[Published in Next Future, Aug 2004, http://nextfuture.aurosociety.org/]
When we look at contemporary religious scene we find two contradictory trends. On the one hand a strong and brutal resurgence of religious fundamentalism; on the other hand, in the more enlightened minds, a seeking for a more universal spirituality beyond the church, dogma and the priesthood of organised religion. We have to admit that religion in its outer form has been a factor of division and conflict, war and strife. But in its inner essence, religion is or can be a powerful and uniting force which can steer humanity towards a deeper and lasting unity and provide a firm spiritual foundation for a globalizing world. But to transform religion into such a uniting force we need a new paradigm of religion based on its spiritual source. This paper is an attempt to arrive at such a uniting paradigm of religion based on an integral spiritual vision of life. The article examines the main causes behind the failure of organised religions and presents a spiritual paradigm based on a path of inner transformation of religion.
The Follies of Religion
History of human civilisation is replete with the crimes and follies committed by organised religions: its bloody religious wars, the horrors of its persecutions, its hatred for science and philosophy, its scorn for those belonging to other religions, the tyranny of its priest craft, the oppressive rigidity of its social customs, and in our modern age, religious fundamentalism of all kinds. Many noble souls like Joan of Arc fell victim to religious persecution. A great scientist like Giordano Bruno was burnt alive in the stake in the name of religion. The words of Christ that “Letter Killeth” literally come alive with the red letter of blood in the history of organised religions. Curiously, Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest exponents of religion in our modern age, was so strung by the evils of organized religion, he went to the extent of saying:
“If you want to be religious, enter not the gate of any organized religion. They do a hundred times more evil than good, because they stop the growth of each one’s individual development. Study everything, keep your own seat firm. If you take my advice, do not put your neck into the trap. The moment they try to put their noose on you, get your neck out and go somewhere else. As the bee culling honey from many flowers remain free, not bound by any flower; be not bound. Enter not the door of any organized religions. Religion is only between you and your God and no third person must come between you. Think what these organised religions have done! What Napoleon was more terrible than those religious persecutions? If you and I organize we begin to hate every person! It is better not to love, by loving only means hating others. That is no love that is hell”. 
The Structure of a Religion
What is the reason for this miserable failure of organised religion? To answer this question, we must have a clear understanding of the structure of a religion. Any religion can be viewed as a collective organism with a physical, vital, mental and spiritual body. The inner most core of every religion is a spiritual intuition or revelation or experience revealed to a prophet or a sage or many such religious leaders. The other important part of this inner core is the spiritual discipline and practice for inner realization of the spiritual ideal. This is the spiritual core of a religious organism. Then comes the mental body of religion made of its philosophy or theology; the next outer layer is the vital body of religion made of its mythology, ceremony and rituals and the social customs; and finally the outer most shell or the physical body made of the church, mosque and the temple and the priest. The organised religion belongs to the most physical and vital body of a religion. What we mean by organized religion is some concept of God revealed in a scripture and institutionalized in the Church, plus some mythology, ceremony, rituals and priesthood which claims to mediate between God and Man, asserting that its path or prophet as the only way to God, and without any vivifying spiritual experience, knowledge, practice or presence which is the real soul of a religion.
All these four dimensions of religions are needed for an integral spiritual life. But the soul and life of a religion is its inner spiritual core. All the other three outer layers of religion derive their life from this inner dimension.
The Great Fall
A religion can live and do its spiritual work only when this spiritual core is kept living, active and progressive with a constant stream of spiritual aspiration, practice, experiences and realisation. When this inner core of religion becomes stagnant than the religion begins to die. The main problem with most of the organized religions is that they have strayed away from their life-giving spiritual source and what remains is a skeleton of dogma and rituals. The major mistake of organized religions is that they ignored in practice, while professing in words, the warning of Christ “The Spirit saveth, letter killeth”. These religions instead of relying on the “Spirit that Saveth” have clung to the “Letter that Killeth”.
And when the Spirit withdraws, the Ego, cult-ego, takes over¾the mental ego with its rigid and inflexible dogmas and the vital ego with its urge to dominate, possess and rule. So the history of organized religions has become mostly a part of the political history of humanity, rather than its spiritual history, with the mental and vital ego trying to conquer the world in the name of God!
This brings us to the question why or how such degeneration comes about? It happens to all human institutions, a process of disintegration or entropy which pulls everything into the mud. In religion, the story runs somewhat in the following line. A great spiritual teacher arrives spreading Light all around. The Light radiating from the teacher spiritually elevates or liberates a few of his close disciples, awakens a spiritual aspiration in a few more and initiates a more or less widespread religious, moral and intellectual awakening in the community. The great Master establishes a spiritual idea in the collective consciousness of humanity. And one day the Master leaves his body and soon after begins the Fall. The teaching spreads more and more into the masses, but at the same time the great and luminous thoughts of the Master pass into ignorant and darkened minds, and in the process gets diluted, distorted and betrayed by the ego, desire, passions, prejudices and superstitions of the lower nature of the followers. Finally when the “teaching”, twisted, and bruised in the torture chambers of ego and desire, emerges, it is a dark opposite of the original thought — masking itself with the divine Name. What remains is the great Name, the Buddha, Christ, Krishna, Nanak, Mohammad, the legends and the temples built around them. As Sri Aurobindo describes the process in splendid muse:
“A glory of lightning traversing the earth-scene,
Their sun-thoughts fading, darkened by ignorant minds,
Their work betrayed, their good to evil turned,
The cross their payment for the crown they gave
Only they leave behind a splendid Name.
A fire has come and touched men’s heart and gone;
A few have caught flame and risen to greater life.”
Worm in the Rose
So the canker, the worm in the rose, is the cult-ego. And the most pernicious form of this Ego in religion is the dogmatic assertion that my path or prophet is the only way to God or heaven and all others who follow other paths belong to the Devil and are condemned to eternal hell. It is this ignorant assertion which is the source of all fanaticism and fundamentalism in religion and has made religion into an instrument of division and hatred among people. All other aspects of religion like scriptures, mythology, ceremony, rituals, and symbols can remain in the future, because they are necessary aids in the progressive spiritual evolution of the soul. But this dogmatic and exclusive assertion is a phantom of the past and has no place in the future. Some orthodox sections of the society may cling to these phantoms and they may raise aggressively to the surface as it is happening at present, in the form of fundamentalist terrorism. But they are allowed to rise in order to be eliminated. This is one of the methods of Nature for getting rid of things of the past which are harmful or no longer helpful to the future evolution of humanity. So we need not be too disturbed by the growing menace of fundamentalism and religious terrorism. They are allowed to rise in order to be thrown out. If the warrior-energies of nations, instead of fighting amongst themselves, join together to fight the menace, then it can be defeated.