Lecture delivered at Muttra
Religion, (as is manifest from the derivation of the term re, back, ligare, to bind), is that which binds one back to the origin or fountain-head.
What is the origin or source? What is it at whose decree as it were the mind thinks, the eyes see, and nature lives?
That which cannot be perceived by the mind, the eyes, and other organs of sense, but makes the mind, the eyes, etc., speed to their work is Brahman. Brahman cannot be the object of perception or thought. Mind and speech turn back from it in dismay.
A pair of tongs can catch almost anything else, but how can it turn back and grasp the very fingers which hold it? So the mind or intellect can in no wise be expected to know the great Unknowable which is its very source.
Religion, then, as distinguished from Theology and also divested of its dogmatic excrescences, is essentially a mysterious process by which the mind or intellect reaches back and loses itself in the inscrutable source, the Great Beyond.
The devout Christian or pious Musalman when offering prayers holds his hands aloft, unconsciously pointing out that it is the Above, the Beyond, the Incomprehensible, which he is striving to approach. The Hindu, immersed in Bhakti or lost in Samadhi, gets his eyes naturally shut, which clearly indicates that it is the Within, the Invisible, the Beyond, in which his mind or intellect is being merged.
Not “a religion” but “the religion” which is the soul of Islam, Hinduism, or Christianity is, strictly speaking, that indescribable realization of the Unknowable, where all distinctions of caste, colour, and creed, all dogmas and theories, the body and mind, time, space and causality, together with all that is contained therein, this world and all other imaginable worlds are washed clean off into what no words can reach. Is it mystifying? Not at all.
Let any person of real religious experience refer to his moment of what is called communion and assert whether any idea of God, not to say of himself or the world, subsists there. In true realization there is no meum and tuum, no trace of subject and object.
Any systematic attempt leading to the goal above pointed out is religions.
It may be asked what is the need of aiming at such a mystical end. Before answering this question let us examine in what way the chief ideals and objects of attraction for man – knowledge, heroism, love and pleasure – are commonly reached.
1. Knowledge is commonly understood to be the amount of information acquired through outside means such as books or teachers; and a man is taken to be of scholarly attainments if he has stuffed his brain with learned classics that have had their day. It is true that the achievements of the past should not be discarded and are worth a careful study; but true Education (e, out, duco, I draw) begins only when a man turns from all external aids to the Infinity Within and becomes as it were a natural source of original knowledge or a spring of brand new ideas. Newton and other apostles of truth pour forth useful discoveries. Who taught them? From what books did they learn all that which superseded all foregone researches? Certainly, the education of the benefactors of mankind consisted in unconsciously approaching that Real Self by which alone all that is unheard-of is heard, all unknown is known, all unthought-of is thought. Light shines out through one when his mind is concentrated, that is, when a man loses his little self, when his body, mind, etc. disappear to him as it were and a state is reached where the world, the ego, and everything is merged in the Great Unknowable; it is then and then alone that truths descend in showers, discoveries crop up, knowledge begins to flow, and the secrets of Nature are unfolded. Thus all truths, discoveries, inventions, designs, theories and the like are the natural outcome of a kind of transcendental yoga or religion as above defined. The poet being once in that super-conscious state-sublime thoughts and noble ideas must proceed from him. The mathematician or philosopher has simply to abandon his (apparent) self, and wonderful solutions of the most intricate problems must occur to him. After a problem is solved or discovery made, the apparent ‘I‘ wants to get the credit for it, but this copyrighting or patenting ‘I‘, so long as it was making its existence felt, no discovery could be made; it was only when the ‘I‘ renounced itself and the idea of religion as above defined was released that success and knowledge began to well out.
2. Let us watch a hero in the battlefield. He is mad with super-abundance of power, thousands count nothing to him, his own body has no appearance of reality to him. He is no longer the body or mind and the world is no more existent, the spirits are up and every hair of his body is thundering out his immersion in the Great Beyond which lies at the back of the body, the mind, and the whole world. Thus, to the spectators, indomitable courage and heroic power are like lightning Hash of the Unknowable into the phenomenal world; but in regard to the subject himself undaunted Bravery is unconsciously no more than religion, that is, absorption in the Power behind the screens.
3. How beloved is the word love. Everybody must have a lover, as the saying goes. To the pure Hindu in some instances love (Bhakti) is the only desideratum. There are some noble souls who gladly sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of divine love. Let us try to discover the fountain head of love.
The ideal Bhaktas like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu or Bunyan are distinguished for their unusual trance or raptures of prayers; and it goes without saying that divine love raised in intensity to such a pitch means transcending all ideas of shame, conformity, or the world and exemption from the bondage of little self. Even those who have been blessed with an experience of love directed towards lower objects, will testify to the apparent paradox that highest lore transcends the idea of beloved and lover. Thus undeniably is love identical with religion in the above sense.
4. The very word ecstasy (e, out, and sto, stand) shows that HAPPINESS, no matter under what conditions or circumstances experienced, is nothing different from standing, so to say, outside the body, mind, and world. Referring to one’s own experience any person can see the oneness of happiness with freedom, though temporary, from all duality. The longed-for object and the wooing subject welding into one constitute joy. Thus manifestly the very nature of happiness is religion. These observations clearly prove that all the noble and desirable ends of life are reached only when the intellect and along with it the whole of objective world melt into the Unknowable Beyond. But this is getting a dip into the Universal Essence just as one consults a dictionary or as a diver plunges into the ocean and with pearls comes out shortly.
Sensuous pleasures are in their essence strictly speaking religion, but the mode of realizing religion involved in them may be compared to getting a peep into the Darbar through the grating of a dirty gutter. They resemble a flash of lightning which though identical in its nature with broad daylight, does far more harm than good. Or, more appropriately, they are the stealing of fire from heaven like Prometheus.
Is it not possible to enter the blissful Darbar by a lawful portal? Cannot the midnight lightning flash be made continuous to become everlasting bright day? In an instinctive desire of that nature lies the necessity of religion in its ordinary sense. Strenuous struggle to that effect is worthwhile, and those who pooh-pooh the importance of religion are despite themselves engaged in suicidal efforts. All attempts of Philosophy or Science to pry into the Ineffable have failed helplessly. Time, space, and causality, contemplated either from the subjective or objective point of view, defy all efforts to discover their nature. The ultimate nature of Matter, Motion, Force, or Energy presents insurmountable difficulties to the inquiring mind. Atomic theory is beset with contradictions, Boscovich’s theory of Centres of Force, in the long run, fares no better. All the dogmatic theologies of the world have more or less of superstition stamped on their face. One system of philosophy explodes the other, the latter in its turn spares no pains to return the compliment. From this it is apparent that the interior of Nature will forever remain a mystery to the mind and that it is not given to human intellect to sound the depths of cosmos.
Then, should we give up all search into the Underlying Absolute, as a forlorn hope? Shall we devote our energy and power exclusively to practical discoveries and inventions like railways, telegraphs, and gunpowder? Even such toys bring no peace or rest. The very thirst for more and more that indispensably accompanies every new possession emphatically declares the vanity of earthly ambitions.
These considerations land us in utter despair. Despair not, say the Upanishads. The deep hope for rest is not to be frustrated. However obstinately we may shut our eyes to the Reality, in moments of happy isolation the query forces itself on us “Whence emanates all this phenomenon? Why am I? What do the earth and sky signify?”
The Veda says that tins ingrained question must necessarily find its solution, though not through philosophy, Science, or earthly love. The question itself being included in the anirvachaniya maya (insoluble riddle of the whole world) forms a part of the indescribable mystery it wants to unravel. As an eagle cannot outsoar the atmosphere in which he floats, so thoughts cannot transcend the sphere of limitation. So long as the questioner and the objects questioned about remain, the prison walls of maya are there, and there can be no rising above the appearances. The goal may be reached by special culture and when reached must dissolve altogether the question as well as the answer. Vedanta aims at this goal independently of the enslaving process connected with ordinary pleasures, ecstasy, love, and the like. Being lost in such vision one is the Brahman itself, unknowable to the mind or intellect. A man who gets even a glimpse of such realization stands above fear and anxiety. Unshakable strength of character in the necessary outcome of this realisation or religion.
Hence the desirability of Religion.
OM! OM!! OM!!!