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Religion of man

Religion of man

Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: December 25, 2002

Famous French writer and politician Andre Malraux once said that "unless the 21st century is spiritual, then it will not be". What he meant was that the world has now come to such a stage of unhappiness, of stress, of natural resources wastage, of religious and ethnic conflicts, that it seems doomed - ecologically, politically and socially.  So unless the 21st century allows a new spiritual order to take over - not a religious order, mind you (because religion has often proved too narrow and dogmatic) - then we are all going towards self-destruction, Pralaya. And the September 11, 2001, tragedy has reminded us that time is pressing and that we are desperately and badly in need of spiritual regeneration.

As the founder of the Art of Living Movement, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, says: "I see a crisis facing the world today. It is fundamentally one of identification. People identify themselves with limited characteristics such as gender, race, religion and nationality, forgetting their basic identity as part of the universal spirit. These limited identifications lead to conflict. There are wars happening throughout the world today in the name of religion."

What is the solution, then? I will quote again Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: "Every individual is much more than the sum of these limited identifications. The highest identification we can make is that we are part of Divinity, and second to that, we are human beings and members of the human family. In divine creation, the whole of the human race is united. Along with this proper identification of ourselves, the right vision of who we really are, we need to return to the values that are the essence of all major traditions. These shared values need to be reintroduced in society today."

What the world needs today is to find a third way, which is neither of capitalism, nor of communism. Communism has long collapsed all over the world. China pays only lip service to it and it is only in India, Kerala, or Bengal, that we see leaders and intellectuals believing in its virtues. Capitalism is not the answer to all the world's woes that the Americans think; with it comes a lot of inequality, selfishness, a disregard for the poorer sections of society and the forgetfulness of true spiritual values. It also engenders avarice and greed. No, what we are looking for now is a something we could call a "spiritualised socialism", as envisioned by India's revolutionary poet, philosopher and yogi, Sri Aurobindo.

A Hindu temple, a Christian church or a Muslim mosque, have no meaning unless they also act as social centres, helping the poor, giving away money, houses, imparting education and hygiene. Indeed the Art of Living foundation does just that with its volunteers going in thousands of villages all over the world and selflessly bringing Hygiene, Housing, Harmony and Human values. It is true that there are countless NGOs doing the same job wherever there is poverty and conflicts, but unless they pass on along with their material help some spiritual values, they are failing in their task.

How can the people of India contribute to this wonderful goal of spiritual regeneration and shared human values? Indians have always recognised unity in diversity through the concept of the avatar: God manifests himself at different times, in different countries and places , under so many different names.

Thus, they have always granted everybody the right to worship God under any form.

This is a very precious spiritual - not religious - knowledge, and which, even the most humble Hindu peasant spontaneously practices. Indeed, a recent report by the UNESCO pointed out that out of the 128 countries where Jews lived up to 1948, in only one country, India, they were not persecuted!

What India has therefore gifted to the world is not a religion but a living spirituality, of which we can even distinguish certain forms in the West at present: Hatha-yoga, copied and imitated by thousands of gymnastic and aerobic movements; meditation practiced by millions of Americans and Europeans, many of them Christians; or pranayama, which is taught by the Art of Living Foundation and can be practiced by anybody, whatever their nationality and religion. Indeed, for the past two decades, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has transformed the lives of millions of people around the globe with his Basic Course, a combination of simple yet extremely powerful breathing and relaxation techniques, that eliminate stress, handle negative emotions, improve health and help ordinary folks to enjoy life to its fullest.

But we can do much more than that: Let us all move away from political or religious ideologies to show our support for the revival of human values such as honoring one's own traditions while respecting diversity, compassion, non-violence and honoring the wisdom of age-old traditions. Let us also move away from the rites and rituals of religions.

As Sri Sri Ravi Shankar again says: "Religion has three aspects - value, ritual and symbol. The moral and spiritual values are common to all traditions. The symbols and practices, those rituals and customs that form a way of life within a religion, are what distinguish one tradition from another and give each their charm. The symbols and practices are like the banana skin, and the spiritual values - the quest for truth and knowing deep within us that we are part of divinity - are the banana. People in every tradition have thrown away the banana and are holding on to the skin."

May the 21st century herald then a new era in humanity, an era of accepting each other and understanding one another's culture. May the spiritual regeneration of the world begin now. Let India show the way, by throwing away the banana skin and holding on to the banana only.

(Francois Gautier on India and the spiritual regeneration of the world)

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