We often hear from even some of the most casual observers of India that Indian culture in general is a deeply religious and spiritual one. It is often remarked that pretty much every week there is a religious festival in some part of India. Millions of Indians travel to faraway places on pilgrimages, to places of religious and cultural significances. Millions of Indians consider Indian landmass to be sacred geography, land where gods also yearn to be born as human beings.

But what exactly do we mean by religion? And how is it connected with spirituality?
Are the two similar or is there any difference? More importantly, is there something unique about an Indian outlook on religion and spirituality? Do the outward manifestations of the religious spirit of Indian culture, such as the various festivals, religious practices and ceremonies have any inner symbolic significance? What about the various gods and goddesses of the Indian religious traditions? What do they symbolize? Are there any deeper spiritual significance behind the various outer adoration and devotional practices that millions and millions of Indians do and participate in every day? These and other related questions will be explored briefly in this multi-part essay, in the light of the timeless wisdom we find in the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother (his spiritual collaborator).

What is Religion? According to Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE–43 BCE), the highly influential Roman politician, lawyer and a master of Latin language and literature, the English word ‘religion’ is derived from a Latin word relegere which means “go through again” (in reading or in thought), “to return”. However, the later ancients (Servius, Lactantius, Augustine) and many modern writers gave a different etymological explanation by connecting the word religion with religare, which means “to bind fast” via notion of “place an obligation on,” or “bond between humans and gods.” It was around 13th century that the meaning “particular system of faith” for the English word ‘religion’ came into use. But if we go back to the original Latin word relegere, we get a precise understanding of the essence of the immortal religious aspiration in Man – “to return” to the source of our own being from which we somehow seem to have strayed, wandered or fallen. The highest intuition revealed in all the ancient religious traditions of the world indicate that there is a supreme Reality – one may call it God or whatever name one prefers — behind or beyond our physical body, life and mind. And that Supreme Reality is not only the source of our own individual being but also the source of the universe, and yet is transcendent of it all. This discovery is expressed in different ways in various religions. The Mother speaks perfectly about the origin of Religion in the following words:

Religion belongs to the higher mind of humanity. It is the effort of man’s higher mind to approach, as far as lies in its power, something beyond it, something to which humanity gives the name God or Spirit or Truth or Faith or Knowledge or the Infinite, some kind of Absolute, which the human mind cannot reach and yet tries to reach. Religion may be divine in its ultimate origin; in its actual nature it is not divine but human.” (CWM, Vol. 3, p. 76)

Man-made Nature of Religions

What does it mean that the actual nature of the religion or rather religions (because there are many religions) is not divine but human? Let us explore this further.
All religions, says the Mother, have a similar story to tell. The occasion for a religion’s birth is generally the coming of a great Teacher of the world who reveals a Divine Truth. “But men seize upon it, trade upon it, make an almost political organisation out of it. The religion is equipped by them with a government and policy and laws, with its creeds and dogmas, its rules and regulations, its rites and ceremonies, all binding upon its adherents, all absolute and inviolable. Like the State, it too administers rewards to the loyal and assigns punishments for those that revolt or go astray, for the heretic and the renegade.” (CWM, Vol. 3, p. 77)

The Mother explains further with the help of a few examples:

We know how the Christian religion came into existence. It was certainly not Jesus who made what is known as Christianity, but some learned and very clever men put their heads together and built it up into the thing we see. There was nothing divine in the way in which it was formed, and there is nothing divine either in the way in which it functions. And yet the excuse or occasion for the formation was undoubtedly some revelation from what one could call a Divine Being, a Being who came from elsewhere bringing down with him from a higher plane a certain Knowledge and Truth for the earth. He came and suffered for his Truth; but very few understood what he said, few cared to find and hold to the Truth for which he suffered. Buddha retired from the world, sat down in meditation and discovered a way out of earthly suffering and misery, out of all this illness and death and desire and sin and hunger. He saw a Truth which he endeavoured to express and communicate to the disciples and followers who gathered around him. But even before he was dead, his teaching had already begun to be twisted and distorted. It was only after his disappearance that Buddhism as a full-fledged religion reared its head founded upon what the Buddha is supposed to have said and on the supposed significance of these reported sayings. But soon too, because the disciples and the disciples’ disciples could not agree on what the Master had said or what he meant by his utterances, there grew up a host of sects and sub-sects in the body of the parent religion—a Southern Path, a Northern Path, a Far Eastern Path, each of them claiming to be the only, the original, the undefiled doctrine of the Buddha. The same fate overtook the teaching of the Christ; that too came to be made in the same way into a set and organised religion. It is often said that, if Jesus came back, he would not be able to recognise what he taught in the forms that have been imposed on it, and if Buddha were to come back and see what has been made of his teaching, he would immediately run back discouraged to Nirvana!” (CWM, Vol. 3, pp. 76-77)

Sri Aurobindo explains this man-made nature of religions through a distinction he makes between ‘true religion’ and ‘religionism’. He writes:

“There are two aspects of religion, true religion and religionism. True religion is spiritual religion, that which seeks to live in the spirit, in what is beyond the intellect, beyond the aesthetic and ethical and practical being of man, and to inform and govern these members of our being by the higher light and law of the spirit. Religionism, on the contrary, entrenches itself in some narrow pietistic exaltation of the lower members or lays exclusive stress on intellectual dogmas, forms and ceremonies, on some fixed and rigid moral code, on some religio-political or religio-social system.” (CWSA, Vol. 25, pp. 177-178)

Difference between Religion and Spirituality

Before we explore the uniqueness of the Indian outlook on Religion, it is important to spend some time understanding the relation between Religion and Spirituality. In his philosophical magnum opus, The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo gives a wonderful definition of spirituality. He first speaks of what it is not, and thus gradually leads us to understand what it is.

“…spirituality is not a high intellectuality, not idealism, not an ethical turn of mind or moral purity and austerity, not religiosity or an ardent and exalted emotional fervour, not even a compound of all these excellent things; a mental belief, creed or faith, an emotional aspiration, a regulation of conduct according to a religious or ethical formula are not spiritual achievement and experience.

“These things are of considerable value to mind and life; they are of value to the spiritual evolution itself as preparatory movements disciplining, purifying or giving a suitable form to the nature; but they still belong to the mental evolution, — the beginning of a spiritual realisation, experience, change is not yet there.

Spirituality is in its essence an awakening to the inner reality of our being, to a spirit, self, soul which is other than our mind, life and body, an inner aspiration to know, to feel, to be that, to enter into contact with the greater Reality beyond and pervading the universe which inhabits also our own being, to be in communion with It and union with It, and a turning, a conversion, a transformation of our whole being as a result of the aspiration, the contact, the union, a growth or waking into a new becoming or new being, a new self, a new nature.” (CWSA,Vol 22, pp. 889-890)

A few key points we note from the above are:

High intellectualism, idealism, ethical turn of mind, moral purity, religious fervour, emotional aspiration, mental belief or faith, well-regulated conduct in accordance with a religious formula – these can be preparatory and purifying movements which in turn can be helpful to a seeker in the stages of mental and emotional evolution.

Spiritual evolution is something beyond all these things. It is essentially an awakening to the inner reality of our being beyond mind, life and body.

Thus, according to Sri Aurobindo, a spiritual seeker can progress in initial preparatory stages through religion, but as noted earlier he also makes an important distinction between the spiritual essence of a religion and the outer religious forms (religionism, as he calls it, which has a tendency to become dogmatic, creedal and limiting).
As mentioned earlier, the essence of religion is connected with the highest aspiration in humanity, that of returning to the source, the origin of All and Everything, the source of Being and Existence. So how is religion different from spirituality? Are there some commonalities between them? The Mother helps us understand this in a very succinct response when she says:

“The spiritual spirit is not contrary to a religious feeling of adoration, devotion and consecration. But what is wrong in the religions is the fixity of the mind clinging to one formula as an exclusive truth. One must always remember that formulas are only a mental expression of the truth and that this truth can always be expressed in many other ways.” (CWM, Vol. 15, p, 27)
Let us explore these questions a bit more now with the help of a wonderful explanation given by Nolini Kanta Gupta, one of the earliest disciples and associates of Sri Aurobindo. In this passage, he clearly points out the difference between a religious approach and a spiritual approach to seeking the Divine.

“Religion starts from and usually ends with a mental and emotional approach to realities beyond the mind; Spirituality goes straight forward to direct vision and communion with the Beyond.

“Religion labors to experience and express the world of Spirit in and through a turn, often a twist, given by the mental being—manu—in man; it bases itself upon the demands of the mental, the vital and the physical complex – the triple nexus that forms the ordinary human personality and seeks to satisfy them under a holier garb. Spirituality knows the demands of the Spirit alone; it lives in a realm where the body, the life and the mind stand uplifted and transmuted into their utter realities.

Religion is the human way of approaching and enjoying the Divine; Spirituality is the divine way of meeting the Divine.

Religion, as it is usually practiced, is a special art, one – the highest it may be, still only one – among many other pursuits that man looks to for his enjoyment and fulfillment; but spirituality is nothing if it does not swallow up the entire man, take in his each and every preoccupation and new-create it into an inevitable expression of its own master truth.

“Religion gives a moral discipline for the internal consciousness, and for the external life, a code of conduct based upon a system of rules and rites and ceremonies; spirituality aims at a revolution in the consciousness and in the being.” (Nolini Kanta Gupta (1973/1996). Evolution and the Earthly Destiny, p.117)

To Be Continued…

Beloo Mehra is a student of Sri Aurobindo and writes on topics related to education, culture and society. Many years of experience in the field of education and research led her to the discovery that the central thing is to constantly un school oneself and become a freer and truer learner. She enjoys playing several roles Life offers a woman – with a hope to learn from all that happens and doesn’t happen, and with a wish to gradually become free of those roles because only then the possibility of the birth of true actor (or the non-actor) within exists.

Hanuman Sadhna: Why does it matter?


Worshipped by millions across the globe for strength and endurance, ‘Bajrangi’ is actually a distorted version of ‘Vajra Anga’. Hanuman, whose body is as strong as thunder (vajra), is one of Rudra’s Avatars who is revered as the greatest devotee of the Vishnu avatar Sri Ramachandra. Born as a vanara swaroop, Anjaneya, as He is also known, once went to consume the mighty Surya for He thought it was a fruit dangling from the sky. It was there in the sky that Indra, the chief of gods, had used his vajra which threw Anjaneya back to the Earth, damaging his jaw forever. Henceforth He came to be known as Hanuman (‘Hanu’ meaning Jaw and ‘Man’ meaning Disfigured)

Seeing the prowess of the kid, Surya Narayan accepted Him as His shishya and imparted to Him the knowledge of the Vedas. Being the Lord of the solar system, Surya Narayan also taught Hanuman the nuances of the grahas and it is for this very reason why Hanuman is regarded as the must-worship-deity for all kinds of graha related afflictions, specially for problems caused by the two most feared grahas: Mangal (Mars) and Shani (Saturn). It is believed that His gada or mace prevents keeps Mangal away from afflicting your horoscope while His tail binds Shani from mangling your life.

Mangal, the karaka for Mrtyu or death is famed to destroy whichever house He sits in a person’s horoscope. The most dreaded Mangal dosha is infamous for causing either death of the spouse or a marital breakdown. In either case, people having Mangal dosha in their kundali are often seen to run from pillar to post in search of a nivaran for the dosha, often spending millions on rituals and gemstones that do not really work. A simple remedy would be to worship Hanuman on Tuesday mornings by lighting a ghee diya while sitting on an asana facing East and reciting the Hanuman Chalisa for 21 times and then fasting for the entire duration of the day without consuming food or liquids including water. The ritual should be repeated for 21 consecutive Tuesdays.

A name of Shani Maharaj in His Ashtottari Shatnamavali goes as ‘Jyestha Patni Sametaya’. Jyestha, who is regarded as the consort of Shani, is known to cause maladies between husband and wife. Of course, this is not the only way how Shani ferments trouble in the lives of people. As such, Hanuman can also be invoked to bring relief from troubles related to Shani. On a Saturday evening, sit on a black or blue woollen mat facing East and light a ghee diya. Recite the Hanuman chalisa 21 times and do the same for 21 consecutive Saturdays.

Hanuman also provides great relief during Saturn’s seven and half year time period which is more commonly known as the dreaded Sade Sati. This is a time when Shani Maharaj transits over your natal moon, thus bringing in untold misery and suffering in your life. For those undergoing their Sade Sati, every day during morning or evening one must sit on a mat or any asana facing East and light a ghee diya while also offering some dry chickpeas as prasad to Hanuman. Thereafter one must recite the Hanuman Chalisa for 7 times in one go and repeat the same every single day while running their Sade Sati. This is one underrated remedy which brings in immense benefits if done on a regular basis. Another remedy which is really powerful for Saturn based afflictions is to take a Hanuman vigraha and bathe it with a paste of turmeric (haldi) and thereafter apply a paste of orange vermilion (sindur) on it. This should be done every Saturday morning before 9am and continued for 40 Saturdays.

Hanuman also provides relief from distress caused by spirits and other disembodied beings. If one ever feels troubled by spirits and apparitions, one should keep a idol or picture of Hanuman within the house and read the Hanuman chalisa while sitting in front of the idol or picture every day for 7 times on the go. One should also visit a Hanuman temple and get some sindur from the left foot of the vigraha of Hanuman on an iron nail. Thereafter the nail should be driven into the main door of the house to prevent further disturbances by malevolent spirits and similar beings. Of course, such remedies are debatable but it is much better to do upayas which do not cost a dime rather than spending millions in the name of charlatans and tantrikas and black magicians.

The reason why Hanuman works so quickly on your problems is because He is very quickly accessible unlike other deities. Being Pawan Putra or the son of Vayu (the air element in your body), He is closer to you than your breath and hence starts working on fixing your life your right away. In fact, one does not even have to recite the Hanuman Chalisa to experience the grace. By simply uttering the name of Shri Rama in a loop (as in rAmArAmArAmA…), one can easily access this mighty deity who changes your life in the most unimaginable ways. This is because Hanuman has made a promise to Bhagwan Ramchandra to help anyone and everyone who chants Rama’s name with utmost devotion and sincerity.

May the grace of Anjaneya illuminate our miserable human existence and take us closer to the Divine.

Sankat Kate Mitey Sab Peeda
Jo Sumire Hanumat Balbeera.

Jai Shri Rama.

About the Author:

Devarshi Dutta is a mathematician and computer engineer by qualification with keen interest in Jyotisha (Vedic Astrology) and the occult sciences, especially dark magic and demonology.

He has authored books on Vedic Philosophy which include an acclaimed reference guide to ‘Dus Mahavidya Sadhana’. The books are available on Amazon as both paperback and kindle versions across all Amazon marketplaces.

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Attachment is egoism in love.”

This is how Sri Aurobindo once defined attachment (The Synthesis of Yoga, CWSA , Vol.23, p. 329). Perfect definition, if we deeply, seriously and sincerely think about it.
Attachment, egoism and love — these three have an intimate connection. Let us start with the most immediate, the first circle of our love – love for the family. We are attached to our families and we think it is love. It may be something like love, but it is not really Love. At best, it is a rehearsal ground for us to practice love.

Sometime back I probably couldn’t have said it this confidently, maybe because back then I had only read some wonderful words about love and ego and attachment and had not really experienced some of the truth of those words, had not really felt the intensity of the force of those words. But life has its own ways of making us sit up and learn some important lessons, for real, by making us live the truth of things. Today after going through some life-experiences over the past several years, I have realized how difficult it is to truly love.

Our minds refuse to accept the truth of the statement “attachment is egoism in love” and our hearts refuse to admit that what we ordinarily speak of as love may be nothing but an attachment because we have long forgotten what Yanjnavalkya said to Maitreyi thousands of years ago, about loving another person for the sake of the Self. Of course, we have forgotten the Self too, otherwise we wouldn’t be in this confused state regarding love, attachment and everything else. We have forgotten, and now only remain in love with ourselves, our ego-selves. And all the love that we say we feel for others is nothing but the love for our egos!

““Not for the sake of the wife,” says Yajnavalkya in the Upanishad, “but for the
sake of the Self is the wife dear to us.” This in the lower sense of the individual
self is the hard fact behind the coloured and passionate professions of egoistic
love; but in a higher sense it is the inner significance of that love too which is not
egoistic but divine.”
(Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 23, p. 107)

According to the Mother (the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo), human love is not a need of the soul, “but rather a concession it makes for a time to the ego.” (CWM, Vol. 14, p.120). It may sound startling, even disturbing, to our ordinary intelligence, given that our rudimentary ideas about love are almost entirely shaped by what our popular culture and popular romantic literature and films tell us about it. Most of the times such unfiltered exposure to a variety of influences, most of which are not necessarily educative but rather meant to stimulate the lower nature of the individual – instincts, passion, and sensations, can end up creating more confusing and muddled understanding of love and loving. Perhaps this is why we throw the word ‘soulmate’ so casually, without even realizing that we don’t know what is this thing called soul! It is perhaps the false soul of desire in us which creates this illusion.

Love is a thing of the heart, people say. In ordinary parlance, what people generally refer to as the heart is simply an emotive heart, full of emotions more or less similar to the animal’s,but more variously developed, says Sri Aurobindo. [Yes, let us read that phrase again –“similar to animal’s”.]

“Its emotions are governed by egoistic passion, blind instinctive affections and all
the play of the life-impulses with their imperfections, perversions, often sordid
degradations, — a heart besieged and given over to the lusts, desires, wraths,
intense or fierce demands or little greeds and mean pettinesses of an obscure and
fallen life force and debased by its slavery to any and every impulse. This mixture
of the emotive heart and the sensational hungering vital creates in man a false
soul of desire…”
(CWSA, Vol. 23, p. 150)

This false soul of desire colours the movement of love with its petty instincts of clinging to its object of desire, which it sees as its object of love. And when there is desire, there is bound to be expectation; in this instance, expectation of being loved in return for loving the other. This is often the beginning of much degradation in love. The degradation continues with the insistence of the vital ego to possess the object of love entirely for its sake. With possession comes attachment, because why would I ever want to lose something for which I have craved so long! And the fall continues….

But why does it happen like this? The answer again lies in our ignorance. For the most part we are ignorant of the truth that ego is an instrument of nature which gives us a sense of separate existence. It is this separate existence in us, this individuality in us that seeks its own separate love, exclusively for itself. This love is coloured by all the different forms in which ego expresses itself, which may be understood as egoism.

Let us first be clear that because ego is essentially a separative instrument, it therefore
naturally becomes a hindrance when we try to connect with another individual, in any
relation. This is why there must be some control over the various tendencies through which ego imposes itself, otherwise life with others would be impossible. It has been observed that even among animals who live in groups, there are strict rules about imposing a control on the play of the ego.

We often hear and also say – that person is so egoistic, or she is so ego-centered. Some even go to the extent of saying – it is impossible to love that person because he or she is so egoistic! Okay, so the other person is egoistic and you are not! Such talk again comes from our deep ignorance of how ego and egoism work. As Sri Aurobindo reminds us –

“…the human being is naturally egoistic and ego-centred; all he does, thinks,
feels has the stamp of the ego on it…. Even when one tries to get away from it, it
is in front or walks behind all the thoughts and actions like one’s shadow”

(CWSA, Vol. 31, p. 218).

And as for this thing called egoism, we find a helpful and simple definition in the words of the Mother:

“When you want to pull everything towards you and other people do not interest
you, that is called egoism; when you put yourself at the centre of the universe and
all things exist only in relation to you, that is egoism. But it is very obvious, one
must be blind not to see that one is egoistic. Everybody is a little egoistic, more or
less, and at least a certain proportion of egoism is normally acceptable; but even
in ordinary life, when one is a little too egoistic, well, one receives knocks on the
nose, because, since everyone is egoistic, no one much likes egoism in others.”

(CWM, Vol. 3, pp. 240-241)

Selfishness, possession, attachment, vanity, ambition, pride, ingratitude, jealousy, envy,
wounded feeling and other such things are the various forms through which ego expresses itself. Through discipline, self-restraint and by becoming more and more conscious of the movements of this ego within us we can exercise greater control on the ego and become less and less egoistic.

With intense spiritual practice and a great aspiration, and of course, with the Divine Grace, as the inmost divine spark, the divine element in us slowly becomes a greater controller of our movements and responses, the hold of the ego is gradually loosened and we begin to experience greater inner freedom. All this has close connection with how we experience this thing called love.

“So long as the ego is there, one cannot love. Love alone can love, Love alone
can conquer the ego”
(The Mother, CWM, Vol. 14, p. 121).

It is a given that getting rid of ego is not an easy task for most of the humanity. All sages and seers have told us so. Even a saint may still have the sattvic ego, so what to say of ordinary folks like you and me! But perhaps something can be done about this thing called ‘egoism’.

And may be the first thing to do is to stop looking at our attachments as love. Because as long as we have attachments to others, we don’t really love; we can’t love another for the sake of loving, we love for the sake of the attachment. We love for this need to be loved in return, because the biggest attachment we have is to our little ego-self.

True love, says the Mother, is something very deep and calm in its intensity. It is not a
passion of the ordinary emotive heart, but a quality of the soul, an attribute of the real divine spark within. More importantly, true love finds its delight and satisfaction in itself. It does not need to manifest itself in any exterior ‘acts of love’, sensational or affectionate. It has no need to be received and appreciated, nor to be shared. It loves for the sake of loving, just the way a flower blooms. “To feel this love in oneself is to possess an immutable happiness,” says the Mother (CWM, Vol. 14, pp. 124-125).

Most human love is far removed from this true love. Most human beings in ordinary relations of love — regardless of the relation — speak of (or think of) their right to be loved. But love’s only right, if at all it has one, is the right of self-giving, says the Mother. Without self-giving there is no love.

An honest self-reflection and observation around us will tell us how rare is a true self-giving in human love, which is in actuality full of selfishness and demands. And yes of course, attachments!

So where is love?

Some truths take time to get accepted because of the deep ignorance in which we live our ordinary lives. Maybe it is one of those truths. As I said earlier, Life has its own ways of making us sit up and ponder deeply on our lives, loves and loving.

And while going through the various experiences and circumstances in life, it could also help us tremendously if we start contemplating on the nature of human love and relationships using a deeper psycho-spiritual view of human nature, given to us by the great yogis and rishis. These seers and sages have not only explored the depths of human nature but have also raised themselves to the highest heights of consciousness. No human experience is insignificant in their wider view of life and existence. And that’s why we are able to find relevant insights on almost all aspects of life in their writings and teachings.

About the Author:

Beloo Mehra is a student of Sri Aurobindo and writes on topics related to education, culture and society.

Many years of experience in the field of education and research led her to the discovery that the central thing is to constantly un-school oneself and become a freer and truer learner.

She enjoys playing several roles Life offers a woman – with a hope to learn from all that happens and doesn’t happen, and with a wish to gradually become free of those roles because only then the possibility of the birth of true actor (or the non-actor) within exists.