The Two Categories of Religions

(Amrit Pal Singh ‘Amrit’)

The term ‘religion’, as we know refers to belief in, or the worship of, the God or the Ultimate Truth. It is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural structures, and world views. At present, it is believed that there are more or less 4, 000 religions in the world.

The foremost goal of any religious ideology is to guide its followers on the path of the Truth and help them achieve their ultimate goal of salvation. To realise this goal, a founder of every religious ideology sets many guidelines for its followers. The followers of such ideologies believe that if a follower follows these guidelines, he will achieve his ultimate target of salvation.

On a later stage, every such religious ideology can develop into a personality cult or religion.

Most of the religions can be divided into two basic categories.

The religions under the first category are based on a few principles. These are ‘religions of principles’.

According to such a religion, to achieve the ultimate goal of salvation, one needs to follow the principles or rules of the religion. In the search of the ultimate reality, one does not require to accept this specific religion itself or accept the founder of that religion his saviour. It means such religions set a few guidelines for a follower. Such religions say that if a follower follows the guidelines, he can achieve the ultimate goal.

The founders of such religious thoughts never claim that they are the ‘last prophet sent by the God’. In fact, they believe that so many spiritual guides had come into this world in the past and so many will come in the future as well.

For example, the religion of Sikhs insists that a seeker of the truth must follow a true Guru, a spiritual guide. However, the holy texts of Sikh religion do not claim that Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of the Sikh religion is the only true Guru.

Instead, the Sikh holy texts make reference to many persons who followed other true Gurus and got salvation. For example, Saint Dhruv was born thousands of years ago. He was spiritually guided by sage Narada. Saint Dhruv got salvation. Similarly, Saint Prahlad, ascetic Shukdev, and King Janak got salvation by following the path of their respective true Gurus.

Saint Kabir’s Guru was Saint Ramanand Ji. By following the guidelines of his Guru, Kabir got the ultimate goal of salvation. The holy hymns of Ramanand and Kabir are included in Guru Granth Sahib, the living Guru of Sikh people.

Saint Sain was another disciple of Saint Ramanand. He followed his true Guru Ramanand and got the salvation. His holy hymns are included in Guru Granth Sahib.

Saint Ravidas, Saint Pipa, Saint Surdas, Saint Tirlochan, Saint Namdev, Saint Parmanand, Saint Beni, Saint Sadhna, and Saint Dhanna were not followers of Sikh religion, but they followed their true Gurus and got the ultimate goal of their life. The holy hymns of all these saints are included in Guru Granth Sahib.

Such religions are truly ‘religious ideologies’ based on principles.

The religions under the second category are built around a specific person. Thus, such ideologies are basically personality cults. One needs to accept the specific person as his spiritual leader; otherwise he would be considered an infidel. Such person will go to hell, according to such ideologies. In such personality cults, the founder of the cult is the center of universe and the only messenger of the Truth.

Such ideologies maintain that the founding person of their religion is the last divine guide sent by the God. There will come no spiritual guides after him. The persons who follow him will go to heaven, others will go to hell. The persons who follow him are the true believers of the God, others are infidels. The whole such religion spins around the belief that ‘the founder of our religion is the only true spiritual leader’.

To put it briefly, the first category of religions can be called the ‘religions of principles’. The religions under the second category are basically personality cults.