The True Meaning of Religion

-Thrineshwara M.R. and
- Shivshanker Cheral

The True Meaning of Religion when we think of a religion what strikes our mind generally is a set of rituals, beliefs, faith, practices, dogmas, deities, holy scriptures, places of worship and their architectures, dresses that we wear, cultures, etc. Some religions such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, etc., have prescribed their own forms of Gods or deities for worshiping, there are some other religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, etc., which have not prescribed any deities because they do not believe in the existence of God. Yet, these religions are major ones in the world with large number of followers all over the world.

For these outer/visual exhibitors without real change in mind, Allama Prbhu asks:

What if the body is bare, when the mind is not pure?
What if the head is shaved, when feeling has not disappeared?
What if one wears the sacred ash, when the sense qualities are not burnt?
The words of such guises of desire I detest
and Guheshwara, you are the witness. -Allama Prabhu/530 [1]

Listen O Man,
you, a doubter,
Think, you have bathed and worshipped god.
Does the fish not bathe?
Does the crocodile not bathe?
If you bathe and your mind is not bathed
does our Guheshwara appreciate mere showy words? -Allama Prabhu/593 [1]

It is of no worth to go round and round.
It is of no worth to bathe a million times in Ganga.
It is of no worth to climb the high mountain and shout.
It is of no worth to touch the body with daily rituals.
If one can fix the mind that always moves firm
then, the linga called Guheshwara is sheer light itself. -Allama Prabhu/625 [1]

So, what looks common among all these religions is man’s relentless endeavor to attain salvation and liberation ultimately. In order to achieve this every religion has prescribed some methods in the form of rituals, practices, etc. In such rituals and practices the belief of the followers in the meaning of salvation and liberation plays an important role. For some followers this Earth might look like a place full of all miseries and sorrows or in other words a ‘Maya’. For this Allma Prabhu says:

They say wealth is Maya, wealth is not Maya.
They say woman is Maya, woman is not Maya.
They say earth is Maya, earth is not Maya.
Guheshwara,
the desire before the mind itself is Maya. -Allama Prabhu/648 [1]

The common element in all religions is to find out the ultimate Truth as the main purpose of life. But is there any definite path to find out the Truth? Truth is a universal one and time independent but why different religions have prescribed different methods for their followers? This means that what all has been prescribed in these religions may not be the ultimate or authoritative when it comes to find out the Truth.

Every religion talks about something infinite but prescribes a finite method to reach the infinite. This is probably the source of confusion in the minds of people who have come under the influence of their respective religions either by force or by birth both physically and psychologically. This confusion has existed throughout man’s existence which has resulted in several kinds of division and disintegrations among the people. By prescribing specific rituals, practices, deities, etc., these religions seem to have forced people to follow something mechanically or blindly. When there is no definite path to find out the Truth how can someone ask people to follow certain things or believe in one thing? Even though all religions have described some methods the responsibility to find out the Truth lies on each individual. No one can show Truth to others but instead it has to be realized by everyone individually. It is nothing but an individual experience.

We would like to bring out one of the Vachanas by Lord Basavanna, which is very relevant here.

ದಯವಿಲ್ಲದ ಧರ್ಮವದೇವುದಯ್ಯಾ
ದಯವೇ ಬೇಕು ಸರ್ವಪ್ರಾಣಿಗಳೆಲ್ಲರಲ್ಲಿ.
ದಯವೇ ಧರ್ಮದ ಮೂಲವಯ್ಯಾ,
ಕೂಡಲಸಂಗಯ್ಯನಂತಲ್ಲದೊಲ್ಲನಯ್ಯಾ. 247

Lord, is there any religion without compassion?
There must be compassion for all creatures.
Compassion itself is the root of religion.
Anything otherwise is unacceptable to
Koodalasangamadeva. – Guru Basva/223 [1]

It means that there cannot be any Dharma which lacks the Compassion, one need to show compassion on all creatures, compassion is the root for any Dharma.

No one can teach these things because these happen in our mind accidentally without expectations and desiring and not by the creation of thought or through any effort. The one who is meditating on it always may one day exhibit it accidentally.

So, what we can understand from the term religion is not a set of rituals, dogmas, practices, Holy Scriptures, cultures, etc., but it is a way of life to be discovered and sustained by every individual. Hence we can give a meaning to Religion that has universal appeal as follows:

A Religion is essentially a way of life aimed at finding eternal happiness by living virtuously, exhibiting True Love towards every living being on Earth and maintaining a harmonious relationship with everyone and the Nature.

The life system proposed by Lord Basavanna, which focuses on “Kaayaka” and “Dasooha” appears to support the above statement since it helps in establishing a cordial relationship with everyone. Life means relationships and without a relationship or when a relationship is spoiled our life loses meaning.

If engaged in Kaayaka
one should forget visiting guru;
forget worshiping linga
and need not bother even if Jangama stands waiting.
As kaayaka is Kailaasa
even Amareeshwaralinga is included in kaayaka -Aaydakki Marayya/1520 [1]

Begging from others, cajoling them,
pestering them, troubling them
and then offering it to jangama and linga is no good.
Making the body earn it,
making the mind earn it
even if it is just wild leaves and raw fruits,
doing daasohatojangama and linga
by serving jangama who comes to you
tired in body and mind is worship,
holy offering to Chandeswaralinga. -Nuliya Chandayya/1817 [1]

Some people have an illusion that whatever they could not achieve in their present life can be achieved in next life. Under this illusion they ignore the value of life and their responsibilities to be fulfilled in each life. For such ignorant people Lord Basavanna writes as below.

Deva Loka, Martya Loka berilla kanibho,
Satyava nudivude Deva Loka,
Mithyava nudivude Martya Loka,
Aachaarave Swarga, Anaachaarave Naraka,
Illi salluvavaru alliyu salluvaru, Illi salladavaru elliyu sallaru
Koodalasangamadeva – Guru Basava.

Divine world and mortal world are not separate.
Uttering the truth is divine world,
uttering untruth is mortal world.
Righteousness is heaven, unrighteousness is hell.
This is the truth, and
Koodalasangamadeva, you are the witness. -231 [1]

In the above vachana Guru Basava has indicated that one should make use of the current life to live virtuously for the benefit of entire humanity and unless this is achieved in this world one cannot expect to be accepted in any other world.

They speak of Kailasa and the mortal world.
What is Kailasa, what is mortal world?
They say
the word is the same here and there
the deed is the same here and there
those from Kailasa are all gods
those from the mortal world are all mahaganas.
They say
there is no death for a thousand years in the world of gods
there is the endless cycle of birth and death in mortal world.
Seeing this our sharanas
giving least value to either of the worlds
rising above the matters of this world
realizing their origin,
uniting with the Great Light
attained nothingness in that Light
O Appannapriya Chennabasavanna -Lingamma/1361

If we believe in the above meaning of a religion and practice it then there will not be any amount and kind of conflicts among people or between people and Nature. Only when our thoughts are fragmented on the lines of beliefs, dogmas, faiths, etc., that differ from one religion to other conflicts get created resulting in violence. This we have been witnessing for thousands of years of man’s existence. If there is God who is common for all creatures in the universe then he must be inside us also. Hence, we should keep our thoughts and deeds cleansed every moment just like we maintain the temples, mosques, churches, Gurdwaras and other places of worship with a belief that God exists there.

[1] Number indicates at the end of each Vachana is from the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.

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