The Value of Religion and Art to the Human Spirit

For most people, the vast majority of our time, and the primary focus of our attention, is spent on material needs and desires and human relationships, in other words, the details of life in the world.   The power of the mind that has yielded such incredible results in these worldly affairs is one of exclusive concentration, whereby the mind focuses in on one issue or concern and loses sight, temporarily, of other aspects, issues or needs.  This is the operation of Maya, the creative power, and by definition it tends to hide, distort or make us forget the universal, the Absolute, the Infinite of which each of the fragmented parts is an aspect.  While we act in the world, we treat each thing as if it is separated from everything else; yet the spiritual reality integrates all together into a complete and inter-related whole.  It is when we turn our attention to things outside the normal daily life needs that we can remind ourselves of the Oneness of existence, of the Infinite, of the Eternal.  It is in the fields of religion and art that we are most likely to turn our attention to the Reality behind the details of our daily lives.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This truth comes most easily home to us in Religion and in Art, in the cult of the spiritual and in the cult of the beautiful, because there we get away most thoroughly from the unrestful pressure of the outward appearances of life, the urgent siege of its necessities, the deafening clamour of its utilities.  There we are not compelled at every turn to make terms with some gross material claim, some vulgar but inevitable necessity of the hour and the moment.  We have leisure and breathing-time to seek the Real behind the apparent: we are allowed to turn our eyes either away from the temporary and transient or through the temporal itself to the eternal; we can draw back from the limitations of the immediately practical and re-create our souls by the touch of the ideal and the universal.  We begin to shake off our chains, we get rid of life in its aspect of a prison-house with Necessity for our jailer and utility for our constant taskmaster; we are admitted to the liberties of the soul; we enter God’s infinite kingdom of beauty and delight or we lay hands on the keys of our absolute self-finding and open ourselves to the possession or the adoration of the Eternal.  There lies the immense value of Religion, the immense value of Art and Poetry to the human spirit; it lies in their immediate power for inner truth, for self-enlargement, for liberation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 15,  The Suprarational Good, pp. 147-148