Religion comes out of life and can never be divorced from it. The root meaning of religion is that which binds men together and which binds the loose ends of impulses, desires and various processes of each individual. Hence, it is an integrative experience of men collectively and individually. There are many forms of religion, but there is one underlying factor in all of them. They are all occupied with the task of living and adjustment to the various demands of life and society. The need for a successful adjustment requires an understanding of the world in which an individual lives. He lives in a physical and a social environment and the social environment consists of his fellowmen with their histories and prophecies that have evolved as a result of competitive and co-operative enterprise of numerious generations. Here the various strands of science, ethics, economics, history, traditions and myths are all intermingled and each has an important claim on the individual and the society. But a general plan has to be drawn up first in which each individual and his impulses may be assigned a rightful place. From the time immemorial the master plan or the blue-print of life includes philosophy, ethics and religion. In any philosophical construction logic has to be used a sits most reliable technique. But logic no matter however important is not the whole of philosophy. But what is philosophy.
Philosophy draws up a conceptual framework of the world in which we live and quite naturally for constructing it, it has to rely on the information supplied by the science of the age. Hence, philosophy has to keep on revising its conceptual framework in the light of scientific advance from age to age. The present age with rapid rise in scientific advance, in theory and technology in numerous departments, makes the task of philosophers extremely difficult. As the task of building a framework of thought is becoming difficult, so philosophers are trying first to assimilate a large number of concepts, which have gained currency in science and everyday life. Here also there is the painful realization of the fact that we think correctly with concepts but not so clearly and precisely about concepts (G. Ryle). Hence, philosophers are more worried about the clarification of concepts than about building up of a blue-print of life.
No matter how much philosophy may lean on science, it is not science. Its aim is not to understand, control and predict the events of the world as a whole. It aims at understanding the hang of the world with a view to carrying out the task of living, maturing and becoming. Man has to carry out not only conscious adjustment, but also an adjustment to his Unconscious; not only has he to change the world outside of him, but also to effect a change within him; not only a change of will, but also a change in will, as John Dewey puts it. This understanding of the world is better called wisdom than knowledge: this wisdom is less concerned with the actualities and histories of men than with their hopes and aspirations. Nay, more.
Philosophy is not merely daring speculation: it has to issue out into actions, even though it may mean action for the sake of inaction, the example of which is found in some sector of Indian thought and practices. Hence, ethics forms a natural corollary of philosophy. Here as a philosophical discipline ethics is less concerned with specific problems and is more concerned with general standards and norms of conduct. Just as in its intellectual construction philosophy draws upon the fund of information given out by sciences, so ethics too not only relies on the general conceptual framework of philosophy, but also on the various codes of conduct in the multitudinous walks of life. At the moment ethics does not try to establish any one standard as the absolute norm. It recognizes the plurality and relativity of ethical norms. Now norms may differ, but they have relevance with regard to intentions to act. At this stage a practical difficulty is experienced. The performance of one's duty is a difficult thing: temptations and natural inclinations play havoc with our ethical intention to carry out the duty. Here, from the time of the Vedas, the Gita and the Bible, from the time of Kant up to Matthew Arnold, R. B. Braithwaite, philosophers recognize that religions are a great help to a moral man. His energies are boosted up and the inclinations standing in the way as obstacles in the performance of duties are brushed aside, if the moral man looks upon his duties as divine commands. Religion may be a myth, but is indispensable for any morality, open or closed, as Henri Bergson has so graphically brought out in 'The two sources of morality and religion'. But the question is: What is a religious myth?
A myth tries to integrate a man with the supernatural with the help of interrelated symbols. A symbol tries to express the inexpressible and deals with what the individual considers as his ultimate concern. Hence, religion deals with symbols, which serve as so many window to what is concerned as the ultimate reality. Quite naturally the 'ultimate concern' is very much akin to the pervasive features of the world with which philosophy is concerned. But the ultimate concern of religion is not merely conceptual: it deals with the inexpressible and the decisions of gifted men all down the ages with regard to what they have considered to be affair for it is not limited to the conscious psyche of the individual, but is largely influenced by the stirrings in the depth of the prise, even in his philosophical construction, ethical decisions was dictated by his repressed-suppressed impulses in the unconscious, but the anti-metaphysician of contemporary times is no less guided by his unconscious. As I have already dealt with this topic in some other place, so I shall pass on to the next point.
Religion is not merely an unconscious reaction, but is rather a response and adjustment to the unconscious along with the adjustment to the world and society. A religious symbol dawns as a result of much thinking about one's why and whence. It is wrung out of the individual in the context of the intellectual reaches of the man with his lodgement in a socio-economic environment. Naturally with the change in the intellectual equipment of the individual, the symbol too changes and the old ones may entirely fade away. A symbol is not true or false: it is either authentic or inauthentic, living or dead and so on.
But why should there be any symbol at all? Well, one reason which has been stated is that religion, to a large extent if not exclusively, is a matter of the Unconscious and the language of the Unconscious is symbolical. However, there is another deeper reason. In the existential one hers a good deal of the power of Being and the threat of non-Being and the consequent states of dread, anguish, despair and self-alienation, on the one hand, and also the states of salvation, resignation, on the one hand, and also the states of salvation, resignation, meaningfulness and authentic existence on the other hand. One may try to escape from dread, anguish and the other allied states by self-alienation. However, one cannot always succeed in escaping from one's own self. The threat of non-being, of being annihilated and of death will force a man to be aware of his existential problem, that is, the problem of living in a hostile world which keeps on threatening his existence all the time. How can man establish himself, that is, can have a meaningful existence in the face of physical, moral and metaphysical threats? This problem tely concerned. In popular language of theism this Ultimate Concern is known as God. If it is so, then it means that man cannot live without religion. If a person acknowledges God as his ultimate concern then he is said to have an authentic existence. However, if a person follows a tradition sheepishly or slavishly by participating in a collective norm, then he is said to be having an inauthentic existence. In either case man is said to be religious. This is known as the doctrine of religion a priori, i.e., man cannot live without religion the religion may be genuine or faked, but there cannot be an absence of religion in toto. Some important thinkers in the west in the wake of God-is-dead movement, are challenging this assumption of 'religion a priori'. in this book it has been assumed that man can live without accepting any of the traditional form of religion. To this extent it is true to hold that there cannot be religion. To this extent it is true to hold that it is also maintained that man cannot live up to his highest potential without some focal orientation in relation to an object of devotion. And this state of mind is said to be religious. So in the final analysis it has been assumed that man cannot live without religion-without some object of devotion, whether this object be concrete or abstract.
However, the modern man has tasted of the tree of knowledge. He is an heir to the human experiences of ages. He knows that there were many gods and they ruled absolutely as long as they were in vogue. But now they have been consigned to the limbo of oblivion. In their times they formed the Ultimate Concern of man and yet many of them, one by one, came to be discarded with the advance in knowledge, with the widening of the intellectual horizon of man. He has become deeply aware of the impending death of his own God who embodies his deepest ideals and meanings of his life. He stands in dread and fear. One natural conclusion, which follows from the researches of J. G. Frazeer, S. Freud and others is that 'God is dead'. If man takes this lesson to heart then he has no other option left to him but to bow down fully resigned to the inevitable, as certainly Freud did and before him Spinoza and the Stoics preached and practiced. But is this Philosophy of resignation inescapable?
Traditional form of God may be dead, but if 'religion a priori' is correct, then some modern God is already there enthroned preaching his own gospel of salvation to man. This God may be humanity itself, or may it be the brotherhood of man in a classless society or who knows some vaguer form of God whom we see only darkly. Whatever may be the modern 'God', one thing appears certain that man must have an images whom he worships in order to have some meaningful existence in the face of all kinds of hostile forces and their threats. As long as a god answers to the needs of man, he lives and acts in the lives of men and their history. He ceases to exist the moment he fails to inspire his worshippers. The modern man does not confess his death only, but also of his god. The way out of this dread is that he should further confess that god cannot die. In this lies his salvation.
Man cannot help becoming aware of his Ultimate Concern whom he tries to understand, conceptualise and pin down to precise points. He has thrown out many symbols in his attempt to understand the Ultimate Concern. None of the attempts have succeeded so far, but through the symbols alone man can know that which engages him. 'Knowing' here means 'being energized in his efforts of establishing himself in his meaningful existence as a teacher, preacher, lawyer or any such station in his life'. 'Knowing' is not merely confined to the cognitive activities of man, but includes every fibre of the man as a whole as he participates in the genius of the race of which he is a link. If philosophy sophers demand more precision here then the whole matter can be stated thus. The Ultimate Concern haunts man as soon as he becomes aware of his existential concern. It is his Being, as the power by which he lives. He is more aware of this than of anything else. But in the face of the conceptual challenge all that he can say about it is that it is neti, neti (not this, not this), a pure nescience, about which he can say at most what It is not, or can speak about It only analogically or symbolically. It is a pure colourless canvas on which man projects his symbols. To be successful the coloured symbol must show transparently the colorless canvas below it. Is it paradoxical to say that man tries to know the colourless through the coloured glasses? Well, the seeing to the colourless through the coloured glasses may be paradoxical, but the fact is undeniable that such coloured (symbolical) seeing has enriched life. The teachings of Buddha, Christ and Upanishadic teachers have certainly contributed to the meaningful existence of man. Life lived and death died alone form the 'truth' of religious statements.
Now I take this as an opportunity of thanking the publisher Sri Jainendra Prakash of Motilal Banarsidass for bringing out this volume.
Preface to the Second Edition
The book was out of print for a long time and during this period many changes have taken place. In this edition much attention has been paid to religious language in the light of Wittgenstein's view of religion.
Many topics in Chapter II, a new Chapter III (Foundation of Religious Belief), Chapter V (A General View of Religion and Language) have been added. Meantime the author has adopted the Advaitic Philosophy of Religion, in the light of the teachings of Sant Kabir and Sri Ramakrishna, as the absolute principle for unifying all rival claims of different religions. Further newer topics of Secularism, Proselytization Conversion and the political use of religion have been added.
However, the chapters The Psychology of Religion and The Truth of Religious Statements have been omitted.
It is hoped that the present revised edition of the book will meet the needs of the general readers and the students of religious philosophy.
From the Jacket:
The book is really an Introduction to Contemporary Religious Philosophy and is a helpful guide to the students. The modern relevance of Advaitism has been given its rightful claim in the book. It is a ripened fruit of the preoccupation of the author with religious philosophy for more than fifty years.
About The Author:
Dr. Masih, Ph. D. (Edinburgh), D. Litt. (Patna) was born on March 1, 1916. He retired in 1978 from his post of a Professor of Magadh University. He remained a UGC Teacher of Philosophy from 1978 to 1983.
Dr. Masih has devoted his life in conducting and guiding research work in Philosophy. His important books are: Freudianism and Religion, The Hindu Religious Philosophy, The Classical Religious Philosophy of the Hindus, Shankara's Universal Philosophy of Religion, Sant Kabir Ka Dharma Dharshan, A Comparative Study of Western Philosophy etc.
Excerpts From Review:
This is a book with clearly visible theme - Advaita. That is not to say, that Masih has not spoken of other things. One thing to be kept in mind is that this book is not an introduction to philosophy of religion, but an introduction to religious philosophy. Incidentally it escapes the narrow confines of being a mere introduction to religious philosophy, a there are plenty of insights on Philosophy of religion as well.
One striking aspect of this book is that the author not only believes, but alongwith, also calculates logically, as to how the various insights of different religion must crossfertilise the visions of one another. This exercise obviously demands a great deal of understanding of the various religious commitments.
The author quotes the example of Ramakrishna Paramahansa who suggested that there is something like religious unity and that one is capable of extending oneself beyond the limited confines of a single religion - that all other religions are dialects of the same reigion, of the Supreme Spirit. Thus, understanding the Supreme Spirit as a concept is useful, because it is in the nature of a concept that is shareable and communicable.
The author is a clear advocate of the Advaita philosophy. Though Advaita is not mentioned even a single time in the index, the author swears by the theory all through.
One appreciable part of the book is sweep it has over the subject-though not all-encompassing. From Galloway and Martinieu to J. N. Findlay, Hare Blik, Kant, Hastings, Rashdall to McCloskey and Radhakrishnan, the author has drawn from various thinkers.
Bharti PuriThe Weekend Observer, New Delhi, April 1996
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