UNIVERSAL DHARMA

This Too, Will Pass ~ HAS RELIGION FAILED?

THE WORLD, AT PRESENT, has never been in a worse situation. Our greed is limitless and has brought us to the brink of extinction, where we totter, not knowing how long we can maintain our balance, or if we will plunge over the precipice.

Religion has the answers to our problems— even to this greatest of all problems: "To be or not to be." But why, when Religion has advocated sane living and provided guidelines for us to live by, is there no peace in the world? This question must be asked, and we must ask it honestly and fearlessly: Has Religion Failed?

And I answer: "No, it hasn't; it is we who have failed, by not applying Religion in our lives." It is amazing how many people think Religion is something to be remembered only on 'special' days like Christmas, Wesak, a wedding or a funeral, etc., and when these 'special' days are over, their religion goes back into the closet with their best clothes and stays there until the next 'special' day. Or they think Religion is only for people who stay in temples or monasteries, and have no idea that Religion is for them, too. Religion has therefore become something 'special' instead of something to live by.

But let me explain what I mean by Religion, because obviously, I am not using the term as is generally understood. I maintain that Religion is nothing special at all, but something ordinary, very ordinary, an everyday affair. But by 'ordinary,' I do not mean useless or unimportant; on the contrary, I mean it in the sense that air and water are ordinary— that is: common, but vitally important; if we didn't have them, we would soon die. In the same way, Religion is important and ordinary in our daily lives; it is important because it is ordinary and ordinary because it is important. Unfortunately, many people consider Religion out-of-date, a thing only for old ladies holding rosaries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Religion is the Art of Living Well.

We depend upon others. Is there anyone who does not depend upon others? Is anyone independent? Even the richest and most-powerful depend upon others; in fact, such people are more dependent upon others than poorer people, for many of them would not even wash a cup themselves or clean their own shoes. This means we are related to others, connected to them by our contacts with them, by our dependence upon them. We therefore have many more relatives than we realize. And we need Religion in our relationships with them, so that we may live peacefully and happily together, being fair and kind to each other. Without Religion— that is, without what is Right or Righteousness— in our dealings with others, suspicion, fear, greed and hatred easily take root in our minds, and lead to deceit, cheating, exploitation, persecution, aggression, and war, for war begins in minds devoid of Religion; if there were Religion in our minds, there would be no war.

It's no use just sitting looking at your washing-machine or vacuum-cleaner waiting for it to work, as it will never work by itself; you have to work it! And the same is so with Religion: you have to work it! It's not just theory, doctrine or belief— the stuff of museums: old books, old stones, old bones— but must be a living experience. Nor is there anything superstitious, mysterious or magical about it.

But we begin in the wrong places; our heads are in the clouds, dreaming about Heaven, Enlightenment, Nirvana, etc. It is as if we want to build a house, and imagine we can begin with the roof with no thought for the foundations. How could it be built? We are concerned with flowers and fruit, not with seeds and roots. So it is no wonder we are confused and jump from one religion to another, imagining that a change of name makes any difference— well, it does, a negative difference: it makes people more silly, and takes them further away from the truth, from real Religion, which is within their own minds, and has been there from the very beginning, but they didn't see it. People imagine they are religious merely by calling themselves 'Buddhists' or 'Christians,' 'this' or 'that,' and by believing certain things. Religion is not a matter of belief but of how a person lives; nor does it need a name. If a person lives religiously he will see how superficial and unnecessary names are.

We do not see what is true Religion because of the conditioning we have undergone since birth— no, before that; we have been conditioned, in this life (and I'm not qualified to say anything about what might have been before, or might be after this present life, as I have no proof of that, but just personal opinions, which are of no use to anyone else in the search for truth), from the moment of conception and while we lay in our mother's womb. If we understand something of our conditioning, we will see that the question of free-will does not arise, for whose will can be free when he lives within the structure of his conditioning and acts accordingly?

The education we receive— or rather undergo— in school and university forms a big part of our conditioning. Are we aware of it? We've had facts and figures pumped into our minds by others, like gasoline into a car; we've been force-fed with information like chickens in a poultry-farm being fattened for the market; in other words, we've been brainwashed. But how much do we know by ourselves? You might understand all that's written here— that's not difficult— but do you know it, deep inside yourself, and can you live according to your know-ledge? That is the test, that is what makes for living religiously, not merely going to the temple or church to kneel and pray and occasionally put something into the offering-box.

Our education-systems have spoiled us, twisted us, indoctrinated and convinced us that the information they feed us is the only valid education; that is why so much importance is attached to bits of papers known as degrees or diplomas; how we really are doesn't matter; the certificates are all-important. Have we not become paper-people thereby? Just because a person has gone through university and come away with a bundle of papers is not proof of intelligence, just as it is not proof of stupidity if a person has not been to university and has no certificates. The Buddha had no certificate as far as I've heard, but shall we consider him an uneducated lout because of that? We have our priorities wrong. If a Buddha appeared today some people would ask him for his 'bio-data' and want to know what degrees he held; if he had no Ph.D., some people would be shocked; "What!? No Ph.D.!? How can you be a Buddha without a Ph.D.!? Impossible!!"

Life has changed very quickly and become more complex than ever in the last few years, and we have become sophisticated (the dictionary-definition of that word is: "having learned the ways of the world, and having lost natural simplicity," it is therefore nothing to be proud of); we have been educated almost to the point of extinction; we've been taught what to think but not how to think. But are we happy because of it? The state of society clearly shows we are not. Yes, it makes us specialized, but in doing so, it also makes us narrow. Yes, it makes us efficient, but often also ruthless in our efficiency. We have lost our sensitivity; it was never encouraged or nurtured; we have become like robots, functioning according to what we've been taught, not by what we've learned. We've been taught to be successful, to be Number One, to be Somebody, and these things remain our goals in life, and we'll allow nothing to stand in our way of achieving them. If achieved, we have something to maintain and protect, so the fear and the conflict and the struggle continue, without end. But are we happy? How can we be? In fact, we are more miserable, though we try to disguise this in various ways, try to smother our discontent in the pursuit of pleasure and material gain, pretending to be happy. We have fixed ideas about happiness, have been conditioned to think that happiness means being successful in society's eyes, being Number One, having all the nice consumer-goods that the big manufacturers and governments want us to buy. No, happiness does not come from these things; in fact, looking for happiness in such ways only makes us more unhappy. And there is no end to the terrible things that people will do in order to find happiness.

Many of us have no Religion in our lives at all; by that, I do not mean 'brand-name religion' like 'Buddhism' or 'Christianity,' because such names are usually just empty shells without inner substance, substitutes for the real Religion, which means living righteously and caring about others, not just thinking of ourselves.

Because our minds are full of stuff that others have told or taught us, we do not see the simple things around us, the beauty and wonder that is never far away, and which we so desperately need to see, because if we do not see lovely things— things lovely by nature as well as lovely things we've made— we feel lost and separated from the totality of life. Something— a great something— is missing, and there is no substitute for it at all, even though we search frantically for one. We must get back to an appreciation of the simple but profound joys of and in the life around us— to watch, with wonder, a spider industriously spinning its intricate web, birds building their nests, the splendid forms and colors of insects, each completely functional in its tiny parts; to feel the hidden strength of nature breaking open a seed to put down roots and send up shoots in the first stage of becoming a mighty tree; to taste sweet fruits, which come attractively packaged in so many varieties, etc., and all without feeling a need to explain everything with our puny theories, or attribute it all to a supernatural agency. How nice to put aside academic knowledge for a while, to stand back and wonder at the miracles of life all around us, and to know that we are part of it all. This is true knowledge— knowledge of Unity, of being related to everything that is. And from this knowledge comes Religion; we begin to live Religiously, taking care not to hurt anything if possible, not to destroy anything needlessly, to live with Love, with an almost-breathless sense of Awe.

If we were not so sophisticated and proud of the knowledge we have been fed by others, we would not be ashamed to bend our heads and be more in contact with the Good Earth which supports us and our fellow-beings so uncomplainingly. We would share things with each other in holy communion, and point out the beauties of life to others so they may enjoy them, too. Heaven is here if we want it; Enlightenment is within us all; all we need do is to manifest it, to live in an enlightened way; and the more we do this— the more we open our hearts to and for others— the more enlightened we shall become. What mystery is there in this?

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