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Sectarian religion implies a closed society


Torah Holy Bible 
Quran Bhagavad Gita 
Dhammapada Guru Granth Sahib
"People have an emotional attachment to dogmas. Everyone can move freely in the open sky, but the sky enclosed within a room becomes something like a private property. The owner of the room can prohibit anybody's entry into it. Sectarian religion implies a closed society. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are such closed religions because they have been institutionalized. They have caused division between men. They have taken heretics as aliens and have denied them the status of human beings. Institutionalized religion has neither done nor is it likely to do any good to humanity. It is in the light of the evils of institutionalized religions that some people have denounced religion itself. Such people have come to feel strongly that religion has deluded mankind and has denied them their legitimate claim to the primary necessities of life. As religion came to be viewed as a hindrance to the fulfillment of the basic needs of man, it came to be totally rejected... We need a pure and unmitigated religion. We need a religion for all rather than a religion for the privileged few. Religion that is not controlled by vested interests is the crying need of the hour. To use a paradox, religion not belonging to anyone belongs to all."- Acharya Shri Mahaprajna

"Some people believe that religion is based on eternal truth, and therefore, it will always be useful for mankind. Others believe religion to be useless because it has grown old and rusted, and so there is no sense in sticking to it. Who shall we believe? There are two forms of religion: religion as such and institutionalized religion. Religion in its essence is limitless and open, but when it assumes the form of a sect it becomes institutionalized and closed. Religion is like the open sky. Institutionalized religion is like the sky bound within a building and its rooms; it becomes sectarian, and therefore dogmatic.

People have an emotional attachment to dogmas. Everyone can move freely in the open sky, but the sky enclosed within a room becomes something like a private property. The owner of the room can prohibit anybody's entry into it. Sectarian religion implies a closed society. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are such closed religions because they have been institutionalized. They have caused division between men. They have taken heretics as aliens and have denied them the status of human beings. Institutionalized religion has neither done nor is it likely to do any good to humanity. It is in the light of the evils of institutionalized religions that some people have denounced religion itself. Such people have come to feel strongly that religion has deluded mankind and has denied them their legitimate claim to the primary necessities of life. As religion came to be viewed as a hindrance to the fulfillment of the basic needs of man, it came to be totally rejected.

I would not enter into the controversy about the desirability of religion, but I would like to remind the reader that although food, clothing and shelter are the basic needs of man, manliness cannot be confined to these necessities only. It commands a much wider field of operation. Manliness consists in the search for and practice of truth. It is also true that we are governed by faith in matters of religion, but faith alone is not enough. We must also exercise our critical faculty and examine things for ourselves. Religion has got to be enlivened by the combined operation of faith and reason.

It is natural for us to ask why religion has lost its essence and why its body has become deceased. The answer to this question is that the scriptures have belied our faith and that an irrational attitude towards religion has vitiated its form. Followers of all religions swear by the scriptures. We have come to treat Gita, the AGAMs, the PITAKAs, the Koran and the Bible as the first and the last words of truth. Nobody asks whether the scriptures from thousands of years ago still hold good. Moreover, do we understand the scriptures correctly? Have we ourselves perceived the truths enunciated in them?

How can we believe that the truth preached by the scriptures is the same truth that is attained in the depths of spiritual experience? As far as we are concerned, we have never experienced it, never perceived it and never experimented upon it. Poetry written in an emotionally surcharged language is no doubt soothing, but spiritual truths expressed in the language of scriptures can in no way benefit us (for we may not be able to comprehend them properly). One who sings praises of the drink known as SOMA cannot enhance the prestige of scriptures. One who is perpetually involved in quarrels and fans the fire of strife can never be blessed by paying lip service to AHIMSA. Many a time I have asked people if they could assert on the basis of their personal experience whether AHIMSA and non-possessiveness are good. Everyone denies having had any such experience. One simply tries to justify one's beliefs by quoting the scriptures. It is these devils quoting the scriptures who have lowered the prestige of nonviolence and non-possessiveness, and have painted the face of religion black. On one hand, religion has lost its luster and the freshness of its experience in ages dominated by the scriptures. In such ages the scriptures come to assume the position of supreme authority and religion is relegated to a subordinate position. On the other hand, the scriptures command little importance in an age rich with spiritual experience. It is legitimate to ask whether the advocates of religion have discovered some new truth.

People fail to understand that religion should be judged by critical standards in this age of science andrationalism. Today nobody can afford to live in darkness and uncertainty. Instead of carrying the burden of the darkness of the past and remaining unconcerned with the uncertainty of the future, we would naturally prefer to construct our lives on reliable foundations in the present. Religion will have to be relevant to the realities of today.

Ours is not the age of individualism. We are living in a world society characterized by experiments carried out on a mass scale. People lived in tiny villages in the bygone ages. We are now living in huge cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. Primitive means of transport like the camel and horses have been replaced by the means of mass transport like railways. Collective farming, collective trade and commerce, and communal residential houses are the new realities we have to face. Individuality is being replaced by collectivity. Even religion has come to assume a social character. It serves both the individual and society. Religion may be said to be a personal affair from the point of view of SAADHANA (spiritual uplift), but let us not forget that it has social implications also. Those who practice religion as a personal affair would like to reap the maximum benefit for themselves and leave the society to suffer the consequences of their malpractice. It is a queer attitude. The spirit of religion is quite opposite of this. Religion implies that the benefits derived from it should be shared by the whole of society and that the consequences of one's evil deeds should be suffered by the evildoer himself. Society is not concerned with how you worship your God but it is concerned with how the individual conducts himself/ herself. The conduct of a truly religious man will always be pure. A current of water does not produce sparks of fire. A religious man, who behaves immorally, cannot strengthen and inspire religious faith in others.

We will have to evaluate religion in the context of the contemporary situation. We will have to see that one who claims to be a religious person does not indulge in undesirable activities but subdues evil. We will have to emphasize the supremacy of good conduct as against formal worship. If we afford worship or prayer the primary place and conduct a secondary place, religion will be perverted. I am not denouncing worship or prayer; I am simply trying to suggest what place it should occupy in social life. In the words of the great poet Kalidas, we should not reverse the order in which the pious man comes first and everything else next. Mere prayer or worship cut off from the social context in which the worshiper or the man who prays lives, assumes a shallow form of religion. The essence of religion can be preserved only by combining worship and prayer with morality. Good moral conduct makes prayers and worships worthwhile. Let us take an example. A certain gentleman wanted to dig a well. Underground water was at a depth of fifty yards. He dug a pit five yards deep. There was no water. One after the other, he dug ten pits each five yards deep, but could not get any water. He gave up digging any more pits in despair. Had he dug a single pit fifty yards deep, he would have been successful. Worships and prayers devoid of morality are like digging such shallow pits, though such exploits do bring recognition and praise. However, it is only purity of conduct coupled with such celebrations that brings social harmony and peace.

We need a pure and unmitigated religion. We need a religion for all rather than a religion for the privileged few. Religion that is not controlled by vested interests is the crying need of the hour. To use a paradox, religion not belonging to anyone belongs to all."

Acharya Shri Mahaprajna



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