When we recognise the inability of intellectual attainment and education to effect the transformation of human existence, we might assume that the answer lies in organised religion, and that the secular attempts at perfection were missing exactly what religion has to offer. Human history, however, tells another story, namely, that organised religion also is unable to effect the changes needed to truly transform human life. When religion becomes entrenched, it tends to make compromises with the habitual life of the people it serves, and thus, becomes an institution rather than a purely spiritual flame. It may still, of course, provide spiritual inspiration and guidance in a very real sense for those who practice and adhere to the core teachings, but this does not represent the power of societal transformation that religions have sought. In many cases, religion has tried to “convert” people to their cause, using either threat (or actual use) of force, material benefits or a promise of being saved after death, and in other cases, religion has been the driving force behind suppression of thought and new directions in spiritual practice that do not agree with the specific creed or dogma of the religion. Thus, once entrenched, it has in many cases become a force of retrogression rather than progress.
Sri Aurobindo notes in The Life Divine: “…organised religion, though it can provide a means of inner uplift for the individual and preserve in it or behind it a way for his opening to spiritual experience, has not changed human life and society; it could not do so because, in governing society, it had to compromise with the lower parts of life and could not insist on the inner change of the whole being; it could insist only on a credal adherence, a formal acceptance of its ethical standards and a conformity to institution, ceremony and ritual. Religion so conceived can give a religio-ethical colour or surface thing, — sometimes, if it maintains a strong kernel of inner experience, it can generalise to some extent an incomplete spiritual tendency; but it does not transform the race, it cannot create a new principle of the human existence. A total spiritual direction given to the whole life and the whole nature can alone lift humanity beyond itself.”
“Another possible conception akin to the religious solution is the guidance of society by men of spiritual attainment, the brotherhood or unity of all in the faith or in the discipline, the spiritualisation of life and society by the taking up of the old machinery of life into such a unification or inventing a new machinery. This too has been attempted before without success; it was the original founding idea of more than one religion: but the human ego and vital nature were too strong for a religious idea working on the mind and by the mind to overcome its resistance. It is only the full emergence of the soul, the full descent of the native light and power of the Spirit and the consequent replacement or transformation and uplifting of our insufficient mental and vital nature by a spiritual and supramental Supernature that can effect this evolutionary miracle.”