Life is Yours - Kindle It

Swami Chinmayananda

The indifference to religion of the apparently educated man of today is not so much due to the futility or hollowness of the science of the religion as such, but his own incapacity to understand the textbooks of religion in the world. This is true not only of the Hindu but also of men of every faith. This difficulty in accommodating the old ideas to the news of thinking, is felt by the faithful of all the established religions all over the globe.

True religion never dies; Hinduism is not dead. If on the wayside we find the extending branches of a dry tree, naked of leaves and flowers, it is possible that in our hurry, we may consider that to be the skeleton of a dead tree that was once gloriously alive. Now, however, it spreads no shadow and protects but a few pilgrims under its thin shade. And yet, a lover of trees who knows the art of farming discovers some parasites flourishing on the withered tree. The sight of this parasitic growth is sufficient for the scientist to have a vision of the sap that runs in the core of the seemingly dead tree. He need not cut the trunk down to see if the sap is still running.

Similarly, Hinduism is proving today that it has no wide-spreading shadow to shelter the whole community; bereft of its leafy roof, it has the inauspicious look of some grinning skeleton in the sepulchre. But since the great Hindu tree continues to nourish and maintain many a parasitic growth, a true cultivator of religion takes heart and cries, “This is not dead. The sap is still running. This can be revived”.

Just as the farmer, in reviving the dead tree, would ruthlessly remove the parasites, intelligently cut down the unnecessary burden of its extending branches, loosen the soil at the roots, and nourish it with regular supplies of fresh soil and food, so too, the tree of our religion can be redeemed, trimmed, and revitalized with the nourishing salt of understanding, and the true waters of sincere seeking.

Then, shall the children of the present discover, through a thorough study of our ancient scriptures, that modern science and ancient religion are not such strangers as they assume them to be. When I say religion, I do not claim for it an application only to Hinduism; it is as much true of Hinduism as of any other religion in the world today. Unfortunately we have come to identify the term 'religion', with stony edifices of temples and mosques, churches and synagogues, pagodas and gurudwaras, with different sacred books, endless and varying interpretations, confusing rituals, and in their name, painful mutual quarrels, resulting in hatred and violence. This is often the result of the colossal ignorance of what is true religion.

Religion is to be understood essentially as a science of living so that we may cull out of it a set of desirable values of life, upon which we can rebuild wisely our day-to-day existence. If the existing religion is too old, outmoded and obsolete, and if the fundamental values of life preached by it cannot solve our day's problems, we shall without regret discard the whole lot and strive to discover new principles and laws of right living. If religion is but a dictatorial declaration of a scheme of living, which has no reference at all to our day-to-day existence, and cannot solve our pressing problems, we shall banish the old religion and take to a new culture and a more desirable cult; for man is, and should be, primarily concerned with his life here, rather than in the hereafter.

It may be reasonably asked, “Why should a man hunt after the knowledge of a greater Reality, of a greater power behind the obvious, the perceived, the experienced world of senses?” In fact, we find there is no institution called religion among the animals. The necessity for religion, the urge for spiritual freedom, the call from the depths within ourselves, is experienced only by man, and even then, it is not felt by all men. In every generation it is inevitable that a significant minority should feel a thirst for enquiring into this great Reality. Why a glorious minority alone comes to feel the urge to face this vital problem, has been exhaustively dealt with in our old texts and has been vaguely hinted at by Darwin in his theory of evolution. He seems to explain to us that life, though it started as an accident, went on multiplying and developing into the various levels of evolution, to reach its cumulative achievement in the 'thinking being' called man. Therefore, Darwin suddenly rockets up all his readers into a utopian joy, with this optimistic promise, that evolution will still continue to accomplish itself in a generation of supermen!

If this biologist prophet were true in his conclusions, we have to accept that the ape or ape-man somehow lost his tail and started daily shaving to become the man of today. Thus, from the animal kingdom, evolution extended itself to flourish in the achievements of a full-grown man. But here again, has obviously been a period of transition wherein we find beings of animalistic instinct in the form of men, behaving and acting as though they were not better than mere animals. For these beings, which live through the equipment of the animal, though men in shape and form, it is hardly possible to rise above the values entertained by the animal kingdom. To them, religion cannot have direct or immediate appeal at all.

But, to those who have long since, passed the stage and have grown through the vicissitudes of life into beings better developed mentally and intellectually, challenging questions begin to pose themselves: “From where did all these things come? Where do they go and why? Is there a mission and purpose in life or is life a mere accident?”

To these developed beings, religion has a meaning, and a purpose, and shows the path and the goal. No religion is possible in the world without a philosophy, and philosophy always tries to explain to us, the world in which we live, and the causes for the same. Here indeed is a fundamental difference between the concepts of philosophy entertained in the east and in the west!

Extrovert by nature, philosophy to the westerner, is to a great extent an objectified science. To them, philosophy points out a view of life. The ideal may, and does often change, with the result, that we have a new ideal in the West almost every decade.

In the East, philosophy means something more than an attempt to show a view of life, for, the Aryans were the most practical of men. They demanded that the ideas and ideals preached by the philosopher should be capable of being practiced, and so, every philosopher was compelled not only to paint a glorious picture of the ideal world, but also to give the topography and the route to it in all detail. Thus, to the East, philosophy was not only a view of life but, a way of life as well!

The philosophy pointing out the view of life can certainly be scientific, but it would lack the technique; and science without a technique, is a mere fable for children to read. With this point of view in mind, when we try to investigate into the religions of the world, we shall find that of all the existing religions, Hinduism, in its Vedantic philosophy, supplies us with not only a mere enumeration of the enduring foundations upon which a peaceful world of progressive living can be organized, but also an eminently satisfactory line of argument to establish why those values are absolute and fundamental!

Excerpt from Kindle Life by Swami Chinmayananda (Published by Central Chinmaya Mission Trust).© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, reproduced courtesy of Central Chinmaya Mission Trust