Time to look beyond the rituals of organised religion

Like in almost all areas of our daily lives, religion encroaches blatantly in our civic life too. The mushrooming places of worship on public places is a case in point. These places enjoy complete impunity from civic rules.

You find them encroaching on pavements, roads, civic sites, playgrounds, traffic junctions and other such public places. Innumerable such spots of flagrant violation exist on the roads and by lanes of every Indian city today. They don’t just cause inconvenience and traffic congestions but also pose danger to life and limbs.

With due respect to everyone’s faith, it is high time the civic authorities woke up to this insidious phenomenon. But civic authorities and the powers that be are on slippery grounds here, so they stand by helplessly wringing their hands as opportunists under the guise of religionists make a mockery of civic rules and usurp public places.

This is crass opportunism and it thrives in our country because of the vise like grip of religion on our psyche. Radical changes are taking place in different parts of the world today. Perhaps it is time we took a dispassionate look at this crucial aspect too: our faith and belief systems.  

I believe it is time we looked beyond the rituals and symbolism of organised religion and understood that religion is a milestone on the path to our spiritual evolution, a plateau of sorts on our spiritual journey.

It is akin to being ‘half way up the mountain’ — to borrow from the title of a book written by author and anthropologist Mariana Caplan. As long as we limit ourselves to living on a plateau, confirming to a particular pattern and beliefs, and at the same time identifying ourselves as separate and divided from other humans pursuing other faiths, we remain separate and divided from the very essence of our own being.

Author Wayne Dyer hits the nail on the head when he says, “As a holistic being you shatter the illusion of your separateness and reveal your connection to everything. This empowers you in a way that the ego-driven self could never contemplate.”

So if we can understand that it is but natural to be temporarily stuck on a plateau when we are traveling on a path, but whenever we hit a plateau, it is necessary to look up and see the trail beyond in order to eventually leap to a higher level.

Occasional nudges
The first step towards taking that leap would be to listen to the occasional nudges from our soul. By continuing our journey to our essence, we eventually shift our conscious identity to the soul that we are. That journey therefore begins when we shift piety from our mind to our hearts, when we shift our perception from the gross to the subtle...in ourselves and in the world around us.

This would create a two-pronged affect. First, it will give us a sense of detachment and subtlety and propel us to explore the pure, un-manifested, transcendent expression of divinity around us, as opposed to the tangible and the manifest.

Second, as our level of consciousness expands, we will also learn to see ourselves more honestly, developing a larger perspective of what it means to be human. We would then be primed to break free from the limiting conditioning of the past and the strict indoctrination of our belief systems.

When we bring clarity to our mind and our thoughts, we will begin to see clearly the truth about ourselves and the world around us. For instance, we might tell ourselves that we are on a spiritual path, on a journey to connect with our soul and discover the divinity within us, but we might still be caught up in the strict indoctrination of our belief system and routinely engage in traditional rituals and symbolic devotion.

This pulls us in two different directions making us fragmented and unauthentic – unable to reach anywhere on either path. And to add to the muddle, the mind adds its own stratagem. The mind will continue to find ways to keep us from true self-knowledge!

But if we continue to look for signs of divinity outside of us, how will we find the divinity that truly resides within us? If we are able to see this bind clearly, this tussle between the heart and the mind, we will then want to be honest with ourselves. We will then be prompted to decide on the direction we want to take and be true to that direction.

When we can bring changes in the matter of our faith and beliefs both internally and externally and choose to be truly spiritual, that change will then uplift our soul beyond our mind and into our higher realms.  We will then stop being seized by our beliefs and our conditioning.

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