Religion and the Future of Spirituality as a Transformative Force for Humanity

A spiritual visionary arises, someone who has had spiritual experience and gained a new insight into the human condition and the needs for transforming it.  In the normal course, this has led to the development of a group of adherents or followers who are inspired by the vision and experience, and then as the movement expands outwards it takes on a form and begins to create doctrines, rituals and formations which creates a formalized religion focused on these outer forms and dogmas.  At a certain point, the inner experience is suppressed or lost entirely in the mechanical body that has been created.  This pattern has been oft repeated in human history.  It becomes clear that the repetition of this pattern is not fruitful for the type of inner spiritual transformation of humanity that is required.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The aim of a spiritual age of mankind must indeed be one with the essential aim of subjective religions, a new birth, a new consciousness, an upward evolution of the human being, a descent of the spirit into our members, a spiritual reorganisation of our life; but if it limits itself by the old familiar apparatus and the imperfect means of a religious movement, it is likely to register another failure.  A religious movement brings usually a wave of spiritual excitement and aspiration that communicates itself to a large number of individuals and there is as a result a temporary uplifting and an effective formation, partly spiritual, partly ethical, partly dogmatic in its nature.  But the wave after a generation or two or at most a few generations begins to subside; the formation remains.  If there has been a very powerful movement with a great spiritual personality as its source, it may leave behind a central influence and an inner discipline which may well be the starting-point of fresh waves; but these will be constantly less powerful and enduring in proportion as the movement gets farther and farther away from its source.  For meanwhile in order to bind together the faithful and at the same time to mark them off from the unregenerated outer world, there will have grown up a religious order, a Church, a hierarchy, a fixed and unprogressive type of ethical living, a set of crystallised dogmas, ostentatious ceremonials, sanctified superstitions, an elaborate machinery for the salvation of mankind.  As a result spirituality is increasingly subordinated to intellectual belief, to outward forms of conduct and to external ritual, the higher to the lower motives, the one thing essential to aids and instruments and accidents.  The first spontaneous and potent attempt to convert the whole life into spiritual living yields up its place to a set system of belief and ethics touched by spiritual emotion; but finally even that saving element is dominated by outward machinery, the sheltering structure becomes a tomb.  The Church takes the place of the spirit and a formal subscription to its creed, rituals and order is the thing universally demanded; spiritual living is only practiced by the few within the limits prescribed by their fixed creed and order.  The majority neglects even that narrow effort and are contented to replace by a careful or negligent piety the call to a deeper life.  In the end it is found that the spirit in the religion has become a thin stream choked by sands; at the most brief occasional floodings of its dry bed of conventions still prevent it from becoming a memory in the dead chapters of Time.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 24, The Advent and Progress of the Spiritual Age, pp. 263-264

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