Motives Underlying Popular Religion

Several additional experiences enter into the development of religion. In addition to the fulfillment of desire and the abatement of fear, there may arise a sense of awe at the power and immensity of the creation and natural phenomena. This is a quite natural sense which arises within when one experiences the power of thunder and lightning, the force of the sea, the majesty of mountains, or when one sees the vast diversity and beauty of all the creatures that inhabit the world and their interdependence upon one another in an integrated whole. With this feeling of awe there also naturally arises a sense of veneration, a profound experience of appreciation for the Power that creates all of this, and the Power that manifests in all of this.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “For, even while preserving largely the idea of a God endowed with the qualities of human nature, there still grows up along with it, mixed up with it or superadded, the conception of an omniscience and omnipotence and a mysterious perfection quite other than our nature. A confused mixture of all these motives, variously developed, often modified, subtilised or glossed over, is what constitutes nine-tenths of popular religion; the other tenth is a suffusion of the rest by the percolation into it of nobler, more beautiful and profounder ideas of the Divine which minds of a greater spirituality have been able to bring into the more primitive religious concepts of mankind. The result is usually crude enough and a ready target for the shafts of skepticism and unbelief,–powers of the human mind which have their utility even for faith and religion, since they compel a religion to purify gradually what is crude or false in its conceptions.”

For the yogic path of love and devotion, it becomes necessary to understand and extract those conceptions, motives and experiences which are true and which lead to the oneness of spiritual realization from those which are projections of the normal human motivations, externalized into the forms of religious worship.

“for we seek by Bhakti union with the Divine and true relation with it, with its truth and not with any mirage of our lower nature and of its egoistic impulses and ignorant conceptions.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 2, The Motives of Devotion, pp. 530-531


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