I And Mine: [02.10] - A Religious Revolution - Religion and Worship

Published: 11.11.2005
Updated: 06.08.2008

The biggest problem related to religion concerns its acceptance in an institutionalised form.
In practical life two aspects emerge while deliberating about religion:

  1. Religion as worship.
  2. Religion as conduct.

There is no uniformity in religion as a mode of worship since there are innumerable modes of worship. But there is uniformity in religion as a form of conduct. Ordinary people understand worship better than religion. They say the path of devotion is both simple and good.
From a certain point of view, it may be right too, but it has the highest chances of deception. For all his daylong misdeeds and sinful activities a man wants to make amends and seek expiation merely by reciting the line

(0 Lord, please don 't heed my mistakes and vices).

He makes the unsuccessful effort to wash all his life-long sins by having one dip in the waters of the holy Ganges. In fact worship was aimed only at enabling a worshipper to concentrate on a symbol. But with the passage of time the same path of worship or devotion became the main centre of deception. On the other hand, there is not scope for deception in the path of righteous conduct, because the very basis of conduct is spiritual purity.

In worship the purity of conduct takes a back seat. In itself worship is not deception, but it has been turned into deception. In a special sense bathing in the Ganga river, visiting temples, meeting saints, rendering service and similar modes of worship were all right, but with the passage of time people came to think that they could indulge in sinful activities with impunity, for they would expiate all their sins through worship. So interpreted, worship progressively becomes alienated from the quintessence of religion.

The conduct of man as an independent agent arose as part of ethics. It was high character not worship which came to be associated with Anuvrat. It is absolutely linked with the moral tradition. During the Middle Ages exalted character was not given as much importance as worship. People came to like worship but the history of the past fifteen centuries bears witness to the fact that it has resulted in a fall in character. The obscenity carved on temples from south to north leaves one dumbfounded: One of the factors responsible for it was the influence of the Tantriks or Vammargis (followers of the religious cult teaching peculiar and mystical formulae or rites for the worship of the deities or for the attainment of superhuman power). But this influence was also made possible due to the lack of encouragement to the importance of cultivating high character.

To use a metaphor, for enjoying shade exalted conduct acts like the tent and worship like the ropes. Regrettably the tent has blown away and only the ropes have been left behind. Worship is not useless, but it has become a mask and character has become out of reach. Worship was originally intended to be instrumental in awakening the spirit of religion and that was, therefore, the purpose of visiting temples and meeting saints but these activities were mistaken for ends in themselves, so that one who undertook them needed nothing else to do. People got lost in worship ignoring religion altogether. In fact, there are people whose character is exalted even though they do not believe in worship and they are truly religious. Prof. Gora considered himself an atheist, but Gandhiji regarded him as a perfect believer because his conduct was pure and spiritual.

Wherever stress is put on worship, religion is ignored. On the contrary those who stress good conduct pay much less importance to worship. Despite a multiplicity of modes of worship, character or good conduct remains uniform and invariable. According to Acharya Niranjan Suri, harmony between the physical senses, vital breath, mind, air and soul is Adhyatma - Yoga (the discipline involved in withdrawal of senses from mundane objects and their concentration on the Supreme Being). We like agreeability in religion too. Therefore, music, art, dance etc. were given a place in the religious field and the whole thing was made a compulsory part of worship. But agreeability has no place in righteous conduct.

Basically I do not consider worship a hindrance to religion, but a religious person should be defined on the basis of exalted character.
Character is primary; worship is secondary.

One cannot worship at all times. But one cannot neglect righteousness of conduct at any time. That is, a man can remain moral, honest and true all his life, but it is only occasionally that he can worship. It is not possible to call a man righteous if he reverts to righteousness after lapsing into unrighteousness for a few hours. Worship can be likened to medicine, whereas good conduct is staple food. Food is always needed to be eaten, but medicine is taken only occasionally. Worship is a kind of reinforcement, but good conduct is spontaneous and natural. In the absence of the latter the former has no value whatever.

At the back of righteousness lies one's own purity and sensitivity to others. At the back of worship is the prevention of the corroding of righteousness. It is true, worship adds decoration to religion, but the fundamental thing is only religion or good conduct. It means that we have to remove the deceptive aspect of worship and retain its inspirational aspect. But even after doing so, worship should not be associated with Anuvrat, else Anuvrat too will become a sect. A sect comes into being the moment worship gets associated with conduct.

Now let us try to understand the question of practical religion or religion in practice. Religion can inform our behaviour only if we first succeed in shaking off the hardened genetically conditioned habits of worship. In the absence of a solid base of righteousness, worship cannot help us attain liberation. As for behaviour, it is of two kinds:

  1. That which has no direct effect on others.
  2. That which has direct effect on others.

It is behaviour, which is the touchstone of religiosity. Authoritativeness belongs to the practice of religion, because it is believed that its violation amounts to self-degradation. So long as religious people do not accept the challenge of religious practice, others will not be inspired to act rightly; not will the brighter side of religion reveal itself. Keeping slightly aloof from the path of worship and awakening spirituality in oneself alone will ensure the presence of religion in practice. Thereafter, there will be no need for preaching religion.

Indian thinking got blunted in the past few centuries. As a result no new insights have been generated. Worship devoid of right conduct is always dangerous. Now new ideas are being propagated which it is not possible to stop. It is clear that no religion can endure merely on the basis of worship.
  • I And Mine by Acharya Mahaprajna
  • Edited by Muni Dulahraj ji
  • Translated by R.P. Bhatnagar, formerly Prof. Dept. of English at Jaipur University
  • Published by Jain Vishva Bharati Institute, Ladnun, India, 1st Edition, 1995

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Adhyatma
  3. Anuvrat
  4. Concentration
  5. Discipline
  6. Gandhiji
  7. Soul
  8. Yoga
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