True religion must possess two important limbs, namely, its philosophy and its ritualistic injunctions. Philosophy is the theoretical aspect of religion, which gives the scientific, logical and rational analysis of the world, man and reality. Ritualistic injunctions, however, deal with the practical aspect of religion, which explain the practices to be followed for reaching the ultimate goal in life. Ritualism without philosophy is a bundle of superstitions, and philosophy without ritualistic practices is mere imagination, a utopian dream!
Unfortunately, we commit a blunder of projecting only one of these two aspects; call it a religion, and then attribute its decadence and failure to the religion as such. This is what we have seen happening around us for many years now. Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind”. Yet, somehow, we have come to think that religion is not scientific, and science is against religion.
True religion, therefore, is a happy and intelligent blending of philosophy and ritualism. Ritualism is not a mere physical performance of some illogical ceremonies. Each of the ritualistic practices has some scientific, spiritual and symbolic aspect to it. The philosophical truths and ideas are difficult to digest for many. Hence, for the majority, these ideas are explained and brought into their lives through various simple ritualistic practices. For instance, philosophy says, the Ultimate Reality or the Higher Consciousness is present in all living beings and non-living objects! Now, this truth may not be understood directly. Hence, a practice is introduced in Sanaatana Dharma (Hinduism). Whenever we meet each other, we greet by saying ‘Namaste’ with folded hands. The word ‘Namaste’ means the divinity in me salutes the divinity in you! So, we not only recognise the same divinity in all, but also show respect towards each being that expresses the divinity. Extending the same concept, if our foot touches anyone by mistake, we prostrate to them.
The scientific aspect of religion
This refers to religion’s logical and practical usage in our day-to-day life. When a modern man doesn’t see this aspect, he rejects the entire practice as a mere blind belief or some stupid malpractice. For example, we are told from childhood that we should not eat food kept outside during the time of solar or lunar eclipses. We are told to spend the eclipse-time in the constant remembrance of the Lord by doing various sadhanas.
Scientifically, in the absence of the Sun or moon, the bacteria attack the food and it becomes stale. Also, the earth’s energy mistakes the eclipse time to be the full cycle of the Sun or moon and hence, what will happen over the complete span of full cycle of 28 to 30 days happens in those 2 to 3 hours of eclipse. So, there is a drastic change in the cooked food during eclipse. All the nourishing elements in the food turn into poison. This scientific fact may not be intellectually understood by everyone. But, still it is essential to keep people safe by not allowing them to eat during the eclipse. Hence, this ritualistic practice has been added.
The spiritual aspect of religion
The spiritual aspect refers to connecting everything that is happening in the world to oneself or to one’s Self. There is a lot of inner spiritual meaning hidden in every ritualistic practice, and even in various pauranic stories of the sanaatana dharma. When we go to a temple, there is a ritual of going around the main deity (Pradakshina), making a circle in a clockwise direction. The spiritual point that the masters wanted to convey is – Keep the God in the centre of all your activities, and keep Him always on your right side. During the puja, we also go around ourselves, indicating that the same God also resides within us!
Everyone knows the famous story of Ramayana. There is no denial of the fact that the Ramayana actually happened and has many things to apply in our day-to-day life. But it also has a lot of spiritual essence. ‘Ayodhya’ means a place where there is no battle or conflict; which refers to a heart that has peace and harmony. ‘Dasharatha’, who can control his chariot in all ten directions, refers to a mind that controls all the senses (organs of perception and action). ‘Kausalya’ refers to an intellect, which is concerned about welfare of all and which brings prosperity. In such a heart and to such a mind and intellect, a son is born: ‘Rama’, who is the Supreme Self, who delights everyone. In this way, each character and the story of Ramayana can be connected to one’s inner life!
The symbolic aspect of religion
This refers to depicting the formless through some logically fitting forms. All the idols that we see, are these symbols of the nameless and formless supreme reality. An idol, however, represents an ideal! Not understanding these deeper ideals makes us believe that our ancestors were mere idol-worshippers. All the religious symbols and idols have a deeper depth for us to discover, over and above their mere external shape. For instance, scriptures speak of three main deities, called as the Trinity. Brahma, who is in-charge of creation, Vishnu, who is in-charge of sustenance or maintenance, and Shiva, who is in-charge of dissolution or destruction. If we notice carefully, each of them has been given a form which suits their function. Brahma has four heads, because to create something new we mainly need more brain or ideas. Vishnu has four hands to maintain this already created world. He also takes maximum incarnations to maintain order in the universe. But for Shiva, neither four heads nor four hands are required. He only has the third eye so powerful that the whole world gets destroyed when it is opened. Even their consorts help them in their job. Saraswati, the deity of knowledge supports Brahma in creation. Lakshmi, the deity of wealth supports Vishnu in sustenance. And Durga or Parvati, deity of power, supports Shiva in destruction. The greatest achievement of man in the field of philosophy is his comprehension of the idea of the infinite, and his attempts to bring the infinite down to some sort of understanding at the finite level! Out of various symbols created to represent the Reality, the oldest, closest and probably the all comprehensive symbol is ‘Om’. Om is called as the name or sound symbol of Brahman (The Supreme Reality). However, it also has a form.
They say that all the Vedas can be revived through Om. Such is the depth and capacity of this symbol. The monosyllable Om is the result of harmonious combination of the three basic sounds (Akaara, Ukaara & Makaara) which contain in themselves all the sounds which can be produced by the human system, and it can be seen that the entire vocal mechanism of the human beings comes into full play, when one pronounces the sound Om. Along with an ocean of wealth of knowledge that is comprised in Om, chanting of Om also has some scientific effect in and around us. It increases our concentration power and helps us to enter the greater depths in our meditation. It purifies the environment around us and creates positive vibrations that can benefit the people around us. It has cardiovascular benefits too, as it reduces the blood pressure and makes the heart beat in regular rhythm. Only a few of the benefits are mentioned here, though there are many more!
The basic purpose of religion is to help a person in achieving the ultimate goal of human life, and to create harmony in the whole universe. This purpose will be served only when we understand the religion in its entirety, along with its scientific, spiritual and symbolic aspects. May we by God’s grace and Gurudev’s blessings come to realise the Supreme Reality! Om tat sat!!