Does Religion Bring About Happiness?
Firstly, there is a big difference between pleasure and happiness. The pleasure of the body is fleeting, transitory and limited. Real happiness, divine joy needs no external circumstances but is spontaneous and eternal.
It is this inner joy that has motivated people to make the sacrifices of a religious life. But, the real mystic will not feel he is making any sacrifice. How can there be sacrifice when one is inebriated with divine ecstasy?
“A bliss lived in her heart too large for heaven;
Light too intense for thought and love too boundless
For earth’s emotions lit her skies of mind
And spread through her deep and happy seas of soul.”
– Sri Aurobindo, Savitri
Unfortunately, religion often places too little emphasis on the discovery of this inner peace and inner happiness. When religion becomes embroiled in theological disputes about the meaning of ancient scriptures or questions of morality, this inner path is lost.
“We must be bright and cheerful. Long faces do not make religion. Religion should be the most joyful thing in the world, because it is the best.”
– Swami Vivekananda
Sometimes religion requires its adherents to give up certain worldly activities. From celibacy to solitude and strict diets. However, giving up aspects of a worldly life is no guarantee that we will gain happiness. It is easy to make outer sacrifices, but, inner happiness will only come when we give up our inner demons of pride, lust and jealousy. If religious practice helps us to transcend our weakness and limitations then it can be a path to enable a real lasting happiness. However, we can live in a religious community all our lives, but, if we maintain human egoism, pride then we will be miserable, no matter what we do on the outer plane.
Not for nothing did Jesus Christ tell his disciples that to enter the Kingdom of God, we must become as children.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Why did he say this? It is the spontaneity, simplicity and purity of a childlike attitude which can make us joyful. If religion makes us serious, proud and egotistic, we are a million miles from the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, being well versed in scriptures is no guarantee that we will gain a childlike attitude and receptivity to the Divine Consciousness.
“If religion, instead of being the manifestation of a spiritual ideal, gives prominence to scriptures and external rites, then does it disturb the peace more than anything else.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
The great yogi, Swami Vivekananda was once approached by some serious minded Indian youths. They wanted to spend all day reading the Bhagavad Gita, but, he told them they should go and play football as they would be closer to God. Vivekananda wanted to make the point, that reading religious texts are no guarantee that we will be happy. The pivotal thing is to be able to implement and practise the ideals that they urge.
If religion teaches us to quieten the mind, and bring the heart to the fore, definitely religion will give us happiness.
“He who finds his happiness within,
his joy within,
and likewise his light only within,
that yogin becomes divine and attains to the beatitude of God.”
Sri Krishna, Bhagavad Gita Chapter 5
If religion helps us to transcend our earthly desires, we will gain happiness from the delight within. The Upanishads remind us that our source is delight, and it is to this source that we must return:
From Delight we came into existence.
In Delight we grow.
At the end of our journey’s close,
Into Delight we retire.
If religion just places a burden of guilt for our misdeeds, we will not gain happiness. If religion helps us forget and forgive our mistakes, then we can progress and gain happiness.
If religion gives us a sense of pride in our virtue and a sense that our path is by far the best, we will never gain happiness from our feeling of supremacy.
If religion teaches us to really love our neighbour as ourselves and to discover the ‘peace that passeth understanding’ then happiness will be within easy reach.
The World’s Religions
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