We see a growing movement around the world of people leaving the religion into which they were born, and starting down a spiritual path of inner growth. A driving factor behind this change is the perception among these people that the religion has either lost any life-force that it may have had in the past, or else, it has become so rigid that it acts as a means of control rather than as a means of liberation. What has happened to religion? If we examine the roots of religion we find that it is founded, first and foremost, as a response to a lived experience. There is a spiritual awakening, a vision, a direct communication between the Divine Presence and the human representative. In many cases, a specific set of activities, teachings, routines is developed to both try to communicate the experience to others, and to find a way to repeat the experience. Over time, however, this rote repetition and formalized worship tends to lose its energy and become a mass of, in many cases, sleep-inducing rituals and rules of conduct that tend to bind the worshippers into a fixed way of seeing and acting in life, even as times and circumstances change.

With Christianity we saw a dramatic development in the adoption by the Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire of Christianity as the state religion. From that point forward, the religion became a function of the State and was used to control the populace, by promising redemption and rewards after death for subordination to powerful economic and political and religious forces in their lives. Along the way, a few individuals were able to enter into the original spirit of the religion and achieve spiritual enlightenment, and in their lifetimes they were generally either ostracized or condemned, while afterwards they were frequently made into saints to thereby capture those who tried to follow their experience and turn them back under control of the religion. Religion, when the life-force and spirit recedes, frequently turns to the use of fear to control its adherents, and thus we have teachings of sinful conduct that will cause the individual endless suffering and even prevent him from achieving heaven after his death. In some cases the wielding of fear is reinforced by physical acts of torture, or by exclusion of the individual from the wider community, a means of sustenance and employment and acceptance within the circle of the society generally. Much of the power of the religion however is based in the creation of a superstitious internal response that some call conscience, but which is a systematically developed control mechanism inculcated through teaching, repetition and example and perpetuated through custom and tradition.

At a certain point in time, as we see taking place in today’s world, a number of people recognise the dryness and emptiness of the religious institutions, the superstitions, the fixed and rigid belief systems, and the regimented control mechanisms, and they turn elsewhere to seek out new spiritual realizations and direct experience.

The Mother observes: “For example, there are so many of these entities called Kali — who are given, besides, quite terrible appearances — so many are even placed in houses as the family-goddess; they are full of a terrible vital force! I knew people who were so frightened of the Kali they had at home that indeed they trembled to make the least mistake, for when catastrophes came they thought it was Kali who sent them! It is a frightful thing, thought. I know them, those entities. I know them very well, but they are vital beings, vital forms which, so to say, are given a form by human thought, and what forms! And to think that men worship such terrible and monstrous things….”

“From this point of view, it is good that for some time men get out of this religious atmosphere, so full of fear, and this sort of blind, superstitious submission of which the hostile forces have taken a dreadful advantage. The period of denial, positivism, is from this viewpoint quite indispensable in order to free men from superstition. It is only when one comes out of that and the abject submission to monstrous vital forces that one can rise to truly spiritual heights and there become the collaborator and true instrument of the forces of Truth, the real Consciousness, the true Power.”

“One must leave all this far behind before one can climb higher.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 5 Occult Forces, pp. 119-120

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast located at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky
He is author of 20 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
Video presentations, interviews and podcast episodes are all available on the YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/@santoshkrinsky871
More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at www.aurobindo.net
The US editions and links to e-book editions of Sri Aurobindo’s writings can be found at Lotus Press www.lotuspress.com