Religion and World religions (I)

Religion, as far as dictionary meaning is concerned is “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods” or else as American heritage dictionary puts it “The expression of man’s belief in and reverence for a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe”. These two definitions vaguely convey the meaning of religion in general, but it is highly impossible to give a harmonious and comprehensive definition of religion. The issue of religion is a very subtle one and different people interpret it differently as demanded by their religion. The Islamic concept of religion may not be compatible with that of a Buddhist interpretation and alike the Christian picture of ascetic and celibacy may seem alien to Islam. But one thing that is invariably common in all religions is their allegiance and subordination to some superhuman powers. All religions hold that the mechanism of universe can’t be self-substantial, but needs a divine will, divine power and divine energy to maintain its system. Religion teaches us to bow before this divine will,which permeates the whole universe and even what lies beyond the cosmic edges. By this subordination, religion wants to harmonize our position in the universe and to frame our actions according to the dictums of divine will. The domain of religion is mainly spiritual, though it aims at the overall wellbeing of humans and aims at helping them to attain highest ideals of life. But before man could master his universe, religion teaches him to master his own self and helps him in unleashing the infinite power that already lies in the matrix of his constituents. The central point all thesis of knowledge be it philosophy, sociology, psychology, metaphysics or religion is man. All the subjects try to see man from a particular view point and from a particular frame of reference. But religion transcends all frames of reference and analyses man in his totality. It takes into consideration his physical, mental, spiritual as well as metaphysical needs and thus aids him in perfectioning his attitude in this perfect universe. Religion prompts man to believe in supernatural, not on dogmatic basis, but on sound rational and analytic grounds. As Allama lqbal says:-

“Indeed in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science. Science may ignore a rational metaphysics; indeed it has ignored so far Religion can hardly afford to ignore the search for a reconciliation of the oppositions of experience and a justification of the environment in which humanity finds itself. That is why Professor Whitehead has acutely remarked that ‘the ages of faith are the ages of rationalism”. And by anchoring man with supernatural, religion next guides man through this infinite universe. It refrains from piece meal treatment of reality, rather sees reality as an organic whole and it does not see universe merely as a dichotomy of matter-energy but infuses in it a new spirit — the spirit that gives life even to pebbles and stones. No matter how diverse their beliefs are, I pretend that the followers of all religions will agree upon these characteristics of religion, for they do not belong to any religion but to the religion on the whole. The historical evolution of religion is still another facet of religions that will require large amount of space for full description. But suffice to say that from theist’s point of view, religion was revealed upon the mankind by the supreme deity, to guide their conduct and to escort their transactions with the rest of universe. Time and again, God choose some blessed men and through them guided the whole of humanity from gloom to gleam. Thus the origin of religion is divine, as opposed to atheistic stand who believe that religion is a social phenomenon which arises purely on the basis of man’s interaction with his universe. The atheists believe that due to his sheer fear of natural phenomenon like thunder, earthquakes and other natural calamities the early man reckoned the concept of divine to interpret these phenomenon. They are correct in saying that man needed explanation for these phenomenons and was scared by them. But to say that this fear gave birth to god hypothesis is highly unjustified, for man was already conscious of Supreme Being and thus sought refuge with him. The lure towards religion and the concept of God is engraved very much in the psychology of man and to say that religion is something which arose as a social phenomenon and was imposed on the nature of man is highly disturbing—. Even most of the world’s greatest scientists were theists and openly confessed that the interpretation of this universe is impossible without invoking the presence of supreme conscious who directs its course. C.S. Lewis wonderfully wrote in The Problem of pain that “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell”. So the existence and acceptance of religion is a universal phenomenon even one may comply with it or not, its worth cannot be diminished. We shall now take up the concept of man in different religions keeping their implications in mind for future use.

Hinduism: -Hinduism is regarded as one of the most ancient religions of the world and in fact its origin is obscure to researchers and scholars. For academic purposes it can be said that Hinduism is the group of religious and philosophical traditions of India that accept the doctrinal authority of the Vedas and Upanishads, comprising the schools Mimamsa, Sankhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaishesika, and Vedanta. J.L. Nehru writes in his magnum opus the discovery of India, under the title “What Is Hinduism” that “In this quotation Vincent Smith has used the words ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Hinduised’. I don’t think it is correct to use them in this way unless they are used in the widest sense of Indian culture. They are apt to mislead today when they are associated with a much narrower and specifically religious concept. The word ‘Hindu’ doesn’t occur at all in our ancient literature. The first reference to it in an Indian book is, I am told, is in a Tantric work of the eighth century A.C., where ‘Hindu’ means a people and not the followers of a particular religion. But it is clear that the word is a very old one, as it occurs in the Avesta and in Old Persian”. He further goes on to say that “The famous Chinese pilgrim I – Tsing, who came to India in the seventh century A.C., writes in his records of travels that the northern tribes that is the people of Central Asia, called ‘Hindu’ (Hsin-Tu) but, he adds, ‘this is not at all a common name … and the most suitable name for India is the Noble Land (Aryadesha)’ The use of the word ‘Hindu’ in connection with a particular religion is of very late occurrence”89.This account compendiously sums the rhetoric aspects of Hinduism. Now coming to its main tenets, we note that Hinduism is based upon diverse beliefs, rituals, customs and practices. Hinduism is also called the Vedic religion as is based upon the teachings inscribed in Vedas. Vedas form the fountain head of Hinduism and are the ultimate sources to which legacy of Hinduism can be traced. Although, it is difficult to fix any timescale for the composition of Vedas, but it is believed that around 1500 B.C., the Vedic age started, when the Aryans arrived in India. It is believed that the facts mentioned within Vedas are infallible and invariable. It is also believed that Vedas were revealed to early mystics in course if their spiritual discourses, who expressed them in words. Thus it is assumed that the origin of Vedas is essentially divine. As Witzel puts it “We owe the transmission and preservation of the texts to the care and discipline of particular religious, or better, priestly schools (or ,sakhas). It should also be emphasized that both the composition and the transmission of the texts was completely oral for the entire Vedic period and some considerable time afterwards”.Thus the study of Hinduism is essentially the study of Vedas and affiliated texts. For convenience, the Vedas are divided into four main categories viz Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sam Veda and Atharva Veda. Each Veda deals with a particular aspect of human life. Besides Vedas, the religion of Hinduism stands on the texts of Upanishads. One of the most important doctrines in Hinduism is that of the theory of Karma, which states that action and its consequences are inseparable. Any deed, any thought that causes an effect, is called Karma. The Law of Karma means the law of causation. Wherever there is a cause, there an effect must be produced.

Amir Suhail Wani is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat & mystic thought.