18.66 – Religion is meant for God; God is not meant for religion

by March 22, 2013

Some exclusivist religions claim that no one can access God except through them.

Such reduction of God to a monopolized commodity in the religious market is thoroughly rejected by Gita wisdom. The Bhagavad-gita (18.66) expresses this rejection in the most dramatic and emphatic way: by urging us to abandon all religions for the sake of surrendering to God.

What does this astonishing call to abandon religion imply? That we become irreligious? Not at all, as is evident from the preceding verse (18.65) that urges us to worship God and offer homage to him – activities that are universally considered religious. This context illumines the Gita’s stress: not to reject religion per se, but to focus unwaveringly on God, the essence and purpose of religion. Let’s understand this with an analogy.

Religion is a means to love God, just as a college is a means to get educated. For gaining education, a college – or some equivalent educational medium – is vital and even indispensable. Yet gaining the rubber-stamped membership of a specific college doesn’t automatically make us educated. That happens only when we use the facilities provided by an authentic college and apply ourselves to studying.

Similarly, for loving God, religion – or some equivalent self-transformational medium that provides rituals, forums and scriptures for cultivating devotion – is vital and even indispensable. Yet gaining the ritual-stamped membership of a specific religion doesn’t automatically make us lovers of God. That happens only when we use the facilities provided by an authentic religion and apply ourselves to cultivating love for God.

This verse’s call reminds us that God stands above and beyond the religions that we dedicate to him. Not merely through religious affiliation, but through the humility, sincerity and intensity of our devotion that we express through religion do we attain God.

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