The Role of Religion in Economic Development

posted on 5 February 2014 | posted in Information

Before elaborating on the role that religion plays in the economic development of a country and why not that of the whole world, I find it extremely important to understand what we mean by religion. If we take religion as it is today, then I observe that it has done more harm than good to the economic development of the world. I will come to this shortly.

The origin of the word religion is religare meaning 'to bind', but I would rather use the word unite. Also, I would use the word spirituality instead of 'religion'. Religion or spirituality is the science and art that teaches man how to get united with the cosmos or with God. It connotes the same meaning as the word yoga. Man is not separate from the cosmos, but due to ignorance and the limitations of his mind, he identifies himself with merely his physical body. This creates the notion of fragmented consciousness or separation from the whole, hence the feeling of 'I, mine and thine."

The other becomes a cause for desire and ambition. Desire brings attraction and repulsion. Since human desires are unlimited and the means with which to satisfy them are limited, frustration, anger, hatred, jealousy, anxiety, depression, greed and lust are born. Duality leads to craving as the mind wants to enjoy the other. In that endeavour, it creates a hell both for itself and others. And society is made up of innumerable minds, thus imagine the conflict and confusion that are created! Present day society bears testimony to this fact.

All the known evils and problems that have ever existed in society have their root in duality. Jean Paul Sartre, the French philosopher, rightly puts it, "The other is hell." In other words, where there is duality, there is hell. The science of religion is meant to dissipate the notion of being separate from God or the cosmos. Then, whether it is devotion, yoga, meditation, tantra, and the science of breathing and so on, all are meant to eliminate our ignorance and to unite us to the whole, hence, the word religare.

How can religion in the above light help economic development and progress? Before going into it, let's see the state of religion in the world. Religion is inexistent today. This statement may take almost everyone by surprise. If religion really existed, then the world would be a much better place, not to say a paradise. What we have nowadays is the distorted version, I would even say relics, of religion.

fast paced world

Religion has to do with the heart and mind of people, with their health. Living in harmony with the laws of nature is to be religious. Oneness with life is the first true sign of being religious. The outcome of that sublime state of consciousness is inner peace, love, bliss, eternal life and the spontaneous overflow of virtues. But what do we find today? Confusion, conflict, pandemonium, violence, greed, lust, selfishness, hatred, jealousy, fanaticism, exploitation, poverty and so on and so forth. And this, despite the fact that we have countless churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship!

Religion has been reduced to a set of beliefs, dos and don'ts, rites and rituals, commandments and books that people blindly follow. How can these make people's hearts and minds change? How can a person who is ignorant about himself become a virtuous, loving, peaceful, creative and responsible citizen? In the absence of the above, can there be economic progress? This comes when people are selfless, creative, dynamic and intelligent. Non-religious people always think for their own selfish motives, not for the progress of the nation; they think in terms of race, caste, community or family. Can division help in increasing the production of goods and services? To produce more and of a better quality, to be creative and satisfied, one needs to be at peace with himself and others. And here I mean that workers should be well-paid, well-treated and have a convenient work environment.

It has been said that united we stand, divided we fall! Who is ready to unite these days? Can't we see that things are falling apart everywhere? Is it not because we are very much divided, because we don't live as one family? Economic development takes place when there is trust, peace, harmony, love, political stability, mutual respect and professionalism. All these are born out of intelligence. By intelligence, I do not mean only academic formation, but primarily self-education. Corruption, absence of meritocracy, redtapism, selfishness, laziness and absence of creativity are the main causes of economic impediment. These can be eliminated by a transformed mind and a heart full of love, purity and compassion. Religion or spirituality is the only means to produce such an individual.
It has also been said that nature has enough for every man's need, not for everyone's greed. Today people have become so greedy that they have plundered and destroyed much of our natural resources. Consequently many countries are suffering from lack of food, energy and natural resources, thus leading to poverty. Greed can only be eliminated by religious or spiritual practices. Simple living can come only from balanced way of life, treading the middle path and avoiding excesses, thus from a religious mind.

Another factor that causes economic drawback is overpopulation. The more people we have, the more difficult it becomes to feed them, to provide for material comfort, to find jobs and housing space. And the more we will have to take from nature because we will have to produce more of everything. A small family is happier than a big one in many respects. But it is not always easy to make people understand that the aim of human existence is not only producing children and spending one's whole life, energy and intelligence to grow them up. Only a religious mind can understand that, hence my emphasis on religion. However, religion should be practised as an alchemy. It should be meant to change people's negative attitude and mentality. Merely accumulating religious knowledge will not lead to that.

A trustful and sane atmosphere can enhance the producing capacity of an individual, this is my firm conviction. A really religious person is religious everywhere. For him alone, duty becomes God and work is worship. However, any employer or the government should not expect employees to have such virtues solely for the purpose of producing more, without themselves possessing truly religious attitudes. That should be a corporate affair.

The world is a big family and we are all children of the one God (or cosmos for non-believers). Therefore what should concern us more is the progress of the whole world, not only ours. The end of economic progress is a sound material base so that the individual can evolve and flourish mentally and emotionally. Today that is far from being the case. Economic progress should be for the individual, not vice versa. What is the use of wealth or affluence if the individual does not know love, peace, freedom and bliss? We should have these in mind, then economic progress will become easy and attainable. It should be a means to a higher end that can be reached through religion (spirituality). Once we know the end, then the means becomes justified. And the means towards such a lofty end will automatically build a better human being. With intelligent, creative, honest and peaceful people, economic progress becomes inevitable.

By Swami Paramananda