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The Quest for the Royal Road: Distinction Between Theism and Atheism

Published: 01.03.2016

The greatest function of religion is to help the individual understand himself. No one can be religious-minded without understanding himself. Being religious does not mean engaging oneself in conventional rituals or merely changing the apparel. He who has understood himself does everything with a sense of discretion and applies the principles of religion to his practical life. He alone is a truly religious person.

The individual who does not know his own identity, can easily stray. There was a philosopher. One day, as he woke up, he started thinking: "What is the Soul? What is the Supreme Being? Who am I?" With these questions in his mind, he set out of the house. He walked on and on and finally entered a private bungalow.

The sentry at the gate asked him "Who are you?"

That question startled the philosopher. He said, "It is exactly to know the answer to this question I am wandering from place to place. If only I could know who I am!"

This is one example which shows that when a person who does not know who or what he is, tends to do things he should not be doing and says what he should not be saying. Many attempts are being made today to understand the world, but there is complete indifference when it comes to understanding oneself. No individual with such an indifferent attitude, deserved to be called religious minded.

One point about which I ponder over is: What is the difference between a religious or an irreligious person or between a theist and an atheist? One who does not believe in spiritualism or who is an irreligious person indulges in sin, but is the person who calls himself religious or who believes in spiritualism, absolutely above commuting sin? Both commit sine. If at all, the difference between them is of the level of discretion and awareness. A non-believer feels happy while committing a sin and a believer thinks he is helpless and has to do so forcefully or sometimes after committing a sin, he feels repentant.

I do not have to ask you if you are a believer or a non- believer atheist. Your own conscience would give the answer. If you are obsessed with thoughts about believer and non- believer, you would be over-cautious even about hurting and subtle living beings like water about which it is said that they can be killed by mental, vocal or physical action.

Bhagwan Mahavira said that killing subtle living beings like water involves not only the sin of violence but also stealing. It may be asked what is the relation between violence and stealing in killing germs in water? It is customary to drink water from the ponds, wells, water-kiosks, etc. after taking permission of their owners. But they only own those ponds, wells, etc. They are not the master of subtle beings in the water. Would it not be an act of stealing if we kill them without their permission?

It may also be asked how a person who has accepted anuvrat, can avoid such an act of stealing, that is, taking something which has not been given to him? It is true that he cannot completely escape from it, but he can certainly set a limit for himself. He can avoid killing any living creature beyond that lim it and thereby also avoid stealing. Even if one cannot avoid violence or stealing altogether, he can definitely avoid them to a certain extent. The ascetics abstain from killing any living creature at all and thereby, also abstain from stealing.

Some people ask if it is a sin to give someone water to drink. Instead of my saying anything about this question, it would be better that you think about it yourself. It is not right to scare away people by saying that giving water to drink is a sin. Bhagwan Mahavira called it a sin of stealing. The word 'sin' is being used in two contexts-Indulging in gambling, debauchery, killing, cruelty, non-vegetarian food, intoxicating drinks, etc. are sins in the worldly sense. Generally speaking, eating and drinking are not worldly sins. The world cannot go on without eating and drinking. Hence, it is necessary to eat and drink, and drinking water and giving it to others to drink too are not sinful in the worldly sense.

From the spiritual point of view, any action which leads one away from the path of moksha, is not a spiritual action even if it is considered sublime in the worldly sense. From the worldly point of view, it is a highly commendable act to honour a great leaders yith a garland of flowers. But from the spiritual point of view, even touching a flower involves subtle violence and is therefore a sin. Lighting auspicious lamp on wedding occasion etc. is desirable according to worldly belief. But in reality, it involves killing of innumerable subtle living beings of fire. This difference of viewpoints has to be understood in its essence. It cannot be understood by mixing up both points of view.

I do not wish to do away with the practical point of view. Have I ever described burning of incense and lighting of lamps inauspicious? But as far as what is auspicious from the spiritual point of view is concerned, it is only religion embodied in arhihant, siddha, sadhu and kevali. There is nothing else which is spiritually auspicious. From the worldly point of view, man takes part in everything and there is no question of prohibiting anything.

When you drink water, bathe, wash clothes and do many other things, do you ever ask if it is sin or not? When someone else asks, you bring in the points of sin and religion. Whenever killing of germs in water is involved, it is definitely a sin from the spiritual point of view. However, does man refrain from doing anything to maintain worldly relations? But it is necessary to use discretion in order to avoid doing violence. Thereby, the extent to which you are able to avoid violence by using your own discretion, you are following religion.


Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Anuvrat
  2. Bhagwan Mahavira
  3. Kevali
  4. Mahavira
  5. Moksha
  6. Sadhu
  7. Siddha
  8. Soul
  9. Violence
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