“One may use a knife to kill someone. A surgeon will use the same knife to save a person’s life.” ~Radhanath Swami
Religion had been established to unite the people together and live a stable and peaceful life. The basis of all religions promotes a cultural system of practices and behaviours amongst its followers which defines their morals, ethics, worldviews, texts and society.
It provides a common ground for people to fraternise and share their perspectives on various aspects of life as well as the society they live in. Every religion has found its roots deeply set in peaceful coexistence and brotherhood amongst their followers.
Yet, religion is being used as a weapon which is causing so much strife in our world. It is being used to instigate humans to brutalise their own kind. The self-proclaimed god-men have commercialised religion and are earning insurmountable amount of money and using it for their own benefit. Religion has truly become a tool for manipulating people to their whim.
But true religion was not formed to cause such a range of mishaps which have plagued our society for so many years. True religion helps an individual to be in peace with himself as well as his surroundings. It promotes the sense of contentment with inner-self.
All religions, be it Abrahamic, Dharmik, East-Asian or endemic folk, they all carry the same idea of peace and non-violence. The words might be different, the language might not be same, but the message that each religion conveys is always congruent.
The first step in building a man’s character is to be at ease with himself. And the true purpose of religion is to hold his hand and guide him to mould a morally upright character who believes in existing in harmony with the nature and other beings.
Improper propagation of religion
Wars have been invoked in the name of religion. Although they are termed ‘religious’, these wars are just propagandas of those fighting to assert dominance in the society. Those in power, instigate wars to remain in power, while those who seek the throne, rally men to fight and topple those in power.
Many communities, states, kingdoms and nations have fought such ‘religious’ wars to bring peace in the region. But they forget that the very essence of religion is non-violence. Hence, such instigations are misinterpretation of religion which causes widespread loss of economy, material and most importantly- life.
The problem in Afghanistan had been exposed to the world in the last century. There are many regions over there which are used by radical fundamentalist terrorists as their headquarters. The most infamous of them all was Al-Qaeda.
Even after the fall of their notorious leader Osama-bin-Laden, the organisation still exists under the protection of the Taliban administered region. The Taliban themselves are living example of how a religion has been imposed upon common man by extremist leaders to benefit their personal needs.
Even in our nation India, we have politicians on the left as well as right who keep the embers of communal dissent alive within different religious communities. They have taken advantage of the tumultuous history that scars the relationship of the religions that flourished in the country for thousands of years.
The most exploited one being the Hindu-Muslim issues. The Gujarat riots, Kashmir issue, Babri Masjid case, etc. are some of the incidents that show the gruesome levels of low such leaders could take religion to. In all these examples, religion is only a surface tag used to mask the real immoral intentions that the nefarious leaders harbour.
Real religion never teaches any individual to kill anybody in its name. It treats the whole world as one single entity working harmoniously. The truth is being restructured to suit our rulers’ perspective and is being fed to us under the guise of religion.
And with the monetary attraction that they provide to a common man, his needs easily succumb to the state of ignorance which makes him oblivious of the true wisdom that religions hold within themselves.
What is true religion?
Many scholars, historians and academicians have tried to give a constant definition to religion, yet all of them have failed to agree upon a certain definition of the term.
Earliest of the scholars derived religion from the term ‘religio’ in Latin, which is generally defined as “respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods, sense of right, moral obligation, sanctity or obligation that forms a bond between man and the gods”.
This ancient definition was influenced by many Central European ideologies, most importantly, the Greek school of philosophy. For Indic religions, we define Dharma as moral law. It is used as a literal translation of religion in Hindi and Sanskrit.
Classically, religion has been used synonymous with everything that has to do with divinity. Sociologist Émile Durkheim, in his seminal book The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, defined religion as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things”.
Psychologist William James defined religion as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine”.
When religion is seen in terms of such sacred, divine, intensive valuing, or ultimate concern, then it is possible to understand why scientific findings and philosophical criticisms do not necessarily disturb its adherents.
As per the modern western concept, religion is a term which is hard to define and holds no solid exposition. The MacMillan Encyclopaedia of Religions states- The very attempt to define religion, to find some distinctive or possibly unique essence or set of qualities that distinguish the religious from the remainder of human life, is primarily a Western concern.
The attempt is a natural consequence of the Western speculative, intellectualistic, and scientific disposition. This holds true since the attempts to define religion were made mostly by the scholars of the western countries as they started to come in contact with non-Abrahamic religions which were dominant in the eastern countries and brought in the concept of existence of multitude of religions across the globe.
Even in the present times, every other individual is coming up with a few set of principles and a bunch of followers to proclaim the foundation of a new religion. Religions have been set up from time to time keeping in mind the mentality of the society during the different time periods in which they established.
Adherents.com, an independent organisation which keeps updating the statistics of religion had stated that as of 2012, there are 4,200 religions that exist on the face of the planet. Another study by University of Michigan suggests that the world is a home to around 10,000 distinct religions.
While a good majority of them are divergent from the ancient religions, the others have sprouted as original ideas converted into a way of life which took the name of religion. 84% of the global populace follow one of the five largest religions namely- Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or forms of folk religion.
With such high numbers, a question might arise- what do you actually mean by religion and what is true religion? Ordinarily, when the word ‘religion’ comes to the mind of an average human, he starts to relate it to spiritual or holy elements.
They might also think of divine rituals, prayers, sermons, sacrifices, festivals, feasts, meditation and many more such things that invoke the idea of existence of some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life.
They are provided in the form of sacred texts and scriptures or some holy symbol or place of worship or pilgrimage. While every religion does not have all of the mentioned traits, they do possess some of them that elevate them to the divine or spiritual connection which has, in modern times become a key feature of all the religions that are being followed around the world.
The simple truth that underlies the foundation of each religion is to give a meaning to our lives. As mentioned earlier, every religion seeks to shape its follower’s character. Without religion, the soul gives rise to ego which creates a void in our heart.
True religion is one which helps fill this void and reinforces a man’s will to live and be of service to society and its components. The sense of fulfilment inside one’s heart demolishes the feeling of being superior to other people.
If a religion is successful in helping an individual rid him from the ego and free him from being a salve to his mind, then it has, in essence accomplished its goal.
A person, who practices religion, yet holds on to his ego, will never experience or comprehend true form of the religion. Additionally, he might become influenced by his ego and misunderstand the teachings of the religion he follows, can further worsen the situation.
Early eastern civilisations and kingdoms never attempted to give religion a definition more than describing it as ‘a way of life’. For them, it was nothing more than a set of rules that were meant to be followed to understand themselves, their world and assign unto them their role in the society such that everyone was able to peacefully coexist.
But these set of rules were taken more seriously due to the fact that it was the most efficient check upon their desires which could have brought upon them conflict. Religion was seen as a counter to end all the suffering in the world and teach the society the art of living. In the end, that is what true religion tries to achieve.
As long as people turn a blind eye towards the real meaning of religion, they can never escape the cycle of misery that they have been forced into unbeknownst to them. We should understand that true religion promotes inner peace.
It is the most indispensible trait that is required for humans to maintain a healthy relationship with their fellow living beings and ecosystem. We should look at it as the light of wisdom which outshines the burning red flames of war and ignorance and help us overpower our egos and defeat the evil inside.
As stated in earlier, a knife can be used to kill as well as cure. It is upon the person who uses it. Religion is the knife here. The ones who use it to create war and unrest amongst the people, cut the ethereal thread that tether us humans together with each other.
While the ones who use it to promote peace and stability and propagate wisdom amongst the common, help the humans severe their ties from their evil desires and live a virtuous life. Wealth, money, academic power, scientific discovery, religion, philosophy, they are all like that knife.
If we have the proper character – which is the purpose of religion, to develop that humility, that compassion – if we have that proper character, all these things, including religion, can save people’s lives, can give people such life through love, through compassion.