Religion And Philosophy

Religion and philosophy constitute the two sides of the single Truth, which can be explored through their integrated effort, but they move with different intensities

Nov. 9, 2021, 11:01 p.m.

Religion is seeking after the spiritual by the way of living our life, while philosophy provides the basis to consciously live that life. A Greek adage says: “first live, then philosophize”. Religion and philosophy are therefore organically interrelated. While religion is essentially a concern of the inner life, philosophy works as the light of reason and provides the background for achieving that inner life. While religion may ask the question Who made the world? philosophy tries to explain “Why the world was as it is?”. While one stream of thought tried to understand God through philosophy, the other tried to do it through Bible. But it is now being realized in the West that the God of the Bible is above the God of the Philosopher. So there is a qualitative gap between philosophy and religion. The God of the Philosophers is rather too abstract and separates us from the concrete. Logical thinking employs a chain of thoughts and leads us nowhere as it cannot go beyond thinking. According to Vedic literature “the self is perceived not by logical reason but by spiritual contemplation’. Religion is primary but it is “philosophy that gives light to religion and saves it from ignorance and superstition. Similarly, it is religion that gives spiritual passion and effective power to philosophy and saves it from becoming unsubstantial, abstract and sterile, - Sri Aurobindo. It is through being lived that both philosophy and religion transcend the barrier of conceptual thinking. Unaided by religion philosophy says: I have brought you thus far, but you have to continue your further journey on your own. So philosophy has no answer to the question “Who made the world? On the other hand, the question why the world is as it is? is much simpler as it is not very far from mental analysis, and could be treated separately without infringing into the domain of religion. This led to the intellectual interpretation of the world as it is, and the Greeks excelled others in this respect.

The advent of the scientific age left a deep imprint on the Western mind, and intellectual interpretation of the world still continues to captivate the Western mind. God became the God of the Philosophers, but it does not mean that we have to abandon philosophy completely. In fact, any major change in religion is preceded by a corresponding change in philosophy. Besides, it is only by riding on the shoulder of philosophy that we can see what lies beyond its horizon. This seeing is done by religion but “religion is essentially a concern of life, and its roots lie in the spirit of man deeper than feeling, will or intellect… It deals with the deepest depths of the soul which reflects the divine in us” writes Radhakrishnan (RK).

The second question can also be put in a slightly different form “is the world really as it looks? While the first question is related to man’s spiritual development, the second question has been almost a perennial question directly related to life. This question asks us to make a distinction between the outer and the inner worlds. But neither of the two questions is likely to satisfy an inquisitive mind. If we restrain religion to the knowledge of God through certain systems of belief and faith, and philosophy to the discursive knowledge of “Why the world is as it is?” then we may not be able to make a transition from the one to the other. The outer conflict between religion and philosophy is precisely due to the fact that the two questions cannot be solved in isolation. It would appear that there is an unavoidable discontinuity between them which has led to the prosecution and even death of many religious thinkers and scientists in the West. However, this discontinuity is due to misunderstanding of the complementary relationship between them. This misunderstanding is removed when we understand both of them through the art of living i.e. when they converge at the level of life and express themselves through our action and behavior. The mark of the Aryan is not learning, not religion, but conduct alone says Radhakrishnan. It is only then that we can translate philosophical wisdom into action. For example, philosophy has its origin in life, passes various tests of life in the course of living the life, and enters back into life, but each time philosophy enters back into life, it enters into the deeper and deeper levels of life. If one represents theory, the other represents practice; if one represents the doctrine, the other life. Theory and practice then go together. Here philosophy which represents the theoretical aspect of our spiritual journey becomes a way of life or an approach to spiritual realization and supplements and enriches both life and religion “by gathering into itself new conceptions as philosophy progresses”.- RK.

Philosophy in the East, being essentially spiritual, acknowledges that within man is the spirit that is the center of everything, -RK, but the spiritual is beyond the comprehension of the rational. When we realize the inadequacy of conceptual account of reality, we try to seize the real by intuition, where the intellectual ideas are swallowed up -RK. This intuitive knowledge combined with spiritual passion is what makes us capable of not only of transcending abstract conceptions but also converting them into the actuality of spiritual experience. But this is possible only when we bring down philosophy as well as religion to the level of life as we actually live every day. We then live both into religion and philosophy through the dynamic synthesis of the truth of philosophy and the wisdom of knowledge gained through subtler and subtler experiences of our daily life. Our life bears significance when we become able to integrate philosophy and religion into a powerful life force. Aurobindo: Philosophy alone can give light to Religion and save it from crudeness, ignorance and superstition. So Religion alone can give spiritual passion and reflective power to Philosophy and save it from becoming unsubstantial, abstract and sterile. When the two converge at the level of life, we talk neither about philosophy nor about religion in isolation, but talk about the right way of living our life. Then the above mentioned two questions lose their significance as we can understand them directly through lived experience. If you know who you are then the question who made the world? becomes of secondary importance. Similarly, the question “what is God?” is not so acute if you can know God. As said by RadhakrishnanDoctrines about God are only guides to the seekers who have not reached the end. But the transition from philosophy to religion is not a simple evolutionary process but an evolutionary leap. It is a leap from conceptual interpretation of reality to spiritual experience of Truth.

Religion and philosophy constitute the two sides of the single Truth, which can be explored through their integrated effort, but they move with different intensities. Religion moves at its own pace following its own values, traditions etc. Superficially, religion generally connotes a system of sanctions, of moral values etc., but this is a very limited and incomplete or even wrong view of religion. The aim of religion is to know the truth, to attain a knowledge or a vision of God, It is that knowledge of the essential nature of reality, that insight or penetration which satisfies not only a moiré or less powerful intellectual impulse in us, but that which gives to our very being the point of contact which it needs for its vital power… Religion opens us to the consciousness of the infinite spirit which is an impulse to the Ideal,-RK. While philosophy tries to communicate with God through words or concepts, and it is through their integration and synthesis that we can understand both of them. However, this synthesis cannot be had without using the science of understanding that can transcend the logical mind. Without this support, philosophy would be dry and religion blind. Religion makes philosophy spiritual and philosophy makes religion flexible.

Religion is spiritual and spirituality is the core of religion, and the right way we should live is living in the highest self. If religion is the way we live, spirituality is the objective of our life. If living in the highest self is the goal of our life, that highest self can be found through the universality of religion. Religion is a search for truth but philosophy constitutes modus operandi of that search. Then religion and philosophy are not seen apart from the Self. Religion constitutes the essence of our life. It provides “the ideal way of developing the ideal individual, the ideal society and lifts the whole life of man into the divine –Sri Aurobindo. As said by Radhakrishnan: Religion reflects both God and man. Religion is a way of life dedicated to the seeking of the eternal. It is not a theory to be accepted or a belief to be adhered to… Religion reveals to us a world of rich and varied spiritual experience rather than a world of abstract philosophical categories. Their truths are verified not only by logical reason but by personal experience. Their aim is practical rather than speculative. Religion is fulfillment of man’s life, an experience in which every aspect of his being is raised to its highest extent... Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom by a way of life.

Philosophy in the East is more religious or spiritual, but its rationalistic fervor has kept it reasonably free from religious forms. This makes them relatively independent but synergically interdependent. Thus while philosophy has saved religion from being too dogmatic, religion has helped philosophy to venture into the realm that is beyond the rationalistic intellect. So both of them have an evolutionary character and accommodate the progress of thought and the changes brought about by time as shown by the transition from Karma Kanda of the Veda to Guyana Kanda of the Upanisads. While changes in religion are related mainly to the form of expression, those in philosophy are of substantial nature.

Recently, science has achieved very striking achievements and made our life more comfortable, sometimes to the degree that it seemed to supersede the problems of life including its ethical and moral base. But the moral codes of religion and the philosophy of life have together integrated science, philosophy and religion into a coherent whole that forms the base of our existence on earth. The awareness that the three aspects of our existence should work together is being realized more and more by religious people, scientists and philosophers. In fact, the mysteries of sub-atomic phenomena have compelled the scientist to go beyond physical phenomena as the rationalistic approach defied all the logic. It is definitely an encouraging development. Indeed religions are many but the underlying principle is one, but humanity may not yet be considered completely safe as science and religion have not yet been developed into a fully coherent and integrated Knowledge. This is possible only through psychological unity and spiritual coherence. Philosophy constitutes the most important contributor in this regard as it can, to a considerable extent, be kept independent of religious and cultural moulds although philosophy and religion are not completely independent of one another.

Philosophy tries to understand reality through a careful combination of words, deductions inferences, concepts etc., but all these are only outward instruments for the brain, mere hints, not the proof. The proof is inside us; in our divinity; in Spiritual Reality. In fact, says Sri Aurobindo The natural line of religious development proceeds always by illumination”. This is an experience when we pass from the outer to the inner; from external activities to internal realities. We then actually participate in the consciousness of God within us, but this is something which transcends the limits of philosophy as it provides only a way to illumination not the illumination which is the manifestation of Divinity in us. Ultimately, the proof lies not in philosophy but in religion, not in ideas but in action, not in theory but in life/practice. Then philosophical abstractions, which often distract our reasoning mind, grade into satisfying experience of spiritual life. It is then possible to know the truth through the inherent universal disposition and the intuitive faculty. “By a change in mental and spiritual disposition…. we can prepare for ourselves a new destiny ...No human being is intimately wicked or incapable of improvement. It is then possible “to get behind knowing, feeling and willing to the essential Self, the God within” - Radhakrishnan. These abstractions cease to bet mere abstractions that are lacking in practical value. “They put strength into my own will, guidance into my mind, peace into my heart, and truth into my soul” says Brunton.

Philosophy starts to build up on the facts of experience and logical reflections to ascertain whether the facts observed by an individual are accepted by all. The experience implied here necessarily includes psychological experiences which have their origin in the inherent spiritual content hidden in each of us. Although both philosophy and religion proceed from experienced facts, philosophical/psychological experiences cannot avoid being ideational. Religious experiences, on the other hand, represent lived experiences. They can change the mode of our actions and behavior. The ideational experiences are strengthened by religious experiences, which being the lived experiences are of vital importance. It is only then that we open ourselves first to mental transformation and then to spiritual transformation, but religious experiences are of prime importance because they are associated with inner/subtler experiences. They are above and deeper than psychological experiences and form the base of spiritual experiences and spiritual transformation. Philosophy and religion then complement each other as their combined effort can now tackle the mystery associated with what lies deeper than feeling, will and intellect. Our spiritual journey starts from here. Philosophy provides a sort of nourishment for the mind which enables it to free itself from the gravitational pull of the material existence as well as from what is a dead wood or outdated religious traditions and/or values. The spirit of religion lights up the road the ahead using the truth of philosophy and wisdom of knowledge.

Man embarks on his spiritual journey because he has the capacity to rise to spiritual heights. Paul Brunton one of the twentieth century’s greatest western explorers of the spiritual traditions of the East writes: Man is a spiritual being possessing a capacity for wisdom which is infinite, a resource of happiness which is startling. He contains a divine infinitude within himself, yet he is content to go on and potter about a pretty stretch of life as though he were a mere human insect. Such statements which are full of philosophical wisdom force us to probe into the higher realms of our mind. Once we recognize this need, we begin to accept that we have to transcend the limits of rational mind.

AB Singh Photo.jpg

Prof. Dr. Akal Bahadur Singh

Prof. Dr. Singh was one of the founding Pragya in the old pre-1990 RONAST. Recently he has been spending much of his time thinking about the relationship between science and spirituality.

Are The Two Pre-Requisites Of Our Existence: Science And Religion Irreconcilable?
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