Life through the religious lens, brainwashing and existentialism

One of the most serious allegations that can be levelled at a religious organisation is being branded a brainwashing cult.  This invidious accusation has been thrown at the Hare Krishna movement often in the past and my being a member of Iskcon, I can definitely understand from where it is coming from.  Any religion feeds into our sense of existentialism and almost all of us view life through some kind of religious lens, whether consciously or unconsciously.  Scientists even locate a particular area of the brain called the temporal lobe, which according to them accounts for all our existentialism and religious behaviour.  However, as is often customary with the scientific establishment these days, they tend to view this as well as any religious phenomenon as pathological.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.  I would argue that even Maslow got it wrong with respect to our hierarchy of needs where he places spiritual needs at the apex of the pyramid.  Atheists are an absolute minority when we account for them in terms of percentage of the world population subscribing to some sort of belief.  The Vedic literatures inform us that, central to our existence is the question of “Who I am?” and that we tend to adopt many different identities that mask this need to discover our true identity. And of course, the question of “Who am I?” is central to any authoritative religious tradition.  Following from this question is the Vedantic aphorism “athato brahma jijnasa” which stipulates “Now is your time to inquire into Brahman”. Brahman is the term the Vedanta uses to address our nature and because Brahman is an attribute of Krishna, more specifically as the rays emanating from His transcendental body, we are described as Brahman since we also emanate from his body. Hence, in scientific lingo we can be viewed as Quanta of Spiritual Energy emanating from an inexhaustible source.

Hence we have proven how essential is this inquiry in our life and how spiritual activity fulfils a very important need in human society.  When it comes to brainwashing, it’s true that a sizeable portion of religious affiliates appear to have an indoctrination of some sort. This sometimes, in specific sects, is taken to the extremes whereby it affects the individual’s behaviour and functioning in society. The person then becomes maladapted. I would say this depends a lot on the quality of spiritual guides we associate with; monolithic religious movements really do not help here.  By making of spirituality a religious or ritualistic affair, we strip any religion of its esoteric import which alone brings satisfaction to the self.  Most of the bickering and brainwashing that stem from religion come from people who do not understand it themselves.

Perhaps, it is necessary to point out that even within the Hare Krishna movement, the selection of one’s Guru has to be given utmost consideration. And the rarity of finding the pure devotee who has no cheating propensity and hence is the perfect conduit for God’s love and guidance cannot be underscored enough.  I have personally found that it is far easier to abide with faith in my ishta-deva Sri Krishna without necessary having to become an initiate of any religious denomination. That way I have learnt the value of being non-sectarian and appreciating what’s in the faiths of others.  Proper conduct and being a responsible and dutiful citizen who contributes to his community is far better than being a priest, devotee or religious affiliate and doing it for the wrong reasons. In that respect, the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita exhorts us not to abandon our duty but rather to dovetail our activities as “sacrifice for Vishnu” and purify our existence.

I would also like to point out that although many of us are appropriately religious and carry ourselves well, some of us tend to feed into religion because it satisfies their existential woes.  For people who have personality issues and even a tendency towards mental health problems, religion can be a cocktail for personal damage.  We can see how all forms of extremism are cropping up all over the world and it may be argued that many of those radicalised are, in fact, psychologically unstable.  However, when I see the larger picture, I can observe the patterns quite clearly. This is the last stand of the hegemony of a certain monoculture of the mind, which was so much pervasive over the last centuries.

By monoculture of the mind, I mean a certain cultivation of thought and a behavioural aspect of world culture which hampers the evolution of our consciousness to the next level. We can see those patterns in virtually all areas of human endeavour.  Within the context of science, materialism can be described as hegemony.  Within the context of economic development, various forms of imperialism and consumerism can be described as a hegemony.  Within the context of education, the rejection of the value of ancient systems of knowledge can be described as a hegemony. Within the context of medicine, the phenomenon of Big Pharma can be described as a hegemony. This is counter-productive and has obscured consciousness for a long time now.

As human society sheds its shackles through the coming of the age of free information through technology and internet, the walls of these forms of dominion seems to be falling down.  Even religion will undergo a necessary transformation where the emphasis will be laid more on experience and realisation rather than blind faith.  In the coming Age of Aquarius, we shall see a renewed world consciousness for the betterment of this world.

By Krishna Leela Prakash ©

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