? How relatively disproportionate were such hundreds when compared with the millions of his contemporaries!
Who that reads these divine proclamations of a Jesus, these inexorably logical analyses of a Gautama, can fail to recognize that he is in the presence of uncompromising sincerity and unbending truth?
Old or new religions which have been established and organized soon lose much of their moral force, to the extent that their teachings become stale through excessive repetition and their tenets become meaningless through constant familiarity. This is why they must produce inspired preachers among themselves or, failing to do so, give way to inspired prophets who can restate the Message in fresh terms.
No one has been in the past the only recipient of divine illumination, and no one is so today.
Buddha knew, Jesus knew, that what was true for himself was true for all other men.
Revelation must precede redemption.
It is to be expected that primitive people in most parts of the world are more easily impressed by rituals and ceremonials than educated intellectuals are. They will more readily follow a religious preacher if he shows miracles. Whatever he then tells or teaches them receives assent and evokes faith more quickly. Even the masses of the modern industrialized world, fractionally educated as they mostly are, will to a lesser extent show the same psychological reaction. Even if he only promises a miracle but never shows one, a following will still gather around him and linger on for years, sometimes even imagining that something magical has happened: it will not be long before their invention will pass into history for the benefit of later generations! Philosophers, not desiring to impress anyone nor to acquire a following, do not generally attempt to produce a miracle, even if they might have developed some unusual powers.
Not a single word was ever written by Jesus. And yet others collected his spoken words and wrote them down for us. The same is true of Gautama the Buddha.
He "inquired of the Lord and was given the answer that any man who forbids the use of meat is not ordained of the Lord." This happened when he, the founder of a religion, was asked by a follower to adopt vegetarianism. So is human opinion delivered as God's command and human activity taken for divine working.
A contemporary prophet, Antonio di Nunzio, wrote: "We are only advocates of our Father, God."
Is it not worth noting that among those who left their spiritual mark on mankind it is the young rebels who are foremost? Both Buddha and Jesus broke with their traditions.
He feels sincerely that he has been entrusted with a revelation, that he has a message to deliver which is valuable and important to thousands of people, and that the task of delivering it is an exalted service, a holy privilege that needs no other reward than the moral satisfaction it brings him. Nor will it make any difference if there be only one man to listen to him during his own lifetime. The need to bear witness has become a matter of inexorable conscience. The result of bearing witness, whether it be worldly honour or worldly persecution, is a matter to which his ego has become emotionally indifferent.
Jesus and Buddha tried to purify great religions from the selfishness and sinfulness and commercialism which had destroyed so much of their value to humanity.
The message which a prophet gives to his own generation will usually hold elements of value to those of all other generations.
Wisdom did not stop appearing among men with any particular century for the simple reason that men did not stop appearing. Nor was it confined to any particular land. Despite that, it is correct to say there were certain great periods when it flourished most and widest. These can be found across the world and across time.
It might be too much to ask for an angelic or other transcendental contact, but something visible in space and present in time, some human being who is aware of his link with divinity, would--if he were to make himself known, or to be discovered--be one of the rarest of persons.
We do right to turn worthy traits of the character or mystical grades of the achievement of such a man into an ideal to follow. But we do wrong to turn his whole personality into an idol to worship.
To mistake the bearer of God's message for God is to fall into idolatry.
Such a man, although not a God, is still superior to all other men. For he was born to serve the highest purpose and fulfil the divinest mission.
It would be a mistake in philosophy or mysticism to glorify men instead of truths, but it would not be so in religion.
Purpose of popular (mass) religion
Those whose feeling is moved and whose mind is impressed by the beauty, antiquity, mystery, and dignity of religious ceremonial must find here their proper path.
Religion is the earliest, the easiest, the least-demanding response of the masses to the inner call.
Where there is no particular yearning for truth, no particular willingness to work on oneself, to practise discipline, and especially to learn to stand aside from the ego--which refers to the multitude of people--religion provides ideas and goals that can more easily be accepted and followed.
All popular religions are intended to help the larger number of people who are not ready for the deeper truth of mysticism, let alone the still deeper truths of Philosophy.
Those who do violence to their reason by finally accepting the dogmas of a religious authority because they have become intellectually tired, unable to arrive at firm conclusions, do so because they feel the need of some Power to lean against, to depend on, to check the activity of their own brain. This authority provides what they need, if only because it claims to represent the Higher Power.
Religions offer a medium for reaching the masses, who might otherwise be left by the wayside--untutored in higher values, unaware of the idea of God, the very basis of their being, unable to draw on it as the associated source of peace, comfort, healing, and hope.
The millions who are wrapped up from the first moment of awakening until sleepfall in their small affairs, who do not know any kind of life other than the personal ego's, need help as well as the questers. It is religion's business to give this help.
Most people, and certainly most uneducated people, have not developed the capacity for metaphysical thought or psychic exploration. They cannot mentally deal with invisible realities. They need the simplicities and personalizations of religion, its forms which can be seen or touched or pictured rather than abstract principles, its music which can be heard, and its rites which can be shared. They are necessarily concerned with the little matters of domestic and working life, not with the larger issues requiring leisure, interest, patience, and aspiration beyond the personal self.
Philosophy agrees that the bulk of mankind must be furnished with a religion and that religious doctrine must be simplified for their benefit into a few comprehensible dogmas. It is consequently a necessity for human nature at its present evolutionary stage that organized religions should take on a dogmatic character and a creedal form.
Whereas philosophy can be brought only to the few qualified to receive it, religion can be brought to a whole people--nay, to the whole of mankind.
Sacrament and symbol, rite and image belong to forms of worship intended chiefly for the populace, being outward and touchable.
Sorrow-laden men and disappointed women are as much entitled to the services of philosophy as those who are happier and more successful. But religion is more suited to afford them emotional solace, just as they are more likely to seek it in religion.
They are too much absorbed by the toil for existence and by the few pleasures that enable them to relax from this toil, to trouble themselves about the higher meaning of that existence. Nor do they possess the means--intuitional or intellectual--of solving the problems connected with the search for such a meaning.
Those who can give complete faith to childish dogmas, who can thrust all reason aside and throw themselves blindfolded into the arms of the religious organization sponsoring such dogmas, may certainly find a full peace of mind by doing so. They are persons who have either too little intellect or too much.
The masses would not listen to the truth because they could not comprehend the truth. It is practical wisdom to let them keep their myth.
The subtle metaphysical truths may be unintelligible to untutored minds whereas the simple religious ones may gain quick belief.
It is inevitable too that the poorer and unsuccessful classes should need and seek the consolations of religion much more than the wealthy or successful ones. Despite all the truth and nonsense talked about this matter, it is a fact that the latter are more contented than the former. Their spiritual yearnings are less urgent and less strong, whereas the others have to find internal or over-worldly compensations for their external and this-worldly frustrations.
The general mass of people cannot help but stop short of the more developed forms which spiritual seeking takes. Their inward receptivity and outward circumstances usually fix limits for them. Orthodox religion operates within these limits.
It is better that people should take a few steps along the Quest than none at all, better that they should rise to their higher manhood than remain in its animal phase only. Therefore mass religion--popular religion--was first created. It was better to have churches and priests so as to remind the people periodically of their religion than none at all; it was better that some priests should be allowed to marry, and others should undertake not to marry, so that both kinds could be helped. All these stages are merely provisional, for the time being, and as the lay folk and the priests progress, they can undertake further commitments.
Most of the religious lawgivers--but not all--were also social hygienists, like Moses and Manu. For the multitude, born to be followers, such instruction by advanced individuals was necessary.
The poor, having little, come to religion for relief from their burdensome lives; the rich, having satiated themselves, come to it out of curiosity about its mystery.
Religion must be simple in form and doctrine because it has to appeal to the unthinking masses. Alone, it is not enough to guarantee the advancement of man. It needs psychology also.
If men feel the need of formal religion let them have it. Let them have their churches and temples, attend their masses or mutter their creeds. But let them also be told of what is beyond these things.
The popular religion is usually an adjustment to the popular mentality. It is not for searchers after absolute truth. The planet is not peopled by the few searchers but by the multitude.
The religious viewpoint is excellent for those who cannot rise to a higher one. Like love and art it provides them with one of their supreme emotional experiences. It brings them a faith in God, hope for and love among themselves. The moral restraints which religion provides for the masses are its practical contribution to social and individual welfare, while its provision of ethical standards to limit the baser actions of men would alone justify its existence. So far as any religion succeeds in imposing moral restraint upon millions of ignorant and simple people and prevents wholesale crime among them, it succeeds in justifying its existence. But of course that is not the primary purpose of religion. It is only one-third part of that primary purpose. Therefore, we may accept the fact that great contributions to human welfare have been made by traditional religion while denying its claims to act as sole intermediary with God, as well as its exaggerated promises and apparently profound assertions which turn out to be the wildest guesses. Asseveration is hardly a suitable substitute for proof.
The assertion that religion has failed was often heard in World War I and sometimes heard in World War II. But the fact is that real religion has never failed and never could fail. What have failed are the false ideas and foolish dogmas, the caricatures of God that have got mixed up with what is true in religion. And not less than these, the ecclesiastical hierarchies themselves have failed, sacrificing the proper mission of religion for the selfish preservation of their institution, privilege, power, and income.
Until about the turn of the previous century, the truth about religion was never published frankly and plainly. This was because those who wrote about it were either one-sidedly biased in its favour and so refused to see the undesirable aspects, or else they were hostile in their personal standpoint which stopped them from mentioning the deeper merits. Those who really knew what religion was in theory and practice, what were its goods and bads, kept silent. This was because they did not wish to disturb the established faith of the simple masses or else because the latter, being uneducated, were unprepared to receive subtleties which required sufficient mental development to comprehend.(P)
Is it strange or is it reasonable that among every people on this planet the idea of this higher power has existed in every epoch? Whence did this idea come? To answer that priests implanted it in simple mentalities for their own selfish benefit does not answer the question but only puts it farther back. Who implanted it into the minds of the priests? No--it is one of those concepts which are absolutely necessary to human existence, whether it takes the most superstitious form or the most developed one. Its absences have always been temporary because their causes can only be temporary.
Judge the degree of a faith by its power to make men sacrifice their attachments, whether to things or habits--which is the same as its power to make them sacrifice themselves.
Behind the cruellest persecutions of misguided religious organizations and the worst impostures of faithless ones, there hides that which transcends all rituals, dogmas, priests, morality, persecution, and impostures. There is something higher than man in this cosmos. Religion is historically the most widespread way in which he marks his relation to this higher Power.
Whether it be a religion of impressive ceremonial and organized priesthood, or one of utter simplicity and without intermediaries, it will serve men only to the extent that it helps each individual follower to come closer to the Overself.
The following of moral principles is evidence of having reached a higher evolutionary stage than that of worshipping human leaders. Yet neither faith alone nor morality alone can constitute a religion. It is not enough to believe sincerely in the existence of a higher power. It is not enough to practise righteousness. The two must combine and co-operate if man is to live what may truly be called a religious life. For he is here both to exalt his consciousness above material things and to abase the selfishness of his conduct. A religion which does not inspire him to follow this twofold aim is only a half-religion. This is why a merely ethical humanitarianism can never by itself take the place of any divinely inspired religion.
Sceptics, whose spiritual intuition lies dormant, whose religious veneration remains inactivated, are sometimes willing to concede that religious ethics may keep mankind's wickedness within certain bounds, preventing it from being worse than it is, and may be useful for social purposes by providing charities, medical service, educational help. In short, they make religion's purpose more concerned with the community than with the individual. But this is quite imperceptive. It misses the central message of every scripture, that man must establish some sort of a connection with his Maker, be it the blindest faith or the most mystical communion. His is the responsibility to do so; it is a personal matter: for even if he attends church, participates in sacraments, listens to sermons, or accepts an imposed dogma, he has unwittingly given his own sanction to the transaction, pronounced his own judgement upon it. The accepted morality or service merely follows from this.
Some kind of worthy religious belief is indispensable to the true well-being of a nation. Without it existence is still possible, but it will be an existence morally flawed to an extent that will in the end, through vice, crime, and selfishness, endanger the nation.
The rigours of ego-crushing must be mitigated, the truths of mentalism must be diluted, if the multitude is to be reached. This is why popular religions are born.
The multitude need to be consoled and comforted: they need celestial messages of hope, the promise of help. The bare truth is too harsh on the ego, too impersonal to be welcome.
In days of anguish men turn to something, someone, some belief, or some idea to help endure them.
In the moment of his greatest trial, in the hour of his greatest danger, man looks to the Infinite for his last resource as a babe looks to its mother.
We have only to read recent or distant history to see how foolish it would be to expect the average person to accept the ethical ideals of philosophy, let alone live up to them. This is why some sort of accommodation must be made towards his moral limitations by giving him a code which he can accept and to some extent try to live up to. Here is the usefulness of popular religions which do contain such codes.
If everything was not told to the masses, it was largely because everything would not be acceptable to the masses, or "the simple ones," as Origen, a Church Father himself, called them. Or it was too metaphysical for them, as the history of Alexandria, with its violent riots against the schools of Philosophy, showed. Origen staunchly included reincarnation and meatless diet in his teachings there, but how far has either of these two been taken hold of by the masses then or since?
For most people the history of our time has put a strain upon belief--not the belief that a higher power exists, but that it protects man against his own viciousness. It helps a little at weakening moments to turn to the seers, prophets, and illumined poets to regain some strength.
There are many people to whom the ceremonies, the Masses, and the symbols of their religion mean life itself. By these things they are sustained to bear the troubles of human existence or are inspired to rise above them.
Religious beliefs, metaphysical conclusions, and mystical experiences are good and necessary in themselves; but they are more valuable still as vehicles to instigate, in those who accept them, the practice of noble virtues.
The sincere acceptance of any religious or mystical belief is really one response to the human need of security. Such belief offers inner security, however vaguely, as a bank balance offers outer security, for it puts the believer into favourable relation with the all-pervading mind and force behind the Universe's life and consequently behind his personal life too.
The first social utility of religion is to curb the passions and instincts, the hatreds and greeds of the multitude.
Even the worship of an imagined God is not all waste of energy. The good in it develops the worshipper himself even when no useful result is directly developed in his life outside.
It is not a Church's business to meddle in politics. That is the business of other kinds of organizations which desire to make social reforms or economic changes or administrative betterments. A Church has to try to change men because that is where the roots of such troubles lie.
If no truth at all is given the masses, they are left defenseless as soon as any great calamity falls upon them and they dare not think about it.
Those malefactors who cannot be deterred from evil-doing by awe of the law and its penalties might yet be put in awe of the invisible powers and their post-mortem penalties. This was in the mind of those who in classical Greek and Roman times formulated worship of the gods. This was their pragmatic and practical conclusion whether they themselves personally believed or disbelieved in the gods' existence at all. Their inheritors among statesmen, priests, and leaders supported popular religion as good for the masses, even when their own education made them sceptical of it.
Such people could not be at home in philosophy and would soon find that it is not what they want at all. It is better that they should not experience the discomfort of trying to be. The consolations of religion will help them more.
Religion carries with it certain commandments and injunctions of a moral nature. Whoever accepts a particular religion theoretically accepts these obligations with it.
The moral restraints which religion imposes upon its believers are a social necessity. Religion cannot be injured without injuring those restraints. But when it is no longer able to impose them, it loses much of its social value.
After many years of propaganda work in Europe, Miss Lounsberry, Secretary of the "Friends of Buddhism Society" of Paris, had ruefully to confess (in the Maha Bodhi Journal in the middle of World War II): "How can we help now, how can we bring the truth forcibly to bear on men's minds? Surely not by just saying there is no God and no Soul? For God in the West means many things, among others an inherent justice, which is to us Buddhists--Karma." This confession based on experience justifies our own attitude that religion is needed in the sense that belief in a higher Being is needed.
Much as we may deplore the weaknesses and failures of religion, we have to admit that without it men abolish all ethical standards and begin to act like wild beasts.
Without the religious faith in a higher power, without the religious organizations, buildings, and bibles which keep up and channel this faith, the mass of people might have fallen into a dense materialism devoid of any moral content.
Let us be perfectly clear on the matter when its critics say that Christianity (or, equally, Buddhism or Hinduism) has failed. This noble teaching has never failed anyone who has tried to live up to it, but the organizations and institutions which have taken advantage of its name too often, only to betray it, have failed.
On diversity in religion
Truth needs to be expressed again and again, each time differently, because it must be expressed each time in the idiom of its period.
In its present half-developed state, human nature would soon turn universal religion into an instrument of tyrannous repression of all ideas not held by it and into an agency for totalitarian persecution of all exponents of such ideas. The healthy, free competition of sects and creeds tends to prevent this and to compel tolerance.
There is a teaching to meet the need of each type of mind. Because there is such a variety of types in the world, there is room for a variety of teachings. But this said, and in practising our tolerance, we need not blind ourselves to the fact that just as there is a progression of levels of quality among these minds, so there is among the teachings.
The differences between men will not vanish, although they may alter as time slowly alters the men themselves. Not only are no two individuals alike but they will never become alike. What is true of their bodies is also true of their minds. All attempts to bring about a uniformity of ideas, a sameness in thinking, in character, and in behaviour, are doomed to fail in the end. Such oneness, whether coerced or suggestioned, would be artificial and unnatural, boring and undesirable.
The unequal development of human minds and the wide variation in human temperaments render it as undesirable as it is impossible to impose a single universal religion upon all mankind to the exclusion of all others or to unify all these varieties of belief.
A contemporary Indian master, Sitaramdas Omkarnath, was invited to become one of the leaders in a movement organized to unify different religions and establish co-operation among them. In his reply he wrote: "I cannot even believe that a co-ordination of the sects may ever be practicable. The sacred texts differ and the views of their writers clash. They all contributed to the good of the world, but each in his own way. I do not understand how these vast and numerous differences may be reconciled. . . . My rules come from God. Will it be possible for me to conform to rules framed by you and your associates in the proposal for unification? This is of secondary value. What is wanted is direct vision of God."
There is no single approach which is the only true one, the only true religion. God is waiting at the end of all roads. But some suit us better than others.
Each man is strongly influenced by his inborn tendencies and past experiences, including pre-reincarnational ones, to remain in, or attach himself to, some particular form of spiritual approach. It will be one most suited to his moral, intellectual, and intuitive levels at the time.
So long as there is variety among human minds and feelings, so long will there be variety among human views. Groups, parties, sects, factions, and schisms will continue to appear in religion as in politics. Given enough time this is unavoidable but not reprehensible. If in one sense it hinders a beginner's search for truth and ideals, in another sense it helps by offering more choices.
There are no lost souls, no individuals doomed to everlasting perdition. Nor are there saved souls, a favoured group of God`s elect. There are only ignorant or well-informed individuals, immature or mature beings, unevolved or evolved persons.
Salvation is for all, the atheist and the devotee, the wicked and good, the ignorant and learned, the indifferent and earnest. It is only the time of its realization that is far off or near at hand but realization itself is certain. "Let no one of Thy boundless Grace despair"--thus Abu Said, an eleventh-century Persian mystic of high degree, holds out the prayerful hope to all men of their impending or eventual liberation. The New Testament parallels the Bhagavad Gita's promise of ultimate salvation for all, sinners and good alike. It says: "God willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth."--1 Tim. 2:4.
A religion which would gather into itself the common truths of all existing religions would be an artificial one. It might satisfy the academic intellects. It could not satisfy the intuitive hearts. Religion is real only when it is the spontaneous flowering of one man's communion with the Divine. All attempts to invent a synthetic universal religion based on doctrines common to the existing principal ones are merely academic and bound to end in sterile futility, if not failure. For every religion worth the name must issue forth from one man, one inspired prophet, who gives it life, spirit, reality.
We do not say that one faith is as good as another. We acknowledge that divisions in doctrine are significant of grades in development.
That form of religion which will suit one temperament will not necessarily suit another. What would benefit one man might not benefit another. There is no universal religion which could profitably be adopted by everyone. The belief that a single religious form will suit all the different peoples throughout the world is naïve and just the kind of mechanical doctrine likely to spring up in the minds of materialistic believers. Each type will have to find the form suited to its own special temperament and special mentality. Each will and ought to continue following the different spiritual path dictated by its particular evolutionary grade. All this said, there exist certain fundamental principles which are common to all the varying forms of religion. There still remains a certain minimum foundation upon which all these different forms rest because they have to fit both human needs and divine revelations.
Several years ago my much esteemed friend, Sir Francis Younghusband, asked me to join the Council of the World Congress of Faiths. I reluctantly refused to do so, because although I sympathized greatly with his noble motives in forming the Congress I could not help regarding such well-intentioned efforts as being unlikely to lead to any practical result. Tolerance between the members of different faiths is something greatly needed in the world today as much as it ever has been. However, I believe it is a purely personal matter which can only come with the development of individual character and not by any organized efforts as such. I am disinclined to give active support to the World Congress of Faiths and the Fellowship of Faiths partly because it will never be more than a drop in the ocean, so far as effectiveness is concerned, and partly because the old religions have had their chance and decayed. A mere mixture of such decaying religions will not renew their vitality or render them more serviceable to mankind. It is wiser for me to devote energies to a new faith, which will have the vigour of youthfulness and do something, than to support a stew of stale faiths.
Not only are there intellectual differences between people; there are also emotional and even aesthetic differences. Most are natural, some are developed. The preferences for bare cold services in one group are caused by personality traits as much as the preferences for ritualistic incense-filled services in another group. Why not accept their existence as we accept other divergences, other variations in nature or life? Why use them as reasons for contention and competition instead of friendship and co-operation?
Wherever we look in the four kingdoms of Nature, we find that she is perpetually striving to achieve diversity. She rejects and abhors a monotonous uniformity. And if we restrict our gaze to the human kingdom, we find that the differences in thought and the divergencies in feeling are the expressions not only of variations in evolutionary growth, but also of this innate striving of Nature herself.
We live in a world where every entity is formed as an individual one. Each is unique. If people have different ideas about the same thing, this is the inevitable result of the differences in their own capacities and perceptions. Why, then, should they not be themselves and therefore different?
It is useless to regret the unavoidable, to pine for the unattainable, and to strive for the undesirable. We should not waste time seeking for unity of thought or creating unity of outlook. These aims are unfeasible; these endeavours are impracticable. Even amongst the very proponents of unity, unity--whether of association or doctrine--has been non-existent. During the course of their short history, they have periodically separated themselves into factions under rival leaders. The ladder of incarnated life stretches all the way through progressively different levels of intelligence and character. It is to be expected, therefore, that there should be inequality, disagreement, and disunity. Men can arrive at the same views when they arrive at the same standpoint, when they all attain an identical level. But this is prevented from happening by the ever-active operations of re-embodiment which, by the special influences brought to bear upon particular groups and by evolution, which admits new entrants to the human kingdom and lets out old inhabitants, differentiate their various evolutionary stages, environments and conditions. A monotonous uniformity of thought and solidarity of aspiration--could they ever be obtained--would be signs of totalitarian compulsion, intellectual paralysis, or moral inactivity. They would not be a social advance, but a social calamity. What is the use of pursuing such an artificial ideal?
It is impossible for all the men and women in the world to think and feel alike. What is repugnantly intricate to one is fascinating and intriguing to another. Consequently it is impossible to persuade them to accept a single ideal, a single religion, a single metaphysic, or a single form of mysticism. This planet is not a nursing ground for the mass production of souls. Each human being represents a divine thought and is consequently working out a divine end. He may be a mere thought of God, but he is nevertheless an important thought to God. We are individuals and have each an individual purpose to fulfil even though the One abides in us all. It is better to be more realistic and less ambitious than to play Don Quixote and tilt at windmills.
The existence of so many sects, religions, creeds, and churches is to be traced not only to historical causes--such as rebellion against corruption--but also to psychological ones. Each corresponds to the moral level, mental quality, and intuitive refinement of its members generally.
Each man will understand religion in his own way, according to the grade of his intelligence and character. The more ways of approaching God that there are to be found among us, the more opportunity will there be for us to make this approach. A single way might suit one type, but will not suit others. With the offerings of several ways, these too are served. Let us therefore welcome variety and not try to destroy it.
The fact that so many different religious sects exist all around us indicates that where choice is free and personal, not reached under social pressure or by family tradition, response to truth shapes itself according to the capacity-level.
Salvation is as open to those who adhere to some church or sect as it is to those of no church at all.
A single teaching could suit persons at widely different degrees of advancement only by lowering its quality to suit the lowest degree. But it would then no longer be itself.
The anti-materialistic teaching will find more response if it suits the needs of the country, the people, and the epoch in which he lives.
A union of many religions is a naïve idea, but a tolerant attitude among many religions is an excellent one.
The different religions expressed different kinds of temperaments, and different sects within a single religion express different mentalities.
The Qualities of a man's character are much more important than the tenets of his formal creed.
The protagonists of a world federation of faiths or of a reunion of all Christian sects or of a federation of all rival theosophical societies do not grasp the fact that a marriage of two or more half-corpses cannot produce a living body.
The capacity to receive truth is variable from person to person; it is not present equally in all.
On choosing one's religion
In this area of religious belief there is, for most people with faith, mere obedience to tradition. Either they do what is correctly anticipated from them, or they do some original thinking for themselves. Thus their religious outlook depends either on surrender to circumstances and environment or on their intellectual capacity. The first group seeks comfort and ease; the second has begun, but only begun, the search for truth.
Real thought is rare. How few follow a religion because they have chosen it after independent investigation and reflection, how many slavishly refuse to examine it impartially only because it happens to be popular at the time and in the place where they are born or live! As if popularity were a test of truth!
Formal religion does not give enough satisfaction to large numbers of people. Yet open atheism leaves them without hope, in despair at the futility of individual life. Then there are large numbers of others who, unquestioning and complacent, do not trouble their heads beyond their personal and family selfish interests, who observe the forms of their inherited religion in a superficial conventional way and are inwardly unaffected by them.
I know that most men depend--and must depend--upon some religious revelation to which they were introduced by their family. In this way a higher faith was ready to hand from birth. But he who awakens to a still higher need, his own revelation, has the right to seek for it.
Most people have had no revelation, no vision, no soul-shaking inner experience. They must perforce accept the word of someone who has. But unless they are content to remain in the religious denomination acquired by heredity, not by the search for truth, they will be confronted by the difficulty of how to choose among teachers, preachers, and prophets who all contradict one another.
There is something radically wrong in rating men quantitatively instead of qualitatively. There is something grotesque in the spectacle of ill-informed conclusions and impulsive judgements on an equality with the broad-based conclusions and well-matured judgements of a trained intelligence and disciplined character. Therefore I do not believe in the fetish of counting the number of followers of a doctrine, and using its largeness as an indicator of its truth.
People who belong by birth or choice to any particular cult, religion, or group usually believe that theirs is the highest in theory and the best in practice. This belief usually becomes a mechanical one, so that mere membership in the organization tends to make for less endeavour to find God than if they were thrown on their own individual resources.
The irony is that in religion most people distrust the new, and underestimate the unorganized. They feel that in the old, the traditional, and the established religious group they can take hold of what is solid and firm, reliable and safe.
Although huge established organizations command respect and claim authority in religion there is a real need of detached independents in this same field.
Adherence to any religion may be either a personal convenience or a flaming conviction. It is reckoned enough to be labelled a member of some conventional orthodox and organized religious community to be regarded as having fulfilled religious duty. Because men measure human spirituality by human conformity, history mocks them and punishes their error with evils and crimes, with sordid happenings and brutal deeds. Whatever faith a man attaches himself to, outside the faith of his forefathers, will depend partly on his intellectual level and partly on his personal inclinations. If he is sincere, he will illustrate the difference between the social inheritance and profound conviction motives, as well as demonstrate the superiority of the conscious adoption of a faith after wide search and comparative examination over the mere inheritance of a faith after geographical accident or chance of birth. For the source and form of religious belief have usually been the parents of the believer. Men accept their faith from their fathers and never question it. Yet is what his forefathers happened to believe in religion a valid standard of what is true in religion? What shall it profit a man if he enters a religious building merely because his neighbours expect him to go, or if he takes part in a religious gathering for the same reason that soldiers take part in military drill? It is impossible for those held in creedal chains or organizational straitjackets to keep their judgement free and their thinking unconditional. A respect for the human personality cannot submit entirely to the extremism which would impose a rigid straitjacket of total authoritarianism. Indeed, a man is likely to be harmed by it. This happens as soon as he allows his leaders to imprison him in the tradition or enslave him in the institution. He is then no longer able to benefit by, and is instead robbed of, all the other knowledge or inspiration available outside the little space in which he is shut. The men of this era have to be led closer to the freedom of their higher self. No organization can do this because all organizations necessarily demand fealty and impose bondage.
There is a wide difference between people who come by their religion through inward private conviction and those who come by it through outward social convenience.
The self-deception into which the masses fall is to start their thought about religion with the presumption that it must necessarily be organized, institutionalized, traditional, and professionalized if it is to be genuine religion at all.
People are easily impressed by size, tradition, wealth, prestige. They are overawed by a "great" religion with many fine churches, a long past history, and a well-organized structure. They will follow such a religion even though its ministers are spiritually dead whereas they will not even look twice at a man who is shining with the Overself's light and permeated through and through with the consciousness of God's presence.
It is one thing to accept a religion through traditional authority and another to accept it through a search for truth.
What faith a man chooses for himself, if he goes so far as to reject his ancestral faith, is partly a matter of temperament, partly of past experience and present opportunity, partly of moral character and intellectual development.
The real trouble is that many mistake tradition for religion. When they can learn the profound difference between these two things, when they can appreciate that a social relic is not a spiritual force, they will become truly religious.
A worship which is daily, and not weekly, is required of him who is really religious.
Freedom from the limitations of membership in organized religion may be good but anchorage in its harbour is in another way also good. Each man decides for himself.
At some point down the line of being born by family into a particular religious persuasion, the first ancestor to have the courage--unless he was forced by ruling tyranny or bribed by social ambition--to become a convert must be applauded. He may have been mistaken, his mind weak enough to let itself be misguided, but he did have the faith that he was moving from an inferior religious form to a superior one.
It is he who has chosen to remain in the church into which he was brought by birth or to join the one which pleases him better. It is he who must answer for the decision, bear the responsibility. The institution has its own but that is separate.
Too often we meet men holding at the same time beliefs which are contradictory. This is mostly pertaining to their respect for science and their reliance on intellect in professional matters being kept from colliding with their religious dogmas and prejudices.
In most cases people stay with their inherited creed but in others they seek and find one which reflects their own inclinations, character, or limitations.
Where a religion is organized and codified, validated by long tradition, and spread by a large number of people, the question of its truth is not a pressing one to its followers.
To keep one's religious affiliation through heredity or habit but to live without daily reverence or active faith--this is not true religion; it is pseudo-religion. Yet this is precisely what conventional hypocrisy so lazily accepts.
The herd of men and women are so hypnotized by the prestige of an institution that they never stop to question the truth of the institution. This is why Jesus was persecuted and Socrates was poisoned.
The largest followings of religious groups belong to the least rational and least inspired ones. And the followers are there usually because their parents were there, not because they have thought their way into these groups.
A wide experience of men shows up the strange fact that they may be well-talented, brilliantly executive, or acute reasoners, yet their religious beliefs will often be kept in closed compartments, unaffected by their mental powers, undisturbed by their excellent judgement, and hence quite primitive and quite irrational.
Some men, all too many men, are as stupid in their religious belief and practice as they are clever in their business ideas and activity. If they were to manage their businesses in the same credulous unreasoning and superstitious way in which they follow their religion, they would go bankrupt.
Grading teaching to capacity
Why did primitive races bring a highly spiritual wisdom to rest on the same pillow as barbaric superstition? The question is easily answered by asserting "the need of grading teaching to capacity."
Instruction in religion and all other subjects must be adapted to the level of the learner, or time and energy will be wasted, while the desired result will not be obtained.
Let us not deny the need of so many millions for a personal relationship with their God merely because we have found truth and satisfaction in an impersonal one. Are they to have nothing to look up to because they are unable to stretch their minds into that rarefied atmosphere? Is it not better that they do the more essential thing and acknowledge the existence of a Higher Power rather than fail to worship It at all?
The first work of religion is to bring the highest mystical ideas within the reach of the lowest mental capacity. It does this by symbolizing the ideas or by turning them into myths.
Unless there is an equal level between the understanding of a student and the communication of a teacher, there can be no complete success in the teaching. Hence a competent teacher first puts himself en rapport with the mind of the student. It is because the sages did this that they found it necessary to set up personal gods, priestly guides, and organized sacred institutions for the benefit of the masses. But this must not be taken to mean that the sages themselves believed in such gods, revered such guides, honoured such churches, or regarded them as eternally useful or always necessary and their dogmas valid for all future ages.
The simple masses can understand better that there is a God who answers prayers or responds to ceremonial invocations than that God is impersonal and transcendent.
The physical and mental images of religion exist because men need, and must necessarily make, symbols of That which they cannot conceive directly.
Is it not better to give to those who are unable to comprehend that there is a divine reality--which is anyway beyond human grasp--a symbol which stands for it and which can be grasped by ordinary human faculty or human sense? At the least it will remind them of it, at the most it will help to lead them to acknowledge its factuality.
The mass of people who believe in a transcendent power seek for more than a symbol or form to express it. They seek also for a channel, an embodiment, something or someone seeable and touchable through which it can find an outlet.
Those who are unable to formulate any concept of the formless Power in which they are rooted, and therefore unable to worship it, must worship a man instead. Hence the saviours and gurus, their religions and scriptures, the churches and temples.
In religious myth and legend, in sacred ritual and ceremony, there are symbols and allegories which are useful for meeting the mass-mentality but which offer much more to the educated one.
The masses are susceptible to, and impressed by, the colourful pageantry of religious processions, religious symbols, and kindred outward suggestions which awaken pious feeling.
The man of developed reason will feel its need less, or even not at all, but the unevolved multitude is moved emotionally and impressed mentally by ceremony. It preserves tradition, satisfies gregariousness.
The fact is that orthodox religion is usually a compromise between the truth and the lie, a concession to human weakness to which the truth must be offered wrapped up in the lie.
It would be cruel to tell the uninstructed many that the God they worship exists only in their imagination and superstition. But it would be equally cruel to let them always remain as children and keep the truth from them.
He should be sparing with his ideas for spiritually elevating the masses. The first aim must be not to sail over people's heads into the clouds. Otherwise he becomes a mere dreamer, while nothing tangible is achieved. It is better to give the masses one ounce of idealism in a pound of realism, and thus ensure its being swallowed successfully, than to give them a full pound's worth and have it totally rejected. No doubt they are spiritually sick, but they must be treated with homeopathic doses where teaching is concerned. This approach illustrates one of the practical differences between mysticism and philosophy. Indeed, it is often possible to tell from the character of its practical proposals for dealing with a deplorable social problem or reforming an unsatisfactory public situation, how far any theory of life is true to the facts of life.
Just as young children are more influenced by the world of the five senses than by the conclusions of reason, so many whose adulthood is still largely physical rather than mental are more influenced by what they see, hear, and feel, rather than by reason or intuition. Such persons are far from being ready for philosophy and could never give assent to its teachings. They lack discrimination and are led by appearances. They are impressed by "signs," that is, physical miracles, cures, and demonstrations, as proof of God-given power. Few of them would be willing to forsake their ego-directed lives and take to the way of living which Jesus--in contradistinction from his Church--really preached. But all of them may make excellent followers of an inwardly devitalized mass religion.
If, in the past, the truth has been dressed up in ecclesiastical myths, that could not be helped. It was in the nature of things and in the nature of man. It was also in the conditions of communication in bygone ages when most men could neither read nor write. Symbols and fables were useful in the intellectual childhood of the race.
Religions which have invented myths to suit the mentality of the multitude, who put up symbols to which they can attach meanings, are behaving quite logically. But man cannot live by invention and symbolism alone. As he grows up, evolves, gets more educated, his need is for the Reality behind them.
Many of the Gods worshipped in ancient cultures--Western or Eastern--are simply states of being. They are not to be regarded as living personages but as symbols of that higher state of being. For the masses, their picture and form may represent a useful object of worship, since it is difficult to form abstract conceptions of such states. For us who study philosophy, they represent conditions superior to our present one and to whose attainment we should aspire.
The sage could not transmit his knowledge to the masses except by presenting a remote symbol of it, a picturesque reflection. But this caused it to lose its vivid immediacy and its personal actuality. Yet so only could religion be born.
The sages had to face the fact that the masses under their or their pupils' care were inferior in mentality to themselves, and that their knowledge of the significance of the universe could only be communicated effectively through the use of symbols, suggestions, and images rather than through plain statements of fact. Hence the whole content of folklore and religion was invested in those days with its sacred character not because of what it said but because of what it did not say.
Those who cling to tribal legends and magical rites as essentials of religion, who put them on the same level as theological affirmations and moral injunctions, have never understood religion.
We can hope to understand folklore, myth, early religion, and savage beliefs only when we understand that these are the first, faint foreshadowings of philosophic truth created for the benefit of primitive minds by better informed ones. The savage was taught to think in terms of what he could easily visualize; consequently, he was taught to see the invisible in the visible, to feel the presence of spirits (that is, shadowy human or animal forms) as lurking in trees in order to explain their growth and life, as escaping from dead bodies in order to explain that the dead man continued to survive, or gigantically sized and placed in the sky in order to explain the processes and movements of Nature. How else could the intelligent leader teach these ungrown minds the truths that the mind of a man did not die with his body, or that mind was forever producing thoughts of the universe? Thus, these primitive "superstitions" are semi-symbolical and they rest on a philosophical foundation.
Religion as we usually know it touches only the periphery of the spiritual life. It is truth brought to bed with mental incapacity. It is a presentation to the gross senses of man of what is by its very nature entirely supersensual. Its exposition is not only elementary and narrow but necessarily incomplete.
It is a sign of the primitive mentality to believe in the personal actuality of a purely mythical and symbolic figure. Yet such faith is not to be despised and rejected as valueless, since it is a fact that the imagination can take hold of such a personal and pictorial representation much more easily than it can of an impersonal and abstract concept.
The easiest way for religion to account for the various forces of nature and laws of the cosmos to simple minds was to personify them. When it came to the Supreme force and Supreme mind, it had to personify that too. Thus, its limited and human conception of God is easier for the masses to grasp than the higher and truer one.
The savage mind bases its religion on fear, the cultured mind on faith. This proves the position taken by philosophy, that there is an evolutionary movement in religious concepts as there is in social customs.
It cannot be said that these truths have been kept from the masses. Rather, the masses' own limitations have kept them from these truths.
Emerson's scorn of the "mummery" of Catholic pageants and processions which he saw in Italy is intellectually understandable but spiritually unwarranted. Such festival shows have this effect, that in the mentally unevolved masses they keep alive the remembrance of historic figures and values in their religion, while in the mentally evolved they provide satisfaction for aesthetic needs or symbolic ones. Whatever promotes a mood of reverence is to be welcomed.
The mentality which has not been developed to perceive anything beyond the touchable and seeable, which cannot itself comprehend the abstract and metaphysical, this--the mentality of the masses--has to receive a simpler form of spiritual food. For it there must be the more palatable and easier digested food of dogmatic religious revelation. If from the standpoint of the sage such a religious form is a concession to popular prejudice and kindergarten minds, it is not at all a hollow valueless concession. He will always regard it as most essential to the welfare of the world, provided it is kept within proper limits.
Primitive peoples feel and act in response to the feelings aroused in them. Civilized peoples behave in the same way but with this addition, that feeling now combines with immature reason and to that extent is controlled by it. This explains why it was easy for the leaders of early races to get them to submit to religion. For religion is an appeal to feeling excited through the imagination.
To put the masses in a lower category of development may find supporting reasons--at least in past centuries--but to try to keep them there permanently is unjust. To feed them on myth, symbol, allegory, keeping back the higher truths and not telling them the facts about their existence, is also unjust.
Some readers have taken exception to my statement in the eleventh chapter of The Wisdom of the Overself that the aborigine should be left alone to worship God in his own way. They point out the great uplift of religious conceptions which has followed the work of Christian missionaries amongst aborigines. My own observations as a traveller would endorse this claim as true in some cases but false in others. There has been welcome advance in some countries but definite deterioration in others. This is apart from social, medical, and educational work of the missionaries, for which I would bestow the highest praise. However, the point I tried to make is evidently not quite understood. I hold only that, just as philosophy should not disturb the advanced religionist's faith but yet should make a higher teaching available to him as and when his faith weakens of its own accord, so the advanced religionist should not disturb the primitive religionist's faith but should make his own higher creed available as and when it might be helpful to do so. This would still leave a clear field for Christian missionary activity in distant lands but it would regulate and limit such activity within wiser borders. When I wrote about the advisability of letting the aborigine alone, this applies only if he is satisfied with his religion. It is not wrong to interfere when he begins to find fault with it. I did not mean to cause doubts about the value of propagating higher and more spiritual types of religion amongst primitive peoples. On the contrary, such propaganda should certainly continue, although it ought to be less offensively, less ignorantly, and less dishonestly practised than it has been in the past. It should be there, on the spot, available for those primitives who are nearing the level where they can begin to profit by it. Between the primitive tribesman, blindly obeying his patriarchal leaders and unthinkingly following his traditional customs, and the modern city-dweller, the difference is unmistakable. It is a difference on the one hand of more liberated individuality and on the other of more developed intelligence. Hence, the kind of teaching which historically suited the one is unsuited to the other. The missionary has his place in the world of religions, and especially so when he is the bearer of a more developed religion, but that place is not, as he thinks, an unrestricted one.
We need not accept a primitive form of religious revelation if our own intellect has developed too far beyond such a level. But we ought not despise those who do accept it, who find in it an answer to their need of belief in the higher power. However imperfect and unevolved, it is at base an affirmation that God is.
The man whose idea of himself is strictly limited to his little ego, and who is excessively attached to it, will naturally tend to form an idea of God as being a kind of gigantic person.
It is not true religion but rather impious irreligion to present the formless, limitless, sense- and thought-transcending infinitude of the Deity as a capricious tyrant and angry giant. To make It into an exaggerated human entity is to minify and slander It.
But most people, certainly the common folk, want a human God, one who shows emotion and responds to theirs.
It satisfies the demand on the part of the populace for a powerful supernatural being only if God is made masculine in gender, just as it satisfies their demand for a magnified father only if God is made humanly personal. They must have an anthropomorphic deity.
The Myth, given out to the populace, to the human mind at a simple naïve and unevolved level, is not intended for nor acceptable to the human mind at a high-cultured level. For this, nothing less than the Fact will do. For the others the Myth is, as a high Tibetan lama said recently (and privately), "like a sweet given to children because they like it so much."
Religion of the popular, mass kind makes its demand upon belief, not upon intellect. The priest or clergyman is not concerned with the question whether his offering is true: it is simply a dogma to be blindly accepted, an arrangement which suited the simple illiterate masses of earlier times and still suits those of our times in backward lands.
The truth could not be expressed in all its fullness to those whose cultural level was so different from today's. If they were given less, it is because they could not comprehend more.
It was perfectly correct for primitive peoples to feel and obey this deep longing to glorify their hereditary rulers and to worship their high priests.
We find that not a little in popular religion is nothing more than a thinned-down materialism.
The masses are not sensitive to the mystical, nor comprehensive of the philosophical. They must be reached through the physical senses. Hence religion is their path.
School the immature to enjoy and appreciate truth, prepare them for it, give them a chance to learn its elementary phases: this is a better way to stop their estrangement from religion.