What is religion? Many would say it is a quest for salvation or nirvana. Others would say it is a set of rules and regulations that steer you from morally wrong activities to the right ones. But can religion be defined so simply? Not only are the deeply entrenched belief systems and nuances in religion complicated, these vary in different religions making matters more complex.
There is a belief that mankind started out worshipping nature or its different elements and as culture and tradition evolved, religions evolved as well. Some people also believe that some religions favor certain classes or gender and are biased against others. Of course, we have seen this played out time and again in history.
One thing is certain: human beings by their very nature are worshippers. If they do not worship gods of a religion, they will worship other objects. These other gods can vary from money, power, sex, accomplishment, art and beauty to several other idols. Human beings worship because their intrinsic nature is to fill the void or craving inside them with something worthy or inspirational. They are always looking “upward and forward” because a sense of eternity is placed in them.
Which is why it is so very essential to follow the right “god” in life. Escapism, hedonism and materialism will drive us to the wrong pursuits. In fact, religion itself is a deceptive term. There exists a vast difference between religiosity and spirituality. While religiosity changes us from outside in – longer dresses, shorter hair, elaborate rites and rituals; spirituality changes us from the inside out – it makes us more loving, humble, forgiving and basically a value-driven character.
It is good if we spent on pilgrimages and koras and religious rites but if they fail to change us from the inside, what use is it? Also, though we donate a hundred bucks to a beggar, if our sole aim is to gain the admiration and praise of onlookers, what do we gain apart from a false sense of piety or worse an inflated ego?
Buddhism is a religion that teaches us values like non-attachment, compassion and tolerance. This is good. But going by how religion is practiced these days: we will gain merit if we light incense and butter lamps at the lhakhang while we bitch about our neighbor, or we will earn positive karma if we complete circumvallating a few hundred times while we continue to be unfaithful to our spouse in thought or deed, or maybe we could make up for being a selfish, bitter and angry person if we donate to charity?
Religion exists so that change springs from within and we can spread positivity arising from this around. We cannot make up for a character deficit by looking good on the outside. It is a smart alibi but an alibi nevertheless.
Religion should also serve to make us more compassionate. While we cannot agree to every world view presented to us, we have the choice to be non-judgmental or condemn. As someone once put it, while not judging will not always lead to improvement, judging will always lead to deterioration. The choice is ours.
Outward acts of piety are essential to reinforce religion but the transformation inside is paramount. We know we follow a misguided religion if we heap praises on those who donate millions to charity out of the bounty they possess instead of recognizing the quiet power of an individual who keeps a rein over lust or anger.