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Do We Need Religion?-Part III
Continued From The Second Part
Some Other Perspectives
At the same time, it is not that these questions of reality, meaning and purpose do not arise until we have established harmony and unity at the personal and inter-personal levels. Our struggle for unity at these three levels is simultaneous. Even before we have established unity at the personal and inter-personal levels, there are realities of life that push us to look for something deeper. One of these is the reality of death.
Swami Vivekananda writes,
'Great is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet, however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when, involuntarily, they ask “is this real?" To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense-enjoyment—even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask “is this real?" Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer.'
I may not know whether God exists, but I am not ready to accept that I do not exist. I begin with the assumption that I exist.
There are some that will answer that there is nothing real, here or beyond. All of this is illusory and a charade, 'a tale told by an idiot'. This is the nihilist perspective that nothing is real. All of this may be unreal and a charade. But we are also a part of that charade, and so if we accept this view, it implies that we are also not real. Nihilism is not a tenable philosophy because it negates the person asking the question. It is like having a headache but no head. I may not know whether God exists, but I am not ready to accept that I do not exist. I begin with the assumption that I exist. And as long as I exist, these questions of reality, meaning and purpose fill my mind and this will lead me to frame some concept of Ultimate Reality.
There are others that will answer that this world of mind and senses is real enough, but beyond that there is nothing. We are being naïve and foolish in looking for something beyond that. However we may try to cling to such a perspective, the hammer blows of life and death will force us to return to the question. Swami Vivekananda says,
'We may talk about seeing nothing beyond and keeping all our hopes and aspirations confined to the present moment, and struggle hard not to think of anything beyond the world of senses; and perhaps everything outside helps to keep us limited within its narrow bounds. The whole world may combine to prevent us from broadening out beyond the present. Yet, so long as there is death, the question must come again and again, “Is death the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial of all substances?" The world vanishes in a moment and is gone. Standing on the brink of a precipice beyond which is the infinite yawning chasm, every mind, however hardened, is bound to recoil and ask, “Is this real?" The hopes of a lifetime, built up little by little with all the energies of a great mind, vanish in a second. Are they real? This question must be answered. Time never lessens its power; on the other hand, it adds strength to it.'
To Be Continued
About the author
The author is a Professor of Mathematics and Chair of the Department of Mathematical and Computational Sciences at the University of Toronto. He gives regular lessons to young students’ group attached to the Vedanta Society of Toronto.