What is religion? Everybody seems to have an answer for that. Today, I would like to talk about one of the more important, yet less recognized aspects of religion.
In it’s most basic understanding, religion provides rules and practices to manage the relations between human, God, nature and social life. Leaving nature and social life aside for a moment; it should provide a path, a connection between human and God.
Because if you hypothetically disconnect human from God, merely an animal is left.
To understand the most important aspect of the religion, we need to understand the structure of the human; which is obviously more than just another animal.
In it’s deepest level, human is the bearer of the holy spirit from God. As quoted from the Koran; “When I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him.” (28:42).
One level above, we have the soul, and the most outer shell is the body. This three-level structure is also quoted in the Bible: “I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
You may be wondering what this has to do with the definition of religion. Be patient, answers are coming.
In a rough definition; “Spirit” may be defined as the level closest to God, and “Body” may be defined as the level closest to being an animal.
If we inspect the body level more closely, we will find that most of the instincts coming from it are related to the existence of our race. Three basic instincts related to that are survival, breeding and raising the child. Those instincts are typically seen on animals as well.
Survival has sub-dimensions like shelter, eating, socializing, fighting, learning. Breeding drives males to be more powerful and females to be more attractive. And raising drives parents to grow a successful child. Satisfaction those instincts are often related with pleasure, while dissatisfaction of them are related with pain.
At the body level, us humans share the same instincts with animals, and the same pleasure / pain in result. However, due to our raised intelligence, we have invented more sophisticated and comfortable ways of satisfying them.
If we inspect the soul level more closely, we will see that it’s made of two major components: the mind, and emotions. Mind covers all of our intellectual activities; such as ideas, logic and math. Emotions cover everything that we feel; mostly rooted down to either pleasure or pain.
This level is partially shared with animals on the emotion side. On the intellectual side, humans are more advanced.
The spiritual level is the level where words are not enough to describe anything. Experience is needed there. However; conscience, will and faith are the major keys opening that door.
Understanding the structure of the human, now we can move forward to the aspects of religion.
It is a question about what is the “pilot” of the human. Letting the instincts of the body-level be the pilot of oneself will lead one closer to being an animal. However, if the spirit is the pilot, then one will grow from being an animal to being a more of a sacred being.
Combining our animal instincts with our intellectual potential, humans are capable of doing terrible things to maximize impulsive pleasure and minimize impulsive pain. If one lets the animal be the pilot and lets it drive the rest, that would be even worse than being a simple animal. Because an animal doesn’t know better.
The combination of the animal instincts and the human intellect has typically been symbolized by an entity, such as the devil, in many cases. Just pay attention that the illustration of the devil is often a combination of human and animal elements. Now you know why.
Following the so called “devil” is defined as sin, and sin is typically a result of letting the animal instincts become the pilot, and other levels to become a slave to the pleasure and/or pain it promises.
Remember the seven deadly sins; which are: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony. Considering the previous chart, you can easily see the that the sins are rooted to the instincts of the body, which are boosted by the intelligence.
One of the most significant aspects of the religion is to provide a path from being an animal to becoming the sacred being. The first step would typically be mastering the body and making sure that it does not pilot of our lives. Common practices involve direct threats to the body; such as eating less (sometimes not at all), controlling sexual desires and being less dependent from wealth.
The second level involves practices targeting the soul; meaning intelligence and emotions. Knowing that every single human being is carrying the spirit of God is enough reason to love others – even sinners. Being kind to those less fortunate is essential. However, the mind and the hearth are not the last stop in this journey. Emotions make us aware, and intelligence is a magnificent tool. But there is much more beyond.
Every religion has brought it’s own methodology to move from the limits of the mind & hearth to the inner realm of spirit; such as prayers or meditation. Those methods increase the inner mindfulness; and open up a path beyond words. An increased mindfulness of conscience, will and faith will be the first observations of that level.
The journey does never end; however, at some point, you may experience the ultimate experience of existence, which is a direct confrontation of the ultimate unspeakable truth. There are many names of that experience; such as nirvana, enlightenment, awakening, moksha and opening the third eye.
One of the most significant aspects of religion is to provide a path from being an animal to being enlightened. Different teachers have provided different paths in the past. However, there is only one God and one truth. Therefore, there is actually only one religion with different practice options.
The reason that people need a religion for that purpose is; without the guidance of someone who has been there before, we can never be sure that we are on the right path.
Starting from Abraham, the mid-eastern prophets reciting the word of God, suggested a path balancing the body, soul and spirit. This path uses the nature and social life as tools of maturation, and can be applied easily to every day lives. Other teachers in other communities may have suggested different paths.
However, it is very important to be aware of the real goal of the path and its practices. Just like a human has multiple levels, practices and rules of the religion has multiple levels as well. Applying the tangible physical practices is the first step, but remember that this is actually an inner journey. More valuable rewards will be the inner rewards.
A very large number of people can be observed implementing the outmost practices. The quantity of people making their intellectual and emotional advancements is smaller; and passing through the gate of the spiritual level is actually a relatively rare occurrence. Rare, but precious.
“All for what?” , you may ask. Religion and all of its teachers state that life does not end when the outer shell has stopped functioning. Which makes sense; because the spirit of God can’t just stop “being”. Different explanations, such as heaven / hell or reincarnation have been used, but the common message is; the life after the outer shell will be either an experience of pleasure, or an experience of pain.
Where you stand, will be dependent on how much you have advanced from being an animal to becoming a sacred being.
One of the most significant aspects of religion is to provide you a way to advance.
Following is your choice.