Evolutionary Process of Religion In India

When one first encounters the religious life of India, one is impressed by the diversity and extraordinary range of the different religions. One almost feels like there is a unique religious expression for almost every person! In fact, there is a broad scope of religious development which allows, accepts and encourages each unique relationship to the Divine to find a place and express itself. India appears to have widened its capability of acceptance to not block out any potential path to realisation and one sees all the major world religions as well as a rich tradition of occultism, one-pointed spiritual focus abandoning all things of the world, even to the extent of naked ascetics renouncing everything for their spiritual faith. A rich tradition of yoga, worship, devotion, spirituality and renunciation, as well as some of the deepest philosophical directions and a strong segment of effort on “The Yoga of Works” (Karma Yoga) which embraces action in life as a means of spiritual fulfilment, can be recognised in the various paths and practices one finds in India. Events such as the Maha Kumbha Mela draw many tens of millions of visitors and one finds there an extremely diverse group of religious and spiritual practitioners and teachings.

Sri Aurobindo describes this state of affairs in the light of the two-fold evolutionary movement that has been discussed in recent posts: “In India, we have seen, there has been a persistence of the original intuition and total movement of evolutionary Nature. For religion in India limited itself by no one creed or dogma; it not only admitted a vast number of different formulations, but contained successfully within itself all the elements that have grown up in the course of the evolution of religion and refused to ban or excise any: it developed occultism to its utmost limits, accepted spiritual philosophies of all kinds, followed to its highest, deepest or largest outcome every possible line of spiritual realisation, spiritual experience, spiritual self-discipline. Its method has been the method of evolutionary Nature herself, to allow all developments, all means of communication and action of the spirit upon the members, all ways of communion between man and the Supreme or Divine, to follow every possible way of advance to the goal and test it even to its extreme. All stages of spiritual evolution are there in man and each has to be allowed or provided with its means of approach to the spirit, an approach suited to its capacity, adhikara .Even the primitive forms that survived were not banned but were lifted to a deeper significance, while still there was the pressure to the highest spiritual pinnacles in the rarest supreme ether. Even the exclusive credal type of religion was not itself excluded; provided its affinity to the general aim and principle was clear, it was admitted into the infinite variety of the general order.”

The foundation of this diversity was a fixed social order which limited to some degree the ability of such a broad diversity to evolve effectively in certain directions. But in the main, the principle of this widest possible line of development found its home in India, which provided the basis for the richness of the endeavor.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 24, “The Evolution of the Spiritual Man”

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