by Swami Krishnananda
Religion is manifest in seven ways. Scripture, philosophy, mysticism, theology, ethics, ritual, and mythology are the principal branches of the religious phenomenon. While there can be any number of details by way of the expression of the religious outlook in practical life, it is mainly concerned with these foundational features.
Scripture is the foundation of every religion, so to say, and it is believed to be a record of the revelations of super-sensory perception. A revelation, a scripture, is regarded as holy because it is not an intellectual workmanship of any particular author. It is a supreme insight, a light that dawns in the soul of a prophet, a sage or a seer, a light that speaks the message of God to man. Such are the scriptures, which are the basic references in all matters of religious doubt and difficulty.
The revelation which is the scripture, the intuition of the Divine Reality, is also what is known as philosophy when it becomes a reasoned argument substantiating the dictum of the scripture. Especially in India, it is laid down that the philosophical disquisitions, while they can stand on the strength of reason and understanding, should not contradict scripture. Unbridled reason is not regarded as a trustworthy medium of knowledge. By 'unbridled', we mean independent of scripture. So, while scripture is direct intuition, a revelation which is super-sensory, philosophy is intellectual, rational, a method adopted to convince the reason by arguments which are logical in their nature—by induction and deduction, etc.—so that intuition, which is super-sensory, super-mental, super-rational, also gets confirmed by man's reason.
The seeds of theology and the other features of religion that I mentioned are actually laid in the scriptures themselves. In fact, we can find the foundations of every feature or aspect of religion in its scripture. The scripture is a storehouse of every blessed thing which a religion can be. It has its philosophy, the roots of reasoned arguments; it also has the seeds of mythology, ritual, ethics, and the general attitude of people in their social life.
The doctrine of theology is the concept of God as applied to human life, which again is a derivative from the proclamations of the scriptures themselves. In India particularly, the scripture, which has its foundations in the Vedas and the Upanishads, is also the basis of India's theology and philosophy, what to speak of other things such as mythology, etc. The Upanishads lay the foundations for the philosophy which is later called the Darshana, or the reasoned or rational perception of Truth.
The concept of God in its relation to the creation of the universe and the existence of the individual is the basis for theological doctrines. Theology is the science of God. It is the art of the disquisition of the nature of the Creator, or a system which argues the characteristics of the Creator in relation to His creation. Thus, inasmuch as it is accepted that theology considers the relationship that obtains between God, world and soul, and takes for granted the existence of this threefold principle, or tripartite entity, it is often distinguished from philosophy. Theology is not the same as philosophy if we are to define theology as a propounding of God's relationship to creation as well as to individuals, who are the contents of creation.
But philosophy is defined in many ways, and people have not come to a clear conception as to what philosophy is. Though it is generally defined as 'love of wisdom', that is a very vague definition indeed because one does not know what this wisdom is in order that one may love it. However, those who thought that philosophy is the love of wisdom must have had in their minds the idea that wisdom is nothing but the wisdom of God. It does not mean ordinary, worldly wisdom. In fact, the great philosophic hero who, for the first time, perhaps, made the word 'philosophy' popular was Plato, and he and his disciple Aristotle did not consider wisdom to be merely worldly knowledge, but an insight into Reality. Now, inasmuch as wisdom is supposed to be the content of philosophy, and wisdom also has been identified with an insight into Reality, and it is the task or the function of philosophy not to have any predispositions or preconceived notions, it has to differ from theology, which already accepts the fact of there being a creation and individuals inside creation whose relationship obtains in the context of God's creativity.
These principles, which can be identified with an impersonal search for Reality going by the name of an abstract philosophical disquisition, as well as theological concepts which are more prone to a cosmological concept of God, are all to be found in the scriptures of India—in the Veda, and particularly in the Upanishads. The outcome of these systems of thinking is the effect they have upon the individual's conduct and his relationship with other individuals in society. Thus, in a way we may say our notion of Reality decides our attitude to the world and our conduct with other people. Philosophy, therefore, taken in its true sense, lays the foundation for every other system of thought and every branch of learning, and a total outlook of life is manifest spontaneously from this foundational acceptance of the characteristics of Reality, which is the task of philosophy to discover.
Hence, while a religious outlook taken in its comprehensiveness has to root itself in a scriptural revelation, and it has a philosophy of its own which substantiates the revelations of scripture, it also has its own theology—a concept of God. 'Concept of God' is the important phrase to note here. God is not a mere concept. God is an independent Being, Existence in its own right, but when God becomes a concept, we turn from philosophy to theology. Our idea of God is the root of the theological doctrines of religion, but the idea of God is not the same as God Himself. God has a status of His own—an independent existence free from the ideas which may be related by the percipients in the form of the individuals who came subsequent to the creative act.
But, as we gradually come down from the scriptural foundational acceptance in the religious fields of philosophy and theology, we automatically come to our social and personal levels, wherein our external conduct has to perform a double duty: religious and secular. Our external conduct has to be religious and also secular, which means to say, it has to be a conduct in relation to God and also a conduct in relation to other people around us. The outwardly manifest conduct of our individuality in relation to God becomes the rituals of religion, and our conduct in relation to other people becomes the ethics of society.
Thus, rituals are derived from the principal enunciation of the insight of a scripture through philosophy and theology, and we come down to our visual world of human relationship and assume a relationship even to God Himself. It is not given to man in his ordinary frail mortality to contemplate God in His Absoluteness. Whatever the scripture may say, it remains only in the scripture. It does not enter our mind because the mind of man is mostly physical, though it is dubbed 'psyche'. We call the mind 'psyche', and it is distinguished from the body, but we are wholly bodies, and we think in terms of bodies. On account of this bodily engrossment of the psyche, we are unable to contemplate the pristine independence of the Supreme Creator as He ought to have to been before the act of creation took place. God must have been something before there was creation; and in His status before creation, where there was no universe, we should not attribute to Him even such characteristics as omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, etc. We cannot call God omnipresent because it implies spatial constraint, and the idea of omniscience and omnipotence are also involved in the notion of space and time. Hence, because space and time came after creation took place, we cannot become God as He is in Himself independent of these notions that have come down to us through the creative act. Thus is the frailty of man in his attempt to conceive God in His pristine originality.