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The Science of Religion (1924): Chapter 1—The Universality, Necessity, and Oneness of Religion:

The Distinction between Pleasure, Pain, and Bliss: God

First we must know what Religion is, then only can we judge whether it is necessary for all of us to be religious.

Without necessity there is no action. Every action of ours has an end of its own for which we perform it. People of the world act variously to accomplish various ends. There is a multiplicity of ends determining the actions of men in the world.

But is there any common and universal end of all the actions of all the people of the world? Is there any common, highest necessity for all of us which prompts us to all actions? A little analysis of the motives and ends of men’s actions in the world shows that, though there are a thousand and one proximate or immediate ends of men in regard to the particular calling or profession which they take up, the ultimate end which all other ends merely subserve comes to be the avoidance of pain and want and the attainment of permanent Bliss. Whether we can at all permanently avoid pain and want and get Bliss is a separate question, but as a matter of fact, in all our actions, we obviously try to avoid the former and get the latter. Why does a man act as a probationer? Because he wishes to become an expert in a certain business. Why does he engage in that particular business? Because money can be earned therein. why should money be earned at all? Because it will put an end to personal and family wants. Why must wants be fulfilled? Because pain will thereby be removed and Bliss or happiness be gained. As a matter of fact, happiness and Bliss are not the same thing. We all aim at Bliss, but through a great blunder we imagine pleasure and happiness to be Bliss. How that has come to be so will be shown presently. The ultimate motive is really Bliss, which we feel inwardly; but happiness-or pleasure-has taken its place, through our great blunder, and the latter has come to be regarded as the ultimate motive. That this is a perversion will later be obvious, though for convenience these terms may sometimes be here used interchangeably.

Thus we see that the fulfillment of some want, removal of some pain, physical or mental, from the slightest to the acutest, and the attainment of Bliss, form our ultimate end. We can not question further why Bliss is to be gained, for no answer can be given. That is our ultimate end, no matter what we do--enter a business, earn money, seek friends, write books, acquire knowledge, rule kingdoms, donate millions, explore countries, look for fame, help the needy, become philanthropists, or embrace martyrdom. And it will be shown that the seeking of God becomes a real fact to us when that end is kept rigorously in view. Millions may be the steps, myriads may be the intermediate acts and motives; but the ultimate motive is always the same-to attain permanent Bliss, even though it be through a long chain of actions. Man likes to and has to go along the chain to get to the final end. He commits suicide to end some pain, perpetrates murder to get rid of some form of want or pain or some cruel heart-thrust. He thinks he will thereby attain a real satisfaction or relief, which he mistakes for Bliss. But the point to notice is that here, too, is the same working (though wrongly) towards the ultimate end.

Some one may say, "I do not care anything about pleasure or happiness; I live life to accomplish something, to achieve success." Another says: "I want to do good in the world. I do not care whether I am in pain or not." But if you look into the minds of these people also, you will find that there is the same working towards the goal of happiness. Does the first want a success that has in its achievement no pleasure or happiness? Does the second want to do good to others, yet himself get no happiness in doing it? Obviously not. They may not mind a thousand and one physical pains or mental sufferings inflicted by others or arising out of situations incidental to the pursuit of success or the doing of good to others; but because the one finds great satisfaction in success, and the other intensely enjoys the happiness of doing good to others the former seeks success, and the latter others’ good, in spite of minor troubles.

Even the most altruistic motive, the sincerest intention of advancing the good of humanity for its own sake, have sprung from the basic urge for a chastened personal happiness, approaching Bliss. But it is not the happiness of a narrow self-seeker. It is the happiness of a broad seeker of that "pure self" that is in you and me and all. This happiness is Bliss, a little alloyed. So with Pure Bliss as a personal motive for altruistic action, the altruist is not laying himself open to the charge of narrow selfishness, for one can not himself have Pure Bliss unless he is broad enough to wish and seek it for others, too. That is the world law.

So if the motives for the actions of all men are traced further and further back, the ultimate motive will be found to be the same with all-the removal of pain and the attainment of Bliss. This end being universal, it must be looked upon as the most necessary one. And what is: universal and most necessary for man is, of course, religion to him. Hence religion necessarily consists in the permanent removal of pain and the realization of Bliss or God. And the actions which we must adopt for the permanent avoidance of pain and the realization of Bliss or God are called religious. If we understand religion in this way, then its universality becomes obvious. For no one can deny that he wants to avoid pain permanently and attain permanent Bliss. This must be universally admitted, since none can gainsay its truth. Man’s very existence is bound up with it. If he says he does not want Religion, he must needs say he does not like existence, which he can not possibly do. For existence means struggle, which in ultimate analysis means satisfying of wants, that one may attain Bliss. And this is what we understand by Religion.

You want to live because you love Religion. Even if you committed suicide it would be because you love Religion, too; for by doing that you think you will attain a happier state than you find while living. At any rate, you think you will be rid of some pain that is bothering you. In this case your religion is crude-too crude to bear the name of religion. But it is Religion, just the same. Your goal is perfectly right, the same that all persons have. For both you and they want to get happiness, or Bliss. But your means are ridiculous. Because of your ignorance you do not know what will bring you to Bliss, the goal of happiness; so you think of killing yourself to get it.

So in one sense every one in the world is religious, inasmuch as every one is trying to get rid of want and pain, and gain Bliss. Every one is working for the same goal. But in a strict sense only a few in the world are religious, for only a few in the world, though they have the same goal as all others, know the most effective means for removing, for good, all pain or want-physical, mental, or spiritual-and gaining permanent Bliss.

You have to bid good-bye for a while to the rigidly narrow orthodox conception of Religion, though that conception is in a remote way connected with the conception I am bringing out. If for some time you do not go to church or temple, or attend some of its ceremonies or forms, meantime working toward religion in your daily life by being calm, poised, concentrated, charitable, squeezing happiness from the most trying situations, then ordinary people of a pronounced orthodox or narrow bent will nod their heads and declare that, though you are trying to be good, still, from the point of view of real religion, or in the eyes of God, you are "falling off," as you did not of late enter the precinct of the holy places. While of course there can not be any valid excuse for permanently keeping away from the holy places, there can not, on the other hand, be any legitimate reason for one’s being considered more religious for attending church, while at the same time neglecting to apply in daily life the principles which the church upholds, viz., those that make ultimately for the attainment of permanent Bliss. Religion is not dove-tailed with the pews of the church, nor is it bound up with the ceremonies performed therein. If you have an attitude of reverence, if you live your daily life always with a view to how you may bring undisturbed Bliss-consciousness into it, you will be just as religious out of the church as in it. Of course this should not be understood as an argument for forsaking the church, for the church is usually a real help in many ways. The point is that you should put forth just as much effort outside of the church hours to gain eternal happiness as you forego while from the pews you are passively enjoying a good sermon.