Religious life does not consist in the acceptance of academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies. It is not sentimental adoration or cringing petition. It is not a confession of faith or a vague social idealism. It is spiritual certainty offering us strength and solace in the hour of need and sorrow. It is the conviction that love and justice are at the heart of the universe, that the spirit which gave rise to man will further his perfection. It is the faith which grips us even when we suffer defeat, the assurance that though the waves on the shore may be broken, the ocean conquers nevertheless.
It does not lose heart if the universe seems to be unfriendly; it does not complain even if the very God seems to forsake us. It is so utterly indifferent to what happens to the little self and so completely taken up by the life of spirit.
This is perhaps the significance of Spinoza’s great saying that he who loves God cannot want that God should love him in return. Highest love does not expect any return, reward or recompense. Its satisfaction lies within itself. It asks for no consolation and makes no convenant. It is an utter self-surrender, a pure self-voyaging. It is a deep acceptance of life and death and an unyielding determination to refashion existence in conformity with the dreams of heaven. It works for the welfare of the world, not for the sake of personal gain or private advantage, but because highest love (which is the highest wisdom as well) has for its natural outcome this highest duty. It requires that because it must be so, therefore it shall be so. This is to know and love and serve the highest. This is release from one’s bondage, escape from one’s littleness. This is to have the peace which the world can neither give nor take away.
We cannot reach this ideal of religious life without deep meditation and strenuous self-discipline. The true life of spirit with all is ardours and heroisms is not to be cheaply won.
The unusual gifts of spiritual power come only to those who are given to solitude and self-denial. We should develop the spiritual or transcendental attitude which is the very heart of religion, and in that spirit move and live in the world of life and sense. The Hindu tapasvin or the Christian man of sorrows symbolises the soul of man standing alone, defiant of surrounding circumstances and indifferent to nature. Religious life is a perilous adventure to be carried out on the principle of “die to live.” It is well that it should be so. A heroic temper does not confuse happiness with the mere pursuit of pleasure. We need not be sorry that we do not find ourselves in a world where there are no unfriendly forces to master.
The aim of life is not safety and comfort, but heroism and happiness.The cosmic supplies the conditions by which personalities can be perfected.
Most of us admire self-control on the stage but shrink from it in life.The spirit of Socrates when he drank death enthrals our imagination. He did not weep, he did not sicken, he did not shrink from the death to which he was condemned by his judges.
The crucifixion of Jesus touches our heart.The superiority to fortune of the Hindu saints compels our respect. But we are not prepared to develop the strength of spirit that can say that I shall not surrender my life purpose though it may mean my utter ruin. I may be crossed, thwarted, and defeated outwardly, but all that is nothing when compared to the defeat of spirit.
Those who are anxious for religious life must be prepared to face the tremendous cost of it. Such people will always be a few, but they are the salt of the earth, the savoury remnant.