‘Religion’ is derived from the Latin word ‘religio’ which means ‘bond together’. This is similar to the Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ which means ‘to connect’. Religion or yoga therefore is meant to help us connect to God. In recent times however religion has earned a bad name due to the various proponents misrepresenting their respective religion. This has happened by either terrorist attacks in the name of God, or politicizing of religious issues. An intelligent person wonders if religion as perceived today is needed for the society at all. After all Karl Marx said way back in the eighteenth century that religion is the opium of the masses.
Most critics of religion generalize all religious systems to be a nemesis of the society. Most often this is done without understanding the broadness and all encompassing nature of the Vedic religion. If one comes out of his narrow mind set and carefully studies Srimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita, the sacred scriptures meant for modern age, he will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the scourge of religion is not new and has been analyzed deeply even five thousand years ago in these books. Besides, these scriptures also explain what motivates men to masquerade their sinister designs and theories as religious systems.
Srimad Bhagavatam begins with the definition of a genuine religious system: “The supreme occupation for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.6). The scripture asserts that wherever this principle is emphasized that is the practise of real religion. This reveals Srimad Bhagavatam’s all accommodating nature. Srila Prabhupada, the foremost exponent of the message of Srimad Bhagavatam was emphatic, “Religion means a culture of the spirit soul. It may be understood differently in different countries, but the whole idea is to understand God and spirit soul. Our proposition is that whether you are a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, simply try to understand God and love Him. Any religion you may profess—it doesn’t matter—I want to see whether you have got the result of religion. The result of religion is you will love God. That is result of religion.”
This broad mindedness to accommodate all paths is the hall mark of true Hindu culture. Unfortunately this embracive spirit of Hinduism has been taken by many religious zealots to be a weakness and they have preached in the very land of Hindu India, teachings contrary to the all inclusive spirit of Vedic religion. This has primarily been done through open criticism of image worship and Vedic scriptures as backward and an influence of Satan. Besides, certain religious sects also spread terror amongst common masses and through violent propagation of fear, discourages people from visiting temples and congregating to glorify God.
These evil designs of evangelists and terrorists have also been revealed in the Srimad Bhagavatam: “There are other, low-class religious systems, which are contemplated for the killing of enemies or the gain of mystic power, but such religious systems, being full of passion and envy, are impure and temporary. Because they are full of envy, they are full of irreligion.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.16.41). In the next three verses, the Srimad Bhagavatam further explains that there is nothing auspicious to be gained by following such religious systems which propagate teachings on the foundation of envy and insecurity. “Such religion is actually irreligion and arouses the Lord’s anger.” The true Vedic path on the other hand invites even ‘low class’ people to chant God’s names and declares a sincere practitioner to be equal to all living entities, never considering anyone higher or lower. (Srimad Bhagavatam 6.16. 43, 44)
The Bhagavad Gita also alarms a sincere spiritual seeker to avoid fervent and militant proponents of religion, especially those who have a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. In the 16th chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna describes divine and demoniac natures. “Bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger, the demon becomes envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in his own body and in the bodies of others, and blasphemes against the real religion.” (Bhagavad Gita 16.18). The chapter contrasts these tendencies with divine tendencies of a true follower of God: “Austerity, simplicity, nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger, renunciation, tranquillity; …aversion to faultfinding, compassion for all living entities, freedom from covetousness, gentleness, modesty, steady determination, vigour, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, and freedom from envy and from the passion for honour—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Bhagavad Gita 16.1-3)
Thus the Vedic scriptures while accommodating all spiritual paths also warn sincere seekers to be aware of narrow minded, divisive philosophies. Let us cooperate and spread the message of universal peace and brotherhood as enshrined in the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam. Let us also educate all and expose the dangers of subscribing to narrow and superficial religious systems.