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12 Jul, 1998

All Religions Seek to Light the Lamps and Illuminate the Way Forward

Originally Published: 12 July 9998

The link between what the eye sees and the mind instructs is one of the central themes of every religion. Modern management’s adaptation of it is the statuette of the three monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

Every religion instructs us in the art of mind-control. Modern-day philosophers refer to it as the need to achieve victory over oneself.

The Buddha teaches thus: “A disturbed mind is forever active, jumping hither and thither and is hard to control; but a tranquil mind is peaceful; therefore, it is wise to keep the mind under control. It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him into evil ways. The one who protects his mind from greed, anger and foolishness, is the one who enjoys real and lasting peace.”

The concept is best expressed in the symbolism of night and day, the ultimate form of light and darkness as well of ignorance and wisdom. It is night that humans almost instinctively fear because, suddenly, they cannot ‘see’. Streets become deserted, shadows become sinister, sounds that would appear normal during the day take on an eerie undertone.

The same street during daytime becomes far less fearful because one can better ‘see’ the potential dangers. The scurrying of a rat at night may make the hair stand up on the nape of your neck but mean nothing during the day. In a way, the human being is ‘freed’ from fear by an overpowering light that shows him clearly that there is really nothing to fear.

The Bhagavad Gita refers to this fear in the context of conquering it through meditation. It says: “Shutting out all external objects, fixing the vision between the eyebrows, making even the inward and the outward breaths moving within the nostrils, the sage who has controlled the sense, mind and understanding, who is intent on liberation, who has cast away desire, fear and anger, he is ever freed.”

The monotheistic religions take this concept closer to the portrayal of God as the Ultimate Light, and Satan as the ultimate darkness. A clear difference is made between what the physical eye sees somewhat superficially and the spiritual light sees with a much higher element of understanding.

Take for example this reference from the Bible (Luke 11:33): “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body is also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

Says the Quran: “God is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. (He) doth guide whom He will to His light. (Lit is such a light) in houses which God has permitted to be raised to honour; for celebration, in them, of His name; In them is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings, (again and again).”

Those who stake out territorial claims among the religions and present them as being one better than the other will no doubt find merits and demerits in each of those. But one can see a clear pattern of progression, and I deliberately steer clear of the word ‘improvement’ because it implies an element of judgement which I will steer clear of.

What is clear, if the entire issue is placed in the context of modern-day trends, is that our drift away from the spiritualism and towards materialism is in a way like the concept of Night and Day. Thailand is perhaps experiencing the sensation of twilight and fearing the darkness to come because it will bring with it the fear of the unknown.

Businessmen always talk of ‘economic cycles’ – days of plenty are followed by days of famine. But even the world is structured such that days and nights are of different duration in different parts of the globe. Not only that, they vary from month to month.

Not everyone who experiences a night is affected by its dangers. For the vast majority, night is a time to reflect on what happened during the just-past day, to get some rest, to sift the right from the wrong, and to try and correct the wrong the following day.

However, human beings almost instinctively, and against all the counselling of our great religions and Prophets, plunge back the following day into the world of office politics, back-stabbing, jockeying for power and profit. If the entire world could do business in the spiritual atmosphere of eternal enlightenment, the days would be much longer than the nights.

It would also be true to say that what one sees with the physical eye is less and less conducive towards nourishing and uplifting the spiritual eye. The daily newspapers and media bring an unending barrage of front-page headlines where the dictum is “If it bleeds, it leads.” Words of aggression like ‘lashes out,’ ‘hits,’ ‘attacks,’ ‘blasts’, etc., are strewn across both the headlines and the copy.

Open the TV and there’s more of the same. Conflict is essential to plots in novels, it is essential to the survival of the media. Yet, it is total anathema to the spiritual world where it is just another example of the ‘darkness’ that follows when humans refuse to light the internal lamp of illumination.

In other words, even if the signs are there on the highway in the night, you still need your headlights to see them. Once having seen the signs, you follow the right ones that get you to where you want to go. If you miss those signs, your chances of making a wrong decision increase. And if you can’t see the signs at all, you’re not going to get anywhere fast.

That is what religions are all about – shining those lights so that we can see the signs. And there is yet another element, we also need to be able to read to understand those signs. Today, the levels of education are higher than ever. So we have the ability to see, read and understand those signs.

In spite of having this ability, the fact that we still refuse to make the right decisions is a clear sign of our spiritual blindness.