During my Buddhist psychology studies and travels in India and Nepal, I have learned a lot about the role that religion plays in the human psyche.
In the Western world, religion almost disappeared from the practices and the beliefs of the people. Since the last decades, we tend to explain everything on a materialistic level and with science. This view can be summarized in the idea that we are animals who obey the rules of biology like all other animals, and that the universe was created from the Big Bang and will ultimately crash down and be destroyed. With this view, we created a tremendous hunger for meaning and spirituality, sometimes leading even to a feeling of void, meaninglessness, loneliness and isolation. I believe that a lot of our psychological distress could be rooted in our inability to give a reassuring meaning to life.
Religion and psychology in India
On the other hand, religious beliefs and practices give us a systematic understanding of life and afterlife. In Kashmir, a northern part of India, I observed many people saying that one has to accept what happens, and to totally surrender to the will of God. In the beliefs of those Muslims, the more the presence of God within you and the greater your surrender, the more likely you will be granted a happy life down here, but also in the eternal paradise after your death.
As you go further east from Kashmir, you enter a mountainous region called Ladakh. The population there is mainly Buddhist, many of them coming from Tibet. The Buddhist people believe that this life is only one among an infinite chains of births, reincarnations and rebirths. Those cycles are governed by the law of karma. Thus, the goal of life is to behave in a way leading to a good rebirth, and ultimately gaining enlightenment, which is a state of non-suffering and continuous joy.
Those beliefs, mixed with the continuous practices of prayers, chants and meditation can bring a lot of inner peace and contentment. Life is then an object of worship and contemplation. There is not much to worry about as long as we keep our practices and our cosmic trust.
Psychology and Spiritual Poverty in the West
If you were, like me, born in a Western society where science, rationality and money were much more present than spirituality, our challenge is to introduce a kind of religious aspect in our lives.
We may ask ourselves whether there are some practices we would like to commit to, or if there are some important things we would like to achieve.
We also may ask ourselves whether we have a good relation with the idea of our death. Are we prepared to die? Are we able to address those topics peacefully? Do we even have spiritual friends with whom we can talk about our deep feelings, our hopes and our fears? Or are we left alone in the middle of a society busy with an excessive materialism?
Ultimately, what does our afterlife look like?