Q.: What is the place of rituals in the religious life of an individual? Do they, for example, has any influence in the sense of right and wrong? Is it imperative that he believe in God in order to be virtuous? Is a good man necessarily a religious man? I am particularly interested in Your Holiness’s views on the relation between religion and morality, between fear of God and love of humanity. Even dacoits and debauchees invoke the blessings of their favourite deities in order to be successful in their anti-social activities.
H.H.: Rituals of course are not essential for one’s inner realisation. But then it all depends on the spiritual stature of a particular individual. It is desirable that the ordinary devotee observe all the prescribed rituals as scrupulously as possible. For they enable him to achieve one-pointedness, if not anything else. Concentration, discipline, will-power, austerity: all these provide the necessary base for one’s spiritual experience. Religion and morality are not interdependent. The Buddha and Mahavira were non-believers, but they followed the path of virtue and righteousness. Even within the Vedic fold we have atheists-the exponents of the Samkhya philosophy. The Samkhyas were concerned more with karma than with the concept of God. Perfect morality is possible only when an individual has an ideal before him. He surrenders himself to that ideal and then begins the transformation of his life.
God represents the conventional goal of one’s inner struggle. There have been more saints in India than in any other country. Just think of the richness of our religious literature. Man cannot serve as man’s ideal because of his imperfections. Naturally, he turns into a superior force in the interests of his moral uplift and spiritual advancement. The Buddha preached the ideal of Ahimsa which, in effect, replaced God. But what do we see in all Buddhist countries today? Non-vegetarianism in its most disagreeable forms. The people there perhaps do not slaughter animals, because they wish to observe the law of Ahimsa in letter, if not in spirit. But they can import butchers from our East Coast, you see. Without a perfect ideal before him, such as God, man cannot achieve moral perfection. For a nation, if not for an individual, God as an ideal is absolutely necessary. The two types of anti-social characters you mention are like the present-day Buddhists. For the results that follow an individual’s failure in his spiritual struggle, we have to blame, not the ideal before him, but his own human imperfections.