I love the ongoing conversation around the relevance of religions as we know them, and their “upgraded” counterpart, spirituality. And I hear you when you wonder, who even is this God, and whether you should be focused on idol-worship or the many rituals that encompass religions around the world.
Or is there something more to all of this, that we simply have forgotten? I’d like to use this space and article to address some questions around religion, rituals and God-worship.
To begin with, why do we even need a “God”?
Many spiritual teachers love the analogy of Earth as a “school for life”.
This is like a giant playground where we get to play, get hurt, and go home with some experiences. To continue with that analogy, I see the importance of having a “teacher” or some form of guidance to regulate all the children on the playground. Without guidance, there is chaos.
To put it in a similar analogy, we need a God for the same reasons that we need teachers and not just a classroom. We need something to help us remember what our potential and purpose should be, and pull us out when we’re in lower states of mind.
Even before getting into the conversation of how real God is, let’s appreciate the intention. Having a “concept” of someone watching over us helps us self-regulate in many ways! It’s kept the world grounded. And from time to time, people have found that idol in the many souls that have incarnated here, like Jesus, Buddha, the Prophet, etc.
The challenge arises here though. Were these souls really God?
In all essence, I do believe that all these incarnated deities were a representation of the highest good, here to give us reminders of the ultimate truths of life. However, they were messengers of a higher truth, and over time, religion has driven us away from the “message”, to glorify the messenger.
This glorification knows no bounds – we have all kinds of superstitions and fear-mongering that somehow implies ideas like sin, hell, punishment, etc.
Then what should we believe in? And then coming back to the original question, who IS God?
To further answer this in a more spiritual context, I would like to share a brilliant framework that I learned in one of my Vedanta (ancient school of thought) classes. Though it arises from a certain scripture, it holds relevance to us in whatever headspace we are. Hope you enjoy this!
The Five Components of Self-Actualization
We were taught that there are five levels that we must go through to attain true inner awareness and self-realization. Think of each component as the “next” step.
#1 – Becoming a student of life.
This is what I consider to be a spiritual awakening. It’s when we stop becoming passive and wake up to the greater truths of life. It’s when the desire erupts to know one’s own nature that the journey finally begins.
So, in essence the first component requires us to be willing and wanting to pursue the path back home. Up till that point, there’s very little “healing”, because of our autopilot tendencies. Lifetimes go by and we trod the path at a snail’s pace, not realizing yet that there are any other options.
However, when we finally are shaken awake, we are compelled to change. In that pursuit, we move towards the next component.
#2 – Finding answers from a higher evolved being.
Think along the lines of a Guru or spiritual teachers that you feel deeply inspired and moved by. They act as a pillar in your spiritual journey. Someone that can ground you when you are losing your grounding. At times, they can even be the “shelter” we are seeking from the world.
And while I’m often asked if everyone will find an enlightened master, I don’t think that should be our ultimate pursuit. After all, this is only the second step. But, why? Let’s move to the third component to find out.
#3 – Grounding yourself in the answers from sacred scriptures.
While a Guru or a good spiritual teacher can hold space for our healing, we mustn’t forget that they are still working through their human experiences too. They too can waiver, and fall into the lower ways of being. And let’s say that even if they are unshakeable, they are ultimately limited by death.
Then we need to be able to ground wisdom in a more tangible, unchanging and long-lasting way. Thus, holy scriptures become the next leg of our journey, anchoring us to remember the finer truths of life.
While these scriptures provide us deep insight and revelations, we still ache for more. And so, the spiritual seeker keeps searching for something bigger than these gems.
What next, though?
#4 – The idea of a perfect being.
In other words, God. The highest possible standard that we can set for ourselves and for this world.
This perfect being becomes the foundation, the culmination of many religions. And in many cases, the very Guru at step #2 is raised to a pedestal of worship, and the teachings are kept at highest regard.
Long after that enlightened master passes on, we hear stories and miracles that bring us faith, hope and inspiration. We use the rituals and philosophies taught by this perfect being during their time on Earth as a way to get through our ups and downs.
This is the component to self-realization where things become less seen, more perceived. And that’s where the greatest challenge lies.
Until our relationship with that higher energy isn’t direct and personally-felt, we are constantly moving between the ideas of right and wrong, good or bad, this or that.
The word God, for these reasons can bring a lot of repulsion in today’s generation. We aren’t ready to buy into the misconceptions about God anymore. Then, in anguish and confusion, we seek out the ultimate truth.
#5 – Seeking solace in the all-encompassing.
That is, the Universe. Where the concept of God brought in duality, like the Devil, the Universe encompasses both ends of the spectrum.
Everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is always within a context, which we ultimately see as the greatest truth of life. Like the beautiful symbol, yin and yang, symbolizing the nature of life as neither just good, nor just bad, but a mixture encompassing both!
This very cosmos, that subtle thing that watches and lets everything happen, is where we come from and where we’re going to. Our final destination was neither at a Guru’s abode, nor in the lines of a book. It wasn’t even in the gates to Heaven.
Rather that it was right here – where we are, just being in more touch with the very existence and celebration of life for what it is! Because, we are the Universe in motion, experiencing our true nature. And that Universe is in every moment, every where. We don’t have to be any different at our core or travel to a certain physical location, to know the nature of love.
Overview of the five components
Putting these five together, it gives us a flow diagram of sorts.
Student -> Guru -> Map or Scripture -> God -> Universe
This framework means that we are not to stop at a guru, nor scripture, nor deity. Our ultimate oneness is with the Universe, with all of life.
The thing about religious scriptures is that they are sometimes written in a way that comes across as “egotistical “. They will glorify one God as the ultimate one, deeming all other Gods lower or not at par. To top it off, there are so many myths about religious rituals and how grave the outcome will be if you don’t follow them.
That’s where religion went wrong and it created a divide even amongst the very believers of that God. Some Christians followed one school of thought, just like some Muslims followed another from their brethren. We got stuck in the nitty gritty, unable to move past all of that into the unconditional love and acceptance of life itself.
My understanding is that at the time, the world lived in a more fear-based way so that they could be pushed to build unwavering faith.
But fundamentally speaking, having faith simply means surrendering oneself 100% whether to Guru, Scripture or God.
In learning how to surrender to any one of those components, we learn how to create a way for something higher to step in. Whether we know what or who that higher power is never matters, it all just folds beautifully for us when we “let go”.
At the end of the day, everything is energy. It doesn’t matter which one you call forward in your daily prayers. Because what matters is that when we pray to one energy, we are focusing on the characteristics and virtues that we want to cultivate within ourselves.
So some people like Krishna for his playfulness, some for his intelligence. Some like Buddha for his meditation abilities and some for his ability to be calm in any situation. But no energy is above or better than the other – they are all a part of our journey back to self.
We pray to one specific entity because it helps us as humans to have a “tangible” God. But it doesn’t matter who God is, just that we are willing to look, to surrender and to become that which we had been seeking.
And in that pursuit, it shouldn’t matter how many beads we chant in a day, or what religion we follow. Just that we are on the path, willing and wanting to make our way back home (a place inside of us, nowhere else).
That’s how I’ve come to see all of it, at least. What do you think?
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