Mistaken notions of Piety as a Source of Evil.
It is unfortunate that religion should be the source of so much humbug and insincerity as is actually the case. When man strives to make religion to be something other than the living out of the natural qualities and an exercise of the faculties inherent in the human nature, then it happens that the race instead of leading a straightforward course of life strays away into innumerable swerving from the right path of proper conduct. This arises from the fact that the very attempt involves an unnatural course of action.
In an evil hour, it seems to have occurred to man that salvation lies in the stifling of the senses. The senses are there at the mandate of Him Who is the Author of all existence. To proclaim their destruction is therefore against the divine dispensation. They are neither to be stifled nor stunted in their growth; but they are to be developed and educated to the fullest extent they are capable of. In their full development and right, exercise is life properly lived.
Pleasure, on analysis, is simply the agreeable excitement consequent on the exercise of a faculty. Mere living itself is often said to be a pleasure, because life implies an exercise of the faculties. So, salvation, the highest form of happiness can arise only from the exercise of the powers given to man by God; but not from a stifling thereof.
The recluses of old, in their foolishness, thought that the natural way in which men lived was sinful and took to their austere practices. In many a case, nature, revolting against the unnatural restraint, asserted itself, and where it was not strong enough to assert itself, the Soul, deprived of the aliment that would develop its civic virtues, led an owlish existence and was of no service to the children of light who loved the free air.
It is the most unhappy and mischievous idea ever fabricated by the human imagination, that celibacy is a necessary condition to bring about spiritual progress. Ancient India with all her acuteness of intellect, and in spite of the fact that many a sage, that shed his lustre on her, enjoyed conjugal bliss, cannot be spared of the charge of having subscribed to this erroneous belief. There were however several Rishis that led the life of Vana-prasthas with their spouses. This offers a redeeming feature in the history of the world's striving after Spirituality. The wise men of Ancient India were great lovers of nature. They loved the forest, the forest-streams and the trees fragrant with their blossoms and resonant with the music of the birds. They loved the deer and roamed over the lovely forest tracts with as much zest as their innocent Sylvan companions. They sang the praises of the rising Sun, the twilight and the glorious sky. If woman was proscribed on the scene, it must have been only through short sightedness. Man is not complete without the woman; and what is more glorious than a vision of man and woman on a scene of Nature's perfection.
Christianity cannot claim the monopoly of having introduced, into religious thought, the idea of woman being the mother of evil, but the notion seems to have haunted the imagination of the adherents of the other religions as well.
A rigid carrying out of a wrong idea with a good motive is one kind of evil, but a constant show of observance with a view to affect piety, when there is a failure to act up to the professed rules of conduct, is a procedure which has a bad moral effect on those who are guilty of it.
The abominable institution of the Hindu dancing-girls was at its inception a pious blunder. In the beginning, a few maidens might have thought, in a pious frenzy, that no human beings were good enough to be their lords and might have in all probability really found that such a fancy answered their emotional cravings. But flesh and blood remain under the influence of such extraordinary cease to exist, the influence ceases to hold sway and human nature becomes itself once again. The individuals, who originally gave rise to the institution, might have been Deva-dasis in the true sense, but, as time advanced, the conservative instinct of men wanted to keep up the institution, though there were no women who would devote themselves to the service of God. The form of the institution remained, though the spirit had fled. The forced restraint to lead an unnatural life of celibacy, under a belief that it was pious, must have first resulted in occasional acts of prostitution secretly, until public opinion, probably conniving at the conduct in the earliest stages, came to look upon immorality in the end as the legitimate conduct of the hand-maidens of God.
The innumerable ceremonies of the Hindu ritual as performed at the present time are so many examples of sham. Even the purohits, who superintend the performance, do not understand the meaning of the mantras they utter and much less the rationale of the ritual. In the ceremonies, Gods are invited and they are offered several things, as for example, water to wash their feet, seats to sit upon, clothes to dress themselves with, flowers, sandal paste and other sundry presents. Of these, the heavenly beings receive only certain things and in the place of the rest receive rice dyed in saffron. This substitution in the ceremonies is essentially an act of dishonesty in as much as the coloured rice takes the place of the really valuable things such as cows and gold. There can be no doubt that the performance of such meaningless ritual encourages a form of mental dishonesty.
True religion does not dictate an unnatural course of conduct. It does not consist in the suppression of the instincts of man. God does not require that one should offer him gold and has no weakness for any particular language or form of worship.