RELIGIOUS HARMONY

Life being social by its very nature is unavoidable with humans.  Safe guarding social harmony is therefore one of the most important imperatives of modern society, particularly in view of the realization that the entire earth has already become a “global village.”  Sadly enough, lack of this harmony creates many problems that continue to torment the modern human race nearly everywhere in the world.  The role played by religions in this disharmony is formidable

We in the Modern Age plead for scientific understanding in all matters.  Why can we not also apply this scientific method in the field of social harmony as well?  Instead, what we do is unconsciously allow ourselves to be dragged along the prejudices of religious identities, racism  and the like.  Why can’t we be motivated by science instead of by prejudice? This problem is not merely of a regional dimension or even a national one, but is of a profoundly global significance.

Our modern system of education helps us to analytically understand the world, ultimately enabling us to make better use of it in order to ensure our pleasure.  This pleasure-seeking inevitably compels us to exploit the world even at the expense of a secure life for our descendants.  Making us pleasure-seekers, greedy and self-centered, is what this educational system has as its ultimate goal.  We thus happen to live in a world with little care for others and little concern for the entire earth and its complex natural systems of life.  To borrow from the terminology of the Bhagavad Gita, this education makes asuras (demons) of us.  Fully developing this demonic nature within us and giving it the opportunity for free play is at the root of most of our modern social and communal ills.  The steady increase in crime, suicide, and unmindful and brutal behavior towards the hapless, are a few examples.

Feuds and violence in the name of religious identity are no exception.  In such situations, religion actually becomes degraded as a pleasure-giving object.  Finding one’s own identity with his religion, particularly for its organized form, and the willingness for self sacrifice for its own sake, often bringing about a consequent disregard for another’s similar identity with his faith, is what gives pleasure in this type of religiousness. In my opinion, the preceding defines what should come to be known as the corrupt form of religion

Religion, in its genuine form, enables us to identify ourselves with the total existence, with the total nature, and with the total Reality.  Knowing and exploiting the world will never be our motive when guided by this genuine sense of religiousness.  On the contrary, we find ourselves with the world, we live as part of the total flow of nature, we realize that which is Real within us is also that which is Real in everyone else as well.  Finally, we find ourselves fully absorbed in to the whole.

This is the experience the genuine teaching of any religion leads us to.   Being tempted to bring the world under our control, bringing others and other objects under our control, or bringing the followers of other religions in to the fold of our own, will never become the motive of anyone who lives a genuinely religious life.  Religious education and religious feeling make each of us feel how ultimately insignificant our transient existence is; how our lives are one with the mysterious Total.  This mysterious Total is variably named in different religions – Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord, Dharma, Brahman, and Atman are some such names
Those who argue for one’s own religion or against the religion of another are compared by the Guru to the blind men of the famous children’s story who went to see an elephant for the first time.  None of their perceptions is completely wrong.  Yet none of them is totally right.  It is not such incomplete, parochial and closed perception that is to guide our life.  The total perception of life reveals the inner oneness of all religions.  In Guru’s own words: “The essential teaching of various religions is one alone.  Not seeing this, like the blind men who saw an elephant, the ignorant meander in this world arguing in many ways but reaching nowhere.  Witnessing this and restraining oneself, one should remain undisturbed.”
Genuine religion, instead of teaching us how to know, control, and exploit the world, teaches us how to know ourselves and control ourselves so as to be one with the whole, never going against the interest of the Total and of one’s fellow beings.  Such a trait, diametrically opposite to the demonic nature, is also there in each of us and is called daivi sampatti (divine nature) in the Bhagavad Gita.  The modern outlook of believing blindly in the ideology of democracy, which supposedly goes hand-in-hand with secularism, blinds us to such an extent that we completely ignore the divine nature in each of us.  We therefore do not feel the necessity of training ourselves to know and to control ourselves.  This happens even in matters having religious import.  That means that we, in our ignorance, treat even the divine elements in us in a demonic way.  This is the basis in which our contemporary communal problems are primarily rooted.  Religions’ role in human life is that of nurturing the divine nature (daivi sampatti) in each of us.  It makes each individual capable of becoming aware of one’s inseparable oneness with the Total, with the ultimate Reality, with God.  Such awareness gives a new dimension and orientation to the worldly knowledge we gain; it naturally loses its demonic tendency and becomes subservient to divine nature.  Ensuring this sort of self-happiness in all respects is the role of religion in our lives.  It is in this sense that Narayana Guru defined his famous notion of “Oneness of faith” (Oru matam) thus:   
 
“Everyone in every way strives always to actualize self-happiness
This faith (in self-happiness) is one alone in all the worlds.” (Atmopadesa Satakam, 49)
Recalling this secret constantly saves one from the gravest sin of destroying oneself for the sake of the religion one loves and follows, as well as of destroying others’ who also are equally ardent in their faith in the religion they follow. Religion in short is a personal matter. Treating religion a such makes it scientific and acceptable to modern minds.  Giving it a social dimension corrupts it.  The very religion meant to develop the divine nature in us may thus become the source of the added oil poured on to the already raging fire of demonic nature hiding within us.
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All directives of the Guru derive from the transparent vision he possessed of the ultimate Reality underlying oneself as well as that of the whole world.  Ultimately it is one Absolute Reality or atman that unfolds itself as each of us, as our physical bodies, as the animating principle in us, as all the internal and external functional faculties, and as everything in the world.
The world he thought of is not merely the physical one perceived by modern science.  It is not merely the here and now.  If a hereafter exists at all, that also is not outside the world conceived of by the Guru.  In other words, it is the physical and mental worlds together, the here and the hereafter together, that he conceived of as “the world.”  The ultimate Reality he perceives is the Substance that unfolds itself as “this world.”  He called the reality atman.  The mysterious creative potential hidden in this equally mysterious atman, to unfold itself as all these worlds from itself, is called maya.
What is this all-underlying atman in essence?  It is consciousness or arivu, also called cit or samwit.  The Guru demonstrates it as easily as any modern scientist does in his analytical enquiry.  Take any object; for example, a piece of cloth.  Analyze it.  The cloth disappears in its thread-content.  Analyze the thread and it disappears into the being of cotton fibers.  Analyze the fiber further; it disappears into the being of the five basic elements.  These elements in their pure form, exist nowhere except as principles.  The existence of any principle, in its turn, is only as a knowledge setting formulated in Consciousness or mind, and thus it is Consciousness or arivu or cit that appears as the basic elements as fiber, as threads, as cloth and finally as everything in the world.
The cit in its functionally manifest form, appears as everything, both as mind and matter.  This mind is what conducts the search for the all-underlying Reality.  That Reality is none other than the substances that has assumed the form of the very same mind.  Therefore, what the searching mind has to do to know the all-underlying atma is interiorize its search and realize “I am that” (tat tvam asi). This transparent vision enabled the Guru to give an absolutist norm, not a relative or conditional one, to Ethics, the branch of philosophy that is thought of as a normative science, but hitherto remained without an accepted norm.What is that norm?  The reality that underlines my being is Real in another as well.  Myself and others being one substance, what is good and dear for me should naturally be good and dear for others as well.  This principle, when applied in Ethics, turns out to be the universal and eternal norm:  The actions that ensure happiness to oneself and others alike are good; the actions that ensure happiness to self and causes unhappiness to others are evil.  This is an original idea contributed by the Guru to philosophy in general
Narayana Guru was also the master who condensed the entire teaching of Vedanta into sutra form for the first time since Badarayana composed the traditionally well known Vedanta Sutras or Brahma Sutras.  The ambiguity of that text gave room for various commentaries, keeping us in the dark as to its real intension and vision.  The Vedanta Sutras of Narayana Guru, consisting merely of twenty four sutras, gives no chance for such divergent interpretation.  This particular work makes Narayana Guru the Badarayana of the Age of Science.

The Guru expounded the philosophy of advaita (non-duality) in his own original way in his works such as Atmopadesa Satakam (One Hundred Verses of self Instruction), Advaita Dipika  (Lamp of Non-Duality), Darsana-mala (Garland of Visions of the Absolute), Vedanta Sutras, Brahmavidya Pancakam (Brahmavidya in Five Verses), and other numerous hymns.  His literary works – mostly poems – number around sixty

What did Narayana Guru mean by non-duality?  The non-duality of  bhava and sat, the non-duality of the apparent world and Brahman or atman, the one Reality just as gold and gold ornament forms do not and cannot exist separately, the fleeting apparent world and the eternal all-underlying Reality always remain non-dual. 

Though what we perceive is gold alone, we take it for ornaments; like wise, though we constantly perceive atman, by remaining atman, we think we are perceiving the world.  This is caused by avidya (ignorance).  Even when seen as the world, what really exists remains atman, just as even when a piece of rope is seen as a snake, it still remains a rope.  It is our freedom from this avidya that leads us to the right kind of perception.  It is our liberation from all miseries as well.  In this way, problem and miseries are felt as a part of the self-unfoldment of atman alone.  This is how we became liberated from all dualities and miseries.

This philosophy of oneness found expression in Narayana Guru’s life as compassion toward everyone and every being.  As each living being is simply a different manifest form of one and the same atman, the same atman within each of us – killing a living being means to kill oneself or one’s own brother in the self, as act no one would consciously choose to do. The Guru therefore became an ardent promoter of the ahimsa, the vow of not hurting.

This very same compassion found expression in another way as his campaign against casteism, a social phenomenon that categorizes human society into various levels, from the untouchable pariahs to the most pure and holy Brahmin.  This social system has existed all through the history of India, vitiating its entire social fabric.  The Guru declared openly how casteism was unscientific.  Every species that begets children through the mating of males and females belongs to one jati or kind.  Accordingly, those who are treated as pariahs and Brahmins belong to one jati.  The entire human race thus  belongs to one jati.  The social movement against casteism that was inspired by the Guru’s call was something unprecedented in the history of India perhaps in the entire history of human race.  Its impact on India, particularly in the state of Kerala, was spectacular.  Despite all such social developments that grew up around him, he remained a jnanin, a yogin,  tapasvin, par excellence, unmarred by anything, although sharing an interest in all things.
The prevalence of casteism is also caused by avidya.  Helping each individual to liberate himself from this avidya is what religion is expected to accomplish.  What is called avidya by the Guru is not basically different from the sin conceived of by Semitic religions

Different religions, or rather religious movements, at this point, find their intrinsic oneness.  It is in order to enlighten the elite as well as the layman of this basic truth, that Narayana Guru organized a Parliament of Religions, the first of this kind in Asia, in 1924, at his ashram at Aluva.  At the entrance was written in huge letters, “Not for arguing and winning but for knowing and letting know.”  At the close of this Parliament, he officially declared a decision to establish a mata-mahapatasala, a school to teach all religions with a sense of sympathy and a quest for knowing, at this ashram at Varkala.

Such an open-heartedness with regard to religion is what imminently need in this Age of Reason.  This open-heartedness is to be present in one’s own religious congregation.  Creating such an atmosphere is not the responsibility of laymen but of the priests and monks, or bhikshus and sannyasins.

Let us be scientific, open-minded, and practical in our religiousness and the related responsibility, rather than being dogmatic, close-minded and impractical.  On the one hand, a scientific and broad-minded revisualization of our religiousness will definitely ensure a bright future both for humanity and for religion.  The other attitude, on the other hand, is doomed to be destructive.  Religions really are meant for making human life happy.  We should not let the very same religion become the cause of making human life miserable.

Let us dedicate ourselves to the noble cause of ensuring enlightened harmony among various religious followings, with an open-minded mutual understanding.  All of the world’s religions teach us to love one another.  Let us not allow these very same religions to become instruments of social and communal hatred.