At this time and place, it is important to speak about the purpose of religion. Religion is part of the human experience, and any attempts that have been made to eradicate it or to minimize it have proven to be unsuccessful. For you cannot deny the reality of the human Spirit. You cannot deny the fundamental reality that there is a greater spiritual need in people that must be expressed. But like all things in the world, that which is natural and essential can become distorted, misaligned and misused, allied with other purposes, particularly when these natural impulses become connected with governments and powerful forces in society.
Simply said, the purpose of religion is to cultivate the desire and the capacity to experience the Divine Presence in one’s life. All teachings and rituals, whether within large institutions or within the privacy of one’s home, [are] for this purpose. And the desire and capacity to experience the Divine Presence [are] to bring one to the power of Knowledge that the Creator of all life has placed within each human heart.
Yet when you look about, either at home or in foreign lands, you will find there is a great poverty, a great poverty in that people’s lives are not demonstrating this Presence and the power of this Knowledge. The look of disappointment and dissatisfaction, the sense of regret in the older people, the sense of hopelessness and discouragement in the young [are] evidence that this Power and this Presence are not being experienced. Religion has become now a yoke and a harness for people, requiring them to believe along certain prescribed lines of thought and to behave along certain prescribed lines of behavior. But this is far from the essence of what religion is really for.
To require, either through inducement or threat, for people to adhere to a certain system of belief does not represent the essence and purpose of religion. Yet that is what is so manifest in the world today. Religion has become another form of government—a form of government that seeks power and domination, a form of government that seeks to overcome its competing rivals, the competing agendas of other religions and faiths. And so there is a contest and a kind of war exerted between the most radical elements of these systems of belief. But this is not what religion really is.
The Creator of all life has initiated all of the world’s religions, but they have all been altered by people and governments, by cultures and traditions and by the competition for power in the world. That is why there are so many people today in the world who, though they have genuine spiritual needs and yearnings, are so put off by the manifestations of religion as it has become. Where can you find the cultivation of one’s inner life? Where is the emphasis on recognizing, following and embracing the power and the presence of Knowledge within the individual? Where is the emphasis on developing and encouraging the individual’s capacity and desire to experience the mystery of the Divine Presence—a mystery that defies all religious teachings and conventions? Where are such things being encouraged for the individual? You visit the church or the temple or the mosque and what is presented but an emphasis on upholding the ideology of religion, the institutions of religion [and] the demands of religion? This emphasis is out of context and out of relationship with the essential purpose of religion.
In essence, all religion is to teach The Way of Knowledge, to bring the individual into the direct experience of Knowledge, the deeper mind beyond the intellect, the mind that God has provided each person to guide them, to protect them and to lead them to a greater life and expression in the world. But you do not hear this emphasis. Instead, there is the encouragement to believe, to adhere, to follow the prescriptions of a religious tradition, however illogical and unreasonable those prescriptions may be within the context of modern life. And this is called “the Word of God,” God’s will for humanity. Of course, there is great competition between competing powers over who has the ultimate and final claim of God’s will and prescription for humanity.
It is as if the unreligious have taken over the business of religion for their own purposes. Never having realized its essential purpose and meaning, they have turned it into something else. It is like now a political party, and of course religion has political aims as well.
This is so far apart from God’s initial impulse and intention for religion—to keep Knowledge alive in the world, to teach The Way of Knowledge, to encourage human responsibility and ethical behavior, not simply as a prescript or as a requirement for admission into Heaven or some other exalted future state. It is really a denial of the natural integrity and natural ethics that will arise with the person who has experienced this power and presence of Knowledge and is guided by its wisdom and its grace.
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