44. Going Beyond Your Religious Identity And Attachment

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by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V



For a spiritual person religion can be a major obstacle because it complicates spiritual practice with its excessive emphasis upon religious observances, social and cultural practices, rituals, speculative philosophy, contradictory scholarly opinions, and irrational beliefs and practices. The soul of every religion is covered by a body of inferior knowledge (avidya). You may become lost in it and forget the very purpose why you practice your faith. Because of their worldly appeal, is easier to be lost in religious practices and lose sight of the ultimate purpose of human life, which is liberation (moksha). The Upanishads are aware of this problem. Hence, they caution people not to pursue ritual knowledge (karmakanda) only since it would lead to rebirth and continuation of soul's existence in the mortal world.

Religious practice is important, as the Isa Upanishad declares, but you must not lose sight of your spiritual needs. In the transformative, spiritual progress of each being upon earth, taking refuge in a religion is the first step. It opens a person's mind to the reality of his existence and find answers to many perplexing questions about it. However, one should not become stuck in it, as many do.

When you develop an attachment to your religion, it becomes a major obstacle. It is another bond, which you add to the long list of attachments that you develop upon earth. Does that lead to liberation? Not at all. Attachment to your religion may give you pride and purpose or a group feeling, but it does not liberate you from the walls you build around your soul.

Attachment to the religion is also a form of delusion only, because the body of the religion is impermanent and subject to the impurities of ignorance, egoism, and delusion. You may say your religion is eternal, but it is just a delusion because the outward aspects of religions also grow and evolve according to the progress of civilization and circumstances. Only its soul is pure, eternal, and bright, and that soul is the spirituality it projects. Unfortunately, it remains hidden from the public view and becomes known only to a few individuals who take the pain to look for it beyond all distractions and diversions. They are often disliked by the zealots since they are not bound by the same values, vision, ideology, or purpose which they hold.

In the Vedas you have two divisions, the ritual part (karmakanda), and the spiritual part (jnanakanda). The ritual part is the body, and the spiritual part is the soul. The same division exists in mainstream Hinduism also, and in every major sect of it. It has a plethora of rituals, observances, customs, traditions, and festivities. It also has a social and cultural dimension, which help people come together and bond as group and develop their social and cultural identity. They also give some an opportunity to show off their strength, power, status, and opulence and speak for the community, or vent their anger and frustration.

However, deeper down Hinduism has an austere spiritual side which only a few pursue. The people who pursue it make peace with everything and become tolerant and considerate. They outgrow their religious identities and attachment to their names and forms, to become interested in their spiritual destinies. For them, their religion is the main source of knowledge and wisdom, but neither pride nor identity. They break free from the complexities of religious practice, fear of authority, and the compulsions of conformity, and simply their lives and their purpose.

Spirituality in Hinduism is all about focusing upon the Self and its liberation. The Self is eternally pure, without blemish, without identity, indefinable and indistinguishable. You cannot impart to it any religious or spiritual identity because it is transcendental. In religious activities people usually lose sight of this simplest truth. They do not remember or recognize that the Self exists in all living beings and has no religion, name, or form.

In the Bhagavadgita (9.11), Lord Krishna calls them foolish people who lack intelligence (mudha manushi) who disrespect God when he is present in the physical body, not knowing its supreme state. He also calls them people who indulge in useless rites (mogha karma) with vain hopes (mogha asha) and deluded knowledge (mogha jnana), taking refuge in senseless, demonic and deceitful nature.

One cannot help thinking about such people when one reads the reports of violent gangs using intimidation and coercion to collect money from people to organize public festivities or dancing in front of the deities during pubic processions in a fully intoxicated state.

The truth is that you do not require all that commotion and fervor to practice your faith. As Lord Krishna declares in the same chapter, great souls (mahatmas) worship God without any distraction. They are constantly absorbed in his thoughts. They are mentally never separate from God. This simple attitude of reverence and devotion is all that you require to practice your faith and reach your goal of peace and liberation. Your loyalty should be to none, but to God or your Self.

Remembering God as your very Self is the true worship of God. Contemplating upon him is the best austerity (tapah). Withdrawing your mind into the thoughts of God is the best form of renunciation (sanyasa). Focusing your mind upon him and contemplating upon him are the best forms of sacrifice and ritual worship. Attributing all your actions and achievements to God is the ultimate offering. If you practice these, it is more than going to a temple, performing a ritual, participating in a festivity, reciting a scripture, or singing a devotional song. You may participate in them, but without losing sight of your ultimate purpose and goal.

It is in your mind and heart, not in a temple or in a congregation that you come closest to your eternal supreme state and find peace and happiness.

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