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New Year's Message: The Practice of True Religion
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on January 1st, 1976.)

In the Veda we have the original proclamation of satya and dharma, the great principle of our culture. 'Our culture' means not merely of Hindus, but of mankind as a whole. It has been given to us in seed form in two great concepts in the Rigveda, satya and rita, from which we have also derived these canons of practice. These two terms represent the ultimate nature of Reality and its law, rule or order, as manifest in all creation. Satya is the Ultimate Reality, and rita is the very same Reality manifest as law and order in this cosmos. This is what is called dharma. Dharma does not mean Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or any kind of 'ism'. It is not a creed or a cult. Dharma is the law that operates in this world, and to be in consonance with this law would be the virtue of man. We are said to be virtuous and righteous when we live in consonance or agreement with the law that operates in creation. If we violate this law we are adharmic, not dharmic, because to violate the law of the universe is to violate our own person in one sense because we are a part of the universe; it is to violate the law of everybody else also because everybody is a part of the universe. It is to create chaos, in another sense.

Corresponding to this beautiful enunciation of satya and rita in the Veda, we have also a statement by Christ in the New Testament: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The kingdom of God and His righteousness—these two things are clubbed together. We may say the kingdom of God is satya, and righteousness is dharma.

We have also, in our traditional parlance, the great teaching of the principle of life we call dharma, artha, kama, moksha, which is a principle of action, conduct, thought, feeling and understanding, bringing together the principle of ultimate Truth and the principle of its manifestation in the universe. We are said to be following dharma in the true sense of the term when we are able to manifest the co-relatedness of satya and rita in our own personal lives and in our social lives. God and man working together in collaboration may be said to be the grosser form of the manifestation of the union of satya and rita. We can be said to be successful in our lives and to be living a life of virtue, goodness and morality when we are able to harmonise the principles of satya and rita in our lives. This is also referred to as the transcendent being of God and the immanent being of God. Various terms are used, meaning almost one and the same thing: the invisible form of God and the visible form of God—the empirical form and the spiritual form.

Many a time we emphasise one side, ignoring the other side, due to a weakness of human nature. Sometimes we become ultra-religious by ignoring the values of the world, which is a mistake. Sometimes we become too inclined towards the world rather than towards the nature of God, and then we become more socialistic, humanistic, sometimes even communistic, and deny the existence of God. Either we deny God or we deny the world. This is what people generally do. We cannot exist without denying something. If we take the world as almost everything, then we deny the transcendent being of Reality.

There are two mistakes that mankind commits, due to which we are in a very difficult situation today. On one side we have materialism, atheism and communism denying all religious, spiritual and transcendental values. On the other side we have the pundit type of religion, the pope's organisation of the church, the extreme type of sanatanist attitude which leans upon a dogmatic and traditional type of religion, giving the wrong impression that perhaps God is above the world, extra-cosmic, to be reached after death and not now.

This is the cause of the downfall of religion, and the reason why communism has risen in this world. Our pundits are responsible for the rise of communism because they teach religion wrongly. I do not say that communism can be against religion, really speaking. It is against false religion, and inasmuch as false religion has been identified with religion in general, the whole of religion is dubbed as an opiate, as a kind of narcotic that is administered to the unwary to exploit them, to harness them and get labour from them, to punish them with the dogma that they are poor on account of their karma and it is a virtue to bear this cross and suffering which God has inflicted upon them as a consequence of the law of karma. They are told to work out their karma by working hard in this world, bearing this pain of poverty, and after death they will go to God.

This has been a very painful type of religion which nobody will tolerate for a long time. For some time we may tolerate it, but for all times it cannot be tolerated because the heart revolts against a God who punishes us protractedly while giving us a hope of satisfaction after death. The argument of the communist is, “After death you give me joy. What about my life here? You torture me. I cannot bear this anymore.”

We have to become embodiments of true religion, not merely teachers of religion. We do not want teachers of religion. Religion is not a profession, an academic career, or a thesis to be written for a course degree. It is a way of life. Religion is a way of conducting yourself in your day-to-day existence. The manner in which you speak to me is your religion. The attitude that you have towards me in your heart is your religion. What you think about me is your religion. What you can give me and what you can take from me is your religion. Your idea of God is not your religion. But this we forget. We talk nonsense, think nonsense and act in a very injudicious manner with the environment, with the atmosphere in which we live and with our own brethren, and then we pray to God in the evening as if He will pardon us from all the mistakes that we have committed. Unconscious mistakes will be pardoned; consciously committed blunders will be punished.

If you are honestly of the opinion that we are in a state of civilisation and true culture in this twentieth century, and not boors or animals, and if your heart says that you are really a cultured person, it is now time for you to act according to the true definition of culture. 'Culture' means the recognition of human values. Your attitude towards other people should be one of true humanism: ātmānaṁ sarvabhūtāni. The great principle of dharma enunciated by Sage Vyasa in the Mahabharata, which is said to be the quintessence of the teaching of the Mahabharata, is atmanaḥ pratikūlāni pareśāṁ na samācharet: What is not good for you, you should not mete out to others. If someone calls you a fool, will you like it? Therefore, when you utter such a word, always think that if this word is uttered in respect of you, will you be happy? Somebody says, “You get out!” If that is told to you, will you be happy? You tell your subordinate, “You quit this place, you idiot!” Suppose he tells you the same thing; will you be happy?

Dharma is essentially the recognition of the values in life that can be justified on a universal basis. Can a principal be universalised? Then it can be called a virtue. There was a great moral philosopher who said there is a very easy way of knowing whether you are following dharma, virtue, morality, or not: If your conduct can be universalised, it should be justifiable.

What does this mean? Suppose you behave in a particular manner; will it be all right for everybody else to also behave in that manner? Just imagine. You speak a word, you think a thought, you behave in a particular manner; would you like everybody else in the world to also think in the same way? Suppose you tell a lie, thinking that good will come out of it. Would you like everybody in the world to tell a lie? The lie will not succeed if everybody tells a lie. Lies succeed because there are a few people in the world who tell the truth. If everybody is a liar, lies will have no meaning. If stealing is a universal principle, stealing will have no meaning. So the test of righteousness is the capacity of a principle to be justifiable universally. Hence, our conduct—social, personal, religious and spiritual—should be capable of being universalised because God is ultimately the highest universal.

Religion is the movement of the soul towards God, and the movement of the soul towards God does not mean walking on the road or soaring into space, but it is an expansion of consciousness because we say God is sat-chit-ananda, pure existence-consciousness. It is a qualitative development of your personality into a wider and wider magnitude and greater depth, so that in your personal life you are in a position to include the values of other people and other things in the world as much as possible, until you become capable of including the values of the entire world. Then it is that you become a world citizen, a God-man or a superman, an atimanava, an avatara purusha, a veritable representative of God in this world.

Inasmuch as God is the supreme universality, this principle of God has to be manifest in your life in whatever degree possible, and that degree of manifestation of the principle of God in your life is your religion. You are not an Arya Samajist, a Hindu, a Christian or a Buddhist; you are a human being. When you are born from the mother's womb, you are not born as an Arya Samajist. You are not born as a unit of any cult or creed. If you see a small baby, you cannot know whether it is the baby of a beggar or the baby of an emperor. They both look alike. If a small baby is brought before you, can you say whether it is an emperor's child or a beggar's child? You cannot see a distinction. One child becomes an emperor and another child becomes a beggar because of various circumstances conditioning it internally as well as externally. Initially we are made up of the same substance, and God has a common intention planted in our hearts, which is our movement towards Him.

In the practice of true religion we have to gradually give up the prejudicial feelings of belonging to cults, creeds, etc., of belonging to South Africa, North Africa, America, India, etc. Ultimately, we may even have to give up the idea of gender—of man, woman, etc. Even that has to be overcome because in the eyes of God we are not men or women, we are not Hindus or Muslims; we are sparks of divinity, rays of God Himself which have somehow got caught up in other atmospheres, parochial situations from which we have to rise with great effort.

Hence, to clinch the matter, the practice of religion is not the practice of any other-worldly attitude towards a transcendent so-called God of this world, but an inclusive attitude which recognises a brother in other human beings, a value in everything that is in the world, a meaning in every item of creation, a significance even in the worst of things, and a beauty even in the ugliest manifestation because in what we call the Viratsvarupa of God, the Cosmic Form, every ugliness is transmuted into beauty. In the Viratsvarupa even the so-called evil in this world, the satanic attitude, becomes a part of the magnificence of God, just as in a drama, for example, even the part of a murderer in the dramatic enactment becomes a necessary part in the total picture that the director of the drama wishes to present before us. It may be Macbeth, it may be Othello, it may be Hamlet; we are not going to look upon each character separately. We are going to assess the total meaning of the entire enactment, and find the moral behind it.

Likewise, God, Who is the Director of the drama of this entire creation, takes a very wide perspective of things. Even the Earth may not have a consciousness of America, India, etc. If we are ten thousand miles above the Earth, we cannot see America or India. There is only a glob of mud, a small ball of Earth, on which we cannot see borders drawn where this is Uttar Pradesh, this is Punjab, this is South Africa, this is Mozambique, this is Egypt. No such lines will be seen on the Earth. The lines are only in our minds. And if we soar higher still, we will find the lines that we draw between men are also not there. The higher we go, the lesser is the demarcation that we recognise. Therefore, we have to soar high, not merely physically but even psychologically and spiritually. When we rise higher and higher in our psychological life—go high into the empyrean of the structure of things—we will not see the difference between the races or nationalities of mankind. We will not even see the difference between one person and another person. Everything will look like a commingling of waves in the ocean of universal forces. It will look as if we are crests of waves in the universe of forces, where each is a part of the same ocean. We have to give up the idea that we are Mr. or Mrs., that we are from Punjab or Madras. These ideas must go.

God has to speak through our hearts and act through our deeds, and God has to manifest Himself through our daily conduct. In essence, you have to see the world as God sees it. If God is to see the world, what will He see and what will He think? That is religion. And to the extent you are able to succeed in entertaining this attitude, to that extent you are a man of religion.

God bless you. Happy New Year to you all! May God bless you with real knowledge that you may be, in your own humble capacities, in your own homes, offices, factories, wherever you are, vehicles of this divine knowledge. When you move from place to place, you move as vehicles of God's message to man. This is what will please God. And if God is to be pleased, man will also be pleased because when God is pleased, the whole world will be pleased, just as when the root of the tree is well-manured, every leaf of the tree is also manured. It gets sustenance. Therefore, the pleasure of God is the pleasure of mankind and the pleasure of the whole world. So try to please God. You need not try to please each individual separately. But to please God is the most difficult of things because you cannot conceive of God. You have to become more and more a God-man in your attitude, and more inclusive in your thought, feeling and action.

Serve God through mankind, and serve mankind through God. Both hold good equally. This is my humble prayer. God bless you.