Saints like Kabir and Nanak taught us that rituals and ceremonies are not true religion. What make a man truly religious is truth, non-violence, meditation and compassion. They pleaded that people should follow the essence and true spirit of their religion rather than its form.
The essence of all religions is love; Christ’s famous precept “Love thy neighbour” implies the ideal of service and self-sacrifice. A person with a religious bent of mind is always inclined to relieve human misery and increase happiness. He is full of compassion and benevolence. He is honest to the core. He hates cunning, hypocrisy, cruelty, etc.
According to Pope, “An honest man is the noblest work of God.” Honesty is more valuable than all the rituals, ceremonies and practices of all the religion5 of the world. In reality, a person can be truly religious without calling himself Hindu, Muslim or Christian. If a man does not go to a temple, mosque or church, it does not mean that he cannot be a religious man. Similarly, it is also not necessary to believe in or follow any dogma. A true religion has nothing to do with them. For example, belief in a personal God, belief in heaven and hell, belief in immortality of the soul or form and content of any prayer are dogmas.
Religion makes people believe in destiny and fate. People stop making efforts for progress. They do not aspire or struggle for anything in life. It is for this reason that Karl Marx condemned religion. He called it the opiate of the masses.
Science has no doubt made tremendous progress but it has still not been able to unravel many secrets of life and nature. Meditation can help us to turn inward and introspect. This is what self-realisation means. We should not meditate or pray in a mechanical way. Our whole personality should be involved in it.
Most religions commend people to abstain from the pleasures of life. Religion has come to mean self-denial, detachment and renunciation. Such a puritanical approach to life does not sustain interest in life. It divests life of all its charm. This is a negative approach. True religion is one which gives equal importance to body and mind.
Religion is a way of life. It is a matter of one’s faith and conviction. When religion embraces fanaticism, it loses its soul. Followers of one religion become the arch-enemies of the followers of other religions. Instead of bringing people together, religious fanaticism divides them.
What is more disturbing is that religion has started making inroads into politics. It has got intertwined with political squabbles. Some countries have gone to the extent of making the religion of the majority population as their state religion. Though India is a secular state, we have in India political parties like the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League, the Akali Dal, etc. which are wedded to one or the other religion.
If we believe in the essence of religion, we should imbibe the qualities of truth, non-violence, honesty, love, compassion, etc. We should not give undue importance to any rituals, ceremonies or dogmas of any religion. We should cultivate universal brotherhood. We should not dilute the purity of religion by injecting politics into it.