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Spiritual Meditations ( 16 Jan 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Reflections on the Religious Search


By Joyous Agnos, New Age Islam

16 Jan 2013

As far as I am concerned, religion means—or, rather, ought to mean—a search for the Ultimate Truth--which, we may well realise as we travel on this journey, is simply beyond the grasp of human comprehension. This search is also a quest to know the reality of one’s self. A truly religious person, therefore, is a ‘seeker’ of the Truth. Refusing to blindly accept any belief system (whether religious or otherwise), or answers provided by others, the seeker insists on searching for the Truth by himself, through his own experience, transforming himself in the process of his search and the realization that he stumbles upon.

Walking on the authentic religious path can be conceived as voyaging on a journey of self-discovery, in which there are no pre-determined destinations. One doesn’t know the answers to questions of life beforehand, and sets out to find them through one’s own experience. When confronted with questions to which no confirmed answers are possible—such as what, if anything, happens after death, or the reality or otherwise of the soul—one gracefully accepts them as mysteries, the truth about which must forever remain unknown to human beings, despite the many theories about them that abound. We simply cannot know the truth, one realizes, of every perplexing matter about life that haunts our minds. Often, silence is the only possible or appropriate response.

Each individual who is serious about knowing the Truth has to set off on this journey by herself or himself, all alone, for it is a journey of self-discovery, in which no one else’s answer—not even those provided by what are believed to be divine scriptures or ‘holy’ men—can suffice for oneself. No one else’s books or dogmas can help you discover your own reality, although it may give you the illusion of doing so. Anyone else’s knowledge or beliefs, no matter how true they may factually be, will only be second-hand for you—just a bundle of dogmas one desperately clings to in the absence of personal realization. Such blind belief can be a major stumbling block in the path of self-realisation—you think that someone has all the answers and so you make yourself believe in them, and then you tell yourself that there’s simply no need now to set out on the arduous journey of self-discovery on your own since you already have the answers!

While one can definitely be inspired by or admire the answers provided by others, including by different religions or other ideological systems, a true seeker refuses to blindly believe in them. To do so means that one is just too lazy or scared to find out the answers on one’s own. And, then, who knows, maybe the answers provided by others, including those mentioned in different scriptures and by ‘holy’ men, are wrong? After all, just because something is written in, or prescribed by, a book that is regarded as sacred by millions doesn’t necessarily mean that it is authentic. Simply because something was said by a man who lived five thousand years ago and who is considered by some to have been a venerable religious authority doesn’t mean it is true. A true seeker simply refuses to let his life be ruled by a ‘holy’ book or by a ‘holy’ man. How can he ransom his self to someone else—especially to the author of a book or a supposed ‘holy’ man who lived thousands of years ago and whom he never met? He refuses to become a slave to someone else’s truth claims, even at the same time as he doesn’t rule out their veracity in the absence of confirmation  based on his personal experience. To blindly believe a book or a ‘holy’ man, he knows, is to irrevocably end the religious search even before setting off on the journey and to fall into the trap of spiritual slavery. It isn’t that the true seeker refuses the possibility of truth being reflected in a book or person considered to be ‘holy’ by others. It isn’t even that he refuses to be inspired or moved by them. True, he might find in them much that repels him, opposing his reason and sense of morality, and, on this basis, he will refuse to grant them the status that those who mindlessly believe in them accord them. On the other hand, however, he might benefit enormously from some of their insights. But, still, and even then, he refuses to blindly submit to their authority. If what he learns through his own experience corresponds to what a scripture or a ‘holy’ man says, he accepts it, but if it doesn’t he accepts this as a reality, too. What the scripture or ‘holy’ man says does not, he knows, correspond to his knowledge and experience, and so he cannot get himself to accept the former, at least till it is confirmed by his personal experiential knowledge. It is thus his own experience, rather than the pronouncements of an external authority, that ultimately matters to a religious seeker.

As can be easily gauged, the path of the seeker is in sharp contradistinction to that of the conventional religionist, who blindly believes the dogmas of the religion he is attached to. Simply believing some venerable authority’s answers, the knowledge that the conventional religionist possess is, by and large, simply theoretical, leaving him prey to subtle doubt about his beliefs deep within, although this he will hate to admit. Maybe someone else’s belief system is better or more authentic, a suppressed inner voice will sometimes nudge him. He will spend his whole life trying to shut out that unnerving thought, desperately seeking to fortify his faith in the face of subtle skepticism, but the nagging doubt will refuse to go. This is simply because the answers that he has to ultimate questions of life are not his own, born through his own experience or realization, but, rather, are borrowed from someone else. Hence, he can never be really sure that these answers are indeed authentic. This is the agony of most conventional believers. They can’t ever be completely sure, despite what they may claim, that what they believe in is really true—for it is born not out of personal experience but, rather, of blind belief, fear of disobedience and enforced conformity—and yet they must constantly coerce themselves into believing that what they believe is true is indeed so.

Traditional religious societies generally don’t encourage, and sometimes sternly forbid on pain of death, the journey of self-discovery or self-realisation which religion ought to be really all about. It isn’t difficult to understand why this is so. If everyone of us sets out to discover the truth about ourselves on our own, refusing to be bound by the answers provided to us by our parents, politicians and priests, individuals can no longer be brainwashed and programmed into believing and behaving as others want them to. Religious monopolies and priestly authority are directly undermined and effectively challenged by each person who no longer agrees to slavishly believe in whatever is told to him by those who claim to know the secrets of the ‘supernatural’ realm. If every person begins to think for himself about the reality of life—including her or his own—politicians won’t anyone have zombies to do their bidding. If children were allowed to think for themselves and refuse to accept dogmas simply because their parents believe in them, parents would have no one to boss over and the family traditions they take such pride in would be seriously undermined. And so, the priest- olitician-parent combine does everything it can to make sure that people never even think of setting out on the religious search.

Conventional religiosity conspires to sabotage people’s religious journey almost at their very birth itself.  Freedom of faith and thought is at the root of the search of self-discovery, and among the first things that parents and priests do soon after a child is born is to destroy that priceless freedom. He has not as yet been contaminated by knowledge of false dogmas and quarrelling creeds but his parents rush to give him a name which connotes his membership in a particular religious community, and enter him in the official records as a ‘Muslim’ or a ‘Christian’ or a ‘Jew’ or a ‘Hindu’ and so on. The priest baptizes him even before he has any inkling of what religion is, and incorporates him into the fold of the supposed ‘one true’ religion. Even before the child can begin to think, his parents begin stuffing his tender head with the religious beliefs and prejudices that they had themselves inherited from their parents. In a while he is so effectively brainwashed into believing that the religion of his parents is the best or even the only embodiment of truth that he will cling to this belief for the rest of his life, fearing that if he were to even doubt it he might be punished in hell and face divine wrath. For this pathetic victim of religious sadism there is now neither need nor possibility to search for the truth through his own experience and to set off on the journey of self-realisation—which is really the only genuinely religious journey, and, if you really think of it, the only journey worth undertaking.