The Persistent Major Religions

Religions arose as a result of the dual movement of concentrated development of spiritual experience and then the broadening movement through development of an outer form suitable for the needs of the generality of humanity, as discussed in the prior post. Those that were able to incorporate both movements effectively gained a power of persistence and ongoing impact that continues today. These have become what are known as the “world religions”. Each of them, in its own way, has addressed the dual requirements of a renewable spiritual seed or core, and the ability to speak to large masses of individuals through a body of knowledge, faith and ritual. Individuals are able, through these religions, to find their way toward spiritual realisation.

Sri Aurobindo points out that there tends to be a division in these religions, broadly related to the two driving impulses, which in many cases leads to a split between what can be called the “catholic” direction and the “protestant” direction. (These terms are not specifically related to Christianity in this sense, although Christianity provides an example of the concept.) The first tendency tends to root itself in the underlying energy that spawned the particular religion, with a more all-embracing view and support from the spiritual experience that was at the heart of that religion. As the intellect developed and people became less willing to rely on the aspect of intuition & experience, the second tendency developed to rationalise, and codify the religion into a set of principles, beliefs and outer worship.

Unfortunately, without the well-spring of spiritual experience, religions become dry and “can only pile up external knowledge and machinery and efficiency and ends in a drying up of the secret springs of vitality and a decadence without any inner power to save the life or create a new life or any other way out than death and disintegration and a new beginning out of the old Ignorance.”

We thus see that following a period of intellectualisation of religion that there is a movement of seeking and inner exploration that tends to abandon the old religious traditions and strikes out in new directions. This process has taken place throughout the world and throughout history and has led to the rise and decline of major religions as they went through a similar process over time.

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

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