1.Why do bad things happen to good people?
Here’s an analogy to understand the answer. In villages, grain is often stored in huge vertical containers; fresh grain is poured into the top, and old stored grain is taken out from the bottom. A farmer may have produced poor quality grain of, say, brand Z for the past four years and stocked it in his container. This year he produces high quality grain of, say, brand A and stores it at the top. He is therefore exasperated when he finds grain of brand Z coming out from the bottom. This illustrates how seemingly innocent people suffer in this life: they have been doing good things in this life, but have earlier done bad things whose reactions are coming to them now. The workings of karma are often difficult to appreciate is that most people have a karmic record that is neither white nor black, but shades of gray. That mixed record leads to reactions that often appear arbitrary. A question that vexes many when they see bad things happening to good people is: “If these people were really so bad in their earlier lives, how could they have been virtuous in this life for so long?” There are several possible answers. We often see even upright people occasionally succumbing to temptation and perpetrating abominable misdeeds. Of course, their virtuous nature rectifies them quickly, but still the fact remains that they did commit a greatly sinful act and are therefore liable for a reaction. So the wrongdoing, like an ugly black spot on their otherwise clean karmic slate, will result in a severe reaction in an otherwise happy future life. Shift this scenario one lifetime backwards and we have the answer to the above question. The harsh affliction coming to a good person may thus be due to an occasional but grave transgression in a previous life. Also, our behavior in this life is not determined only by our tendencies in the previous life; upbringing and association in this life also play a significant role. So if people with bad inclinations are born into a good family because of some good karma, their congenial upbringing and surroundings may empower them to shed their baggage of negative propensities. Thus they may become moral in this life, but their misdeeds from previous lives will make them suffer despite their rectified conduct now. Thus the principles of reincarnation allow us to view life with a much broader perspective—not from the standpoint of one brief lifetime, which is nothing more than a flash in time, but from the standpoint of eternity. With this broader vision we can understand how each of us individual souls is alone responsible for what happens in our life.
2.Does Religion Cause War?
Answer: The short answer is no; humans cause war – and justify that warfare using whatever reasons they can find including religion. Religion, if understood and practiced properly, removes the materialism and selfishness and greed that are generally the actual causes of war. Here’s the long answer Many people feel that the world would be better off without religion. We can understand their sentiments when we consider that modern times have seen large-scale violence in the name of religion. But is religion the only cause of violence? If it were, then parts of the world dominated by atheistic views should have been absolutely peaceful. But history shows that violence has touched all parts of the world more or less equally, independent of the theological beliefs of the people.
In fact, most of the wars throughout history, including World Wars I and II, were fought for purely secular political, economic, or ideological reasons; religion was not an issue at all. Whenever wars were fought in the name of religion, the real issue was the same: the increase of wealth and power. Religion was just a convenient scapegoat for the powers that be to mask their grossly materialistic motives. And even such “religious” violence has been only a tiny fraction of the secular violence witnessed by the world in recent times. Is Religion Dispensable? The protest that religion leads to violence implies that religion is bad and should be rejected. But can the human being do without religion? The universally accepted goal of life is the quest for happiness. When man neglects or rejects religion, consciously or unconsciously his conception of his own self becomes “a lump of chemicals that has by chance come alive.”
The quest for happiness then degenerates into a savage struggle for carnal enjoyment. Wealth, wine, and women become the only goals of life. Such a conception of life is individually frustrating and globally disastrous. The fundamental need of the individual is love; everyone wants to love and be loved. But in the material conception of life there can be no such thing as real love. People put up a façade of love for another person as long as they get sensual pleasure in return. When that stops, they dispose of their object of “love” just as fast as they would dump a broken TV. In their heart of hearts, people know that no one loves them, no one cares for them. Naturally they feel lonely, rejected, insecure, and frustrated. These feelings are the root of stress, depression, addictions, delinquency, hypertension, criminality, and even suicide. Studies in psychology have confirmed that there is no better insurance against self-destructive behavior (including drinking, substance abuse, and suicide) than strong religious faith. At a global level the rejection of religion leads to a setting wherein love, ethics, morality, and selflessness become meaningless. Although the anti-religionist may feebly urge the masses to “be good,” such an appeal has no substance.
“If the goal of life is to enjoy and I’m here for who knows how long and there is no life after death, then why wait? I should just enjoy. Beg, borrow, steal, or even kill, but enjoy.” By making religion dispensable, we court global disaster. The Vedic Definition of Religion What is this mysterious phenomenon known as religion–a phenomenon that causes millions of people to congregate annually at Jagannatha Puri, Tirupati, Badrinath, Mecca, and the Vatican, braving the weather, the crowds, and all the other troubles of a pilgrimage? The Vedic texts of ancient India give an understanding of religion quite different from the common understanding. (To avoid the negative connotations the word religion inevitably brings, I’ll use the word spirituality to designate the Vedic understanding of what is commonly called religion. I’ll discuss the difference between the two terms later.) According to the Vedic texts, spirituality imparts the vision to see the cosmos in the proper perspective and to live in harmony with it. The basic teaching of the Vedic texts is that the cosmos is not just matter; it has a spiritual dimension.
The Bhagavad-gita (13.27) states, “Know that whatever you see in existence, both the moving and the nonmoving, is only a combination of the field of activities [matter] and the knower of the field [spirit].” Modern scientific research in fields such as past-life memories, near-death experiences (NDEs), and consciousness studies also strongly suggests a spiritual part of our being that continues to exist even after bodily death. The Vedic texts explain that our real self is not material; a spiritual particle called the atma, the soul, animates our material body. The supreme spiritual being who animates the entire cosmos is called the Paramatma, or the Supersoul. And the relationship between the two –the soul and the Supersoul–is loving service, like the relationship between a parent and a child. This loving relationship exists eternally in the highest realm, called the spiritual world. The soul’s refusal to harmonize with the will of the Supreme temporarily obscures the relationship. The soul is then placed in the realm of matter, where we all now reside.
The Vedic texts further explain that genuine spirituality is meant to awaken us to our original spiritual identity through a harmony of philosophy and religion, the two rails on which spirituality runs. The philosophical aspect of spirituality involves the study and understanding of matter, spirit, and the controller of both–the Supreme Lord. And the religious aspect involves following rules and regulations that bring about realization and experience of the spiritual realm. A Higher-Dimensional Science We can note the striking similarity between this definition of spirituality and the approach of modern science. Modern science involves the formulation of hypotheses to explain the observable phenomena within the universe (similar to the philosophical aspect of spirituality). It also involves following rules that regulate the laboratory environment to verify the validity of the hypotheses (similar to the religious aspect of spirituality). Spirituality thus constitutes a higher-dimensional science; it deals with realms of reality higher than the mundane. The spiritual scientist, by dint of systematic practice of both philosophy and religion, understands the nature of the cosmos and learns to live in harmony with it. Having realized his own identity as an eternal spiritual being and his loving relationship with the Supreme Being, a mature spiritual scientist sees all living beings as his brothers. His vision of universal brotherhood leads him to spontaneous, selfless, and holistic service to all living beings.
About such a spiritual welfare activist, the ˆsopanisad (Mantra 2) states, “One may aspire to live for hundreds of years if he continuously goes on working in that way, for that work will not bind him to the law of karma. There is no alternative to this way for man.” Thus genuine spirituality, far from being the cause of violence, is the source of harmony–within and without. A true spiritualist is self-satisfied and helps others become self-satisfied. There is no question of violence in a society of self-satisfied persons. The Real Cause of Violence What then, from the Vedic perspective, is the cause of violence? Imbalance occurs in the cosmic order when humankind lives in disharmony with either of the energies of the cosmos. When the material concept of life prevails over the spiritual, dharmasya glanih, the decline of spirituality, results. Spirituality may decline when one neglects its religious aspect, its philosophical aspect, or both. Srila Prabhupada remarks, “Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.” And the absence of both religion and philosophy marks the degeneration of the human species to the animal platform.
When humanity degenerates to the animal platform, the law of the jungle–survival of the fittest–prevails. And just as peace is impossible in a jungle, peace remains a utopian dream in the concrete jungles of today, despite all sorts of “landmark summit meetings.” Therefore violence is caused not by spirituality but by the perversion of spirituality, which has divested the human being of his humanity. So the way to restore peace is not by rejecting spirituality but by reforming it. This will pave the way for humanity to once again develop human qualities such as love, contentment, continence, selflessness, and humility, which alone can engender lasting peace. We can compare the defects that have crept into spirituality to a cataract in the eye. To cure the eye, we must remove the cataract, not pluck out the eye.
Similarly, we have to arrest the decline in spirituality, not reject spirituality itself. Just as plucking out the eye causes blindness, rejecting spirituality will rob humanity of the precious eyes of divine wisdom, resulting in disharmony and disaster. The spiraling rates of crime and violence all over the globe give us a glimpse of the anarchy in store if humanity continues to neglect spirituality. Correcting the Iron-Age Chaos When cosmic disorder occurs, the Supreme Being descends to the material realm to reestablish spirituality, by which humankind can once again learn to live in harmony with the cosmos. In the present age, dharmasya glanih prevails, since all the aspirations and achievements of most of humankind are within the realm of matter. Most people have no interest in philosophy. And those with some interest pursue it mainly as a means to an academic career or for intellectual growth and not as a zealous search for the Truth. Unable to understand the truths of the cosmos, they mislead others. Similarly, most people are not religiously inclined. The somewhat religious are mostly ritualistic and mechanical in their religious practices; they have little scientific understanding of what they are doing or why.
People often claim to be fighting to protect their religion, but if questioned they don’t even know its fundamental tenets. And even if they know them, they’re not interested in following them. Such pseudo religionists are interested only in their own profit and use religion as a tool to promote it. Thus the present age of iron is characterized by an almost total decline in spirituality or a perversion of it. To correct the enormous disorder prevalent in the modern times, the Supreme Being descends in a form that transcends all restrictions of time and space. He descends in His holy names, which always stay with us, irrespective of time, place, and circumstance.
That is why we see that the major religions of the world enjoin their followers to chant the holy names of God. Chanting is the universal religion for the current age. And among the innumerable names of God, the Vedic scriptures assert that the most potent is the maha-mantra, “the great chant for deliverance”: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The Supreme Being has also given a concise yet complete manual for the present age in the form of the Bhagavad-gita, the essence of Vedic wisdom. It is the ideal textbook for the aspiring spiritual scientist. About the Bhagavad-gita, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.” A Call to My Fellow Youth of India Eminent thinkers throughout the world, including leading scientists such as Nobel Laureate Richard R. Ernst, peace workers such as Nobel Laureates Oscar Arias Sanchez and Betty Williams, and spiritualists such as Nobel Laureate the Dalai Lama, firmly believe that only a synthesis of science and spirituality can lead the world out of the present troubled times. The youth of India have a unique position in the world. By virtue of birth in the holy land of India, they inherit the priceless wealth of spiritual knowledge expounded in the Vedic texts. And by virtue of their education and training, they have developed the scientific spirit of rational inquiry. Thus they are best suited to bring about the much-needed synthesis of science and spirituality that thinkers all over the world are searching for.
The late Professor Arthur Ellison, a mechanical and electrical engineer, stated, “Surely the great and unique contribution that India has made and must continue to make to the world’s progress is in the field of religion–of truth and reality…. India can most certainly help the West to find the spiritual way back towards reality, which is essential for all real progress.” Unfortunately, most young Indians today are enamored by the razzle-dazzle of Western culture–blue jeans, supermarkets, Big Macs, Disney “fun,” rock music, Hollywood movies, and the like. But before embracing Western culture, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to study the condition of those who have lived with it their whole lives? Statistics show that in the U.S.A. a thousand teenagers attempt suicide every day. Seventy percent of all high-school seniors have attempted or seriously thought about suicide. Thirty-three percent of American adults have serious mental health problems. Psychiatry and psychology are the most lucrative professions in America, and among all professionals, the highest suicide rate is found among psychiatrists and psychologists.
Yet for most Indians, America is the land of their dreams. Srila Prabhupada would lament that modern Indians are sitting on jewels and begging for broken glass. Let the intelligent youth of India become selfless spiritual scientists dedicated to saving the world from its suicidal course. Let them, in the true spirit of science, study the theory of spirituality with all seriousness and at the same time perform the experiment of mantra meditation. Those who take up this challenge will become living spiritual scientists and will help usher in an era of peace, harmony, and understanding.
3.Is religion made by man or by God?
Religion can refer to various things.
If by religion we refer to the Sanskrit word dharma, then that is definitely not man-made; that is our intrinsic nature, the very fabric of our being.
However, we normally don’t understand religion this way. To gain a sense of its normal meaning, let’s analyze the word etymologically and functionally.
Etymologically, or in terms of the roots of words, religion refers to “respect for what is sacred, reverence for God,” or “obligation, the bond between man and God.” These roots indicate that religion is the means by which we bond with God in love. Religion provides us tools for inner transformation by which we can learn to love God. So it can be said to be a type of treatment – a treatment for the soul. This spiritual treatment cures the misdirection of our love and enables us to love the eternal instead of the temporary, God instead of the world.
Religion as a spiritual treatment is not so much a set of dogmas or rituals as a set of universal principles. These principles are intrinsic to existence, as is say gravity. We may call gravity by different names in different languages; we may or may not comprehend the origin or cause of gravity; we may or may not know the mathematical equations that describe it. But still gravity exists and acts. The same applies to the principles that comprise religion. Just as the universe is made by God, so are these principles that govern our destiny in the universe. So, when by the word “religion” we refer to these principles, then again it is definitely made by God, not man.
Functionally, we often use the word ‘religion’ to refer to different religions like Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. These great religions have usually begun with a primeval revelation in which God shared the knowledge of the principles of religion. So, at their roots, these religions are God-made. However, over the course of centuries, they have undergone many changes. Not all the forms that they have taken are geared towards helping people to love God. Many concocted ideas and practices have been added in it. So, much of what goes on in the name of religion today is man-made.
Therefore, to the extent that today’s religions are in accordance with the words of God, to that extent they can be said to be made by God. To the extent that they deviate from those divine words, to that extent they are man-made.
4.Why do temples spend so much money on expensive religious rituals when beggars are starving outside the temples?
It’s certainly sad to see anyone starving. If the social culture were more spiritual and less materialistic, the state officials as well as the wealthy would have a spirit of compassion and a system of charity to care for the needy. And they would also have gorgeous worship of God in temples.
Certainly, the needy should be cared for, but are caring for them and opulently worshiping God mutually exclusive? Is the worship of God really causing starvation among the poor?
If we are truly concerned about starving people, then why do we target expensive religious rituals alone? Why not target the billionaires and trillionaires who spend millions on their wardrobes and perfumes? Outside their mansions also beggars are starving. Why not target theatres, casinos, race courses, malls, sports tournaments and the like where huge amounts of money are spent on entertainment? If even a fraction of that money was used for feeding the needy, starvation could be wiped out from the entire planet. Singling out religious rituals amounts to emotionally manipulating public opinion against religion.
And actually, the gorgeous worship of God far from causing starvation decreases starvation in several ways. Such worship is an essential part of a comprehensive spiritual culture that fosters self-mastery among people. If people started living according to this spiritual culture, they would become vegetarians. They would never kill other children of God – the animals – just for satisfying their own tongues. And this shift to vegetarianism would decrease starvation globally. How? Large quantities of fodder need to be fed to the slaughterhouse animals to get just a small quantity of flesh. If people became vegetarian, all the land used to grow fodder would become available for growing grains to feed human beings. Many surveys have shown that the land required to feed one non-vegetarian person can feed three or more vegetarian people8. If everyone in the world became vegetarian, the world’s starvation problem would be substantially reduced, if not entirely solved.
Similarly, if people participated in an authentic spiritual culture, they would give up drinking alcohol. To produce alcohol, so much land that could be used to grow grains is used instead to grow sugarcane. If people stopped drinking alcohol, all that land would become available for feeding starving people.
8 “A typical diet requires up to 2.5 times the amount of land compared to a vegetarian diet.” (Zollitsch, W., Winckler, C., Waiblinger, S., and Haslberger, A. 2007. Sustainable Food Production and Ethics.Wageningen Academic Publishers). “A farmer can feed up to 30 people throughout the year with vegetables, fruits, cereals and vegetable fats on one hectare of land. If the same area is used for the production of eggs, milk and/or meat the number of people fed varies from 5-10.” (Pachauri, R.K., Chairman IPCC 08.09.08. “Global Warning!The Impact of meat production and consumption on climate change”.)
maas khate samay aur sharab pite samay hume bhikaariyo ki yaad kyo nahi ati hai9? Many times that’s because the desire to enjoy eating meat and drinking liquor is too strong and irresistible.
Spiritual culture enables us to relish a higher happiness. This happiness empowers us to break free from the desires for lower materialistic pleasures like meat-eating and drinking, thereby freeing resources for food production. That’s how even from a practical perspective the various rituals contribute to decreasing starvation.
9 Why don’t we remember the beggars at the time of eating meat or drinking alcohol?
5.When God is present everywhere, why should we worship him in the temple images?
Certainly, God is present everywhere, but is he accessible to us everywhere? Water is present everywhere in the air as water vapor, but can we just hang out our tongue and access that water whenever we feel thirsty? No; we need to go to a tap. Similarly, though God is present everywhere; we need his accessible form as manifested in the temples.
The need for an accessible manifestation of God is indispensable. Even in the imaginary storyline of OMG, God appears before Kanjibhai in a materially visible form and protects him in miraculous ways. Only on seeing this form does he get converted. Thus, even a skeptic who rejects all material manifestations of God needs a material manifestation to develop his faith.
In real-life, unlike in OMG’s imaginary storyline, God doesn’t appear personally to each one of us – at least not till we are adequately purified. Then how can we access God? To help us, those saintly people who have seen him as he actually is in his transcendental form have described that form for us. Moreover, the scriptures tell us that we can and should depict God according to that description, for if we worship him devotedly he will accept our worship.
A movie scriptwriter may fictitiously make God speak that Deity worship is unnecessary, but that statement expresses the opinion of the scriptwriter, not the will of God. To know God’s will, we have to refer to the scriptures. And the scriptures strongly and repeatedly endorse Deity worship. For example, the Uddhava-Gita (Krishna’s instructions to Uddhava) comprises the largest philosophical section of the great devotional classic, the Srimad Bhagavatam, and it includes one full chapter (11.27) on Deity worship. Thus here the same Krishna in whose mouth OMG puts words condemning Deity worship speaks his actual will, enjoining Deity worship. Many other Puranas glorify Deity worship. And the Pancharatras are an entire library of books that systematically elucidate the principles and practices of Deity worship.
6.Is religion the opium of the masses?
“Religion is the opium of the masses” is the argument often used by atheists to dismiss religion without addressing the substantial issues it addresses. Though many atheists have used this quote, its most well-known proponent is Karl Marx: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
What does this religion-opium argument imply? Atheists allege that just as opium intoxicates people with illusory feelings of well-being without offering any real relief, so does religion. Only when people stop taking opium will they shake off the opium-induced feelings of illusory well-being and strive towards real well-being. Atheists believe that the same applies to religion – only when people shed the false hopes offered by religion will they strive for actual well-being.
This argument has several unstated assumptions. Because these assumptions are not subjected to serious intellectual scrutiny, the religion-opium argument continues to hold a charm that stems largely from wordplay. Let’s examine these assumptions in the form of three questions.
1. Are the hopes offered by religion false?
Religion usually centers on the existence of a benevolent God by whose grace we can attain a world of eternal happiness. It frequently tells us that our present world is a station, not a destination. It is a place we pass through during our journey towards eternal existence. By living in this world according to God’s guidelines, we can live fruitfully and evolve towards spiritual perfection.
Are these religious beliefs false?
By material methods of observation and inference, we may not be able to conclusively prove the other-worldly truth-claims of religion. But we can definitely look at its this-worldly effects.
Unlike opium that harms our health, religion heals us in many ways – physically and mentally. In the Handbook of Religion and Health, published by Oxford University Press, Harold G. Koenig, MD; Michael E. McCullough, PhD; and the late David B. Larson, MD, carefully reviewed no fewer than two thousand published experiments that tested the relationship between religion and everything from blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and stroke to depression, suicide, psychotic disorders and marital problems. Some of their findings are:
Koening’s conclusion? “A high SQ (Spiritual Quotient) faithfulness to God appears to benefit people of all means, educational levels and ages.”
These findings are so consistent and compelling that Dr Patrick Glynn in his book God – The Evidence poignantly states their implications: “If this [religious belief] is an illusion, it is, first of all, not a harmful one, as Freud and the moderns taught. On the contrary, it is mentally beneficial. It is also, more puzzlingly, physically beneficial. And strangest of all, by deliberately interacting with this Illusion in a sincere spirit, through meditative prayer, one can create improvements in symptoms of disease that otherwise cannot be medically explained.” His last comment refers to the findings like those of Dr Herbert Benson in his book The Relaxation Response that the benefits of religious belief are greater when those beliefs are deeply cherished, not nominally held. What are we to infer from this? Is religion an illusion that somehow accidentally offers real benefits? And is it such a peculiar illusion that the greater our belief in it, the greater the benefits?
Can we be open-minded enough to consider a more natural and logical inference? Could it be that religion may not be an illusion at all? Might religious belief and practice be harmonizing us with some deeper reality, a harmonization that helps our mental and physical health?
Atheists often like to lay the blame for much of the violence on the feet of religion. However, statistics reveal that violence has been far more in atheistic parts of the world than elsewhere. R J Rummel in the book Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917 documents that the victims of the Marxist governments amounted to 95,200,000. By comparison, the battle-killed in all foreign and domestic wars in this century total 35,700,000.
In utter disregard to such serious analysis, the religion-opium argument swaggers with intellectual arrogance. It summarily dismisses religion by equating the beliefs of religion with the fantasies induced by opium. Isn’t that what intolerance is all about – aggressively dismissing ideas that contradict one’s own beliefs? The religion-opium argument reflects an arrogant intolerant faith, the faith known as atheistic fundamentalism. Of course, this atheistic faith conceals its intolerance under the garbs of science, secularism and social progress. But when we strip it of its misdirecting jargon, it stands exposed for what it is: a fanatical belief in disbelief.
2. Can we have real well-being without religion?
Atheism assumes that the material level of existence is the only reality; whatever well-being is to be had should be had at the material level alone. Atheists believed that if people stopped taking the opium of religion, then they would strive for and achieve real well-being at the material level.
Has that hope been realized by the propagation of atheism and the relegation of religion to the sidelines of intellectual and social life, as has happened in many parts of the world in recent times?
Not at all.
The material level of existence is characterized by misery and mortality. As Marx’s religion-opium quote indicates (“religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature”), we are all oppressed creatures.
If we reject religion as an opium, can we free ourselves from the oppression of our inevitable mortality? No, because atheism rivets us to matter and material existence, which are temporary. Atheism implies that:
How can such a dreary, draining and depressing worldview foster well-being? As atheist Steven Weinberg states, “The more comprehensible the universe becomes, the more it also seems pointless.” With such gloomy vision of life, many naturally doubt whether living itself has any value. Albert Camus states this explicitly at the start of his essay The Myth of Sisyphus: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide.”
A godless soul-less worldview makes life meaningless, purposeless – worthless. It drives millions to ennui and despair. Millions bury themselves in pointless distractions like video games, spectator sports and entertainment. As American thinker Madalyn Murray O’Hair has commented about contemporary society, “Marx was wrong–religion is not the opiate of the masses, baseball is.” Our culture, by labeling religion as an opiate and making people turn away from it, forces them to seek refuge in such opiates.
3. Does religion divert our energy from real well-being?
Atheists argue that just as taking opium distracts people from working for real well-being, so does believing in religion. Is that true?
Religion does indeed direct our vision to another world, an eternal world – the kingdom of God. Does this other-worldly hope make us indolent or impotent to work in this world?
This is not to deny that some people may become negligent about their worldly responsibilities. But that’s because they misunderstand or misapply the teachings of religion.
What is the nature of religion’s actual contributions?
In addition to looking at religion’s practical contributions to the world, we also need to assess religion’s conceptual attitude towards the world so that we can gauge whether it has an opiate-like effect.
No doubt, religion promises us a better world beyond this world. At the same time, it instructs us that, to attain that world, we need to act morally and responsibly in the here-and-now. This injunction contributes to making things better in this world.
The Vedic worldview informs us that our spiritual development takes us through four progressive stages: dharma (religious practice), artha (holistic economic prosperity), kama (physical and emotional satisfaction) and moksha (liberation from material existence). Thus, it outlines a masterplan that integrates both this-worldly and other-worldly wellbeing.
Similarly, the Bhagavad-gita centers on a call for devotional activism in this world. Arjuna wanted to renounce the world, but Krishna instructed him to engage in the world and to engage the world in devotional service by establishing the rule of morality and spirituality in the world.
The Gita’s teachings of bhakti offer a dynamic way that helps us to contribute to this world while also attaining the next world. The path of bhakti urges us to neither romanticize nor demonize the world, but instead to utilize it and thereby realize God.
Many people including most atheists romanticize the world, picturing it to be the arena where they will fulfill their fantasies. When the world dashes and smashes their dreams, they sometimes oscillate to the other extreme and demonize it; they paint it as an intrinsically evil place meant to be shunned at all costs.
The Bhagavad-gita (02.64) urges us to avoid attachment and aversion, thereby pointing to a balance between these two poles of romanticization and demonization. Further, the Gita (05.29) declares that the world belongs to God, Krishna and so should be utilized for his service. When we lovingly offer the resources of the world to the Lord of the world, this devotional contact with the all-pure Lord purifies us. This purification peels away the layers of ignorance and forgetfulness that have obscured our spiritual identity for eons.
As we realize our spiritual identity, we understand that rendering devotional service to Krishna is our natural, eternal activity as his beloved children. This understanding inspires us to continue serving Krishna with conviction and devotion. Then, as we rise from self-realization to God-realization, we discover that all the peace and joy we were constantly searching for externally was present all along in our own hearts in the form of Krishna, the source of all peace and joy. Facilitating us to get that realization is the world’s ultimate purpose,
Thus, Gita wisdom helps us steer clear of the extremes of romanticization and demonization in dealing with the world. By showing us the middle path of utilization, it leads us to life’s ultimate perfection: realization of Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada demonstrates this devotional dynamism in our times. Did the religion of bhakti make him inactive when he could have been active? Far from it, it made him super-active at an age when most people were becoming inactive. Despite being at an advanced age of seventy, Srila Prabhupada traveled all over the world several times, wrote dozens of books, and established over a hundred temples. For him, religion far from being an opium was a vitalizer and animator.
That same rejuvenating potency of religion is available to us too. All we need to do is assimilate and apply the principles of bhakti, which the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) indicates is the summit of religion. Thus, the true contribution of religion, especially in its highest expression of bhakti, is far from that of an opiate. And its contribution is far higher than merely being a source of better physical and mental health, though these may come out. It provides a lasting and fulfilling direction for our innermost longing for love. By so doing, it makes our life meaningful, purposeful, joyful. Nothing enriches our life as does bhakti.
Atheism, on the other hand, devalues life into a meaningless accident, a procession of dead chemicals. It offers little if any reason for compassion and all reasons for utilitarianism – use anything and anyone for one’s own pleasure, for this life is all that exists and life is meant for enjoyment and there’s no God to oversee how we get that enjoyment. Such a worldview fosters immorality and corruption and degradation.
So, if evidence and reasoning were allowed to speak, perhaps the question would need to be turned around: might atheism be the opium of the masses? A deceptive and destructive opium that has been widely fed to people in the name of science, secularism and social progress while it actually erodes the foundations of our material and spiritual well being?