Does Religion Cause War? Posted in: Articles, Blog – Tags: bhagavad gita, Christ and Krishna, mahabharata, spiritual solutions, spirituality, universal love
An accusation I often hear levelled at religion is that it causes so many conflicts. As the recent tragic events unfolded in the Middle East, some have indeed pointed the finger of blame at religion, as at least a factor in the long-standing dispute. Writing for the ‘Big Think’, Adam Lee observed: “…what I do believe is that that it (the Israel Palestine conflict) is being inflamed and prolonged by religious zealotry on both sides.”
When I hear such suggestions, my first thought is that they are based on a misconception of religion. Dictionaries usually describe it as a system of belief in a supernatural power. That is where disagreements tend to arise, as the above writer points out. My beliefs may well differ from and even conflict with yours, and hence, there are many faiths, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc, each asserting that their particular set of beliefs is true, while all others are misguided.
The ancient Sanskrit Vedas, however, offer a unifying definition. In Sanskrit, the word for religion is dharma. This translates more accurately as the essential nature of a thing, such as wetness in water. In the case of a person, this nature is service. We must serve someone or something, be it our boss, family members, country, or maybe just our dog. Even if we have no one to serve, we will still serve our minds and senses, which constantly demand satisfaction in one way or another. We cannot sit peacefully for long before one bodily demand or another impinges upon us, and we must act to satisfy it.
Vedic wisdom tells us this service propensity is meant for God. This is real religion, the dharma of the soul. Undoubtedly, the adherents of all the faiths mentioned earlier and most others will concur despite their external differences. Whatever our practices, the aim must be to know and love God, to unite with him and serve him eternally. When we serve anything other than God, we are never satisfied; we constantly search for the lasting fulfilment that no amount of sensual pleasure or material relationships can provide. As Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee.”
So, what goes by the name of religion these days is usually just the rituals meant to evoke our mood of divine service. Thus, religious fights are based not so much on religion itself but on the perceived means of attaining its goal, which should be love, specifically for God. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna sums this up in a simple directive: “Always think of me, offer me your respects, worship me and become my devotee. Surely then will you come to me.” This, in essence, is what all theistic faiths advocate, so what sense does it make to squabble over the practices it may be couched in? Better, surely, to focus on those practices and evoke your divine love.
Genuine followers of any faith exhibit godly qualities. They all have their saints who are invariably peaceful, compassionate and deeply spiritual. Indeed, something is going wrong if your so-called religion produces a desire to eliminate the followers of another faith. The Mahabharata says, “If your spiritual practices do not make you gentle, they are useless.” Sometimes, force might be required to maintain law and order, as we also learn from Mahabharata, but only as a last resort and never to oppress and terrorise others.
I feel saddened when I see religion blamed for conflict and violence, as the solution is portrayed as the problem. The very point of spiritual practice is to make us saintly—free of lust, greed, envy, anger and all such base urges. How else can we get rid of these impurities? They are the real problems causing our disputes and can attach themselves to any cause, not just an idea of religion. How many millions have died in conflicts where no religious fervour was involved? Both world wars, for example.
Krishna provides a perfect peace formula in the Bhagavad Gita. “Do everything for my pleasure. Accept me as the proprietor of all the world. See me as your greatest friend and well-wisher.” My spiritual teacher, Srila Prabhupada, once said that to achieve the brotherhood (or sisterhood) of man, we must accept the fatherhood of God. Proper spiritual practice brings us to that realisation, recognising our common humanity, indeed the commonality of all beings as parts of the one Supreme. There is no question of hatred touching the heart of one endowed with such a vision. Their love for God is extended to all his creatures.
Such universal love seems a distant utopian dream as we look with horror at the unspeakable images flashing across our screens of late. But each of us can at least transform ourselves. After all, we are the world we want to change. Krishna gives simple directions in the Bhagavad Gita, always chant his name, whatever name of God you prefer, and try to please him in everything we do, particularly by showing kindness to all. In this way, we can do our best to bring about world peace, one soul at a time.