What is religion?


Introduction: Many people put great emphasis on rites and rituals. Because of this, some people think the religion is the thing of past; it is waste of time; religion is rigid and orthodox; it represents narrow-mindedness. Science has progressed beyond religion. Some people are worshipping. Some are reciting Mantra. Some are moving beads on a Mala (rosary). Some are singing religious songs. Some are visiting places of pilgrimage  like Palitana. Some are asking for rewards from god. Some want to improve their fate. Some are praying to go to heaven. Many activities like these are practiced in the name of religion. Is that really the religion? Answer is no, if there is nothing more to it. Answer is Yes, if there is more to it.


What: First, we should try to understand the true meaning of the religion. It is definitely not the business where you wheel & deal with the god. It is not the thing to practice because of the social pressure or to show-off that you are religious. The Sanskrit word for religion is Dharma. The meaning of Dharma is very own nature of the thing. For all living beings, the soul is the real thing. It means that “to see, to know and to realize” - the true nature of the soul is our religion. In other words, the laws of nature in the truest and purest form are the religion.


Laws of nature lead us to the laws of self-initiative and self-efforts. Without self-efforts or self-initiative, one cannot see, know and realize his/her own true qualities. That’s why Jainism relies a great deal on one's own efforts and initiatives, and laws of nature. Self-effort can change our fate. Remember, our present fate is due to our past Karma.


Unlike other living beings, we, human beings,  have reasoning mind and capacity to think rationally. We have curiosity. We want to live a peaceful, happy and simple life. Since infinite times, human beings have been seeking answers to the questions such as: who am I? Who am I not? Who is God? Who made this universe? What is my relationship with the universe? What is my real nature? How can I achieve my own nature, my original form? Right answers to these questions form the religion.


Without personal experience, one will not find answers to these questions. Therefore, we have to depend on the great people, whom we call Tirthankars. They have experienced the answers to these questions. That’s why their words form the religion.  There are three ways to find answers to these questions: a) experience, b) use of  logic and c) our Ägams (Canonical Books).


By one approach, the religion can be divided in four parts: a) theology, b) metaphysics, c) ethics and d) rites & rituals.


a) Theology explains who am I? What is our true nature? Who is God?


b) Metaphysics explains Who am I not? What is the universe? what is non-living? What is the relationship between living and non-living? How can I remove impurities from myself?


c) Ethics explains how do we live our life? What should be our daily conduct? What and how should we practice? How can we purify our conscious mind?


d) Rites & rituals: This involves praying, adoring, paying our respects and  worshipping the Tirthankars. The real purpose of the rites and the rituals is to get an inspiration to be like them, free from attachment and aversion. We are not supposed to ask for anything from our Bhagwan.


One time Bhagavan Lord Mahavir was asked what is the religion from a realistic point of view. Bhagavan Lord Mahavir  said, “ the realistic religion consists of four parts: 1) equality of all living ones, 2) every living soul has right to put self-effort to improve itself and not to be stripped of that right, 3) not to rule over other living ones, and 4) all views should be viewed with equanimity - without like or dislike. If we adopt only one of these, other three will automatically be adopted. Notice that Bhagavan Lord Mahavir did not say that follow what I’ve said or follow the Jain religion.


Why: Everyone has some concept about the best qualities, a human being should have. Each human being wants to reduce the difference between his/her qualities and the best qualities. For this purpose, individual puts in self-effort. That self-effort to achieve the best qualities is the religion. What are these best qualities?


The best qualities are the perfect perception, perfect knowledge, perfect character and unlimited energy. We are incomplete, we want to be complete. If we want to have best qualities, we have to believe that they are achievable. The process to achieve these best qualities is the religion.


The religion is meant for purification of our consciousness, to realize our own nature.


How: How to practice the religion? If you are looking for a simple answer, here it is:  “Whatever you wish for yourself, wish the same for others.” Bhagavan Lord Mahavir said this. If we practice this simple message in our lives, all problems would be solved. 


Proper beliefs, knowledge and conduct are the prime factors for practicing a religion. Rites and rituals can have their place, if the prime factors are the main parts of our life. The beliefs and knowledge are like paint and brush, while the conduct is like a painting. Without painting, we cannot be an artist. Without proper conduct, we cannot be life-artists.


It is important to have right faith (beliefs) and right knowledge. Without right knowledge, it is difficult to practice the true religion. Without knowledge, we will not know what is right and what is wrong. If we do not know what is right and what is wrong, how can we practice the right religion?.


Do not live to know; know to live.  Knowledge is not the religion, practice is the religion. Good conduct is the religion. In our life we should look at happiness and unhappiness with equanimity. We should believe in possibility of truths. Even opposing views can be parts of one truth. Accept co-existence with others. Look at the good side of others. The religion is for self-improvement not for improving others. If each individual improves, the society, nation and world will automatically improve.


Other topics mentioned in the religious books that are not related to the subject of soul should be considered as local beliefs of that time. When a knowledgeable person talks to a less knowledgeable, he/she speaks the language of less knowledgeable. Therefore, the topics covered in the religious books that do not lead to the process of soul purification should be considered coincidental and of less significance.


Science & Religion: Science and religion both search for truth. Without experimentation and practice the truth  cannot be achieved. Science experiments and examines - sometimes with a force. First, it proves and then we trust. But, science has randomness. The research is mostly driven by material objectives. Science discovers temporary solutions for happiness. Science can be expressed in a language.


In religion, first we trust and then experiment. After successful experimentation, we experience the truth. There is no compulsion in religion. Religion seeks permanent happiness. The religion cannot entirely be expressed in words. The search for the realistic religion should be the ultimate goal of the science. Today, science and religion are complementary to each other. Someday, the science and the religion will be one.


Einstein once said “Science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind.” Every scientist has to be spiritual in his work ethics to do the best research. Einstein regretted that he could not develop a complete field theory. He wanted to include consciousness as one of the parameters. The field theory of Jainism includes Einstein’s field theory plus consciousness. Einstein believed in reincarnation. Einstein wanted to become a monk in his next life, so that he can know qualities of soul.


Summary:  Religion is for teaching the art of living. Practice is the religion. Self-effort is the main part of the religion. We must have right religion, guru and bhagawän to follow. We must have right knowledge to practice.  Religion should be the integral part of the life.  Religion brings balance in our life. Religion is for enhancing the value of our life.