What Is Religion?

Religion is a privilege of man and not an instinct of the animals. To the animal, life is one round of eating, sleeping and mating. Man, even when he has food, shelter, clothing and recreation does not feel satisfied. He yearns to seek for a greater purpose in life. So long as he has not these minimum necessities of life— food, shelter, clothing and recreation—his entire per¬sonality strives for them. But once these are satisfied, he sits back as it were, to listen to the muffled voice of enquiry from within.
These questionings and innermost cravings of the soul come only to a full-grown man. I mean even among the bipeds we can recognize the animals; we have among us tigers, wolves, deer, serpents, scorpions, etc. Such men who are lowly evolved fail to listen to the doubts and despairs of the soul-quest from within. Having no such inner voice-less-woe, they need no remedy.
But to one who has evolved himself into a full-grown man, such cravings of the soul, flood his being and push him incessantly towards the limit of his understandings and feelings. In the unrest of the soul he comes to despair at the wonder and the majesty of the most intimate fact with him—Life. The questions he asks himself are: Where did I come from? Where do I go? Why have I come? Is life an empty and meaningless incident? Has life a purpose? Is there a mission in life?

Only a full-grown man, who has lived his days’ experiences intelligently and has throughout kept an alert critical attention upon the incidents of life, can attain an inner maturity in which he comes to feel the “soul’s unrest”. Religion is addressed to such an indivi¬dual. Religion explains, assures and guides him. It lends a purpose to his day to day existence, far more divine and nobler than mere eating, drinking, sleeping, laughing and weeping.

Every true religion contains two important limbs: (i) the ritualistic injunctions and (ii) philosophical sugges¬tions. The former alone is accepted generally as religion by many of us, but a religion (rituals, formalities etc.) without philosophy is superstition, and philosophy with¬out religion is barren. Both must go hand in hand. Philosophy reinforces the external practices of rituals and formalities and blesses them with a purpose and an aim. Together they bring out the full significance of religion.

Religion in its full significance has for its content a vivid discussion upon the goal of life and its nature. It is also a description of an elaborate system of spiritual practices by pursuing which men of all degrees can start, from their present stations in evolution, on a pilgrimage to the goal held out.

Vedanta deals vividly and elaborately with Truth. Its discussions, based upon the intimate and personal experiences of the seers, bring us to the conclusion that the supreme is the man himself and that man, by remov¬ing certain of his misunderstandings about his own identity; can succeed in recognizing himself as the eternal all-pervading truth. All true religions bring to the despairing man, struggling against his own bondages and limitations in life, the comfort and solace that he so badly needs.

The remedy is simple. We have only to turn inward. As it is, our entire attention is focused on the external material world and we seek there joy and peace. Naturally we miss them. The finite external objects cannot, by their very nature, yield for us our demand which is in fact eternal joy—a blissful satisfaction that shall be forever with us. Such a complete Ananda or Santi cannot be had out there. They can be had only in here—within each individual. “Turn within! Right about turn and you are face to face with what you are seeking”, is the saintly advice unanimously voiced forth by all the great religions of the world.

The external world of sense-objects has no real joy content. It seems to give us now and then a little joy; but this very sweetness soon gets putrefied to sourness and bitterness. In everyone’s experience all circums¬tances have in themselves an atmosphere of sorrow.

Religion promises no magical changes in the nature of the sense-objects or in the pattern of their arrange¬ments under various circumstances. The world will remain the same and the nature of the circumstances will continue to function according to the eternal law. Religion enables the faithful only to face life with a greater liveliness, and lends a psychological balance and a spiritual poise to the individual.

Understanding the real function of religion and the secret scheme of its blessings, we can approach it with the certainty of gain. What greater gift can we expect of any institution than a hearty presentation of the Philosopher’s Stone, which by its touch can convert all sorrows into joy, all failures into success and losses into gains ?,. A truly devoted heart does not go mad with power, become boastful of success, commit suicide at failures, murder in anger, suffer in jealousy, grow arrogant in wealth and despair in poverty. Under all conditions he is un-agitated. His heart is an ocean of peace, rest and joy.
Such a one amongst us mortals is a God man. He is a saint, a mahatma, a prophet. Such were all our great masters and such are all true men of religion. Religion promises us a world peopled with a generation of Sri Ramakrishnas, Vivekanandas, Shankaras, Buddhas, Christs and Mohamads. What more do we need?