WHY IS IT THAT WESTERN SOCIETIES ARE BECOMING SO INTERESTED IN INDIAN RELIGION NOW?
I consider religion to be the last luxury. Only when a society becomes affluent does religion become meaningful. And now, for the first time, a greater part of the world is not poor. America in particular is the first society in human history to reach such affluence. To be religious, or to be interested in the ultimate questions of life, one needs to have really fulfilled all the lower wants and needs. So to me, a poor society cannot be religious. India was religious only when it was at a peak of affluence. For example, in Buddha’s time India was just like America is today. In those days India was the richest land. The religion that we have in India today is just a leftover from those days.
There is a basic difference between a poor man’s religion and a rich man’s religion. If a poor man becomes interested in religion it will be just as a substitute. Even if he prays to God he will be praying for economic goods; the basic problem of man will not yet have arisen for him. So Marx is right in a way when he says that religion is the opium of the people. He is exactly right about poor people: they cannot get the basic needs of life fulfilled, so they substitute prayer and meditation and Yoga and religion. But for a rich man there is a basic change of dimension. Now he is not asking for economic goods, he is asking for the meaning of life.
Krishna, Mahavira, Buddha, the twenty-four tirthankaras of the Jainas, and the twenty-four avatars of the Hindus were all rich people: royally born, sons of kings. India has not had one avatar who was a poor man.
The question concerns society, not individual mystics. What I am saying is that a poor man can become a mystic, but a poor society cannot become religious. A rich man is not necessarily religious, but a rich society will become hungry for religion. The moment a society becomes rich, new problems arise. These problems are not concerned with physical bodies and physical needs; they are more psychological.
If a poor man falls ill the illness is more or less concerned with the body. If a rich man falls ill the illness is more or less concerned with the mind. America needs more and more psychologists and psychoanalysis now because now the greatest number of madmen exist in America. American psychologists say that at least three out of four people are off the rails, not normal.
Your mind’s needs arise for the first time when your bodily needs are fulfilled. And religion is a need of the mind, not a body need. That is why animals can live without religion, but man cannot — the mind has come in.
When you are rich, ninety-nine percent of your concern is diverted to the mind. A rich individual may not be religious and a poor individual may be religious, but a poor society as a whole can have religion only as a substitute for economic wealth. Its prayer is not authentic because its prayer tries to demand, to get something.
America is going to become very important and meaningful as far as religion is concerned — America and all the countries that are becoming richer and richer each day. In the coming days communism will be significant in poor countries and religion will be significant in rich countries. There is no future for religion in poor countries. Within the next twenty years they are all going to turn to communism.
Q. IS IT RIGHT TO DELEGATE RELIGION ONLY TO THE RICH?
It is not a question of right and wrong for me, it is a question of what the correct situation is. A person who is ill will go to the hospital and a person who is not ill will not go. So a poor country is bound to be attracted by communism. That is just the flow of history — in a way it is inevitable. In the same way a rich country is bound to be attracted by religion.
In Russia, things have changed within the last ten or fifteen years. Now they have the greatest number of research scientists working on research projects in parapsychology in the whole world. And their findings are miraculous!
So it is not a question of right and wrong, it is just the way that history moves. In the long run communism does bring a certain affluence; then religion can become meaningful.
[The Great Challenge; Chapter 6 – Religion: The last luxury ]