Monday, September 06, 2004

The Religious Path

The Religious Path

The wise Dalai Lama is indeed rare among spiritual leaders: He believes that even secular humanism can help people achieve spiritual realization. He does not advise people to rush into religions blindly.

Organized religions with their rituals of worship and strict codes of conduct are merely different "methodologies" to achieve the same spiritual goals. They all tend to have slightly different emphases. Even within the same religion, there are always different sects and schools. This is inevitable, because, like what the Dalai Lama said, people have different mental dispositions--some prefer a more ritualistic approach, some a more psychological one, some a more philosophical one. The Bhagavad Gita talks about at least four different paths to God realization. It becomes sad when people emphasize the differences rather than the commonalities.

At the heart of every religion is an attempt to answer the deepest of mysteries: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?

Science and philosophy attempt to answer some of these questions. To a certain extent they have been quite successful. But human beings need more than intellectual answers. They need something that gives them hope, upliftment, inspiration and a promise of salvation--something that fills the so-called "God-shaped hole" in our consciousness. Religion provides that.

The problem with religion is that, when it begins to work on an individual, the experience can be very convincing. Sometimes too convincing. In a previous blog entry, I've likened the experience of religious awakening as akin to that of a teenager falling in love for the first time. That's when it is most dangerous.

When people first catch a glimpse of religious insight, they think they already have all the answers. They feel like all darkness has suddenly been dispelled from their hearts and minds and everything has become crystal clear. This insight feels so undeniably right that they think the rest of the world should listen to them--by force if necesssary. At one time, the Communists had the same heady onrush of revelation too. Which is why many historians liken Communism to a religion.

The form four science student who is first taught classical mechanics thinks that Newton's Laws of Motion can explain every physical motion in the universe. He is ecstatic. He feels that the entire mystery of the universe has been unravelled. Later when he enters form six, he gets to learn a bit about quantum physics and realises that the nature of the universe is a lot more complex than what he thought it was. He is filled with awe and humility.

Similarly, the religious awakening is only the beginning. One must always remember that the spiritual path is like a long hike up a mountain. There will be many more awakenings down the road; each one more mind-blowing than the previous one. Stopping midway to gawk and rave about the beauty of the landscape impedes one's progress. Some get so enamoured with the landscape that they even deviate from their original paths, not realising that they end up going downhill. Many of the problems we face today are caused by these people.

The truly religious person trudges on quietly and steadily and attempts to help others along the way. He savours the beauty around him but never once does he waver from his original destination. He knows that the higher one climbs, the more spectacular the views will be.

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