Religious Language


By Dr. N. V. Kulkarni

  1. Introductory

Human Language is a unique and most important possession of the human mind, yet thought about it  is always extraordinarily difficult, more so about Religious Language then.

  1. Religious Language

Human mind has to summon/switch to the same linguistic tools, as are available to it depending upon the culture, religion etc. which have predominated it, to probe into and describe (if such an insight is given) the ultimate questions like who am I? What am I here for? Is there any meaning to my existence? and so on.

Religious Language is employed to depict various facts of the relations between man and his Maker. Then two questions are posed.

  1. i) Words describing God, do they imply any special meaning viz. epithet “good”?
  2. ii) Has the description any functional value?

We shall first define in what context Religion has to be taken and then tackle the questions.

  1. Religion

William James defines Religion as “….. the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine …..”

Or as O’Dea says “….. Religion by its reference to a beyond and its beliefs concerning man’s relationship to that beyond provides a supra-empirical view of a larger total reality …..”

This Reality is Maker’s apathy and is described in the Bhagwata thus:-

“House after house did God make for Himself

Mineral, plant, insect, fish, reptile, and bird,

And mammal too.  But yet was He not pleased.

At last he made Himself, the form of man wherein he knew himself, the self of all.

And then the Lord of All was satisfied.”

God seeker’s praise of his Lord can be divided into three distinct phases:

  1. i) Pre – Realisational
  2. ii) Dark Night of the Soul

iii) Post – Realisational


  1. Pre-Realisational

Gurudev Ranade states, “Having decided to tread the pathway to God, ….. morally and spiritually one must prepare himself to advance on the pathway.  Thereafter the (next) step in this journey, one has to keep certain exemplars of conduct and attainment which he must necessarily follow.  And for this one has to define to oneself both theoretically and practically, the nature and functions of God in relation to the exemplars selected …..”

For doing this “….. study of philosophy becomes a cardinal requisite, a spiritual virtue, for the determination of the nature of God, his relation with saints, and consequent attainment to Godhead …..”

The Holiest of the Holy for the Hindus, The Bhagwad Gita, will take one a long way in preparing oneself for assimilating the nature and functions of God.  Shri. Gurudev has listed out ten such attributes to aid ideological meditation.  These are:

  1. i) The highest person
  2. ii) Immanent thread of all existence

iii) The highest individual and supreme spirit

  1. iv) The Sun of the World of Ideas
  2. v) The great artificer
  3. vi) The mellifluous essence of all existence

vii) The supreme source of all generation, growth and decay

viii) The absolutely transcendent being

  1. ix) The highest object of knowledge
  2. x) The greatest wonder of all wonders

Shri. Gurudev further continues “What a great panorama of Supreme objects of meditation would there be now for you!  You may not be sure that such an ideological meditation would put you in possession of God.  But at least it will take you a few steps ahead in your spiritual pursuit.  This is a point which has not been so elaborately discussed anywhere else.”

This should serve one’s purpose till, by the Grace of God, one find’s one’s Master and gets initiated into the spiritual realm for one’s own journey.

However, it must not be lost that the various attributes of God are laid down by saints and Mystics to whom “…… in a truly mystical life, a knowledge of God and his attributes overflows into the understanding from the contact with him …..”

This answers the first question raised regarding religious language.

  1. Dark Night of the Soul

This phase in the journey toward godhead may or may not arise.  Carlyle has to say “….. Before we pass from the everlasting Nay to the everlasting yea we pass through the centre of Indifference ….. a sort of whirl-pool of existence in which every man finds himself …..”  Shri. Gurudev comments “….. it remains true that the Dark Night is more or less a necessary ingredient, and it seems that mystical healthy mindedness is never reached, or can never be fully appreciated, unless it is preceded by a mystical sick-mindedness …..”

Let us see what some of the saints who have experienced this phase have got to say:

  1. a) Tillyard makes a clever suggestion that as in physical experiment excess of light becomes darkness, similarly, the Dark Night in Mystical experience is caused not by God withdrawing himself, but by the seeker being unable to sustain the brilliance of his vision.
  2. b) Tukarama’s agonies in this phase rise to such a crescendo that he is driven to proclaim “To me, God is dead ….. Both God and I have perished …..”
  3. c) While Purandaradasa has to say “….. hindilla Swami Munidilla, “I have none behind me or before me to support me. O Lord ! ….. Parara Bedippante Gatiyayitalla !” You have left me only one vocation and that too, of a beggar …..”
  1. Post Realisational

The language used by mystics all over the world to communicate their experience with the Divine is alike, similar, to use a bad simile “Calling Spade a Spade”.

Shri. Gurudev Ranade writing on this aspect states ….. “This combined character of the mystical experience, namely its ineffable and intuitive character has served to make all God-aspiring humanity a common and hidden Society, the laws of which are known to themselves if at all ….. or known only to God, and not even to them.  Time and space have nothing to do with the eternal and infinite character of these mystical experiences …..”

“….. All men are equal before God, and if men have got the same “deiform faculty” which enables them to “see God face to face” then the quality of God realization of them, is same despite physical, mental and temperamental differences.  There is no difference in the quality of their mystical or intuitive realization.  In Kant’s words this element of universality, would confer upon mystical experience objectivity, necessity or validity, may be it is of highest order than that of any other kind of human experience just because it is deiform – element of divinity ….”

A few illustrations in the realm of cumulative spiritual experiences are considered for appreciating the point

a) Music

  1. i) Mirabai’s experience of hearing thirty-six ragas viz in the para
  2. ii) In similar fashion, it was Richard Rolle who, among all the Christian Mystics was peculiarly characterized by his experience of God as Music and he tells us how the burning Love for God is later on changed into Divine Song “Calor into canor”.

b) Transfer or Inter-communicativeness of sense functions in Super sensuous sphere.

  1. i) St. Martin States “….. I heard flowers that sounded and sound notes that shone …..”
  2. ii) Shri. Bhausaheb Maharaj Umdikar used to say:

iii) A Kannada saint utters “Kangolisuvarbhav” – dazzling thunder or luminous sound

c) Tactual Experience

 i) Of St. John of the Cross

….. Repeatedly St. John insists that these touches occur “in the substance” of the soul, not in its faculties, and, consequently, that they have neither form nor figure.  He seems to use the term “touches” to demonstrate experience unrelated to sensation but analogous to it by its directly intuitive character.  The sense of touch was probably selected because of its greater immediacy and lesser distinctness.

St. John says “when God himself visits it (the soul) ….. it is in total darkness…..  These communications, since the Lord himself works, then, are wholly divine and sovereign, for they are substantial touches of Divine union between the Soul and God …..”

  1. ii) Of Kabir: Following Doha depicts this experience

Shri. Gurudev Comments on the above “….. We are told by Kabir that he was fortunate to have only a fragment of God’s experience (….. merely an expression of Kabir’s great humility) and yet the importance of it was so great that his words failed him for adequate description ….. I touched the Great God, who was full of luster and he became immanent in my eyes…..”

d) Vision of the Self

 i) Tauter says: “When through all manner of exercises, the outer man has been converted into the inward man, then the Godhead nakedly descends into the depths of the pure soul, so that the spirit becomes one with him. Could such a man behold himself, he would see himself so noble that he would fancy himself God, and see himself a thousand times nobler than he is himself” (Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity)

  1. ii) Maitri Upanishad II. 1.3

Vision of one’s self in a flood of Supreme light –

“….. the great sage Maitri imparted to his disciple the highest secret of the Upanishads, when he said that at the acme of spiritual experience the mystic sees his own form in a flood of supreme light arising from within himself …..”

  1. Conclusion

 Religious Language raises two questions and the first has already been answered.  Regarding the second, it can be concluded that since spiritual experiences are missionary …..”

Those God realisers constitute a blessed community and on account of their intense love for the affected mankind they live only for its benefaction and betterment, proclaiming from pole to pole, the eternal Gospel of God from everlasting to everlasting …..”


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