The Alchemy of Religion: From Inner Illumination to Love and Service in Action

The Alchemy of Religion: From Inner Illumination to Love and Service in Action

Edi Bilimoria (Scientific and Medical Network, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1955-3.ch002


This chapter provides some practical examples of legendary historical figures whose profound religious convictions have produced radical, but always beneficent changes in society in three main areas of human endeavour: social reform, science and music. Considerable stress is placed upon the fact that religion, properly understood and applied, has nothing to do with blind belief, wars or an opiate effect on society, its immense uplift of the human condition accruing from the thoughts, words and deeds of those great persons who have engaged with religion in its universal meaning, unshackled from rigid orthodoxy, sectarian attitudes and dogma..
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Religion these days tends to attract a bad press, being associated in the minds of many people as, at best, a matter of naïveté, and in most cases, the cause of wars or violent behaviour rooted in fundamentalist beliefs in the dictates of a supposed god. Furthermore, the accepted view amongst mainstream scientists is that religion has at last been fully deposed by science – since, after all, science deals with objective facts, testable theories and repeatable experiments, which have naught to do with the beliefs and dogmas promulgated by religion. However, the matter is not so simple, or cut-and-dried. Even a cursory glance through the pages of history will reveal to any impartial reader the phenomenal changes brought about through religion to the benefit of the human condition as a whole. Accordingly, the purpose of this chapter is to highlight this beneficent impact of religion in the realms of social welfare, science and music through the thoughts, words and deeds of great religious personages who understood the metaphysical and universal import of religion and were able to actuate such values to respond to the pressing needs of the society and culture of their epoch.

The life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) provide a glowing example of pitching soul force over brute force to achieve revolutionary changes in Indian society by non-violent means during the time of the British Empire. History is replete with example of dictators who resorted to unspeakable brutality and bloodshed to impose their concept of change upon society: China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s – aptly termed China’s ‘spiritual holocaust’ by the novelist Ba Jin – spearheaded by Mao Zedong in which up to two million people were killed in political violence, countless lives ruined through persecutions and the country severely traumatised is just one case in point. The point we make is that Chairman Mao and other dictators of similar ilk, bereft of ethical or religious values upon which to base their actions, effectively projected their own mental state – their paranoia, narcissism and suppressed rage – upon their peoples with disastrous results. With Gandhi, it was otherwise: peaceful means, drawn from the very core of his profound understanding of both Hinduism and Christianity, used to overturn an oppressive regime and free the spirit of India.

Annie Besant (1847-1933) was a contemporary of Gandhi and their ardent respect and regard for each other was mutual. This great lady is cited as an example of one who was able to burst the suffocating straitjacket of oppressive Christian orthodoxy to which she had been subjected during her early years, first by resorting to atheism and socialism, on the way to discovering the universal heart of religion through her contact with theosophy via its principal founder. Besant’s tremendous social work for India, her devotion to the Theosophical Society of which she was its President and her involvement in the Indian National Congress and Home Rule movement were drawn from a deep conviction about the unity of humanity irrespective of racial or religious differences, garnered from the profound tenets of the perennial wisdom and religious scriptures. Along with Gandhi, Besant disabused the then prevalent notion that Hinduism abounded in superstition and restored the precepts and ethics of this great religion to its role of worldwide eminence.

In Mother Teresa (1910-1997) we have another noble lady but with a more specific religious focus. Whereas some of her beliefs and public statements on aspects of Roman Catholic doctrine have attracted criticism, few would question her unswerving commitment to alleviating the misery of the poverty-stricken masses of humanity, or her standing as one of the greatest humanitarians of the previous century. Her profound Christian faith provided the bedrock for a lifetime of selfless devotion towards affirming the spiritual dimension of life, initially through her work in Calcutta, India, and then in service to the poor and disaster-stricken worldwide.

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