Part 1.

There are many different kinds of religions. You are most likely born into a religion, unless your parents are agnostics or atheists. If you are born into a religion, then you will tend to follow that religion. Sometimes you may change your religion. Now, in all of these, there are certain things that are external, which are on the periphery, and which have only relative value. They are not the ultimate. No harm comes to you if you do not do them. But there are other things that are very important, such as love, caring, sharing, cooperation, honesty, and integrity in the family, etc. These things are always important. Similarly, in culture, you have certain common things which you share with other people in your own culture, e.g. food, clothing, music, art, architecture, etc. In the same way, in religious life, if you believe in worshipping in a certain way, (your devotion,) you say certain kinds of prayers, and you read certain scriptures, which belong to your religion. But when you examine them from a wider perspective, it does not matter to which religion you belong, because certain things are common in all of them. What is fundamental is that you are born as a human being. No one can take that away from you.


At birth you do not have a culture, and you do not have a religion. You are given these, or you grow into them, because of the significant people around you. People teach you what your culture is. You take a little child to temple and teach that child certain things. You do certain rituals, or pay reverence to God, the priest, or to elder persons, and the child is taught to do those things. The child does not know them, but the adult teaches him. In the family, the individuals have their own personalities, their likes, their dislikes, and these are based on karma (the Law of Cause and Effect) and is their sanskar. You cannot change certain things. 


A baby has a certain personality as compared to another baby, and two or three children in the same family have their different personalities. Although the parents are the same, the father always holding the same job, mother doing the same tasks, they go to the same church, and they say the same prayers, but the children have different attitudes, feelings and behavior. That is based on the Law of Karma, because they have gone through different experiences in previous lives, and therefore they will be different. From that point of view, although the individuals involved are different, they cannot escape the fact that they are human beings. You all have the same biological needs. You all need love and nurturing. There are so many other things that we all need as human beings. When you look at it from this point of view, all the varying beliefs, cultures, personalities and the family do not matter for that moment. Similarly, in culture, certain things are common, although your type of food might be different because you are Anglo-Canadian as opposed to Indo-Canadian or Chinese. It is still food. Shelter is still a shelter. Love is love for everybody. 


What is the common denominator in a family? What cements a family?  You can say that it is love, caring, sharing, compassion, understanding, communication, etc. These are important things. What is the common thread in cultures?  There are so many cultures in the world. What are they there for?  They are there to give some meaning to life, a meaning to who you are, to which culture you belong, what type of clothes you wear, the type of food you eat, the language you speak, etc. It gives you a kind of identity, or a sense of belonging. Similarly, in religion, it gives you a sense of belonging to a certain religion. It has a certain way of devotion, a certain belief in God. It gives you a certain amount of satisfaction and a faith to live by, and it gives meaning to your life. Does it matter how you practice your religion, or which religion you practice?  In the final analysis, it does not really matter to which you belong, because what religion teaches you is something fundamental i.e. God, or a Supreme Power, and the soul. 


Where does religion come in?  People have made religions, and, after having made them, religions then served to divide the people. If people did not have religions, then all would have lived in one community. Think of the animals who do not worry about religions at all, and they can live together without separating themselves into various, colours, creeds or belief systems. So if people did not have any religion, and all they were concerned with were food, shelter, clothing, etc., they would all live together in harmony. Of course, they might fight for food, or if the shelter is not enough, they will fight for shelter, or for other things that they may need for physical survival. These are survival things, and they are not belief systems, dogmas, creeds, etc. Religion can practically be left out of it, as long as you practice humanity. And this is why some great philosophers of the world have said that Humanity is the greatest religion. 


Satguru Kabir, one of our great saints of India said, “na mai jap me na mai tap me na mai vrat upwas me…. I am not in repetition of prayers nor in austerity, and I am not in fasting;  I am not in rituals nor in yoga and renunciation.”  God is not in any of these things if He is not already in your heart. These are things we have created because the saints or sages who have gone before have left certain rituals, scriptures and ways of doing things to give identity and meaning to us. For example, if a man and woman do not get married but are living together, what will indicate to everybody that they are husband and wife?  Is there something to symbolize that they are united?  There has to be a ritual, a rite of passage from their former state to the married state. When a baby is born you do certain celebrations, e.g. naming ceremony, baptism or other celebrations. These are just symbolic to give meaning of passage. 


To be continued.

Dr. Jagessar Das