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Man And Religion

Man And Religion

Author: Swami Sandarshanananda
Publication: The Statesman
Date: November 28, 2001

Introduction: Fault Lies With Purveyors

"War begins at heart". Unless the heart is cleansed of evil, hostility will persist. It is now a crisis of rationality. Man is rational only when he is spiritual. What is being taught in the name of religion today is pure and simple barbarism. The significance of religion in human life is irrevocable. But it is not the same religion which provokes so-called jihad or "crusade" or dharma-yuddha. If these battles are to be waged at all, they should be against one's own self. It is a sincere attempt at self-purification - a perpetual introspective struggle. It is a science which purges man of his beastly inclinations.

Religion without spirituality is a mockery. When earnestly practised, it endows man with a comprehensive awareness of the oneness of being. As a result, he becomes non-violent. In hurting others he hurts himself. In this sense religion is universal and its values are independent of colour, clime or creed. Anybody anywhere in the world imbibing its spirit is a world citizen. Paradoxically, religion does not prescribe any objective means by which all people of all nations can achieve that goal. It allows every aspirant to choose a subjective method suited to himself, taking into consideration his individuality. And its purpose is likely to be fulfilled while each person has a faith of his own bound to the same religious goal.


What is gained personally is not lost collectively. A spiritually enlightened soul communicates goodness. So his appearance in society has a telling effect. He exerts an inexorable influence over everything man does.

For example, Buddha initiated a process of transformation that worked for centuries; it changed innumerable men and women. Qualities like mercy, forgiveness, fellow feeling, affection for others were conspicuous in his character. Undergoing a change of heart, he established himself as one of the noblest rulers of the world. He transmuted his imperial ambitions into ethical duties. Though an avid Buddhist, he was by no means a narrow believer. He provided patronage to honest followers of other faiths also.

Now the earth is full of weaklings. People who are brave and religious like Ashoka are not available now. Power and possession have become prime players in the field of international relations. In the circumstances, man's conscience is required to be given a severe shock. He must be awakened to a divine dignity. Politics is too polluted; the dirt it has accumulated in the recent past has buried the good it could deliver.

Swami Vivekananda says truth does not pay homage to any society; it is the society which has to pay homage to truth or die. This is the only lesson man has to learn from history. Many civilisations have come and gone but a few still remain because their inhabitants are by and large religious. Every civilisation has to draw vitality from truth.

Science and technology in modern times have proved to be retrograde compared to the sense of values in the medieval period. Life is now suffused with competition and cynicism which are conducive to intolerance. This was quite discernible to Swamiji when he went to the USA to attend the Parliament of Religions in 1893. This parliament was held in connection with the celebrations of the material advancement made by mankind since the discovery of America by Columbus. Swamiji observed that leaders of different religious faiths congregated at the parliament were not able to see eye to eye with each other. Prejudice and profligacy alienated one from the other.


Accordingly, Swamiji says in his very opening speech there: "Sectarianism, bigotry and its horrible descendant fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal".

In the concluding session of the Parliament of Religions he points out that unity of mankind will not come by the triumph of any one of the faiths and the destruction of others. He dishes out a pragmatic solution in order to diminish all sorts of inter-faith discriminations.

He exhorts: "The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth".

With unwavering conviction he finally proclaims in the same speech: "If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of exalted character. In the face of this evidence if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart".

There was no one who could speak the truth in such unequivocal terms. For a genuinely religious person such as he, any superficial distinction dividing man from man can be resolved by a process of harmonisation.


To him non-dualistic realisation is the last word of religion. And if ever any religion approaches "practical non-dualism, looks upon and behaves to all mankind as one's own soul", which practises this equality in an appreciable manner, it is Islam and Islam alone.

Swamiji later says, "Therefore I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of vedantism, however fine and wonderful they may be, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind. We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of The Religion, which is oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best".

Vivekananda was able to rise above all kinds of parochialism. He placed man on top of all problems and dealt with him with sympathy. Like a divine physician, as he was determined to detect the cause of human suffering. He strikes the root of all ills. He has blazed the trail and we have to tread in his footsteps. Religion is not at fault. It is the purveyors of religions who are at fault and deserve bitter condemnation.

(The author is associated with the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan.)

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