16. “I see religion causes more problems.”

Recent world events have compounded apprehensions about the social implications of religious belief. While governments grapple with the problem of terrorism, the growing opposition to religion becomes strikingly apparent. As a travelling monk, I’m often drawn into heated debates over the link between religion and war. To complicate matters further, the Bhagavad-Gita is spoken at the onset of fratricidal battle, and Krishna is the one encouraging Arjuna to fight! Does the Bhagavad-Gita promote bloodshed and violence? Do spiritualists in this tradition secretly believe that aggression, hostility and the killing of innocent people are necessary for ‘religious revolution’? Wouldn’t the world be a more peaceful place without religion?
As a guardian of society, Arjuna was duty-bound to safeguard law and order. In this case, his non-violence had to be expressed through confrontational means. To passively withdraw would be to neglect those who required his care and protection. Such strong action is neither taken whimsically, nor for the sake of selfish gain, and never with a mood of bitterness, hatred or envy. It was the last resort, and even when the battle commenced, it was fought between consenting parties who honoured strict moral and ethical codes of warfare. Before drawing any parallels between the Battle of Kuruksetra and modern day conflicts, we have to understand the historical, cultural and social context of each situation.
Violence has touched every part of the world, religious or otherwise. In fact, the most destructive wars were driven by secular, political or economic reasons. Admittedly, however, religion can become dogmatic and decadent, manipulated to fuel war, violence and friction in the world. True religion should give birth to genuine spiritualists who hold sacred reverence for life - respect, contentment, humility and tolerance are the cardinal principles they live by.
In Chapter Sixteen, Krishna discusses divine and demoniac tendencies, and identifies the root cause of unrest in society. When people embrace the idea that the world is unreal, with no God in control (asatyam anisvaram), and that it appears from a random interaction of nature (kama-haitukam), they pave the path toward destruction. By removing God from the picture they become lost to themselves, unaware of their spiritual identity (nastatmano). In such ignorance they can’t truly perceive the equality of all living beings, and thus engage in unbeneficial, destructive work (ugra karma) meant to ruin the world (ksayaya jagat). It’s not a pretty picture.
Far from fuelling the problem, pure spirituality is the only real solution. Ignorance plus money equals corruption. Ignorance plus power equals dictatorship. Ignorance plus freedom equals anarchy. Ignorance plus religion equals terrorism. You’ll notice the common element in every equation - ignorance. The problem is not the thing, but the ignorance which causes people to misuse that thing. Despite the disturbances caused by inauthentic, misguided religionists, we should be careful not to dismiss religion in its entirety. The greatest need in today’s world is genuine spiritualists who embody genuine purity. This is the only hope for bringing people together in an otherwise disunited and disharmonious world.

“They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust. Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.” (Bhagavad-Gita 16.8-9)


16.9 – The destructive effects of atheistic philosophy.