How religions are formed

The contemporary religious tendency is to divide people into believers and non-believers instead of viewing them all as souls who are part of the One Divine, to regard sin as a deviance from morality subject to punishment rather than a transient condition which can be overcome with growth of consciousness, to assume that deliverance of the soul occurs due to strong belief in God rather than sublime contemplation.   These are a couple of discourses by the Mother Mirra Alfassa on how religions are formed.

Mother Mirra Alfassa: All religions have each the same story to tell. The occasion for its birth is the coming of a great Teacher of the world. He comes and reveals and is the incarnation of a Divine Truth. But men seize upon it, trade upon it, make an almost political organisation out of it. The religion is equipped by them with a government and policy and laws, with its creeds and dogmas, its rules and regulations, its rites and ceremonies, all binding upon its adherents, all absolute and inviolable. Like the State, it too administers rewards to the loyal and assigns punishments for those that revolt or go astray, for the heretic and the renegade.

The first and principal article of these established and formal religions runs always, “Mine is the supreme, the only truth, all others are in falsehood or inferior. For without this fundamental dogma, established credal religions could not have existed. If you do not believe and proclaim that you alone possess the one or the highest truth, you will not be able to impress people and make them flock to you.  This attitude is natural to the religious mind; but it is just that which makes religion stand in the way of the spiritual life.

The articles and dogmas of a religion are mind-made things and, if you cling to them and shut yourself up in a code of life made out for you, you do not know and cannot know the truth of the Spirit that lies beyond all codes and dogmas, wide and large and free. When you stop at a religious creed and tie yourself in it, taking it for the only truth in the world, you stop the advance and widening of your inner soul. But if you look at religion from another angle, it need not always be an obstacle to all men. If you regard it as one of the higher activities of humanity and if you can see in it the aspirations of man without ignoring the imperfection of all man-made things, it may well be a kind of help for you to approach the spiritual life. Taking it up in a serious and earnest spirit, you can try to find out what truth is there, what aspiration lies hidden in it, what divine inspiration has undergone transformation and deformation here by the human mind and a human organisation, and with an appropriate mental stand you can get religion even as it is to throw some light on your way and to lend some support to your spiritual endeavour.

When you come to the Yoga, you must be ready to have all your mental buildings and all your vital scaffoldings shattered to pieces. You must be prepared to be suspended in the air with nothing to support you except your faith. You will have to forget your past self and its clingings altogether, to pluck it out of your consciousness and be born anew, free from every kind  of bondage. Think not of what you were, but of what you aspire to be; be altogether in what you want to realise. Turn from your dead past and look straight towards the future. Your religion, country, family lie there; it is the DIVINE.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1929 – 1931): 9 June 1929

Question: Sweet Mother, is religion a necessity in the life of the ordinary man?

Mother Mirra Alfassa: In the life of societies it is a necessity, for it serves as a corrective to collective egoism which, without this control, could take on excessive proportions.

The level of collective consciousness is always lower than the individual level. It is very noticeable, for example, that when men gather in a group or collect in great numbers, the level of consciousness falls a great deal.  The consciousness of crowds is much lower than individual consciousness, and the collective consciousness of society is certainly lower than the consciousness of the individuals constituting it.

There it is a necessity. In ordinary life, an individual, whether he knows it or not, always has a religion but the object of his religion is sometimes of a very inferior kind.…The god he worships may be the god of success or the god of money or the god of power, or simply a family god: the god of children, the god of the family, the god of the ancestors. There is always a religion. The quality of the religion is very different according to the individual, but it is difficult for a human being to live and to go on living, to survive in life without having something like a rudiment of an ideal which serves as the centre] for his existence. Most of the time he doesn’t know it and if he were asked what his ideal is, he would be unable to formulate it; but he has one, vaguely, something that seems to him the most precious thing in life.

For most people, it is security, for instance: living in security, being in conditions where one is sure of being able to go on existing. That is one of the great “aims”, one might say, one of the great motives of human effort. There are people for whom comfort is the important thing; for others it is pleasure, amusement.

All that is very low and one would not be inclined to give it the name of an ideal, but it is truly a form of religion, something which may seem to be worth consecrating one’s life to.…There are many influences which seek to impose themselves on human beings by using that as a basis. The feeling of insecurity, uncertainty, is a kind of tool, a means used by political or religious groups to influence individuals. They play on these ideas.

Every political or social idea is a sort of lower expression of an ideal which is a rudimentary religion. As soon as there is a faculty of thought, there is necessarily an aspiration for something higher than the most brutal daily existence from minute to minute, and this is what gives the energy and possibility of living.

Of course, one could say that it is the same thing for individuals as for collectivities, that their value is exactly proportionate to the value of their ideal, their religion, that is, of the thing they make the summit of their existence.

Of course, when we speak of religion, if we mean the recognised religions, truly, everyone has his own religion, whether he knows it or not, even when he belongs to the great religions that have a name and a history. It is certain that even if one learns the dogmas by heart and complies with a prescribed ritual, everybody understands and acts in his own way, and only the name of the religion is the same, but this same religion is not the same for all the individuals who think they are practising it.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1957 – 1958): 16 July 1958

See Also

  1. Difference between religion and spirituality
  2. Why one should not hate the sinner?
  3. Is fear and awe of God necessary?
  4. Are earthquakes due to Divine retribution?
  5. The liminality or negative capability required in Yoga

28 thoughts on “How religions are formed

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  3. Sandeep Post author

    “Mother Mirra Alfassa: All religions have each the same story to tell. The occasion for its birth is the coming of a great Teacher of the world. He comes and reveals and is the incarnation of a Divine Truth. But men seize upon it, trade upon it, make an almost political organisation out of it… ”

    In this passage from Pupul Jayakar’s biography of Jiddu Krishnamurti, the latter essentially advises her to look beyond his form and instead realize the teaching:

    I asked him what was the.summation of his teaching? To me it was vast. It integrated and included the teachings of the Buddha and Vedanta. He could negate the super-Atman, the Brahman, but in the very negation, he emanated an energy which those words conveyed. That led me to the often-asked question, “Who is Krishnamurti? What is his lineage?” Was he a breakthrough in evolution? It would take centuries to comprehend the challenge Krishnamurti had posed to the human brain-to the root of the human mind.

    Suddenly Krishnaji caught my hand. “Keep it-keep the challenge- work with it-forget the person.” His touch was charged with the strength of nature, as found in storms in oceans. “Look what religions have done: concentrated on the teacher and forgotten the teaching. Why do we give such importance to the person of the teacher? The teacher may be necessary to manifest the teaching, but beyond that, what? The vase contains water; you have to drink the water, not worship the vase. Humanity worships the vase, forgets the water.”

    My body, mind responded. “Even to start real enquiry into the teaching is a breakthrough in consciousness.”

    “Yes, that is so,” Krishnaji said. “The human tendency is to center everything around the person of the teacher-not on the essence of what he says, but the person. That is the great corruption. Look at the great teachers of the world-Mohammed, Christ, and the Buddha too. Look what their followers have made of it? Buddhist monks are violent, they kill. Contrary to all that the Buddha had said.

    “The manifestation has to take place, through a human body, naturally- the manifestation is not the teaching. We must be extraordinarily impersonal about all this. To see that we do not project the teacher because of one’s love and affection for the person, and forget the teaching. See the truth in the teaching, the depth in it, go into it, live it, that is, what is important. Does it matter?” Krishnaji asked, “If the world says of K, what a wonderful person he is-who cares? If K is a breakthrough, the word is not his measure. The word is not important. If I were living in the time of the Buddha, I may be attracted to him as a human being, I may have great affection for him, but I would be far more concerned with what he says.

    (Pupul Jayakar. Krishnamurti : a biography, San Francisco : Harper & Row, c1986, pp 487-488)

  4. Sandeep Post author

    Krishnaji said. “The human tendency is to center everything around the person of the teacher-not on the essence of what he says, but the person. That is the great corruption.

    An illustration of how religions are formed can be seen from the 1979 movie “Life of Brian” (Monty Python) where the followers strive to imitate the prophet.

    Another delightful clip in which the Messiah exhorts people to think for themselves – they are all individuals.

    1. amsha

      It’s because they worship only form and miss spirit behind.
      Same with political figures, people try even to look and dress like them,
      after they imagine that their deeds are sanctified and their actions are infallible.

  5. mike

    Personally, l’v never been impressed by krishnamurti. Too vague and confusing for me. l could never make any sense out of him.
    l read something that Sri Aurobindo said about him, and l felt He wasn’t taken by him much either.
    SA said their was something very Taoist in K’s teachings, l believe.

    1. Sandeep Post author

      Krishamurti is more like Nagarguna. He teaches the method of negation. With great lucidity, he illustrates the manner in which the mind creates its own psychological conflicts. We erect ideals and then waste our lives forcing reality to conform to it – in education, family and society in general. As a result, we keep oscillating between the memory of the past and the hope for a better future.

      It was helpful for me to read Krishnamurti but Sri Aurobindo’s thought is much vaster.

      The comments by Sri Aurobindo that you refer to are from the Evening Talks – 29 November 1939

      Purani: Krishnamurti is giving some new principles now, but they are so amorphous. He says that to realise the Reality a Guru is not necessary. One has only to get rid of preconceived notions and ideas.

      Sri Aurobindo: That is nothing new and can be easily understood. What further?

      Purani: Then one will find one’s own Truth and Reality. But when someone asked, “What is this Reality?”, he replied, “No one can say. One has to find it out for oneself.”

      Sri Aurobindo: Then what is the necessity of his saying the rest also? He may as well say nothing. Each one will find out his own path and Truth.

      Satyendra: Though he has relinquished Theosophy and Messiahhood, old disciples still seem to run after him.

      Sri Aurobindo: Why doesn’t he close his doors against them? He can stop speaking to them.

      Satyendra: He has started with a handicap—having been proclaimed a Messiah.

      Sri Aurobindo: That is why he is disgusted with Guruship perhaps. The Reality he speaks of seems to be like Tao. When you realise it you can’t speak about it. It is simply “nothing at all”.

  6. amsha

    Interest in the idea of a herd mentality has been renewed by work into mirror neurons – cells that fire when we perform an action or watch someone perform a similar action. It suggests that our brains are geared to mimic our peers. “We are set up for ‘auto-copy’,” says Haidt.

    Neurological evidence seems to back this idea. Vasily Klucharev, at the Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, found that the brain releases more of the reward chemical dopamine when we fall in line with the group consensus (Neuron, vol 61, p 140). His team asked 24 women to rate more than 200 women for attractiveness. If a participant discovered their ratings did not tally with that of the others, they tended to readjust their scores. When a woman realized her differing opinion, fMRI scans revealed that her brain generated what the team dubbed an “error signal”. This has a conditioning effect, says Klucharev: it’s how we learn to follow the crowd.

  7. mike

    l’m getting some strange coincidences with this site. l was reading that passage from the purani talks the day before Sandeep mentioned him here. l was actually looking for something completely different [not krishnamurti]. l always wondered what SA thought about him, though.
    l forgot to post yesterday that krishnamurti was all about NEGATION, but you filled that gap for me Sandeep. Thanks for that lol.
    Another coincidence today was about fairies. l was in conversation with a friend this afternoon about this subject. He said someone told him about a group of ppl around here who actually get dressed up as fairies and dance around in the woods.
    Then l came on here and saw the thread on some of the old Disciples. One disciple in particular caught my eye, named Sunanda Poddar, who was interviewed about seeing fairies. That took me by surprise.
    l don’t really have much interest in fairies aka nature spirits, except that l do like some of the disney films like ‘Tinkerbell’ etc lol.
    And these aren’t the only coincidences.

  8. Sandeep Post author

    Man On Verge Of Self-Realization Instead Turns To God

    AUSTIN, TX—A major existential breakthrough was averted Friday when, moments before he had a realization of monumental personal significance, 29-year-old local resident Darrell Gatsas instead turned to God. “He was so, so close to discovering something truly fundamental about himself and his place in the universe, but nope—he went with God,” close friend Peter Rankin, 27, said. “For a second there it seemed like he was going to seriously consider the cause-and-effect relationship of his own actions and elevate himself to a new level of compassion and understanding, but then he suddenly changed course and asked God to swoop in and fix everything.” Reached for comment, God chuckled to reporters that Gatsas is, indeed, a real piece of work.,28507/

    1. Sandeep

      Some more satire from the Onion

      God Distances Self From Christian Right

      “Many people hear my name in connection with the Christian Right and start to assume we are somehow aligned in some capacity, and I’m hear to say, for the record, that we are not,” God continued. “So let me just be clear: I don’t want women to get raped; not ever. I don’t think their resulting pregnancies are my divine will. And if a woman is raped, then she has the right to get an abortion, period. I do not agree with Mourdock. I do not agree with the Christian Right. End of story.”


      “What these people are saying betrays a worldview that is, frankly, completely different from my own, and it embarrases me to even hear my name mentioned alongside theirs,” God told reporters, emphatically. “For example, I’m not into capital punishment at all, or really killing in general, so I’m not sure where that whole talking point came from. On the same token, I don’t like guns very much, and I certainly wouldn’t say that everyone has a right to own guns—that’s absurd. Unlike Mr. Mourdock and many Christian Republicans, I agree with the overwhelming majority of climate scientists that global warming poses a major threat to the planet which must be addressed. I also believe stem cell research is very useful, and I think that if you’re gay, that’s fine by me.”


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  11. Sandeep Post author

    Why Are Religious People (Generally) Less Intelligent?

    1. Intelligent people are generally more analytical and data-driven; formal religions are the antithesis
    2. Intelligent people are less likely to conform, and, in most societies, religiosity is closer to the norm than atheism is.
    3. Intelligence and religiosity are “functionally equivalent”, which means that they fulfil the same psychological role.

    To read more, see

    1. mwb6119

      Leaves me to wonder who this article is testing. For instance, I am (predominately) a kinesthetic learner. …I was forced through an educational system designed for intellectuals, and, I was told I was dumb because I could not meet their high intellectual standards. [Elementary, Middle and High Schools, College and Higher Education (MA) treated me all the same] And I did not go deeper into mysticism until 27/8 years old. … It is a very sad state of affairs.

      1. Sandeep Post author

        The article wasn’t intended for you 🙂

        I think the emotional personality of the individual probably plays a greater role than mental intelligence in determining why some people turn believers in rigid dogmas.

      2. mwb6119

        Thanks for the kind response Sandeep. … I cannot know something until I sense it in my body. Only thereafter am I confident about a topic. And this process can take many years to achieve results.

        “I think the emotional personality of the individual probably plays a greater role than mental intelligence in determining why some people turn believers in rigid dogmas.”

        Perhaps I will prove this someday. 🙂 Thank You!
        I know that I was born this way. Perhaps choose this body for a reason I cannot presently fathom.

  12. Sandeep Post author

    Similarities between science and religion

    Dr (Potkettle) Black (of the Federation for Furthering Science) was keen to emphasise that similarities between scientific and religious types.

    “Many Christians believe that God is some bearded man with unfathomable dominance over everything, who can change lives on a whim and expects only unquestioning subservience. Well, that sounds just like the professor who supervised my PhD”.

    Dr Black was then informed that some people actually view God as a vengeful, wrathful figure who will not tolerate disobedience or criticism and insists on destruction of any potential rivals, to which she replied “Yes, that’s my professor. You’ve met him, have you?”

    1. mwb6119

      “Many Christians believe that God is some bearded man…”

      I found this recently, how it appears in similarity with “God is some bearded man…”

      “SRI AUROBINDO: As they say in the Upanishad, the Supreme Being with the golden beard, etc.”


      1. Sandeep Post author

        I don’t recall seeing any verse in the Upanishads which speaks of a “Supreme Being with the golden beard”. So this is a probably a typo or incorrect transcription

  13. mike

    Sandeep, l think mark might be referring to the Chandogya Upanishad.

    “The Chhāṇdogya Upanishad begins with a discussion of the Udgītha. The Udgītha is a hymn of the Sāma Veda sung by the Udgātri priest during a sacrifice, as a part of that sacrifice. It begins with Om, which, too, is called the Udgītha.
    The golden person, with golden beard and golden hair, seen by the yogis as dwelling in the solar orb is the same as the Udgītha; likewise the person seen in the eye. The former represents the Supreme Self, and the latter, the individual self; they are identical. The gist of the two chapters is that one should meditate on the identity of the Udgītha (Om), the Supreme Self, and the individual self; through this meditation one obtains the fulfilment of all desires.”

    1. Sandeep Post author

      thanks for the reference. Will look it up later. It seems to refer to Atidhanvan-Sanaka. The Supreme expounded in the Upanishads is definitely not the “Old Man with the Beard”-type picture of God painted by the Abrahamic religions.

      1. mw

        Thanks Sandeep/Mike…agreed, it just appeared similar at the moment. There’s no need for further inquiry on my part – I’m satisfied with your efforts.

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