3 The Origin of Religion
The first proto-human beings walked upright as far back as six million years ago; that is, man walked on his two hind limbs instead of on all fours, as his ancestors had. Religion, however, came into being less than ten thousand years ago. Hindu Rishis even so had an ingenuous approach toward religion, or dharma, as they would call it. They conceived that when a thing or being is created, its dharma is imbedded in it. For example, the dharma of fire is to burn. Hindu sages then meditated long to discover the dharma of man–manav dharma. They conceived dharma as the inherent duty in accordance with the laws of the cosmos. Dharma has been described as God’s divine law to steer people on righteous path.
Evidence of proto-religious activity in the form of rituals, though, probably dates back to a much earlier period. In fact, the caveman made his first attempt at healing and guiding others possibly as early as one hundred thousand years ago. Before the written word came into existence, all such ideas and activities were passed by word of mouth or through cave paintings.
Man’s earliest encounter with religion would have been in the form of viewing natural phenomenon as magical and mystical occurrences. His thinking brain might have posed questions such as “Who brings the sun in the morning?” Man started to attribute superior powers to an unknown command, beyond his strength and energy. He considered the sun, the sky, the fire, the wind, and other natural elements as gods, the supreme authorities. Man responded with many thoughtful reactions, and in the process, he built a treasure trove of wisdom to guide him. The earlier tribal groups later merged into larger racial or ethnic divisions. Thinking man gradually understood his humble place in the vast cosmos of God. The Godhood became established. Ancient Hindu sages, much like the saints of other faiths, linked the vast infinite creation of the universe with the Creator! As man was searching for God, the supreme power above everything, he visualized God in different forms in different places. Thus evolved many different religions; each with its own set of rules and regulations. In this diversity, however, there would also be a factor of unity. All religions professed faith. All religions accepted the invisible supreme power of God Almighty. All religions also advocated that man should live a life of virtue and morality, while abandoning vices and selfishness. In all religions there would be God incarnations, messiahs, or simply godly or divine persons, who would lead others on the path of spirituality and divinity. Religion and spirituality would teach man to give more than to take; to help and care for others; to love and nurture the beings and non-beings. These divine qualities would also usher in the progress and prosperity of human civilization; without these special qualities, there would be no real progress. Man would be like a lower animal! In all religions, there also would be an element of mysticism; religion is not exactly like science. All religions function by the element of faith; one person’s utter faith may appear blind faith to the other person! We may also not comprehend all the infinite nature of God and religion. Scientists in some places are now searching for more concrete evidence about the religious developments. Some believe that the humans may have been hardwired by evolutionary forces to believe in God. “God” gene too has been named!
God also created in man the fountain of inner joy, within his own self. Whenever man did a righteous or virtuous act, he would feel peace and bliss. In the long voyage of religious evolution, this fountain of joy would sustain and inspire him more than any material thing ever could do. Indeed, it would be the search for this bliss, or ananda, as it is described in Hindu philosophy that would keep people on this path in the face of the most severe obstacles. God endowed man not only with a physical body, mind, and intellect but also with a higher faculty, the spiritual soul. As man advanced in his evolution, he became gradually more mind oriented than body oriented. Later, he would reach for higher peaks of growth. He would become more spiritual in nature. He would imbibe the spiritual or divine qualities. He would be a loving, nurturing, forgiving, and helping creature. He would do all these things, of which the lower creatures are not capable. He would eventually find the treasure of inner joy, irrespective of whatever the outward conditions of his body might be. He would be beyond the pain and sorrow of the physical and the mental worlds. He would see God in all beings, and he would be blessed with eternal joy!
***Said Dalai Lama, “Relying on the dharma (religion), we will be able to generate happiness and eliminate suffering.”4 Simply put, religion enhances the quality and merit in all our deeds, and in the process creates more success and joy in our lives. In human history, religion became the great unifying force of culture and the guardian of tradition.
The Hindu concept of evolution goes beyond the bonds of the modern scientific concept. Science recognizes “human intellect” as the highest potential whereas the concept of “Higher or Spiritual Consciousness” as perceived by Hindu theology identifies the soul qualities of “virtue” and “divinity” as the highest stage of human development. All religions have similar codes about moral and virtuous values. Hindu theology urges all humans to strive for that higher goal through eons of life cycles, to fruitfully accomplish their evolutionary soul journey till they attain full transcendental maturity.