16.17 – Is our religion a sanctuary for the soul or a gymnasium for the ego?
“My home altar is more elegant than that of others.” “I pronounce verses more accurately than others.” “I give more donation than others.” Such thoughts sometimes come to us when we engage in religious activities.
These thoughts if entertained distort religion into a gymnasium for the ego. Just as a gym is an arena for muscle-building activities, these thoughts reduce religion into an arena for ego-building activities. The Bhagavad-gita cautions us against such misappropriation of religious practices for ulterior motives. It (16.17) asserts that ungodly people do religious activities for the sake of the ego, for exhibiting their religiosity to the world and thereby garnering prestige among the pious-minded.
We as spiritual seekers will not consciously or intentionally misappropriate religion thus, but subconsciously or unintentionally we may become misled in that direction if we let the competitive mentality become the primary driving force for our religion.
The real purpose of religion is to offer a sanctuary for the soul – an arena for experiencing and relishing spiritual truths like our true identity as souls, the glory and beauty of Krishna, the safety and sweetness of remembering and serving him. The various rituals and practices that comprise religion provide us templates for doing physical activities that aid in awakening our spiritual sensibility.
As we are habituated to focusing on visible material things, not invisible spiritual things, we tend to get caught in the material aspects of religious rituals and overlook their purpose.
To avoid this pitfall, we need to study scripture regularly for reminding ourselves of the purpose of religion and of life at large. By integrating this reminder into our religious practice, we can experience the supreme gift of religion: love for Krishna, leading thereby to everlasting fulfillment.