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I And Mine: [02.02] - A Religious Revolution - Religion And Institutionalised Religion

Published: 03.11.2005
Updated: 02.07.2015

Some people believe that religion is always useful because it is perennial. Others regard it useless. They believe that it has become out of date, has put on layers of covering and, therefore, it is no good sticking to it. Shall we support the opinion that religion has outlived its utility, or, shall we support the opinion that religion is relevant in the present circumstances?

When I consider the above question, I distinguish between two types of religion: institutionalised religion and religion as such. Religion is endless, boundless, and open as the sky. When it is confined within small limits, it becomes institutionalised religion (sectarianism). No one has a proprietary right to the unbounded sky. The same space, when enclosed in rooms and house, gives us a proprietary right. Unbounded space can take in all, but room-bounded space cannot do so. There the entry can be prohibited. The case of religion is no different. It is boundless truth: accessible and acceptable to all. But it has been compartmentalized and confined. Thus, its doors are no longer open to all. Closed-door religion becomes bounded. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc. are examples of closed-door religion.

Deep dividing lines got drawn and many enclosures built around such institutionalised religions. Men get divided. “Only those following my religion are proper people, others are not” - such feelings get ingrained in the mind. It is for this reason that institutionalised religion has not much benefited the people, nor is it doing so at present. Therefore, some people basing their opinion on the accomplishments of institutionalised religion have tried to deny its need. They have tried to banish it from their minds holding it to be a hindrance to the fulfilment of basic human needs. Is it correct to do so? I shall not debate its correctness or incorrectness at length. I like brevity.

To state briefly, food, clothing, and shelter are the basic needs of life. In ensuring, their supply does not lay the success of the achievement of life's object. It lies in investigating and worshipping the truth. Generally, man is faithful. This is all right, but he should also be a surgeon. Being faithful to the body does not mean that ulcers and abscesses should not be subjected to surgery. If faithfulness and readiness for surgery had been balanced, the body of religion would not have become diseased.

Why was the sprit of religion forgotten? Why did the body of religion get diseased? By analysing these questions deeply, I find that the spirit of religion got forgotten due to a faith long dependent on scriptural texts, and its body got diseased due to a faith detached from the readiness for surgery.

Today every religious person swears by scriptures, be they the Gita, the Agams, the Pitaks, the Quran, or the Bible. Do religious people never feel inclined to question the accuracy of things written in the scriptures thousands of years ago? Have we properly and correctly understood scriptural texts? Have we personally experienced the truths contained in them? Is it possible to have the waters of the river of truth flow beyond our reach without experiencing or using them? Poetic fancy can be repeated in the language of poetry, but spiritual truths cannot be repeated in the language of the scriptures.

By exalting the virtues of drinking liquor (somras), one cannot add glory to the scriptures. Similarly, one can derive no benefit merely by lauding non-violence while indulging in strife and fighting. I often ask people: Is non-violence good? Is non-possession good? Do you have any experience of them? The answer I got is, that so far as experience is concerned, they have not had it ever. I then ask them, “Then, how can you say that non-violence and non-possession are good? Prompt comes the reply: “We believe it because that particular scripture says so.” This compels us to conclude that such religious people are responsible for robbing religion of its lustre and for enfeebling the glory of non-violence and non-possession. Whenever mere repetition of scriptural texts increases and personal experience decreases, the scriptures gain in lustre but religion loses it.

On the other hand, when personal experience increases and the repetition of scriptural texts decreases, religion gains in lustre and scriptures lose it. Those who want to see religion enjoying prestige and honour are revealing new truths. Some of them are presenting new facts. The present is a scientific age; it is an intellectual and rational age. It has fewer people reposing faith in the dark past and the unknown future. There are far more people who believe in the present. Therefore, religion will have to be presented only after it has stood the tests of the present.

The present is not an individualistic age. It is an age of socialism. New communal] experiments are being tried. Earlier, people used to live in small villages. Today we have metropolitan cities like Calcutta and Bombay. In the past, people used individual modes of transport, camels, and horses. Nowadays, collective modes of transport like trains etc. are used. Collective trade, collective agriculture and collective residence are all transforming individual] living into communal or collective living. The present generation does not want to treat religion also on an individual basis.

I want to state that religion is communal] or collective despite being individualistic. From the point of view of practice it is individual], but in terms of its results it is social. Religion while benefiting the individual also benefits society. Those favouring religion in individual behaviour, but disregarding it in social behaviour knowingly or unknowingly, want the fruit of their worship to be enjoyed by themselves and the ill effects of their lack of authenticity to be visited on the whole society. How ridiculous!

Truly speaking, religion should result in the individual containing his vices within himself, but spreading his virtues to society. Individual worship has no direct bearing on society; it has a direct relation with individual conduct. It is impossible for a man of religion to behave badly. Fiery sparks cannot come out of the currents of water. Bad currents coming out of a religious person can never help sprout religious faith in other people.

Let the value of religion be assessed in the background of the above thinking. If one wants to ensure the survival and attraction of religion, it will have to be proved that religion is not an invitation to evil, but a constant fight against it.

Let us give only secondary importance to individual worship and primary importance to conduct and behaviour. By reversing the above order, we reverse the flow of religion too. l am not discarding worship. I am only proposing its proper place. I am just saying what Kalidas meant when he said that the worship of the revered should not commit any transgression.

Mere worship is a shallow effort to attain religion. Real depth is reached when worship gets combined with spirituality and morality. There was the case of a man engaged in digging a well. The water level was at a depth of fifty feet. He dug a pit five feet deep, without any results. Then he dug a second pit and a third pit and another pit, until he had dug ten pits. Yet, there was no positive result. He sat down thoroughly disappointed. Likewise, a shallow effort at attaining religion also causes disappointment. If at one place only the pit had been dug up to the depth of fifty feet, water would have been reached. The fountain of joy requires the combined depth of worship and conduct. In Ayurveda, yogendra ras without gold is ineffective. Similarly, worship loses its utility in the absence of righteousness.

Today there is an imperative need for the emergence of a religion, which is not contingent or denominational. It should be all encompassing like the sky and yet no one may claim proprietary rights to it. In my opinion, religion is only when it does not belong to individuals as individuals.

  • 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. Agams
  2. Ayurveda
  3. Body
  4. Bombay
  5. Buddhism
  6. Calcutta
  7. Christianity
  8. Gita
  9. Hinduism
  10. Islam
  11. Jainism
  12. Non-violence
  13. Ras
  14. Space
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