by Patrick Horn (“Rishi”)
Religion is etymologically related to the Latin word religare, “to bind.” This is similar to the older Sanskrit word yoga, “to yoke.” Both words imply union. Religion, when it is pure, is the quest for transcendence of limited embodiment and absorption in the freedom, joy, and peace of absolute Existence.
Swami Vivekananda suggests that religion originated from 1) ancestor worship, which is the attempt to extend the life of a body after death, and also from 2) awe of the natural world. In the former, the idea of a soul separate from the life of the body is inferred from the dream-state; it was assumed that if the mind is active while the body is inert, then something lives through the body that is not dependent on the body and therefore immortal. The latter idea, of nature worship, when explicated further, explains the birth of various traditions as Truth was transmitted from India into China, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, Jewish mysticism, and the Roman Initiatory Schools that became Christianity.
The ancient seers of all traditions made observations of the natural world, from which they inferred universal principles of number, geometry, astronomy, and the cycles of fertility and farming. They discovered minerals and plants for food and medicine, attained mastery over animals, and learned the secrets of human psychology. They protected and preserved this information in myth and symbols. This was necessary for several reasons. First, philosophy is too abstract for most people. They are entangled in sense perception and need concrete examples based on common experience to grasp ideals of human perfection and divinity. Thus, concepts and patterns were translated into stories inspired by the movements and correspondences of the stars and other environmental and anthropological phenomena. Second, the information was dangerous. As the foundation of civilization (influencing and in turn influenced by: economics, politics, science, and art), those who acquired it gained serious power. Consequently, extreme caution was taken to both defend it from those who lacked the virtue to apply it righteously, and moreover, guard the social order against enemies and corruption. It was transferred to writing because a) premature deaths of Masters caused much loss of knowledge, b) worthy successors were not always easily found, and c) the coded hoax could survive persecution and war and serve as a test for aspirants.
In addition to ritual symbolism and myths describing universal principles of number, geometry, astronomy, cycles of fertility and farming, and psychology, each religious tradition shares the idea of the omnipresent Being: an infinite, undivided, unchanging Reality not obvious to the senses but accessible to the intuition and known by analogy. This is the Source and End of all creation, the Essence and Sustenance of all creatures, and the basis for morality and ethics. All forms are interdependent, as a point with no dimension gains dimension through relation to another point. Out of mutual arising come obligations and duties.