Once I had been invited to address an assembly of students I have profound faith in religion, hence I chose it as the topic of my speech and propounded my views on religion. At the end of my speech I invited the students to ask questions. One of the students got up and said, “When our country is essentially a secular state, why should we all bother our heads about religion?” “But your notion is based on the wrong interpretation of secularism,” I replied.
“Then, what’s the right concept of ‘secularism”?” he inquired. “We should say that India is non- sectarian country. A democratic country must need adopt a strictly non-sectarian policy as communal activities are not compatible with it”.
“What’s wrong with our policy of secularism?”
“Will you believe me if I say that there exists a fire which has no heat? Religion is the soul of our country. Doing away with it will mean stripping the country of its very soul.”
“Can you draw a line of distinction between religion and sectarianism in the present circumstances?”
“I am aware of your difficulty. Nowadays religion is dominated by sectarian rituals so much so that it has almost lost its identity. But we are not unaware of the process of purification.”
“Religion is not water. How can it be purified?”
“It’s not water but it is as indispensable as water. So we must purge it of the blemish of communalism that has tarnished its image.”
I was the only person to give answers but there were a number of students who were eager to ask questions. They all thought of religion as something based on orthodox ideas and considered it useless and out-dated in the modern age of science. They thought it unwise to bear the burden of a thing that has lost its utility. But I hold a different view of it. I regard it to be an eternal truth. A thing that is eternal is bound to be old but the older a thing is, the newer it happens to be. The word ‘eternal’ means something that has existed from times immemorial and has been discovered recently.”
“Religion is more essential than water,” I said very firmly.
“If it had been so we would have ourselves felt it and you would not have taken the trouble of coming over here,” remarked a student in a very courteous manner.
“But I do not agree with your view that I have come over here to prove the inevitability of religion I insisted. “Then, what have you come for? he asked
“To disabuse your mind of a wrong notion.” was my reply.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You are social beings because of the fact that you are already possessed of his spirit of religion. If it is developed a little more, you can become progressive social beings,” I replied.
“But we are not possessed of any such religions spirit. As a matter of fact, we do not even believe in the force of religion,” said a student.
“As regards your belief in it, it is entirely your personal affair but there are certain things which are beyond our control. They have an inborn existence . It does not matter whether you believe it or not,” I explained.
“Why do you attribute religion to us forcibly in spite of our having declared that we are not possessed of any religious spirit?” asked a student.
“No, never, I do not believe in coercion. But why do you fear attribution?” I asked.
“Because it kills our independent thinking”, he replied.
“You do not want that your independent thinking should be destroyed.
Is this feeling not the manifestation of the spirit of religion inherent in you?”
“This is our spontaneous feeling. How is it related to religion?”
“Perhaps you think that religion is not an inborn urge. I am of the opinion that religion is the most spontaneous thing.”
“Then why do the eldery people of our family go to religious places?”
“Why do you go to school?”
“We go there to learn something.”
“They also go there to learn something. Even at school you are able to learn things only to the extent your natural ability allows you to do. In the same way, despite their attending religious discourses they are able to grasp things only to the extent their natural power allows them to do so.”
Some teachers were also present in this assembly. So far they had kept quiet but now they intervened in the discussion as they seemed to disagree with me in my view that the people have inborn ability to learn. One of them broke the silence by saying that if religion had been a natural process, there would not have been so many preachers in society. This question had puzzled me a little but I did not give in to the pressure of logic and reasoning. I too could have confounded the teacher if I had resorted to intellectual polemics but all my discussion was guided by my inner conscience. This was the reason why I was puzzled.
“I myself realise that preaching has taken the form of a profession these days. We come across thousands of preachers in the world who are never tired of talking about the old, stereotyped scriptural truths in the name of religion. As they are bereft of the spontaneous insight into religion, they fail to kindle inspiration among the people. They are busy propagating the religion of rituals which cannot appeal to the intelligentsia of the modern world. They are far away from the religion of the soul. The people who believe that religion can be imposed from outsides have replaced religious leaders. I do not believe in the religion based on the principle of defeat and victory. My faith is rooted in the religion of the soul. Uprightness is an inborn attribute of man.” Thus I gave vent to my views in an upright manner. If I had tried to resort to argument in order to conceal the truth, they too would have been promoted to follow my example. Had there been darkness in any corner of my heart, they would have tried to light a lamp of logic. I had revealed the light of my heart to them. One does not need light to be able to see light. Uprightness of conduct is the light of our life. We can preserve our independent thinking only when we have been able to acquire it.