Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Soul of Religion

The Soul of Religion

To kick off today's blog entry, let me quote one of my favourite spiritual gurus, Vivekananda:
Are all the religions of the world really contradictory? I do not mean the external forms in which great thoughts are clad. I do not mean the different buildings, languages, rituals books, etc., employed in various religions, but I mean the internal soul of every religion. I believe that they are not contradictory; they are supplementary. Each religion, as it were, takes up one part of the great universal truth, and spends its whole force in embodying and typifying that part of the great truth.

- from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 2.

In reading Vivekananda, I can scarcely find anything that I disagree with. Vivekananda expresses eloquently what I've always felt to be true about religion. I've been a lifelong student religion and I must say it is a fascinating subject that both bore and intrigue me at the same time.

The rules and ritualistic aspect of religion usually bores me because most of the time their practitioners have forgotten what they are actually meant for. External forms suddenly become more important than the spirit of the religion itself. And these so-called religious people who spend their entire lives fussing about the minutiae of rules and rituals are surprisingly looked up to as authorities who are infallable and untouchable.

Religion intrigues me because it is universal. To me it is simply a natural stage in the evolution of mankind--a halfway point in the flowering of human consciousness. I cannot understand why certain religions have to be so defensive when confronted by scientific theories such as human evolution. Evolution does not contradict any religion of the world at all. To say that it does is to completely misunderstand the meaning of religion.

When I say religion is universal, I'm not merely implying that every religion teaches us to be moral and hence every religion is "good". If that is the only value of religion, I suggest that we do away with them completely! We don't need religion to teach us morals--it's too high a price to pay. What is so difficult about morals? Every mentally fit person knows what is moralistic behaviour simply becase socially unacceptable behaviour would eliminate an individual's participation in his or her society. A society with a high percentage of immoral people will self-destruct over time. It is in an individuals's interest to remain within the moral tolerance of the community that he or she lives in.

A society exists simply because there's a critical mass of good souls who seek to promote the greater good over selfish interests. If the critical mass does not exist, then we'll just remain on a lower rung of the evolutionary scale. No big deal. Animals still live "happily" despite being subjected to the harsh laws of jungle. We can alway fall back on that.

Without some measure of integrity, honesty, trust and magnanimity, no society can hold together. Religion happens to provide an "easily understood" framework which worked very well at certain periods in human history to yank civilization to its next level of spiritual evolution. But unfortunately, these frameworks are sustained by souls who are imperfect--men who who are egoistic, selfish and lustful and they conveniently use them to perpetrate their own interests at the expense of the trusting masses.

Men will always be imperfect. Only once in a while a bright soul--a spiritual leader or prophet--appears to reshape the course of human evolution.Their mesages strike a cord in us simply because we already possess them inside us: that spiritual core is already there all the time, lying dormant. These wise teachers merely unleashed them.

There's so much unnecesary debate over religion. The divine truth is something that is to be experienced personally and not to be found through endless arguments and certainly not through the good graces of certain "authoritative" religious figures.

Deep down inside, the soul of every religion is the same. The answer is right there inside your soul. Search yourself. You know it to be true.

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