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Godliness is the heart of spirituality, and religion is its body || On Advait Vedanta (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
29 min
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ਜਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਸਿੰਘਾਂ ਸਿੰਘਣੀਆਂ ਨੇ ਧਰਮ ਹੇਤ ਸੀਸ ਦਿੱਤੇ ਬੰਦ ਬੰਦ ਕਟਾਏ ਖੋਪਰੀਆਂ ਲੁਹਾਈਆਂ ਚਰਖੀਆਂ ਤੇ ਚੜੇ ਆਰਿਆਂ ਨਾਲ ਚਿਰਾਏ ਗਏ ਗੁਰਦਵਾਰਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਸੇਵਾ ਲਈ ਕੁਰਬਾਨੀਆਂ ਕੀਤੀਆਂ ਧਰਮ ਨਹੀਂ ਹਾਰਿਆ ਸਿੱਖੀ ਕੇਸਾਂ ਸੁਆਸਾਂ ਨਾਲ ਨਿਬਾਹੀ ਤਿਨ੍ਹਾਂ ਦੀ ਕਮਾਈ ਦਾ ਧਿਆਨ ਧਰ ਕੇ ਖਾਲਸਾ ਜੀ ਬੋਲੋ ਜੀ ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ

jinhaan singhaan singhaniaan nae dHaram haet sees deettae baaNd baaNd kataa-ae khopariaan luhaa-ee-aan charkharee-aan tae charhae aare-aan naal chiraa-ae ga-ae gurduaare-aan dee saevaa la-ee kurbaaniaan keeTee-aan dHaram naheen haareaa sikhee kaesaan svaasaan naal nibhaa-ee tinhaan dee kamaa-ee dah theaan dhar kae khaalsaa jee bolo jee Vaaheguroo

Think of and remember the unique service rendered by those brave Sikh men as well as women, who sacrificed their heads but did not surrender their Sikh Religion; who got themselves cut to pieces from each of the joints of the body; who got their scalps removed; who were tied and rotated on the wheels and broken into pieces; who were cut by saws; who were flayed alive; who sacrificed themselves to upkeep the dignity of the Gurdwaras; who did not abandon their Sikh faith; who kept their Sikh Religion and saved their long hair till their last breath; Utter Wahe Guru (Wondrous God)!

~ Ardas, 2nd section

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Questioner (Q): The second part of the Ardas (a set prayer in Sikhism) is devoted to the Sikh martyrs who refused to submit and kept their faith even in the face of atrocities and torture. When it came to choosing between abandoning their religion and a violent death, they chose the latter and defended their religion to the very end.

Even today, a lot of violence takes place in the name of religion. There are religious conversions due to socio-political reasons, there is discrimination on the basis of religious views, and people who believe that their religion is the only right one try to dominate each other. It is common that people who are fighting for their religion are looked down on by society. Many take pride in calling themselves spiritual rather than religious.

As we progress in spirituality and our identity with religion drops off, we don’t have the urge to fight for its sake anymore. But if we do not defend religion, the sacred texts and the wisdom of the saints would be lost. So, what is the importance of religion in one’s life? Do we have a responsibility to defend it? How does spirituality relate to all this?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It is fashionable and equally naive to talk of spirituality sans religion. Religion is the pathway that leads to spirituality, and at the center of spirituality is Godliness. Ultimately, the ego needs Godliness, neither religion nor spirituality. So, why even talk of spirituality? Simply say, “I am Godly.” Why say, “I am not religious but I am spiritual”?

The fact is, it is impossible for 99.999% of people to be spiritual without religion, just as it is impossible for 99.999% of people to just by grace find liberation without delving into spirituality. You cannot be accidentally spiritual; religion is needed. If religion has been distorted or corrupted or polluted, then redeem it, refine it, liberate it of the pollution. But you cannot just drop religion as something outdated or unnecessary.

What is the difference between religion and spirituality? Religion is for the one who is far away from the temple, as most people are. So, they need loud and harsh worldly reminders in their language to come to the temple. So, they will need, for example, festivals. There is nothing called a spiritual festival, but there are religious festivals. Why are festivals needed? So that people who are usually far away from Godliness, who have no inclining of Beyondness, are made to turn to Beyondness. They are told, “Today, no business, no work, no school, no usual fair at the home. Today, you just have to be with God.” Obviously, the God that they would think of is the God of their images, but still that image is better than the usual stuff their usual day comprises of.

Religion is like the call of the muezzin: it is meant to wake you up, and it travels far and wide. Religion is like the temple bell, the big one: its toll travels up to miles. Or the Ramcharitmanas being sung at daybreak. Who comes to hear the chaupais? Even those who have very little to do with Rama, even they come to hear of these things, and they say, “Fine, the day has started with at least the word ‘Rama’ falling in my ears.” That is religion. And then a situation is created in which these millions of ordinarily irreligious people turn a little inwards, are made to believe just a little in stuff beyond the mundane.

Religion is that which makes you put a Krishna idol at home. Religion is that which makes you have a copy of the Gita at home. Ordinarily, why would you be interested in the Gita? It is only because of a religious compulsion that you keep a copy of Gita at home, don’t you? And your home might consist of twenty people. Then of these twenty people across several generations, in hundred years, in two hundred years, it happens that one boy or one girl discovers an old copy of the Gita lying, covered in all due respect in the little family temple. And the little one says, “What is it? I want to understand.”

And this happens not every day, this happens once in hundred years. Maybe two hundred members of the extended family over several successive generations would have seen that copy of the Gita lying in the temple, but nobody cared to approach it with love, with interest, with curiosity. They just said, “Oh, it’s a holy book, it’s a religious requirement. It’s a religious requirement that Krishna’s idol is there and a copy of the Gita is there. It’s a religious requirement; it’s kept there.”

That little boy or that little girl went to the Gita actually, picked it up, and was enthralled. Krishna cast his spell. Possessed! Greed and fear and desire and future started vanishing from the mind of the little one. And when I say little one, I don’t mean someone six months old, little one compared to the old family grandfathers, so let’s say fifteen years old. And Krishna takes over. Now, this is spirituality. Krishna has taken over. Now Krishna is not merely in the house: when it comes to that boy, Krishna is now in the heart. This is spirituality.

But for Krishna to be in the heart, it is required that Krishna should first of all have been in the house. That is religion. Without religion, how will you get spirituality? Tell me. Magically it is possible, but you are unnecessarily raising the odds. Without the myth of Krishna, why would somebody be interested in the Gita? Please. Without the beautiful panorama that has been woven and visualized around Krishna, why would somebody go to Gita? Do people have so much discretion on their own that they would go to somebody who is not eulogized, not famed, not fabled, not deitied? Do we have that kind of discretion?

If Krishna were not a popular god, I am asking you, how many people would go to the Gita? That’s a good comparison. How many people go to Ashtavakra with the kind of reputation or the lack of it that he has? And the gita of Ashtavakra is as deep as the gita of Krishna. But how many people go to Ashtavakra? Ashtavakra carries no special place in religion, so his gita has not succeeded in being useful.

And the Gita is not an easy read. It is counterintuitive. It asks you not to expect results from your actions; it tells you that even if you kill someone, there is something that does not die. The mind does not want to accept these things. The mind is not conditioned, in the physical sense, to accept these things.

If Krishna were not a god, would you continue reading Gita even after Krishna said that he has been present since eternity and Arjuna, too, has been present since eternity? You would say, “What nonsense! Maybe this book was written under the influence of alcohol. What is this fellow saying? And is he not promoting violence?” You would come with a thousand intellectual arguments against Krishna. And intellectually, most of those arguments would actually be valid. It is only the halo around Krishna that enables you to gain value from the Gita, and that halo is not spiritual, it is religious. Without Krishna being who he is, would the Gita be what it is?

The spiritual ones say, “We like the Gita but we do not like the myths associated with Krishna.” Fair enough. But tell me, how long would the Gita survive sans Krishna? In fact, the purely spiritual ones go one step further: they say, “It’s not even the totality of the Gita that we admire. There are a few parts, portions, verses of Gita that we pick up and like so much. The rest, you know, we can keep aside.” If you have so much of discretion that you can pick stuff from spiritual texts, then why do you need spiritual texts at all? Your own discretion is good enough, capable enough to carry you through life.

Spirituality would not be able to survive the loss of religion. Man needs religion. I do not know whether the man is physical, I do not know whether the man is social, but man has to be religious. And that does not mean that one has to be dogmatic. Religions, in general, themselves have been a flux, especially in India. There has been all liberty to let religion evolve. Religions have responded to the changing times. Religions have branched out, and they have branched out so much, for example, that today you do not know what to really call as the Hindu religion. It’s a vast banyan tree, and you do not even know where the so-called original roots are. And all that is wonderful and beautiful and alright.

Let religion grow, spread, branch out; let the useless, outdated, or harmful parts die down. In other words, let there be a renaissance. Let there be a renovated religion. But do not say that man does not need religion. We live in stories. We need religious stories as well. Otherwise, the worldly stories will just sit upon the mind, occupy it and become so heavy that man will crush under their burden.

I am not saying that it is impossible to be spiritual without being religious, but that is the prerogative of one in a million people. An Ashtavakra can say that he does not follow any religious rituals and is yet deeply spiritual. But look at the common man, look at the ones who are boasting that they are spiritual but not religious. Do they have the grace of an Ashtavakra? Their ego is making them attempt to match Ashtavakra. It’s a self-destructive urge of the ego, like all its other urges.

The essence of Kabir Sahib’s teachings is spiritual, but today is Kabir Jayanti. And if you really have love, then you would remember the man as well, no? That is religion.

Religion is honesty. Honestly, we are all body-identified, are we not? We are body-identified, but we do not want to care for the body of the one who gave us so much and is giving us so much. Is that not hypocrisy? Religion says, “Do not care merely for the teachings of Krishna, care also for his body.” So, celebrate Janmashtami, the day he is born. Is that not honest? If you are associated so much with your own body—and are you not?—then why don’t you want to give value to the body of Krishna?

Religion is the body of spirituality, and Godliness is the heart of spirituality.

Would you just say that we bother only about Saint Kabir’s essential message? Essentially, there isn’t any message. If you go into the pure essence, is there a message? There is no message; there is just the vast open sky. Does the sky have any message? No, none at all.

Religion is practical. Religion is honest. Religion is earthly. Religion is beautiful. People talk about the toxic effects of religion on contemporary life. Truly, there are toxic effects of misplaced and blinded religiosity on the world. But do you want to throw the baby out with the bath water? The toxic effects of dogmatic religion are all visible. But why do you forget that the deep teachings of the religions are all that is ensuring order in this world? Otherwise, what would man be? Just another animal.

Muslims are placing bombs in churches, Christians are killing Muslims. You say, “See? Religion is the evil’s agent. Man does not need religion. Why does somebody need to be Muslim? Why does somebody need to be Christian? Religion only makes people fight with each other.” But I am asking you, where does all the love and compassion in the world come from? Please, tell me. Were you born with love and compassion as you emerged from your mother’s womb? You will say, “No, but I was born in an agnostic family. We did not even discuss religion.”

Sir, religion is in the air. Your family might not have supplied religion to you, but still this entire world is running on a religious order. You absorbed religion from everywhere. Otherwise, why should one man not cut the throat of another man? Do you think it is a scientific value to help others, and help others without any corresponding benefit to yourself, help others with zero expectation of gain to yourself? Do you think such a value is secular, or scientific, or modern, or intellectual, or logical? No sir, it’s a religious value. And we have been ungrateful that we have not acknowledged the central, very pivotal contribution of religion to the development of mankind.

Scientists are working in a laboratory. It’s a cutting edge laboratory, state of the art facility. What makes scientists cooperate with each other? Merely expectation of gain? Will you be able to rule jealousy out? When I say rule jealousy out, I mean will you be able to banish jealousy by ruling against it? Will you say, “Jealousy is not admissible in this scientific facility”? Will science be able to take care of jealousy? Even in the most advanced scientific laboratory, what is it that prevents the scientists from being jealous of each other? Is it science? Would nuclear physics empower the nuclear physicist to shun jealousy? No, it is religion. It is not common sense.

Please do not say, “Oh, but these are universal human values.” No, there is nothing called ‘universal human values’. In fact, there is nothing called ‘human value’ either.

Man is made human by religion.

Today, if you find that almost one fifth of the world’s population has turned irreligious—they declare themselves atheists or agnostics—and they are still prospering, it is because man has been for so long religious that, as I said, religion is in the air. Just as the catastrophic effects of climate change take a few decades or a couple of centuries to show up, similarly, just like deforestation, the effects of de-religionization will take a couple of centuries to probably show up, that is if we survive for that long.

If you find religion bad, then just honestly consider a world totally without religion. Then probably you will not find religion so bad. I assure you, there is nothing in man’s physical constitution that prevents him from being envious or lustful or tense or attached. In fact, man is designed to be attached and ignorant and violent. It is only religion that tells him, “You are not an animal, you are the son of God.” Without religion, who will whisper this in man’s ears? Man will just remain an intellectual chimpanzee. Ah, intellectual, nevertheless a chimpanzee.

A gorilla is a gorilla even if he is the head of the department in a prestigious intellectual university, no? Intellectual gorilla! What do I mean by that? That the basic physical instincts remain gorilla-like. On top of those instincts sits the intellect, but the basic gorilla instincts are very much there. That’s what is an intellectual gorilla. Intellect can at most bring you to that point; it cannot make you human. What do you want to be, an intellectual gorilla or a simple human being?

Q: You said that religion is essential for spirituality, at least for most people. But, in the name of religion, Hindus fight with Muslims, Muslims fight with Hindus, and all kinds of atrocities are taking place all the time all over the world.

AP: The recorder you are speaking into will get saturated with your voice soon. Why not throw it away? The dress that you are wearing will get soiled very soon. Why wear it at all? The specs that you are holding, they won’t be there forever; they get dirty, they get broken. Why use them?

Religion is not the Truth. Religion is an enabler. Except for Truth, everything is ephemeral. Except for Truth, everything costs something. Except for Truth, everything has its limitations. So, religion has its limitations. But you have to carefully weigh the limitations against the benefits. If there were no religion, would you still sit in front of me here, like an obedient girl?

Tell me, what is it that makes you sit here obediently? Why are you calling me Acharya Ji? I am Prashant. And why must I be a guru? If you are thirty, I am forty; look at me as a man. That’s what Prakriti has trained you to do, has it not? A thirty-year-old is not supposed to look at a forty-year-old as a guru or something. You are a body, I am a body. What makes you be disciplined? Is it fear? I hope it is not. What makes you look wide-eyed at me? What makes you try to understand? Is it your animal origins? No. No animal seeks to understand, they only seek to get some food. You are not getting it, are you?

Alright, some of you are volunteers. Many of you have never been paid a single paisa by the foundation. Why are you still here? Tell me. Why? Don’t you see the role of religion in this? But for religion, who would teach you that this is valuable?

We have taken so many things for granted. You go out and you help your neighbor, and you think, “Oh, this is essential human nature!” No, this is not essential human nature. This is the effect of religion on man. But we are ungrateful, we do not acknowledge that. Don’t you see that even tribal societies have their own versions of religion? Religion is so central to civilization. Even tribals need religions. Their religions are different, but they do have religions.

Without religion, there can be no civilization. Man will remain a beast.

Q: I did not come to you by knowing your religion.

AP: You did not consciously know the religious basis of your actions but, as I said, religion is in the air. And that’s the beauty of religion. Once it becomes the cultural norm you do not have to be formally indoctrinated in it. It’s something that you, then, breathe in. The kid just looks at the mother and the grandmother and the neighbors and the uncles and the father, and he gets educated in religion.

So, even if the kid has never read the Gita or Bible or the Quran, still he is versed in the fundamental principles. He may not specifically or formally know which verse of the Gita his behavior is coming from, but surely the Gita is impacting his behavior because the Gita is in the air. It was an Englishman who has commented; he said, “Even the illiterate farmers of India are deeply spiritual. Religion is in India’s soil.” So, even if somebody does not know a single word from the scriptures, he is still religious.

There are twenty-five festivals in a month—how will you not be religious? Three days every week you are fasting—how will you not be religious? And you do not know why exactly are you fasting; you are just saying, “Oh, today is Monday, so I have to fast!” But that has taught you something: that has taught you that there is something higher than the body’s need for food, so you have to fast. You do not know why you are fasting, but this much has become known to you: that once you pick up the fast you cannot break it. Monday means Monday; you will not have food, you will not have water. So, it has been proven to you that you have to go beyond the body without the principle being stated to you officially or formally or in an academic way.

Just because you pick it up from the air, it does not mean that you will continue picking it up when it disappears from the air. And the kind of attitudes that are prevailing in the world today with respect to religion, they are conspiring to remove religion even from the air. Yes, religion is still there in the air of distant god-forsaken villages, the places you call as the interiors; there religion is still in the soil, in the air. But if you will ask me is religion in the air of an advanced shopping mall, I will say it is still there, but just as the carbon content is rising, particle content is rising in the air, similarly irreligiousness is rising in the air and religion is on the decline.

Just because we find that even without formal religious education people are still behaving nicely, so we think that if religion is removed totally, altogether, people will still continue to behave nicely. It’s a great myth. Remove religion altogether, and you will have nothing but beasts roaming the surface of this earth, because there is nothing, I repeat, in man’s body or brain that encourages him or empowers him to behave in a saintly way. There is nothing at all.

If you take a man’s kid and leave him in the jungle without any contact with civilization for many many years, what do you expect to find? A creature full of insight, love, understanding, compassion? I hope we do not conduct that experiment upon anyone. One life would be lost forever, irretrievably.

I have said this many a times tonight. I repeat this: Only religion turns the beast into a human being. The human being is not born from the mother’s womb; the human beast is born from the mother’s womb. The human beast is turned into human being by religion. No religion, no human being.

And we already have a lot of beasts. There are a lot of families where the air is really not religious, and when they grow up, they are dry people; they just don’t understand a lot of things. It is almost as if their faculty to understand has shriveled, almost died down. Just by spending a few minutes with someone, I can tell whether or not the fellow is coming from a religious background. The eyes have it. If you are coming from a background where there was very little religiosity, your face will be very animal-like or android-like.

If there is no religion, man is either animal or android. Have you not seen android babies these days? You call them cute. Or android youngsters. Look at the face of a Kabir Sahib or Baba Bulleh Shah, and then look at the face of most youngsters of today. You will find something missing. You will not be able to put your finger on it. What is missing in the face of today’s youngsters, or what is extra in the face of a Bulleh Shah? It is a certain religiosity. It’s fascinating. Just to look at faces, specifically the eyes. The eyes have it.

When I say animal, I mean he would be driven by his basic tendencies. When I say android, I mean to say he will or might have a powerfully developed intellect. But neither do your basic tendencies nor your intellect define your humanness. Your humanness is defined by your Heart, and it is religion that brings the Heart to you.

Androids are top-heavy, animals are bottom-heavy—you could say crotch-heavy—but both of them bypass the Heart. One operates from the top floor, the other operates from the basement. The human being operates from the center that is Heart. And if you don’t have religion, you will have the android and the animal but you will not have the human being, the one with Heart.

And it’s not as if the android and the animal are mutually exclusive. If you look at people, they are sometimes top-heavy and sometimes crotch-heavy, and after a point the top and the crotch start collaborating with each other. So, you use the top to fulfill the crotch.

Neither top nor bottom; be centered. Intellect is the top, animal instincts are the bottom. Religiousness is to be centered, here (pointing at the center of his chest) ; neither here (pointing at the head) nor there (pointing at the crotch) .

Q: You just talked about religious values being in the air. Can’t that be a product of trial and error? As in, for example, when you teach a religious code of conduct to somebody and that becomes just a rote memorization process for the person. You just mentioned the scientist in the laboratory, that science cannot teach him whether to be jealous or not. Humans have fought two world wars even when religion has been present.

AP: So, say only two world wars.

Q: Yes.

AP: Because religion is present.

Q: Yes. They fought the war despite religion being present.

AP: So, only two world wars. Otherwise, you will have world war three times a day. Look at the way we are, so eager to pick fights on every trivial issue. Is it not a magical thing that we have had only two world wars till now? Please.

Before you complained, “Oh, we have had two world wars,” look at your face. You are always fighting a world war within yourself, are you not? Man is so eager to occupy and consume the entire world, sometimes in the name of colonial expansion, and sometimes in the name of tourism. How is it that there has been no major war in the last half a century?

When somebody says, “You know, I have visited 125 countries,” is that very different from saying, “My forces have occupied 125 countries”? Please. Is it out of love for those 125 countries that he has visited them? He does not love even his motherland—how will he love 125 countries? But when a conqueror has a territorial lust, then you call it warmongering. When the so-called civilized tourists visit this place and that place and that place, then you say, “Oh, he is just an innocent wanderer. What else is he doing?”

We are probably still in dark about our dark tendencies. We do not know who we are. We probably have too high an opinion about ourselves. We just do not know who we are. Kindly drop all fantastic images that you might have of yourself. Man is evil incarnate. Remove religion, and nothing but the Satan remains. Man has tendencies of the beast and intentions of the devil.

So, praise your stars that you have had only two world wars till now. Praise the ones who came down from the stars to give you religion. Remember the answer I gave in the last session when someone asked about the declining values in the youth of today? I said the same thing. Why do you think that the youth must be principled and civilized? Youth are supposed to go around, have a good time, seek pleasure and fuck. The fault does not lie with the youth. The fault lies with your misplaced expectations.

By looking at one Vivekananda you start imagining or dreaming or expecting that all youth can be like Vivekananda, and in this lies your in-gratitude and disrespect towards Vivekananda. You do not know what kind of an impossibility a Vivekananda is. You do not appreciate him. So, you feel that anybody and everybody can be a Vivekananda. You do not know the colossal height of the Himalayas, so you start feeling that the little bit of mud you have gathered in your lawn must be able to have some snow on its peak.

And then you complain. You say, “The Himalayas have so much snow on their peaks. I too have raised this little mound, five kilograms of earth I dug up, and then this hill I have created, all of 24 inches in height. But I do not see any snow on its peak!” You do not see any snow on its peak because you do not have respect for the glory of the Himalayas. You do not know what it takes to have your peaks crowned with snow. You feel that the crown is cheap. The snow crown does not come cheap; it requires the height of a giant. You do not respect the giant.

Human beings are all like those little mounds, those little heaps of earth on ground. The religious teachers, the gurus have been like the mighty Everests. But we keep comparing ourselves to them and feel disappointed when we do not find snow in our hair. Try being a Guru Nanak Dev or a Swami Vivekananda for one day. Try living their life for one day, and then you will realize who we are. One hour? Please, somebody take the bait. For one hour try living as the Guru, and then you will realize how impossible a Guru is, and then you will realize where you would have been without the gurus.

It has become a fad to curse religion and to say, “Oh, all religions are outdated, and we do not need to even read the ancient scriptures.” It has become a fashionable thing. It is the wildest kind of ingratitude that deserves the most severe kind of punishment, and the punishment is forthcoming—man is suffering.

Is there love in the animal world? Is there love in the android world? Go find out where love comes from.

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