Inherited vs. Mind Awakening Religion

My assignment for this week’s class on religion and peacebuilding was to  read an article by Antony Fernando titled “The Contemporary Need for a way of Teaching Religion That Makes Human Beings More Mature and Humanity More United” which introduced the concept of mind awakening religion.

He made a distinction between two different forms of religion. Not different religions but forms of religion, purposes of religions, or human relationships with religion. In theory, these two typologies of religions are present in most world religions. The first typology of religion he identified is inherited or born into religion. The religion that people are born into, and traditions that they inherit from their parents and their community. Antony Fernando described this as clan protective religion or religion that maintains community identity and social structures. It provides security and connectedness for groups of people through shared rituals, standards of practice, and professions of common faith. These inherited religious systems are deeply rooted in culture and the maintenance of common culture. Fernando argues that missionaries that endeavor to take their religion to other geographies and people groups often carry, transmit, and enforce more of the cultural aspects of their religion than the true spiritual lessons and values of their religion.

While all of these aspects can have can support positive aspects of a healthy functioning community, they can also have negative and marginalizing effects on people with different beliefs or who fail to maintain the standards set by the religion for the community. Clan-protective religion can create an environment where the purity of the community and unfaltering allegiance to the standards of the religion are seen as the non-negotiable status quo. This can result in social exclusion, stigmatization, and expulsion from the community for people who fail to maintain the standards. In extreme cases, this protectionist mindset can lead to violence against individuals or groups that reduce the purity of the community or violate its standards. 

The second type of religion identified by Fernando is a religion of choice, or mind-enlightening or awakened religion. This is characterized by a focus on the inner development of the human race, with a goal to help individuals become internally adult and fully human. Fernando states that mind-enlightening religion focuses on “making individuals mentally mature so that they could be rightly related to everything they are intrinsically related to.” He argues that religion focused on spiritual growth has value to people outside of the organized formal faith structures. 

The article shares an extended quote from renowned Buddhist Monk,  Bhikkhu Buddhadasa of Thailand

There are two languages in religion, Dhamma language, and everyday language. Everyday language is based on physical things and on experiences accessible to the ordinary man . . . .. By contrast, Dhamma language has to do with the mental world, with the intangible non-physical world. Consequently, it is only people who have seen Dhamma the truth, that can speak the Dhamma language, the language of the mental world lying beyond the physical.

In the everyday language of the ordinary man, Nirvana is a place or city. This is because preachers often speak of nirvana. the city of immortality” or “The wonder-city of Nirvana. People hearing this … take it as a place abounding in all sorts of good things, a place where every good wish is fulfilled. In Dhamma language, Nirvana refers to the complete extinction of every kind of defilement and unsatisfactory condition… If defilements have been eradicated completely, it is permanent Nirvana. It is a state which can come about here and now.

Rebirth after death as some kind of lower animal is the everyday meaning of rebirth into the realm of beasts. In Dhamma language, it has a different meaning. At any moment when one is stupid, just like a dumb animal, then at that moment, one is born into the realm of beasts. It happens right here and now. One may be born as a beast many times over in a single day. So, in Dhamma language, birth as a beast means stupidity.

I find incredible similarities between the quote above from Bhikkhu Buddhadasa and the idea of spiritual rebirth in the bible. The quote above also exemplifies the disparity between “clan protective religion,” which focuses on the physical manifestations of religious practice, and the mind-enlightening religion, which focuses on spirituality as a tool for self-improvement and a path toward improving our relationships with people and the world around us. Unfortunately, it often feels like these two typologies of religion function in separate universes, despite being practiced in close proximity to each other. 

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