88 QUESTION: Could you explain what true religion is, as compared to the wrong attitude? Where does belief in God come in if you don’t feel he is a help? I just don’t quite follow this.
ANSWER: You will feel that God is a help when you come to true religion after abandoning the crutch, but in a completely different sense. Now you need God’s help because you make yourself helpless. Then you will feel God’s help because you will perceive the perfection of the universe and its laws, of which you are an integral, contributing part. You will feel that you are the driving force of your life. You can help yourself if you really want to, if you are ready to sacrifice something.
Let us say you want happiness in a certain direction – and this is not some vague feeling, but a clearly defined goal. You will seek and find how you have prevented this happiness so far, and what you can now do to obtain it by your own endeavors. You will understand what this demands of you, and it will be up to you either to fulfill these demands because you decide they are worthwhile, or abstain from them. But there will not be a gnawing feeling in your soul that you are a neglected and unjustly treated child.
True religion is spiritual and emotional maturity. God’s role is not to provide you with things you do not wish to obtain for yourself. But the God-consciousness will reveal to you that his world is wonderful and that you have much more power than you have yet realized, if only you set it in motion by removing your own obstacles to fulfillment.
The false religious attitude arises when you ask God to help you overcome a hardship in your life and then you sit down and wait. You do not examine sufficiently why you have this hardship. You may do so peremptorily, because someone else in authority has told you to do so.
But even while you attempt this examination, you tend to try to prove that you have nothing to do with the hardship. It has just fallen upon you undeservedly, and there is no way of getting out of it unless God intervenes with an act of grace. You do not muster the inner will and stamina to find how you can really get what you want out of your own creativity.
God is in you. The divine forces are in you if you mobilize them, rather than wait for them to come in from the outside. And the mobilization of these forces can happen only if you let go of some damaging attitude, something destructive that, again, is up to you to find. The strength and security coming from this attitude will give you an entirely different relationship to God, as well as an entirely different God-concept. Emotionally, the words may often remain the same, but the concept and the inner climate will be different.
The words are often the same for both true and false religion, but the inner experience is entirely different. Both the false and the true religions say that God’s grace exists. Even though you are on your own, the grace still exists. But this understanding will not come until you assume responsibility for yourself. As long as you expect God’s grace to make up for your human laziness and greed, you must be disappointed, whether or not you admit this to yourself.
So you become hurt and angry and rebellious. You then either turn away from God altogether, denying his very existence in the universe, or you consider yourself an isolated case of neglect, partly unworthy of his grace and help and partly unjustly treated. So you wallow in guilt and self-pity. This makes you more dependent and helpless – and so the vicious circle continues in atoning for your rebellion against God by appeasing him even more with fearful obedience that is entirely on the surface and caused by the sickest motivations.
QUESTION: I understand. But how can we go about it? This God-image is so embedded in us after so many decades of learning the false attitude. Wouldn’t prayer change too if we discarded this concept? Wouldn’t everything change?
ANSWER: Yes, of course. But you see, my child, you cannot say, “Now I will discard my God-image.” [Lecture #52 The God Image] It is not something you can simply decide in your mind. It does not work that way. Its emotional impact would remain if you tried to change it by a mere outer decision. In order to make an inner decision, the procedure has to be the same it has always been in this work.
Find these attitudes and understand them more fully. If this is done deeply, not just superficially, you will all be surprised to find how far you have gone to forcefully perpetuate infancy. Once you analyze and understand certain emotional behavior patterns, you will realize how preposterous they are; how incompatible with your conscious belief; how contrary to your own best interests; how logically impossible.
After seeing and understanding all this, the change happens organically, by itself, as it were. A certain period of self-observation is necessary in order to gain full insight and then be able to change.
You must find these subtle and unobtrusive emotional reactions. They are neither obvious nor strong. Nor are they completely unconscious. They are there but they are subtle, and you are so used to them that you do not even see anything amiss. To find them and analyze them is the first step, and then see them in light of this discussion.
This will help to dissolve the God-image because your attitude will naturally change. You will, for instance, find what your expectations really are, how you inwardly complain. You will find what you yourself could do to make these expectations a reality, and you will understand why you have not done so. This should be the procedure.
The very fact that you are aware of this God-image makes you extremely fortunate; many others are not aware of it at all. They are convinced they do not have any distortion in this respect. They do not connect certain emotional reactions with this God-image, with the false religious attitude. They are filled with their conscious right beliefs, while their unconscious concepts are still too far from awareness.
QUESTION: What religion is farthest away from the truth?
ANSWER: One cannot make such a statement. It may be that one religious denomination has more truthful teachings, but another that has fewer may, in its overall attitude, be closer to truth. Apart from being dangerous to draw such comparisons, the question is not important.
QUESTION: One of the last words of Christ was, “Father, Thy will be done.” Taken as an example, this could have meant obedience, or it could have meant freedom.
ANSWER: Exactly. As I said before, the words are often the same. Truth can so easily be misinterpreted because the essence of truth is the willingness and capacity to understand. For example, from what I have discussed tonight, you could easily infer that there can be no grace of God. If you are supposed to be free and independent, where does grace come in? You would not even need it. This is not true. Grace does exist.
But no words can convey the concept of grace unless you have first reached this true inner religious experience. When you no longer need grace as a substitute for your own weakness, when you do not make an asset out of your weakness, then you will become strong. For a while you will live without any understanding of grace, but then the true concept will dawn on you. In other words, this interim state of aloneness must first be experienced. The great mystics designate it as the “dark night of the soul.”
The saying you just mentioned, “Thy will be done,” means, rightly understood, “I let go of my small self-will, of my limited outlook, and I open myself so that the divine can come to me.” It will not come from without but from within, as a deep knowledge and certainty, but only if you will not disassociate yourself from this realization. Experience of unity with the divine can happen only if you learn to let go, if you cease to be rigid.
The false meaning of “Thy will be done” makes humanity seem weak and stupid, so that you need another being to act and decide instead of you. This other being is often a human authority or church authority claiming to act on behalf of God. “Thy will be done” does not mean obedience; it means opening yourself to the fullest possible extent so that the greater wisdom will become a part of you.
QUESTION: From what you say, it becomes clear that religion is a matter of each individual soul developing to its optimum point by way of search and self-realization. The Churches have played a dominant role for many years, however, so it would seem that their function would eventually fall away.
ANSWER: Yes, indeed it will. When more people follow a path of self-recognition, growing and developing their own resources, they will no longer need authority. As for those who are not yet far enough in their development, human law will suffice to protect society from their untamed and destructive impulses. The truly divine can function only in free souls, and this will happen. The whole trend of history points in this direction.