A crisis of identity

Wed, 13/05/2009
The world faces a crisis. It is fundamentally one of identification. People identify themselves with limited characteristics such as gender, race, religion and nationality, forgetting their basic identity as part of the universal spirit. These limited identifications lead to conflicts: globally and on a personal level.

Every individual is much more than the sum of these limited identifications. The highest identification we can have is that we are part of Divinity. Then comes the identity that we are human beings and members of the human family. In divine creation, the whole of the human race is united.

We need to return to the values that are the essence of all major traditions. Religion has three aspects: values, rituals and symbols. Moral and spiritual values are common to all traditions and the symbols and practices — those rituals and customs that form a way of life within a religion — are what distinguish one tradition from another. Symbols and practices are like the banana peel and spiritual values, the banana. However, people in every tradition have thrown away the banana and are holding onto the peel.

This distinction, between value, ritual and symbol, was made in ancient times. The Sanskrit term smriti refers to those practices that are appropriate to a particular time and place, those things that are time-bound. Shruti refers to those values that are timeless.

In the right order of things, what is time-bound is secondary to what is timeless or eternal. However, in all the traditions, we find the order upside down. People tend to honour what is time-bound — symbols and practices — and give them an individual identity more than the values, which are timeless. Then fanaticism flourishes and differences are defended. We can see this today in the wars taking place around the world in the name of religion. If we could focus on values, the larger truth that the symbol and ritual represent, then most of the conflict in the world would be resolved.

Symbols vary between religions because they relate to the relative factors of location, environment and time. The crescent moon and star on the Islamic flag were chosen by people living in a desert region, where evening is a pleasant relief from the scorching heat of the day. The sun was chosen as a religious symbol in Japan and in Tibet, where it gives welcome warmth and a feeling of elevation. Symbols are relative, but they are intended to lead us to something beyond the symbol — to the essence of religion. We need to reach for the deeper values and not be distracted by the apparent differences.

Practices are also time-bound, dictating how you should dress, what name you are to take, what you can eat and how a person should be punished if they make some mistake. In all traditions, you find practices like these that were necessary at the time they were instituted, but may no longer serve a good purpose.

Human values, on the other hand, are social and ethical norms common to all cultures and societies as well as religions. They represent a melding of social progress, justice and spiritual growth. Much of the problems that are borne out of religion can be avoided by reintroducing these shared values. And it is not necessary to use guilt and fear to promote these values. You will find in the history of all religious systems that guilt and fear were used to control people, but such discipline is not needed today. At this time, we need only to cultivate love and understanding.

Read earlier posts

  • God Dwells In Every Heart

    August 20, 2014
    • God is in Your Heart
    • A Way To Let Go
    • Find Love Within You
    • The Past is Dead & Gone
    • God is Love & Love is Everywhere

    Your Own Happiness

    August 15, 2014
    • Don't Hurt Anyone
    • Be Kinds to Nature
    • Do Charity in Secrecy
    • Marijuana is not Good for You
    • Don't Be A Football of Others Opinions
  • Raksha Bandhan

    August 14, 2014
    • A Festival of Giving Assurance
    • What Upakarma Is
    • 3 Strands of the Yajnopaveeta
    • Bonding Removes Fear
    • Poornima & Symbols

    The Magic Of Grace

    August 13, 2014
    • Grace Can Change Anything
    • How to be Compassionate
    • Mindfulness is a Practice
    • Accuracy of Astrological Readings
  • Time Perception

    August 13, 2014
    • There is an Intricate Connection Between
      - Time
      - Mind
      - Events and
      - Action
    • Whats Important: The Right Thing At The Right Time

    The Fruit Of The Spirit

    August 12, 2014
    • Happiness is the Aim of Life
    • True Joy is in Spirituality
    • Connect With the Divine
    • Balance Family & Spiritual Life
    • Longing Itself is God
    • One Should Honour Time
  • Month Of Shraavan

    August 11, 2014
    • Month to Worship Lord Shiva
    • Where is Lord Shiva?
    • Significance of Abhishekam
    • Meaning of Anaahat Naad
    • There is One Divinity Only

    The Key For World Peace

    August 11, 2014
    • Inner Peace = World Peace
    • Take Life Lightly
    • Peace is a Phenomenon
    • Everything is Going to Change
    • Mind & its Influences
  • A Way To Always Win

    August 7, 2014
    • Win & Make Others Win
    • Combating Corruption
    • Spirituality is the Way
    • Parenting Concerns
    • Kids Should Keep Good Company

    You Will Get What You Need

    August 2, 2014
    • The Key to a Good Friendship
    • Demand Destroys Love
    • Don't Make People Feel Small
    • Husband vs. Mother-in-law
    • What Faith Is
    • Overcome the Need for Attention
  • The Courage To Walk Alone

    July 31, 2014
    • Solidify You Personality
    • Everything is Changing
    • Sri Sri on Kundalini Yoga
    • Take Your Life as a Gift
    • Surrender is for Reassurance

    Building Stronger Relationships

    July 30, 2014
    • For A Strong Relationship:
    • - Take Turns to Get Upset
    • - Leave Space For Each Other
    • - Have a Goal in Your Life
    • - Listen to Knowledge
    • - Skill in Communication is a Must