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Understanding Scriptures

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 Blooming Stars

Consumer Culture – 3

            Some of my friends have difficulty understanding me when I talk about spirituality beyond religions. They want to know what led me to this stance especially after being a Jesuit for about 25 years, and training priests at Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth, Pune, India. I am talking about institutionalized religions. Institutionalized religions have valuable, distinct functions that should help their members have God-experience or mysticism. Actually religions are supposed to facilitate our search for the truth and finally our search for the Absolute. They are meant to provide purpose, direction, and guidelines on our path to the Ultimate through very rugged and cumbersome terrains. They are intended to show the best paths without in any way diminishing our freedom and thirst for knowledge.

            But when they present themselves as the only Way to attain Truth and liberation or salvation especially through their set doctrines and dogmas that accompany prescribed rituals, practices, divine sanctions, social ostracism ,and human penalties, they begin to interfere with God-given freedom and conscience. Surprisingly such is the current situation. There is no real choice. Either believe or perish. Even the inquiry within a religion is guided by carefully ‘selected experts’ appointed by ‘divinely-inspired authorities’ who are guardians of the Divine Will. So there is nothing to search, only obey and follow. Thus religions that are precious meant to support and complement one another have become a bone of contention with devastating results. They are also mired in superstitious beliefs and practices. Interestingly the religion of my birth and other religions gave me the training that, fortunately for me, led me to spirituality beyond religions. It is important to note that all religions connect under the umbrella of spirituality.

            I would like to help people become who they can be and adopt helpful teachings from religions so they can come to healthy spirituality that connect with God. These helpful teachings from various religions need to become an integrated whole or a powerful coherence guided by essential elements from one’s chosen or birth/primary religion. They pave the way for mystical experiences wherein human and God experience union and communion. The mystical union is beyond any human description, and is beyond the scrutiny of any science. This union certainly comes under the realm of faith but as a human experience it is nonetheless real but not as any ordinary reality. The great American philosopher and pioneer psychologist, William James, who wrote important books on the psychology of religious experience and mysticism, places mysticism in the realm of the vast subconscious. When he is talking about religion he is talking about personal religion, and not institutionalized religion, that helps humans come in contact with the divine power in the universe - that something more than what the individual human has.

            In this context I would like to mention Sri Narayana Guru in the East, a spiritual luminary of extraordinary vision and a contemporary of James, who said: “Human has only one caste or race, one religion, and one God”. Narayana Guru is not talking about reducing all religions to one religion but merely stating that all religions are different expressions of the same reality as also the one God is defined or called in many ways. It is important to study James and Narayana Guru – two great pragmatists - in the light of developing a spirituality that affirms wholesome elements in all religions with a view to cooperation rather than competition and destructive fights among them. It may be also good to keep in mind a famous writer on myths, Joseph Campbell, who through pointing out myths common to all religions, indeed to humanity, threw light on important myths and rituals we live by.

            Finally, spirituality beyond religions, takes into account the special signs of the times, especially the increasing intolerance, coercion, and vicious crimes in the name of religions. Spirituality beyond religions respects human rights, especially individual freedom and conscience. While giving due importance to healthy religions and their belief systems, this spirituality focuses on love, truth, and compassion – primary human aspirations - to experience union with God for all who are God’s children.


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