(Who are the real custodians of religion, the priest, scholar of the mystic?)
The great Vedantic teacher of modern India, Swami Vivekananda, made the following interesting observation in one of his talks-
“Wherever you see the most humanitarian ideas fall into the hands of the multitude, the first result you notice is degradation. It is learning and intellect that help to keep things safe. It is the cultured among a community that are the real custodians of religion and philosophy in their purest form. It is that form which serves as the index for the intellectual and social condition of a community.”
However, looking at it in the light on Sri Aurobindo’s thought, diffusion is also part of Nature’s process. Concentrated incubation of the New Ideal or Idea through original creativity….. stable preservation of the purity of the idea through deep contemplation, scholarship and learning…. wide diffusion of the idea though mass-communication…… these are the three processes by which Nature establishes the idea in the collective consciousness of the race…. the first two counteracting the third, which as Vivekananda points out, may lead to a certain amount of dilution and degeneration of the idea. But diffusion of the idea is also needed because, without it, culture remains confined to a few elite groups and may not lead to the cultural elevation of the whole community. For a sustained progress in culture, a Nation has to encourage individuals and promote institutions which do the work of all these three processes.
Secondly, the soul of a religion cannot be kept alive by scholarship alone but mainly by practice, sadhana, and experience or in other words, a living inner communion with the divinity. In ancient India, this practice and experience were preserved and kept alive by generations of families of the Gurus, Guruparampara, transmitted through many generations of disciples, becoming gurus.
To conclude, the true custodian of religions is not the priest or the scholar but the mystic who is in direct inner communion with the Deity and the true seeker, who may not yet have the inner realization, but progressing toward it though an inner discipline. In the following passage Sri Aurobindo admirably sums up the essence of our discussions:
“Religions think that they live by their dogmas, their sacred books, their ceremonies, but these are all aids and trappings; they live really by the men who practice them, by their clergy and mystics and much more by their mystics than by their clergy. So long as a religion has in its fold a sufficient number of souls who can retire within themselves and live there with God, so long it cannot help enduring, even though all the rest of the world is against it; once it loses this core of life, no amount of temporal power and prestige, of attractive ceremonial, of passionate belief & stiff dogmatism or even of wise and supple flexibility, savoir-faire & self-adaptation can save it from its inevitable disappearance.”
This may be more of an inner death than an outer disappearance. Outwardly the religion may survive or even proper materially in terms of wealth, power or head-count. But when the spiritual force infused by the mystic is not there, religion loses its soul.