A crisis of identity

May 13 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

  • A Fine Balance

    October 16, 2014
    • Spend Time with Yourself
    • Maintain a Perfect Balance
    • Corruption Free Government
    • Woman Entrepreneur
    • Vasudaiva Kutumbakam
    • The Best Way to Overcome Fear

    A Skilled India

    October 14, 2014
    • The Mark of an Indian
    • The Way to Inspire People
    • Finding the Right Direction
    • 4 To Do's To Induce a Good Work Culture
  • The Measure Of Karma

    October 8, 2014
    • The Criteria of Karma
    • Do Good to Others
    • Self Imposed Prayaschita
    • Experiences of Sri Sri
    • Have Faith & Move Ahead

    Being With God!

    October 7, 2014
    • Sri Sri on the Sama Veda
    • World is Born from the Mind
    • To Cross the Ocean of Misery:
      1. You Must Drop Anger
      2. Drop Your Doubts &
      3. Share Generously With Others
  • Desires Are Never Ending

    October 3, 2014
    • Service Elevates Life
    • Commitments Can Be Changed
    • Creation is Full of Diversity
    • The Source of Joy
    • Finding the Perfect Guru

    Ethics in Sports

    September 22, 2014
    • Sports: An Integral Part of Life
    • Ethical Standards of Sports
    • Sports from a Wider Angel
    • A Higer Role for Sportsmen
    • Engaging Sportsmen in Peace Building Initiatives
  • Happiness Is Good For Health

    September 20, 2014
    • Being Centered Is Being Healthy
    • Science & Spirituality
    • Butter is Good For the Heart
    • Get Rid of Superstitions
    • In Life Always Take The Middle Path

    Goodness Always Pays

    September 18, 2014
    • Keep A Pure Heart
    • Success and Spirituality
    • Passion Dispassion & Compassion
    • The Antidote for Ego
    • Have Confidence In Your Abilities
  • Generosity: A Key To Success

    September 11, 2014
    • Meditation is Mental Hygiene
    • A Mature Joy
    • An Attitude of Sharing
    • Arrogance Cannot Stay On
    • Making Someone Else Win is Also a Joy

    The True Sign Of Success

    September 10, 2014
    • The Definition of Success
    • Mark of a Successful Person
    • Success: The Intelligent Way
    • Happiness & Success Linked
    • Spirituality Brings Absolute Comfort
  • Moving Beyond Prejudice

    September 8, 2014
    • People Means Politics
    • Don't Be Prejudiced
    • Accept People As They Are
    • In Life Keep Moving Ahead
    • A Tip On Bhastrika

    Good Out Of Bad

    September 5, 2014
    • The Law of Karma
    • Don't Fight But Forgive
    • Burning Plastic Causes Cancer
    • Happiness Is Interdependent
    • Sri Sri's View on Reservations