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THEISM AS PRACTICAL RELIGION

By Sivanath Sastri

We must bear in mind that modern theism, such as we are preaching in India today, is not merely a philosophical school like the esoteric monotheism of the Upanishads, or the system of Socrates and Plato in Greece, or of the Stoical philosophers of ancient Rome. Not is modern Theistic Church a body for mere theological discussion like the many conflicting schools of darshanas of medieval India, or the theological schools of medieval Christianity. Theism in modern India is a Church, having distinct spiritual aims and practical reformatory principles. It has been inaugurated by God to effect great changes in the moral and spiritual life of the people, nay in the thoughts and practises of the whole human race. To many such a claim would certainly appear to be pretentious. But that seems to be the direction towards which facts and events in the modern world seem to be tending. With the development of science, the comparative study of human institutions, the application of the law of evolution to social life, and the progress of researches into scriptures of different races, men’s eyes are turning to the universal aspects of religion. The days of tribal jealousy, that loved to set up special claims for Divine revelation for special

People, seem to be passing away, bringing on two great changes. First, men are being daily convinced that religion is as fundamental a fact of human nature as any other natural endowment of that nature; secondly that it is not only local and national, but also its universal aspects. Men in their ignorance and short-sightedness have been fighting so long principally for the local aspects of religion, for their special tribal inheritances of doctrines and practices, forgetting all the while the universal principles which, properly speaking, form the spiritual element in all religions. A change is at least coming. Time has come for accentuating those universal aspects, and to lay insistence on spirituality based on perfect freedom of the human soul-a mission to which the Theistic Church of modern India is devoting itself. Its mission work, therefore, is not confined to India alone, but extends over the whole world.

Let us try to realize what are those practical reformatory principles, to which the modern theistic Church must address itself to be able to fulfil the great mission to which Providence has called it. The first thing noticeable in that connection is the fact this modern theism of ours is essentially different from the old monotheism of the Jnana school of this country in one important point. The old theism of ancient India, ordinarily known as Vedantism, and subsequently into pantheism by Sankaracharya, was essentially anti-social, Its philosophy turned upon an analytical process of reasoning which looked upon the world with all its relations as a delusion and a snare. Accordingly it laid very great insistence upon detachment from the world as the most effective means of attaining spiritual perfection. Such teachings naturally led to mendicancy with which this country of ours is so rife. Thus were the most spiritually disposed persons of the nation drawn away from society, thereby depriving men of their personal influence and example.

The theism we profess today is not that antisocial philosophy. It rests upon the belief in Divine Providence, – on the idea that human society with all its relations and duties is an ordination of the Supreme Being for the education and perfection of the human soul. That being our conviction we are bound to society as to a Dispensation of God, and look upon its multiform interests, occupations and duties as sacred. We look upon righteousness, or the law of moral government ruling over human life, as an essential condition of the peace and progress of that society. Religion to us has two sides,- spiritual and social. On the spiritual side we are related to the Spirit, holding loving communion with Him, and drawing our spiritual sustenance from such communion; on the social side we are related to our fellow-beings, giving them their due, and loving and serving them in the best way we can.

To be continued…

Presidential address of Pandit S. N. Sastri at the Theistic Conference held at Allahabad on the 25th December, 1910.

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