The Future of Religion


Dialogues On Sri Aurobindo’s Work & Vision – 1

ED: Sri Aurobindo’s vision of humanity’s future is both, evolutionary and revolutionary: both, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have, on several occasions, declared that the end of religion is near, and that a future humanity will outgrow religion. What does this mean, what are the implications of such a vision?

The one thing that stands in the way of the spiritual realization of humanity is formal religion as practiced today. Because, however well-meaning a religious practitioner maybe, religion, at the end of the day, divides. Every religion believes that it is the only true one, and this is the whole tragedy. There is no single individual or group of individuals that can own the truth because the truth is vast, infinite and far exceeds our human reach. So, there is no logic in the belief that truth can be yours or mine, or only mine. 

Spirituality, on the other hand, has nothing to do with beliefs, rituals or practices. Those all things of the mind, and spirituality is moving beyond the mind. This is the first important thing about spirituality — it takes you beyond the thinking mind, the conditioned mind. So, it necessarily takes you beyond religion, because religion is finally a conditioning of the mind. If you look deep enough into all religions, you will find the conditioning of the mind. And spirituality goes beyond all conditionings, it de-conditions, deconstructs. 

The Mother famously said, when she was establishing Auroville, that the age of religion is over. Religions and religious thinking will remain for a while exhausting their past momentum but eventually, will drop off. The religious mind will be replaced by the psychic, religious devotion will be replaced by spiritual knowledge and faith. 

What about the Sanatan Dharma? Sanatan Dharma is not religion, as we know and practice it. It is our deeper law of being, the inner truth in action. 

‘Dharma’, as in ‘Sanatan Dharma’, is not religion. It is the inmost and the highest force that binds you from within to the one Truth, the one Law — ‘satyam, ritam’. The word ‘sanatan’ simply means that which is timeless. The timeless law, the eternal truth. So Dharma is spiritual. Unlike religion, it is not given, it has to be found, realized. 

ED: If we go by Sri Aurobindo’s thinking, understanding Sri Aurobindo’s worldview, then religion was needed at a certain point in social and cultural evolution, it was needed for bringing about stability, social and individual, giving a cause to live for a purpose higher than one’s own immediate satisfaction and gratification, raising the human consciousness a bit over the immediate physical-vital. The human race had to go through a phase where religion was necessary. In that sense, to use Sri Aurobindo’s phrase- ‘religion was the helper’, but after a certain stage of evolution, ‘religion becomes a bar’. 

At some point in evolution, humanity outgrows the need for religion as it outgrows the need for all kinds of social equilibria. Because, if we have to attain higher spiritual equilibria, we have to disturb and outgrow the lower-order equilibria. This is obvious. The human race has already come to a point where we have to surpass our religions and replace our religious beliefs with direct experience of the divine. Persisting with faith or beliefs based on past forms and truths of spirituality, without the direct inner experience and knowledge of the divine, is no longer tenable.

ED: It is interesting that all our religions are expressions of past realizations…and we cannot remain wedded to our past, however glorious that may be. 

Spirituality means transcending lower and simpler truths and growing into larger, higher and deeper ones. The spiritual journey towards truth is an endless one, and it is evolutionary because truth is infinite. A religion evolved by an earlier humanity would express the realities of a younger, less sophisticated humanity whereas the spirituality of a more evolved humanity would open up to higher possibilities and vaster vistas.

ED: We see and understand this on a daily basis: the old religions have divided humanity and fractured the world body. Most of our conflicts are rooted in faith, one faith against another, the totally artificial schism between believers and non-believers, the destructive practice of conversions…how is Sri Aurobindo’s work going to impact all this? Sri Aurobindo did not speak of religion at all, not even of the Hindu religion. His whole work was based on the realization of the psychic, of the soul, of the Divine in human…if his work is understood in a non-religious context, it can lead to a revolution.

The psychic is the future of humanity. See, this has nothing to do with religion. Just as the mind, the thinking mind, has led our evolution so far, the psychic will lead the next evolution. From being mental creatures, we will become psychic beings, beings growing in the light of the divine truth in us. That divine truth will lead the dynamics of our earthly existence, reshaping and moulding our social and political lives. Everything we now are and know will change…it will be an inner transformation that will affect every aspect and movement of our lives. 

ED: And is that kind of inner transformation inevitable? Or is this merely an ideal held by a few — just as the religions of old?

This is a difficult question to answer. At one level, it is a matter of faith for sure. Not everyone who follows Sri Aurobindo has directly realized his truths. But at another level, and this is far more significant, anyone who has touched his or her psychic being, has realized even a little of her psychic life, will know how critical this is for the evolution of human consciousness, the evolution of the human species. 

And it is not that we will dismiss the mind altogether, like some of the old ascetics. We will transform the mind too, make it more subtle, more plastic, far wider in its scope, more enlightened, so that it too can collaborate with the psychic, transform itself in its light. One of the functions of such a mind will be to understand Sri Aurobindo’s work and bring that understanding to all its activities and movements. 

ED: The yogis talk of an enlightened intelligence that is the leader of human evolution, the prakashmaya buddhi. 

Sri Aurobindo talks of the higher mind, the intuitive mind — ranges of the mental consciousness that will replace the lower thinking mind. 

So you can see that once all this comes to fruition, once we begin to work out of the higher or the intuitive mind, and we are firmly established in the deeper psychic consciousness, religions will simply fall away without much struggle. It will be quite effortless. 

ED: Along with that, so much more will fall away — our politics, the way we earn our livelihood, our social lives, our relationships…

An important effect of the psychic change will be the establishment of oneness and unity in humanity. This will not be an external, political unity but human unity born of psychic oneness. 

Remember, ’psychic consciousness’ is the consciousness of one’s inmost truth, the essential reality of one’s being, which is at once profoundly and uniquely individual, timeless and universal. A realization of psychic consciousness will be the foundation for a true and lasting oneness and unity of being on earth. In psychological reality, we are different personalities, different people but in psychic reality, we are aspects of the same being, sparks of the same consciousness-fire.

As Sri Aurobindo’s vision and work spread on earth, as more and more beings tune in to his evolutionary frequency, and learn to look beyond the fragmented and petty reality of present humanity, our collective attention will shift progressively from the external to the internal, from the mental to the psychic, from formal religion to spiritual quest and realization, from divisive politics and exploitative economics to collaboration and harmony, from spiritual isolation to oneness and inclusiveness, from material technology to a technology of consciousness. It’s a beautiful vision, worth aspiring for. In Sri Aurobindo’s words — we do not belong to the past dawns, but to the noons of the future. 

ED: The noons of the future…that is an evocative expression, and profoundly true. Which religion can surpass its past dawns and reach out to the noons of the future? For a religion to surpass its own teachers and teachings, its old prophets and revelation, it has to become evolutionary.

Yes, religion has to be evolutionary, it must keep growing and outgrowing itself, it must constantly create spiritual masters instead of just religious followers, it must create and sustain deep spaces of spiritual enquiry and continuous learning instead of repeating the old masters and the old teachings. This is not to denigrate in any way the masters and the revelations of old but to point out the absolute necessity of building a vaster and profounder spiritual future worthy of a species evolving towards higher and vaster consciousness and truth. 

ED: At present, it is not so. Our religions and theologies are designed for immature and fearful minds. What we need is a religion, if we must have one, growing organically out of living spiritual quest, self-discovery and self-realization. Swami Vivekananda used to say that Vedanta is the religion of the future. 

Vedanta is the quest for self-realization and culminates in truth-consciousness. Once that happens, there is no further need for any religion or faith — one becomes one’s own prophet or messiah, as it were. One becomes the rishi, the seer. And there we have it: a religion that extinguishes itself in the individual’s highest spiritual attainment. 

[Excerpted from a recorded dialogue between our executive editor and Nirankar. Nirankar is a devotee of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother.]

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