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Sunday, October 3, 2010

A question for all

Another delightful study group is finished.

Afterward, Amma-ji spoke to me and she asked me a very important question. She said I should ponder this question and come back next week with an answer.

She said, children are always asking the why of things and when you teach religious classes to children you have to learn to have answers.

Why do we need religion?

That is the question. In stark contrast to my post about cherry-picking, in which I said it was fine for people who wanted to do that. However, religion is very important to me, the most important thing.

Why is that? Why do we need it at all? Is it not enough to be a good person?

I would like all of us to ponder this and start a discussion on this subject.


  1. In Hindu culture, Dharma or right action is more important than God

    Therefore, non-God movements like Buddhism, Jainism have flourished in India

    You will find that Hindus vary widely in religious belief, but in action, they are very similar

  2. I think we rely on religion because it can be something very constant for one that wants it to be. Like you, you have chosen Hinduism. You may "cherry pick" once in a while and learn or get to know little pieces of other religions, but Hinduism is like a safe haven and home for you. I personally can sympathize with anyone of any faith before I will ever be able to sympathize with someone is atheist. This may sound harsh, but I feel as though it is very arrogant of one to not admit that as intricate and detailed and organized this world is there is not higher form. Religion and a god or gods gives us comfort and control. When we have control of nothing else in our life we have control over our religion and faith. When something tragic happens the first thing uttered is "why god why?". At that point we choose to hate our god or to draw closer to him knowing it is all part of his plan. No matter the situation we are the only one that can choose to turn away or draw closer. We rely on the strength of our higher being to get us through the toughest of times in life.

    Without being repetitive and beginning to ramble. I will leave you to think over my thoughts and I hope it helped answer your question.

    P.S. glad i finally felt like I could comment. I am always reading your posts, but don't always feel I have anything good to offer.

  3. @Kat: "When something tragic happens...", "to get us through the toughest of times",..., I would tend to agree with you, but would like to play devil's advocate. What if nothing tragic happens in a person's life and he/she never encounters tough times...He/she is endowed with the best of health, economic status and family and friends. All endeavours he/she undertakes results in success. What is the need of religion for such a person? There are certain aspects of Hinduism that are amazing and practically extremely useful...such as yoga, pranayama, meditation, connection with nature, etc. These help in many cases to achieve focus/awareness of surroundings/concentration. These, I feel, are things that everyone (regardless of richness/poverty) can benefit from.

    I do think that those who are dealt a tougher hand in life end up being more religious.

    For certain others, mostly philosophers/scientists, questions such as who are we, how/where did we come from, etc. are questions of paramount relevance. Religions offer plausible (albeit, unverifiable) answers to these questions.

    For almost all of us there is also a fear of death. What happens to us then? All religions have some answer or another (again unverifiable) to such questions.

    To summarize, I think we need religion to:
    (a) help explain the unfairness of life that we see around us,
    (b) offer a view on how/why life started on earth,
    (c) offer a view on what happens in the after-life, if at all, and finally
    (d) by answering these questions above, help us get good sleep at night so that we are not restlessly awake.

  4. To me, I think religion serves to give purpose to my life. Without it, I cannot find meaning in what I do on this planet.

    I'm still thinking and developing my ideas, but I think the basis of it is that just being a good person only works for this life, but what about after life?

    Some religions believe that our only purpose is to leave the world a better place, but to me it seems that any influence I might have would be gone within a couple hundred years. Nothing is permanent in this world. I am looking for permanence and that's why I look to a bigger meaning beyond this world.

    KalBhairav, I totally agree that religion gives me workable answers to the great philosophical questions.

  5. Well I cant say in general..but for me Hinduism gives me an identity and a purpose. I feel proud to be a part of the sanatan dharma. Reading works like the Upnishads give me immense philosophical pleasure. I also feel very free, because inherently it is a free philosophical system.

    Have you seen the Commonwealth 2010 opening ceremony. Its a great cultural feat. Performances from all of India's diverse cultures. Simply mind blowing. Check it out on may be its on youtube.

  6. Amazing opinions. Very mature and calming. My personal (re)discovery of advaita was the tipping point for my skeptic mind. Once that concept unfolded in my curious (read scientific) mind, from then on I shed my ego and kneeled in front of my ancient sanskrit scholars. I knew I cannot better their position in my lifetime. Their IQ should serve as a base model for our brilliant present/ future scientists and they must continue further search for the truth. Non-dualism is a pure scientific concept, wrapped up under religion garb, this concept ought to serve as an scientific objective for all scientists to prove/disprove the same for the rest of us.

    The onerous task is mind boggling indeed. It is ‘who am I’ and ‘what is all this (creation)’, that vedopanishads confronted head on and debated thoroughly. The mythology and miracle is a sideshow, the scholars wanted to lull the silly minds of ignorant majority (kings and peasants alike) into believing that the scholars were only debating religion and god, but not questioning anything. With this clever approach the vedic scientists had ensured their hypotheses lived for millennia. ‘Brahman (supremebeing) is formless and genferless, all pervasive and omniscient’, the vedas stated. Did they not offer an olive branch to Nastiks (atheists), yes they did indeed. Vedists didn’t create an eternal hell, they promised a rebirth depending on ones (dharma that in turn determines) Karma. Hence FEAR was completely eliminated. The hindu thus lives in love and harmony not in fear, depression and suspicion. Getting too long, will stop…….SURYA

  7. Amba, for me the religion is self discovery, the discovery of truth about creation, existence.Dont lie/kill/steal/help others etc are precepts common to all faiths, not religious doctrines.SURYA

  8. Akshay, I'll look on YouTube and see if I can find it.

    Surya, I have a bit of a scientist's hearts sometimes and my father really does. We look at what is the evidence in the world and what theory makes the most sense to explain it. To us, Advaita fits the evidence the best. It makes the most sense out of all the religious and scientific theories out there!

  9. I think that the main purpose/need for religion in people's lives is one (or both) of two things:

    1. A need for order. People want the world to make sense. A lot of the time, it doesn't make sense. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, and a lot of strange things happen with no reason, and religion helps fit those things into a nice set of rules. This applies to Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Scientology, scientific atheism, veganism, and all sort of other religions and philosophies. They explain why the sun rises and sets. They explain why sometimes good people go through really awful times, and why there are prosperous evil people in the world. The human race is an intelligent species, and so we've created systems for how that all works.

    2. The need for something more than yourself. This is the primary reason I value religion, and it's really more a need for spirituality than a religion. I like the idea that I don't have to go through life alone. There's always something more powerful that's got my back. You don't need to have all the answers. Religions give you a nice, neat set of answers. They explain things in easy-to-understand terms. They give you a place where other people know and understand those terms (which is a part of not doing things alone). You've got a support structure that's linked to an all-powerful divine being. That can be kind of a relief.

    And in all of that, there's a sense of belonging to something. If you're a Christian, you know you're one of a group of lots of people who think about things the way you do. The same goes for Hindus, Democrats, Masons, atheists and veterans of World War II. You've all got a common ground that's shared with other people.

    Which I think isn't even beginning to scratch the surface, but is a good beginning (I've thought a lot about this - can you tell?)

  10. Hey I found the links.
    lol this is a keeper.
    Here Look at this
    Scroll down to the end of the page under the Mediafire links. They are the easiest to download.
    13 parts total.
    The song "swagatam" was amazing.
    And I found the youtube links as well.......If "you are not a download and keep till eternity freak like me"

  11. there is well known brain scientists - V.S. Ramachandran.
    he has a hypothesis that religion is a evolutionary necessity.
    because religion sets moral and ethics - which gives rise to laws. this in turn runs the society in an organised , efficient manner.
    so those societies which has an advanced religion survived.

    there is also a part of brain which is responsible for certain people (those with temporal lobe disorder) to have religious experiences.

    you can get some of his lectures on youtube. he also has a excellent book on brains.


  12. I have a lot of friends who are atheists and so I tend to stick up for them even though I consider myself a very religious person.

    Moral codes don't come from religion.

    All the atheists I know are very moral. They do what they believe is right because it is the right thing to do and not because they are afraid of going to hell or having God punish them.

    For some reason, it makes me slightly uncomfortable thinking about religion as something created by men to explain the world. But religion is created. It did not come first. I guess I see it more as discovering the order that was already there, rather than imposing structure on a chaotic world.

    I'll have to think some more about that.

  13. atheists are certainly have moral codes.
    but i think past societies were significantly different than the present ones.

    unlike contemporary world historical societies were less "scientific". even science and philosophy were often intertwined with religion or stemmed from it.

    so if we are looking for the reason why and how religions originated , evolved and survived we may make a mistake if we think in terms of present day theist-atheist arguments.


    ps: pure speculations from my part.

  14. Good point, Basu, I had not thought about it like that. It's true, that societies back then must have looked very different. I have a friend who is an anthropologist and archaeologist, I'll have to ask her opinion on this.

  15. Thanks for the links, Akshay, I only just found them because Blogger thought your comment was spam! :)

  16. In my branch of hinduism we are taught that the world has gone through several stages or eras. In the first era - people had perfect knowledge of God and how to live a spiritual life - then in each of the following ages - this knowledge and spirituality declined until we reach this age - Kali Yuga - where knowledge of God and spirituality is at an all time low.

    There have always been people who have been further along the spiritual path than others, people who have had a real glimpse of God, an insight in to our purpose on earth. Buddha, Jesus, Moses and many others.
    But there are also many people who are very very far behind on this path.

    Religion is the ''guide book'' to spirituality/ enlightenment/ heaven whatever you want to call it .. it is the experience and knowledge passed on us by people farther along on that spiritual path.. it points us in the right direction, gives us a starting point, guidlines .. without it - we would still be good people - but we would be blind - stumbling around in the dark with no sense of direction or any idea of where we were going ..

    I think it IS enough to be a good person ifyou believe in God or you dont , but that it is better to be a religious good person so that you have the support of scriptures and a community and regulations to help you further along t he path to liberation

  17. I like the comparison to a guide book. I agree that it is difficult, if not impossible, to figure it all out on our own. Why not take advantage of the studying and thoughts of the great people who have gone before us?