beyond the worlds of rebirth and suffering. Moksa is the goal of the Mystic: service (kainkarya) is the goal of the religious, for love is the essence of the religious  soul in his surrender and yearning. For the mystic God is a helper to the Yonder shore and he would have it with the help of God if possible without Him if necessary. *Prayer has no meaning for him except as a means; for the religious it is verily the only means and necessity for ever. It is true that in a sense it was said that  the West knows religion but East does not: this is too sweeping a generalization, for there are several religious souls like the Vaisnavas who seek the service of God anywhere (on the earth or heaven or even Hell) if it could only please God and one is always related to Him without any separation or injury to their relationship or love. The alvars yearned for this kind of service which formed their goal of life (purusartha).

Lastly it is claimed that prophetic religion is monotheistic. It speaks about One God. It does not perhaps annual the other gods but subsumes them under the One God. Some dismiss them all as gods but accept them in th form of angels, hosts of the One God, delegates and so on. The process of subsumption of the several gods is initiated by the discovery that there must or one Ultimate Reality One Power and One Ground of all that exists and competitive powers do not rule the world or the universe. It is a transcendence that ultimately reconciles all nations and tribes by subsuming all their gods and deities and powders, male and female under one Reality, God. The doctrines of polytheism and henotheism or opportunistic monotheism are superseded in the prophetic vision of God. The hierarchy of Gods however is a continuing feature of several religious communities in popular religion. The monotheistic religious prophet undoubtedly develops a zealous God in his own image of zealousness and has produced more difficulties for the popular men than anybody. Again the zealous God theory of montheism seeks universalisation by compulsive conversion of all peoples and breaks the idols of other religious peoples deeming them to be of the lower order. Ekanta-bhakti, sole devotion to one and only God (call him by some name or other) has been not quite at transmitive influence on the zealousness of the devotee or the prophet. Whilst rejecting polytheism and it seems to be a rational procedure in the interests of the ideal of One Universe, it has one the other hand developed ideological and emotional fanaticism of sole worship. Anyhow it is that which led to what we may call the reconciliation of all the gods under the Meaningful and Significantly envisioned One God.

Thus the above sevenfold features of prophetic religion will reveal how the religions as they are now thriving have come into being. Hinduism claims its religious revelations from the Vedas, Upanisads, and the continuous experiences of the Rsis uptodate. Judasim is the religion of the Hebrews represented by prophets who have ceased to illuminate their Mosaic religion. However great scholars are there. Shintoism is of Japan, the real basic worship is of the Shinto power. Buddhism is that which has been founded by Gotama the Buddha, and people are following it in vast areas but Buddhas are not being born there Taoism is an impersonal religion of China; Christianity is of course being practiced continuously and the Catholic Church claims the appearances of Saints who have been verifying the experiences of Christ and prophets of Isreal. The religion founded by Mohamed is the religion of Islam and it has been producing saints also who bear witness to that doctrine. Jainism of Mahavira is practiced in a small sect of devotees in India. Other sects are there with their prophets. Our problem in philosophy of religion is sometimes to enquire whether their truths are universal and therefore unifiable or complementary. Comparitive religious studies do throw some light on this identity of all prophetic and revelational religious truths.