What is Religion? – The Indian Answer

What is Religion ?

Different people think different things about religion and spirituality. As understood in India, what religion is can be put, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, as below.

Each soul is potentially divine.
The goal is to manifest this Divinity within,
by controlling nature, external and internal.

Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic
control, or philosophy — by one, or more, or
all of these — and BE FREE.

This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or
dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or
forms are but secondary details.

(From commentary on Patanjali Yoga Sutras II.25)

Explanation of terms …


A soul is a self-conscious being with a past and a present. A soul might or might not have a physical body.


By divine, we mean the following —

  • Absolute (Eternal) Existence
  • Absolute Knowledge
  • Absolute Bliss
  • Absolute Freedom


Nature is anything other than the Self. Anything objectifiable — anything which can be referred to as “This is (my) _____” is a part of Nature. This includes the physical universe, the body, the mind, the intellect, the ego.

external and internal

The mind, intellect and ego are internal. The body and the physical universe are external.


To “control” is to “be free from the influence of”.


This constitutes Karma Yoga — the path of selfless work.

    Prerequisite — capacity to work
    Quality to be developed — selflessness
    Pitfall — attachment to results


This constitutes Bhakti Yoga — the path of devotion.

    Prerequisite — capacity to feel emotionally
    Quality to be developed — control of emotions
    Pitfall — sentimentalism

psychic control

This constitutes Raja Yoga — the path of concentration.

    Prerequisite — concentration of mind
    Quality to be developed — will power
    Pitfall — supernatural powers


This constitutes Jnana Yoga — the path of knowledge.

    Prerequisite — sharp intellect
    Quality to be developed — self-enquiry
    Pitfall — dry logic (intellectual gymnastics)

… by one or more, or all of these …

The core of every religion is a combination of the four paths. Depending on the capability of the person, he/she can pick up one or more of them.

Be Free

This is the goal — to be free from all attachments.


Every religion has a “model” of man, world and God. These are the assumptions on which the practical religion is based on.


Every religion has a set of beliefs. It is a place to start. Later, at advanced stages, all beliefs have to be understood. Dogmas are only for beginners.


Every religion has a set of rituals and regulations to be followed. These are mainly to develop the prerequisites and the desired qualities for a person following the particular path; no further.


Almost every well established religion has a book. These are guidelines given by people who have tread the path before.


These are places exclusively meant for practice of the religion. These are aids to put the person into the grove. Practice of religion must carried out everywhere.


These are aids for the mind to concentrate on the goal. Forms are meant to remind the person of God; no further.

In the words of Swami Vivekananda,

Religion is the Eternal Relationship between the Eternal Soul and
the Eternal God.

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