Grateful for Acharya Prashant's videos? Help us reach more individuals!
What is religion? Why do we pray? || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2014)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
21 min
27 reads

Question: What is religion? Why do we pray?

Speaker: The mind is off-center. It remains distracted, a little away from its core. That is the reason it feels restive, uneasy. That is why there is always an urge to achieve, to reach somewhere, to feel fulfilled. All of that is because the mind is not really at its center.

Religion is the way that brings the lost mind back to its center; its Home. That is religion.

Now when you are away from your Home, then what brings you back, that way too, is not really your Home. It’s a path in space, an area, other than your Home.

So essentially, religion consists of: saying something to the mind, doing things that calm the mind down; all in the domain of mind itself.

But the central purpose, as you would be seeing by now, of religion, is to bring man back to where he really belongs – his Centre, his Core, his Essence. That is also the test of true religion. Does it distract you further? Does it make you even more lost, or does it help you return?

Now because everybody is at a different point, everybody is conditioned differently, hence everybody is at a different point, in his own universe, which means, that everybody will have to find a separate way to come back. (Explaining as a model) You see, there is a center, and then there is a three-dimensional space around it. And everybody is at a different point in that space. So if you want to come back, you will have to have a unique trajectory. Just as you are unique in your conditioning. Everybody has a different past, right? So everybody is conditioned differently, in that sense. We all are conditioned to that extent, that is a commonality, but we all are conditioned differently. To that extent, there is diversity, right? So there has to be a different path for everybody.

Hence when you talk of religion or dharma, the true religion is Swadharma. Swadharma indicates your own unique path, depending upon the unique configuration of your mind. That is religion. Putting it in other words: we all are conditioned. Religion is that which reduces our conditioning, and brings us back to our original, innocent, clean Self. Is it clear?

The mind is carrying a lot of load of experiences, imprints, influences, the entire history that it is carrying, all the hurt that is there, all the stuff that has been fed into it. All that is there in the mind. And that is what is called as ‘suffering’. That is what makes mind and life heavy, all that we are carrying here unnecessarily. Religion is that which helps reduce this burden. Hence the objective of all religion is – a light, clean, pure, empty mind. That is the final objective of all religion.

Religion therefore is not about set rituals; religion therefore is not about following particular pattern. Religion in fact is that which breaks the pre-existing patterns. You see, patterns are already there, are they not? We all live in patterns, habits. Now if religion happens to give us a few more habits, a few more patterns, then is religion increasing our mental load, or decreasing it?

Listeners: Increasing it.

Speaker: So that can’t be religion. That is just a mistake. True religion, therefore, is a bit of a rebellion. It is every bit a rebellion, because true religion means getting rid of all the certainties in mind. True religion means, getting rid of what you usually consider precious and important. True religion means, nothing will stay in this mind except the very Truth. Everything else will be examined, seen in its totality, and hence rejected in the favor of Truth. Nothing will remain here, except the one, single, clean Truth.

That brings us to the issue of ‘religions’. Surely there can be only one, true religion. What is that one, true religion? Which brings you back to your center.

Then why do we have religions? How come there are hundreds of religions? You can just call them ‘cults’. What happens is, that something really beautiful happens in time – a master arrives, light spreads through him, and whatever he is saying or doing, is arising from his own realization. It is not coming from a conditioned self. And because it is not coming from the conditioned self, it is said to come from the Divine Center. That is why it is also said, “It is the voice of God.”

When you say that something is ‘voice of God’, all it means is that it is not the voice of ego. You too can speak in the ‘voice of God’. When the mind is not speaking from its false center, the center of ego, then whatever you utter, is the Divine Voice, it is the voice of God.

So time and again you have these instances. There are people who have said beautiful things. There are books, that if you read in a meditative way, the mind undergoes a transformation, its diseases are healed. And the impact of such people is large. It ought to be large. What they say, does not come from a pattern. It comes from their realization. It does not come from following a tradition. It is altogether new and fresh; not conventional. But after they are gone, then their actions, their words – they become another pattern. Hence what you get, is another religion. Are you getting it?

We do not know the center from which they were operating, because to know that center, we need to be at our own center. We do not know from where their voice was coming. So very conveniently we say, “It is the voice of God,” as if we know God. We just say, “It is the voice of God.” We do not know really from where there voice was coming. We have no connection to that, because only an innocent mind can have the connection to that point. So what do we do? We start copying their actions. Obviously, their realization can’t be copied. Somebody’s understanding can’t be copied. The center from where everything was emanating, that cannot be copied. So what do we copy? Their actions. And this copying of actions and words, we start calling as ‘religion’. No, this is not religion. This is foolishness.

Religion is that which leads to your awakening, not that which helps you in remaining more asleep .

What do we see happening in the name of religion? Do you see a transformation of mind? Do we see the urge to demolish the structure of conditioning? Or, do we see people becoming more intransigent, more un-accommodating, more unwilling to listen to anything, except their own point of view? It is leading to hardening of patterns. Instead of a supple mind, what we are getting is a more obdurate mind. That can’t be religion. The tragedy is, we have wars in the name of religion. How can there be wars in the name of religion?

Religion is an entirely individual thing. Religion is my own way to return to my Core, right? Religion is like my own personal treatment. What do I mean by fighting with somebody in the name of religion? Can there be something more stupid than this? How can a particular religion have a particular name? How can ‘groups’ be called ‘religious groups’? When religion is such an individual thing, how can there be ‘religious groups’? How can people count the number of followers of a religion?

It is not a coincidence that the world is suffering so much. It is not a coincidence that we are on the brink of destruction. The only thing that can save us is ‘religion’. But there is no word more abused today, than religion. Religion today, in fact, is a dirty word. Don’t we know that? We use religion to justify all our stupidities. We even have terrorism in the name of religion. Great wars have been fought in the name of religion, ‘crusades’. Have you heard of these wars? These wars lasted for hundreds of years. So the only thing that can save man, is what man has turned into his poison.

Religion should have been the force of emancipation. Instead, it has become the force of destruction, because we do not know religion. In the name of religion, all that we know is rituals, rituals, and rituals. (Referring to a festival celebrated in India) That is why on this Diwali all of you would have received these continuous messages from Advait. Did you?

Listeners: Yes Sir.

Speaker: We were trying to bring to you the essence of religion. Is ‘Diwali’ about going back home, indulging again in your set routines that you anyway follow, eating a lot of sweets and oil, then using small electric bulbs to light up your home, then bursting crackers, then unnecessarily saying ‘Happy Diwali’ to everybody, when there is, in fact, hardly anything happy about it? But that is what we have turned religion into. That is a false religion. It is just a set of practices that you are following.

Since childhood you have seen that ‘Diwali’ means new clothes, sweets, food, lights and crackers. Is there anything more to ‘Diwali’? All that we have just listed is, mere actions, right? Repeated actions, one year after the other, and the same kind of actions. How can repetition lead to freshness? It can only lead to reinforcement of that, which is anyway there.

The essence of religion lies in getting rid of your conditioning – that is the one and only purpose of religion. Anything that doesn’t rid you of your conditioning, is highly irreligious. It is not religion at all. This, what we are doing right now, is a religious activity. But this doesn’t look like religious activity, right? Had we been doing this at a temple, then you would have said, “Oh! Probably, it is religious.” This is the most religious activity that can be done – that is happening here, right now.

This entire process that you are undergoing, the HIDP, is a religious process; in the truest sense of the word. Why? Because it is helping you get rid of your conditioning. And that is what religion is. The mind has dirt, religion is like taking bath. The mind keeps on gathering dirt from influences, from training, from experiences. Religion is – the sacred bath, the sacred bath that cleanses all the dirt of the mind. But instead, we have turned religion into gathering more dirt.

Do you return with a clean, light and innocent mind after your festivals? Usually you return with more dirt, more conditioning, more calories and more weight. Is that not so? After all religions are about eating good. “Eating this, eat that.”

Religion is that which brings you to your center of peace; not the center of disturbance, or violence. Then how can you have all kinds of disruptive activities in the name of religion or festivals? In fact, we have festivals, in which you have rampant violence. Animals are being slaughtered. Now how can that be religion? Is religion about peace, or is religion about violence? The masters, the saints, the prophets who spoke in the Divine voice, would be the first one to denounce our practices. They would be the first one to say, “This is not Diwali, this is not Eid. What you are doing is something else. It is your cheap entertainment.This is not religion.”

“You are giving just another name to your cheap and vulgar tendencies. You want to titillate yourself, you want to have more merriment and entertainment, you start calling it ‘Diwali’ or ‘Christmas’. You want to eat food that is tantalizing to the tongue, you start saying, “Let us cook this sweet, or let us kill this animal and eat its flesh.” What does this have to do with religion?

You don’t need to follow practices to be religious. Religiousness is the simplest act of all. Whenever you can be peaceful and silent, you are religious. You need not wear some kind of an identification mark. You need not even go to a temple. A tree, a simple tree, if you can watch it in attention and peace, it is a religious activity. If you can relate to somebody, without comparison, without domination, without fear, in simple healthy love, if you can relate, this is religion. You need not declare the name of that religion, because the religion cannot have any name.

Do you have multiple sciences? When you are looking at the facts of the physical world, do you have multiple sciences? Do you have a Hindu science, a Muslim science and a Christian science? Do you have that? Then how can you have multiple religions? Because even the inner Truth is One. In fact, the inner Truth is more One, than the external facts. Outside, there is a possibility that what appears to be true today, would be falsified tomorrow. Inside, nothing can be falsified. There is only one Truth. So how can you have several religions?

You see, what a Kabir says in India, in the fifteenth century, has also been said by Jesus, fifteen hundred years prior to Kabir, in a land that Kabir never went to. What a Lao Tzu is saying in China, is so similar to what a Heraclitus is saying in Europe. How is it possible? They are thousands of Kilometers and thousands of years apart. How are they saying the same thing? Because religion is One. That is why, what a Fareed says and what a Meera says, is essentially the same thing. Fareed and Meera never met each other. And there were no mobile phones. Yet what there are saying is, the same. How is it possible? It is possible because, internal Truth is One. There is no question of multiple truths.

That was the first part of your question. The second part is: what is prayer?

Usually when we pray, that is either demanding or begging. Is that not so? Praying is want, it is desire. I am praying – for something. Now what can I pray for? What will I pray for? If I pray for something, what will I pray for? I am a man who is spending his life just to get more power and more money. So even if I go to a temple, what will I pray for? Power and money. Now how will that help? I am already diseased, and what am I praying for? More disease. So that is the fact of our prayer.

You are standing and wishing that the neighbor’s house collapses. “God please, within two days,” and you are in fact in fact intent upon bribing God also. “If that happens, I will distribute sweets and will give something to you as well in commission.” So students, when exams approach, you see them queuing in front of temples.

“I don’t have a son. Pray.” “India is losing a cricket match. Pray.” “I committed a robbery and now police is coming to catch me. Pray.”

What kind of prayer is that? You even have specialists in prayer these days. I was seeing an ad, there the fellow says, “I know some kind of a hypnotic prayer. So if the girl is not responding to your proposals, come and pray.” What kind of prayer is this?

Keep in mind – whenever you will pray, the prayer will only be of this nature. Because what else will you pray for? You will only pray for fulfillment of your desires, right? What else can you pray for? You will only pray for what you want, you want only that which you have been conditioned to want. Simple. Now this kind of prayer obviously has no value, it is just self-deception. You are only fooling yourself, and you are also trying to fool God.

Real prayer is a life of surrender. Real prayer is when you say, “If I pray, then that prayer is worthless. So I won’t even pray. Whatever I do, would always be tainted with my incompleteness.”

Real prayer is such a deep surrender that – “I am not going to even ask something, because I don’t know what is good for me. I am leaving everything to existence.”

It is a deep-deep surrender of the ego.

It is not about going, and claiming, and demanding, or begging. It is about just being silent. It is not about raising a hue and cry, shouting, going and turning emotional. Real prayer is not about five minutes in front of a deity, or five minutes in a temple or a mosque. Real prayer is an entire life of submission . “I submit to the divine will.” Real prayer is not about going and saying for two minutes, “God, you are great. God you are great,” and then coming out and saying, “I am great.”

Have you heard that story? So there is that King, and somebody comes and tells him, “You know, the most beneficial, and the highest act is to kneel down in a prayer.” So the King says, “In everything else I am great. I must achieve greatness on this front as well.” So he goes in front of the mosque and in Sajdaa he was continuously uttering, “God, I am poorest of poor. Though I am the King, yet I have nothing, as everything belongs to you. I am poorest of poor.” Then one beggar comes and kneels down adjacent to him. And the beggar is also saying, “Ya Allah! I am the poorest of poor. I am the poorest of poor. Please help me.” The King hears this. When the beggar comes out of the temple, he catches hold of the beggar and says, “He must be flocked. Punish him hard. How can he be the poorest? I am the poorest. I am the top most poor. You see even I being poor, I must be top most poor.”

That is the competitive mind. “After all, I am a King. When I am the winner I must be the biggest winner. When I am poor, I must be the poorest poor. How dare this beggar say that he is poor? When I was claiming that I am poor, how can you claim that you are poor? I am the number one poor. You should have just said, ‘God! I am number two poor, after him. Help me’.” That is the quality of our prayer. We bring all our ego to the temple as well.

So somebody is going to kill somebody, and he will bring his revolver to the temple. “ Maa! Bless me with this weapon. Today I must succeed.” And the priest will come and put a mark on his forehead. “Yes, today, go. Tonight it surely is.” Yes it happens.

If you look at gangsters and criminals, most of them are very religious people. They will not kill somebody, without praying. It is such as irreligious thing to do. Before every murder, there must be a prayer. You have all these fugitives who are now outside India; somebody is hiding in Dubai, somebody is in Karachi, they all are very religious people. Lot of misdeeds that they did – bomb explosion, this and that – all were done in the name of religion.

Do you understand what prayer is? Prayer is not five minutes of closing your eyes and standing with your hand folded. Your entire life is the biggest prayer. How are you living? If you are living in surrender, that itself is your prayer. Then you need not find a special five-minute time in your routine, that, “In the morning I pray, in the evening I pray.” And what do you do in between? “I kill, loot and rape.” Obviously that can’t be prayer.

Your life itself is a prayer . A surrendered mind is a prayerful mind. What do you do in prayer? You bow down, right? Don’t you? What do you mean by this? Have you ever thought about it ? What do you mean by bowing down your head? What does ‘head’ indicate? ‘Head’ indicates – the ego, the brain, which is the cause of all mischief. ‘Bowing down your head’ means – “I am now surrendering this in front of something that is total, complete, very immense, and infinitely large.”

You must live in that submission, not only pretend that submission. One has to live in that submission. When one lives in that submission, then one’s own likes- dislikes, and choices, they become secondary. Then one cannot remain ambitious. Then one cannot say, “So many responsibilities are on me. O my God! What is going to happen?” How can you be prayerful with an insecure mind? How can you be prayerful if you are insistent that you will follow all kinds of traditions and conventions? How can prayer come to you if you are holding on to your fears?

The mind is very cunning, it co-opts everything. Beautiful songs have been written, beautiful sentences have been composed as prayers – that let this be the prayer. “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.” But the mind co-opts it. There can be no higher words than these. But what does the mind do? The mind takes them in, and makes them a part of its own cunning game plan. Words might be beautiful, but words are just words. Even the highest word is just a word, right? Hence it is best to not say anything, to not to use any word. Just be fully silent. That internal silence, that cleanliness, is prayer.

Whenever you are silent, you are prayerful. Will you remember this? By ‘silence’ I don’t mean that you don’t say anything. I am talking of the inner silence. I am not saying that your lips won’t utter anything, and the entire day you will be dumb. You can keep speaking, talking, acting, moving, running, studying, whatever you are doing.

But if there is silence deep in the mind, in the Heart, then you are continuously in prayer. And that is beautiful. That’s the only thing that can be beautiful.

Have you benefited from Acharya Prashant's teachings?
Only through your contribution will this mission move forward.
Donate to spread the light