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<Religions – Table of Contents>



As has been mentioned in the introductions to Science and to Philosophy on this website, religion is one of the ways the human beings tries to deepen his own inner and essential understanding of the outward as well as the inner world. Whereas science and philosophy involve the intellectual (mānasic) and intuitive (buddhic) mind respectively, religion means the confidence in one’s own essential spiritual essence, in Truth, the essential unerring non-dualistic essence of mind and consciousness within each of us and within each and every living being. This essence has been called the ātman, but it is really beyond any mental description or divisive understanding, so whatever name or effort to give a definition one applies, it is not that true essence – which is both all that we are and our essential ‘highest’ being – of which the human mind is but a part, an incompletely evolved aspect. The aspect can not grasp the whole.

As religion is directed to the same ultimate truth, at least in principle, as are science and philosophy, these three are not contradictory or mutually exclusive or even at odds with one another. It is the limited interpretations, established opinions and dogmas of scientists, philosophers and religious people which seem often incompatible. This is temporary. In the long run mistakes, misconceptions, theories and illusions will be forgotten and unity will dawn.

Religion is not just faith in the Divine, but it is the ever growing realization of the ‘supramental’ actuality of that divine essence. That ‘divinity’ or ātman (the Self) or the ‘emptiness’ – from the point of view of the human mind, is the ever present source of wisdom within each and every being. If we listen to the inner, ‘silent’ voice of this ever-presence it will be the unerring and infallible guide for our self-consciousness towards the ultimate realization and oneness or identity with Truth. Nobody needs another person or institution or set of rules to be religious and approach God or the Divine or the Inner Self or whatever term may be used. It is correct to say that ‘to know oneself is to know Truth.’ This is why the theosophical motto is: ‘There is no religion higher that Truth,’ not meaning a truth, nor a system of religion or a path, but the Reality as it is – beyond which for humanity nothing is. No single human being, no formal religion, can claim to ‘understand’ or ‘possess’ Truth, because it is beyond understanding and limitation.

To be religious, independent of which religious designation one wishes to belong to, means devotion to Truth, to the omnipresent and eternal Divine (not some ‘being’), a resolve to live in harmony with all other lives, recognition of transcendental beauty and a preparedness to make – without any even hidden form of egotism of course – every thought and deed in one’s life a holy thought or deed with the sole purpose to live and serve (yajñā, sacrifice, to make holy) in harmony with one’s inner recognition of the divine – which is the wise and compassionate service to the good of all beings.

Wisdom and compassion itself – living the highest life one can feel within – is the only ‘method’ of Religion, because it is the active side of the divine essence itself. It is the same as Ethics – not a system of ethics or morality (however helpful some of these may be to arrange one’s mind and an orderly society – no doubt the reason why true religious preceptors have always presented humanity with a ethical code of conduct, which they derived from their own Knowledge) – but universal life in harmony with ultimate truth according to the best of what one feels right. All other ‘methods,’ such as those taught in yoga systems, within religious dogmatism, meditation methods, etc. are not real religion. Some of them may be helpful and supportive at some stage of development to concentrate and calm the mind – but have, as unnatural methods, to be left behind when one enters real Religion – which has no name or creed – but just has to be lived.

There is but one Religion, which is unlimited, and which is the essence and core and source of all religions. This unnameable One Religion – also referred to as ‘ancient wisdom’ (though it is of all times, including the present and future) or, better, perennial or eternal wisdom is the universal but indefinable and indescribable parent source of all genuine human religious systems. The religions of the world have been given us by the ‘gods’ (prophets, angles, messiahs, avatāras, buddhas etc. etc.) as a handout for humanity from their own much deeper (but as yet never ultimate) understanding of Religion, put into a mental, intuition-furthering, mythological or ritualistic forms as a help to develop humankind and individual humans to fulfill their tasks within the wholeness of existence on earth and in the divine worlds, and to guide them towards their best destiny.

The external attributes, differences and divergences of the various religions which play such a tremendous part in mundane politics and self-confirmation and self-pride of its adherents – usually to the detriment of the world or local community and peaceful existence – will, ultimately, when rightly understood blend into the original fundamental unity when their source is rightly understood. It has been said that in proportion as each great world religion rises to the height of its own possibilities, so will the external divergences among the different faiths of mankind blend into the original fundamental unity. If we may speculate about a future, global culture, then religion will be one, but at the same time multicolored, multifaceted, and people will regard themselves as pilgrims or brothers with the same goal and destiny of human happiness and dignity. There will be no more religious reasons to fight over differences.

In the Occult Glossary of Gottfried de Purucker, merged into the online Collation of Theosophical Glossaries, religion is  described as an operation of the human spiritual mind in its endeavor to understand – not only the how and the why of things, but also the yearning and striving towards self-conscious union with the divine All. It is the endlessly growing self-conscious identification with the cosmic divine-spiritual realities.

Human religion is the expression of that aspect of human consciousness which is intuitional, aspirational, and mystical, but which is often deformed and distorted in its lower forms by the emotional in man.

The term ‘religion’ has, by the Europeans and modern American scholars often been thought to have been derived from the Latin verb meaning religare ‘to bind back.’ Interesting in this connection is the meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘yoga,’ which is derived from yuj – to connect. Yoga means ‘to connect with the divine.’ However ‘connection with’ something else, in this case the divine, can only be proposed within a dualistic context, which is fundamentally different from the core of religion, which is non-dualistic and thus can only talk in terms of recognizing or realizing the oneness of the transcendental and the manifest, or to say it in other words: of Ultimate Reality and its inherent reflection, the world or māyā (‘illusion’)

But an older derivation, according to Cicero of ancient Rome, comes from a Latin root meaning ‘to select,’ ‘to choose,’ (from which, likewise, we have the word lex, ‘law,’ i.e., the course of conduct or rule of action which is chosen as the best, and is therefore followed). In that case religion can be interpreted to mean: ‘That which is the best of its kind, as ascertained by selection, by trial, and by proof.’ The meaning of the word religion from the Latin religio, thus means a careful selection of fundamental beliefs and motives by the higher or spiritual intellect, a faculty of intuitional judgment and understanding, and a consequent abiding by that selection, resulting in a course of life and conduct in all respects following the convictions that have been arrived at.

Interesting is that the Sanskrit word for religion: ‘dharma,’ which means, besides (inner) support and duty, right understanding and right behavior also both (universal) law, and religion.)

The theosophist adds the following very important idea: behind all the various religions and philosophies of ancient times there is a secret or esoteric wisdom given out by the greatest men who have ever lived, the founders and builders of the various world religions and world philosophies; and this sublime system in fundamentals has been the same everywhere over the face of the globe. This system has passed under various names, e.g., the esoteric philosophy, the ancient wisdom, the secret doctrine, the traditional teaching, theosophy, etc.

In a social context it seems apparent that one thing religion or belief helps us to do, is to deal with the problems of human life. Usually it gives us a support in dealing with deep questions like the meaning of death, the origin of our species and the world/universe, the purpose of life and our ultimate destination. Derived from religious teachings there are sets of advices or rules for human behavior in matters like marriage, sex, social behavior, which can vary greatly among different peoples in different lands and in different climates etc., and how to explain and deal with misfortune, emotions, aggression, anger, hatred, etc. These, of course, are temporary values derived from universal values in the context of particular cultures. What can be given out by ‘those who understand’ is necessarily limited by the intelligence, purity, intuition and receptivity of the people for whom it is meant. Regrettably, it is easier to follow rules than to develop one’s own deeper understanding – and this fact has many times given rise to rigidity, dogmatism and irrational conservativeness. As we all know, religion has turned into the opposite of its original intentions, and creates hatred, violence, war, fanaticism, terrorism, sacrificial suicide and more horrors. Time and time again ‘lesser,’ but still very great teachers are born to try to renovate religions forms and habits – but such teachers often face a bitter battle against established values and beliefs and succeed but partly. In larger cycles teachers arrive to complete upset and renew the old system, and thus become founders of fresh religion, giving out more and deeper truths for those who have reached the stage to grasp these and be served by them. Then, always, and necessarily, intellectual struggle and often wars between the old and the new occur. As long as humanity at large is unable to really understand or intuit the meaning and purpose of cycles of mental and cultural progress – which are ultimately always beneficial – such struggles will occur again and again.



<Religions – Table of Contents>