“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)
What is religion? Is there a way to properly define it? Is one better than another? People kill in the name of religion, after all. They apply dogmatic insistence to prevent members from exploring, from asking too many questions.
In the Vedic tradition the closest equivalent term for religion is dharma. The root meaning to this Sanskrit word is “essential characteristic.” That definition then extends to procedures and guidelines followed to maintain the essential characteristic of the individual, who is spirit soul at the core. Dharma thus also gets translated as “virtue” and “duty.”
Due to time and circumstance, the practice of dharma is not always the same. In some situations, the people are not ready to hear about the difference between matter and spirit and the true purpose to an existence. Reform is first required.
Regardless of how it is practiced, certain qualities should result from following religion. The presence of those qualities affirms the validity of the path followed.
The Sanskrit word is tapasya. Human life is meant for austerity. Look around today and you would never know it. The motto seems to be the opposite. Enjoy as much as you can. Spend years and years in research to create technology to increase the comforts of man. Worry solely about prolonging life to the greatest extent, so that eating, sleeping, mating and defending can reach the maximum.
Austerity is unique to the human species. There is a benefit to it. Through self-control, man actually finds increased happiness. The truth has to be experienced to be fully believed. Every religion has some guidelines for austerity. For instance, restrictions on eating and the marriage institution are described in religious texts for no other reason than austerity.
This applies both externally and internally. If a public figure gets caught in a profanity-laced tirade, there is a negative reaction. Those words are unclean. The person speaking them is obviously disturbed in some way in the mind. Their consciousness isn’t clean.
The benefits of external cleanliness are well-known. You show up to a job interview wearing nice clothes. You don’t go there right out of bed. You dress up for an awards show ceremony. You take showers every day in order to maintain a good appearance. By staying clean on the outside, you feel a little better on the inside. There is the famous saying that cleanliness is next to godliness.
Honesty is the best policy. Truth. Trust. These accompany honesty. In most situations, telling the truth is the right thing to do. If I am honest with others, they will be honest with me. I benefit from the honesty of others. For instance, if the train is slated to go to Chicago, I trust the operators will do as they promised. If they take me to New York instead, obviously I will not be pleased.
A religious person should be honest. This is to be expected if they know something about the Divine. Dishonesty is the policy of the rogues and thieves, who have no use for religion.
Compassion is the result of properly understanding others. Empathy is an accompanying characteristic. A religious person should have compassion for all creatures, since it is understood that everything comes from God. Even though fish eat other fish and animals prey on other animals, for the human being blessed with greater discrimination, there is no reason to intentionally cause harm to any creature. Life can be maintained through simple eating. Even when fighting in a war to protect the innocent from aggressors, there is still compassion for the other side. A religious person understands the struggle that every person in the material world undergoes.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)
5. Love of God
This is the most important quality. When there is love for God, then the religion is bona fide. Otherwise, dharma is incomplete. If we don’t love God, we have to take rebirth, in some form. If we have the aforementioned qualities from following religion, at the very least we get awarded birth in the heavenly region. There we get to enjoy to a great extent for a very long time.
Still, such a reward is material. Eventually there will be a return to the material world, where religion will have to be found and followed again. The same qualities will need to emerge; hopefully this time with the addition of bhakti.
Bhakti is love for God, and it is so powerful that even if the other qualities are lacking, a person can meet perfection in this lifetime. For this reason the spiritual leaders of the Vedic tradition stress that in this age the highest religion is to simply chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
To others known as honest man,
Compassionate with a nonviolent hand.
Austerity for off attachment to wean,
And both internally and externally clean.
From following religion these qualities four,
Key component, should get one thing more.
Bhakti, deep love for Lord to feel,
Then end of rebirth reward to seal.