'Lead us towards the light of knowledge from the darkness of ignorance'.
IF THE PRESENT READER does not normally read prefaces, he or she should probably read this one.
Busy readers would naturally ask-why of all the subjects should we be discussing religious beliefs and practices in this age of advanced technology when we have already mastered the intricacies of our body and mind and the details of Nature and its works. What relevance could religion have in the modern world when half its people do not care about religion or God, when one nation after the other vouchsafes secularism as its official policy? When so-called religious beliefs and practices have mostly been a matter of controversy, a controversy that is on the increase?
The answer to these questions lies in the fact that, a large section of the human race follows some kind of religion even if it is considered a private matter for the individual. Even today we hear about many senseless acts going on in the name of religion. Many of those who profess caring about God and religion are often involved in hostilities. In addition, the age-old feuds between the subscribers of the different religions and that between the various sects and denominations of individual religions have increased several folds. Thus, the balance between the different communities living in peaceful coexistence, which have been maintained for so long is now in jeopardy. Today, extinction of life of all forms is a real probability because the modern not discriminate between the culprit and the innocent.
Therefore, the modern human being, regardless of his or her personal opinion and inhibition, can no longer remain ignorant about the religious beliefs and practices of others, especially, when the beliefs and practices adversely affect the society. Likewise, the society cannot disregard the important role of psychology of the large number of mentally ill persons, who claim to be ardently religious.
A significant portion of the modern educated community is practically apathetic to 'religion' and religious topics. Above all, many intellectuals nowadays feel that-it should have been easier and healthier to despise religion and spirituality altogether. It would have been much better for humanity if people were more devoted to science and scientific knowledge rather than religion and spirituality. At the same time, rational people wondered as to why religion and religious belief should be such a strong motive force. Why is religious belief so powerful as to overwhelm even the educated persons who behave at the time of crises as possessed ones?
On the other hand, if religion and religious matters were based on superstition, as some intellectuals would like to believe, then, why could not religious belief be banished altogether despite years of concerted effort of the so-called enlightened leaders to establish secular society. Why has it been consuming ever more strongly the societies around the globe and returning with triumph even in the countries that claimed to have completely banished all religions and religious beliefs?
This is the reason why the scientifically oriented world community renewed their inquiry about the psychological aspect of religion and related matters.
The necessity of religion it seems, will remain as long as death, disease, and devastation continue to stalk human beings; and religion, perhaps more than any other single force influences most events of one's life, particularly experience of illnesses-ranging from trivial to terminal-and, of bereavement. Even those who live in the affluent worlds are no exception.' Therefore, the current trend of giving separate status, namely the official i.e., the secular, and the private i.e., religious, to different but intertwined spheres of life of an individual by the state and polity-appears to be an unscientific dichotomy.
The above factors should be sufficient reason for stirring up an urge to explore the world of religious beliefs and practices in all who believe in peaceful coexistence. The study should be interesting, and at the same time worthy for its scientific value too. Few of us could insist with certainty that they never had any uncanny feeling for the occult, the sphere that is beyond the pale of things normally perceived by our senses. Therefore, here we proceed to examine a few intriguing issues that stir up common interest.
a. Scientific knowledge gradually replaced many old beliefs. Yet even today, various religious ideas exist throughout the world, even in those parts where at one time people thought well without it. Is it not a wonder why religions existed for so long?
b. In connection with religion, there are different institutions of monks and nuns. Is it not strange that persons suddenly become religious recluse or mendicants to pursue a self-imposed uncertain life of strict discipline even when established in their lives of security and comfort? Now, what could be the possible cause or causes of such sudden religious conversion?
c. Now and then, even in the new millennium, we hear about incidences where so-called religious persons behead or kill others at the bidding of some gods or goddesses. This behaviour does not appeal to the senses of any modern man as scientific or related to the divine in any way. There are others, not as malicious or as harmful, but who say that they receive their instructions from the divine.
"I do not believe in a God or religion which cannot wipe the widow's tears or bring a piece of bread to the orphan's mouth. How- ever sublime be the theories, however well-spun may be the philosophy-I do not call it religion so long as it is confined to books and dogmas."- Swami Vivekananda
SINCE THE DAWN OF human history, man's search for the reason for-and the purpose of-all that existed around him, led him to two different directions, the knowledge of the external material world and the internal philosophical conjecture towards religion and God. Thus, the two apparently divergent systems of thought evolved out of the same enquiry that started thousands of years ago. However, by current evaluation, the excellence of human intelligence is its achievement in science and technology. While it took around 100,000 to 100,400 years for humans to arrive at the present level of capability through the natural process of evolution, modern science that brought all the splendour and glory to human intelligence is only about four centuries old. Yet within this period of 400 years, human intelligence has gone as far as to conquer, as i were, all limitations imposed by Nature.
Today's remote control techniques enable science not only to place in space a powerful telescope like Hubble, but also to repair it from the earth station. Modern science has also acquired the power to do various works that only nature had been doing for so long. Genetic engineering has already produced a new kind of progeny without the help of any generative cells or sex cells, even that of mammals. In modern times, science rightfully competes with God. Yet human being is not satisfied with his achievements, fighting war against one another at the slightest provocation or even pretext. At the same time, as if by a unique competition, murder, hatred, covetousness, carnality, selfishness, and self-centeredness soared high. Now, we are facing a sort of mass hysteria in the form of global 'intolerance' and 'will to dominate'.
A little introspection reveals that we have become intolerant of everything-our intolerance and aggressiveness sometimes turning against ourselves-because the world has not given us the happiness we hoped. Nevertheless, we are running after the never-ending pleasure resources; but our thirst proved unquench - able. Modern civilization has not given us the true understanding about ourselves. Followers of religions, however, claim that religion has the potential, inherent capacity, to fulfil this need. The principal religions of the world hold that all human beings are essentially spirit in nature, and this spirit lives on even when the body dies and perishes. The Indian faith declares that not only humans but also every creature is spirit in nature.
The Chambers' Dictionary defines religion as belief in, recognition of, or an awakened sense of a higher unseen controlling power or powers, with the emotion and morality connected with such; any system of such belief or worship.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, religion is 1. the belief in the existence of a god or gods, and the activities that are connected with the worship of them. 2. one of the systems of faith that are based on the belief in the existence of a particular god or gods; and religious belief is the belief in a god or gods who made the world and can control what happens in it.
The Merriam- Webster's Dictionary defines spirituality as :1: sensitivity or attachment to religious values; 2 : the quality or state of being spiritual.
According to the Chambers' Dictionary spirituality is: state of being spiritual; that which is spiritual. It defines the word spiritual (adj.) as: of, of the nature of, relating to, spirit, a spirit, spirits, the mind, the higher faculties, the soul; highly refined in thought and feeling, habitually or naturally looking to things of the spirit; incorporeal; ecclesiastical, religious.
The Oxford Advanced Learners' Dictionary defines spirituality as: the quality of being concerned with religion or the human spirit; and spiritual (adj.) as: connected with the human spirit, rather than the body or physical things.
Throughout the ages, leaders of society sought to formulate codes for creating a healthy prosperous society, a stable society in respect to the various human needs like food, shelter, clothing, and other physiological and psychological needs. They found out that 'man does not live by bread alone: He also needed fulfilment at a higher spiritual level. In ancient India they had the chatur varga (fourfold' goal) oriented social system, which set the four goals to be achieved in life. These are dharma (the meritorious deeds prescribed by the scriptures); artha (wealth that is achieved by means within the ambit of dharma, approved by scriptures); kama (controlled satisfaction of desires within the ambit of dharma, as regulated by scriptural injunctions). And, finally, moksha (liberation or freedom from the bondage of this earthly life), which is the culmination of all these and is only attainable by jnana (direct perception of spiritual knowledge).
Religion played a significant role in human history. The true aim of every religion and 'religious activity' is to improve the quality of life of the individual, the society, and humanity as a whole, declare all the .religious scriptures of the world in unison. Unlike West, there was no dichotomy between philosophy and religion in India. Here, philosophy was considered the theoretical basis for a worldview and religion as the practical application of that view in life; it was a way of living. Philosophy evolved out of man's enquiry about all that existed around him, about himself, and, the meaning and purpose of his own life. Religion is the practical behaviour pattern based on these philosophical ideas of the individual, and spiritual practices are special disciplines to train the mind and the body to realise the truth-the spiritual truth to reach the spiritual goal-jnana or moksha. The society too benefits from these practices because if the individuals are disciplined the society becomes a better society. Religion guided human beings to be better individuals, to lead a fruitful, productive, and happy spiritual life.
At the advent of scientific materialism after the Renaissance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the concept of the 'spiritual needs' had been fast losing ground and fulfilment of the materialistic worldly needs was gaining momentum. Now, instead of God's hand, man saw the unfailing mathematical laws in the physical universe. There were only strict laws in the forces like gravity and gravitation, and other motions, in tide and ebb, and all the rest. It appeared that the mystery of creation has been unravelled, particularly with the successful probes into the deep space and molecular genetics. When the scientific world accepted Big Bang, as the primal cause of creation, and genes became thoroughly known, to be responsible for both man's descent from prehistoric ape and for his present form, the role of a creator God seemed unnecessary. Man's belief in the existence of God and the spiritual dimension of man was badly shaken, although not completely removed. An invisible current of belief and faith in God gently flowed under the surface.
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