Religion is Art, not Money

Birthday of English Poet William Blake

28th November is the birthday of the English poet and painter William Blake. Born in 1757, Blake lived during the Romantic Era when individualism, emotions and love for nature were elevated in art, music and literature. As a successor to the Enlightenment Era, Romanticism affirmed ‘harmonious coexistence with nature’ as opposed to ‘controlling nature’, a propensity fuelled by the Industrial Revolution. Blake’s quote sums it up well – You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. Other famous Romantic Era writers include Byron, Coleridge, Dumas, Emerson, Hugo, Keats, Shelley, Thoreau and Wordsworth.

Although unrecognised during his lifetime, today Blake is considered a seminal figure in poetry and art. The philosophical and mystical undercurrents that make his work unique can be tasted from these famous lines – 

To see the world in a grain of sand,

and to see heaven in a wild flower,

hold infinity in the palm of your hands,

and eternity in an hour.

Osho has spoken on William Blake in His discourses. Osho says William Blake is one of the greatest poets the West has produced. He has many beautiful insights. Blake has said ‘If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.’ Just a few steps more and he would have been an enlightened person. He could have been a RISHI, a seer. Just a few steps, maybe only one step, a little jump… he had come very close to the boundary of realization.

‘Religion is art,’ said William Blake. ‘Religion is art, not money.’ This is a very very pregnant statement. And only a man like William Blake could have made it. He is a mystic poet. What is art? ‘Art is a way,’ he says, ‘of doing something’: painting, poetry, dancing, sculpture, music, pottery, weaving. ‘Art is a way of doing something.’ He does not say anything about creating oneself. But that is exactly what religion is. It is not painting, it is not poetry, it is not sculpture, it is not music, but something on the same lines, something beyond — creating oneself.

Religion is a way of doing something also — living, loving, seeing, being. All art is ‘making’. It is helping God to create. That’s why I call the man who said to God, ‘Can I help?’ the religious man. If you want to know the creator you will have to become a creator in some measure on your own. Poetry may not be religion proper but it points in the right direction. When a poet is really in a creative state, he knows something of religion — a faraway distant music, because when he is in a creative state, he is no more himself. He participates — although in a very small measure, but he participates in God. Just a drop of divinity enters into him. That’s why great poets have always said, ‘When we write poetry, we are not the creators of it. We become possessed. Some unknown energy enters, sings, dances in us. We don’t know what it is.’ When a painter is lost into his painting, he is utterly lost into his painting, his ego disappears. Maybe only for moments, but in those egoless moments God paints through him.

If you participate in God, God participates in you. Art is an unconscious form of religion. Religion is conscious art. Art is as if you are religious in a dream, but it is pointing in the right direction. The artist is the nearest to the religious. But it is not understood that way. You don’t think of a poet as religious or a painter as religious, on the contrary, if somebody fasts, tortures his body, makes his being ugly, you start thinking that HE is religious. He is simply being violent with himself. He is just suicidal, he is neurotic, and you think he is religious. Neurotics become MAHATMAS; they are respected and worshipped as saints. They are not religious at all. The difference between a so-called saint and a murderer is not much. The murderer murders somebody else, and your so-called saint murders himself. But both do the same thing: both are violent, both are destructive. And whenever you are destructive you are farthest from God, because God is creativity.

To me, aesthetics is the closest neighbor of religiousness, not ethics. Lenin is reported to have said, ‘Ethics will be the aesthetics of the future.’ I say: No, just the contrary; aesthetics will be the ethics of the future. Beauty is going to be the truth of the future, because beauty can be created. And a beautiful person, who loves beauty, who lives beauty, who creates beauty, is moral — and with no effort. His morality is not a cultivated morality, it is just his aesthetic sense that makes him moral. He cannot kill because he cannot think of killing as being beautiful. He cannot cheat, he cannot be dishonest because all these things make him feel ugly. His criterion is beauty. And I agree with William Blake that religion is art.

All art is making. All making necessitates a kind of faith. You see what is not there, and work in such a way that what was invisible, intangible, inaudible, is given shape in time and space. What is produced will be apparent to the senses — a painting, a poem, or a garden. Art is not to be confused, however, with the object it produces. It is a beautiful distinction to be remembered. It will help you immensely to understand religion. Art is not a painting or a piece of sculpture. What art dealers buy and sell are works of art, not art itself. Works of art are a form of property. Just as art is not the same thing as works of art, so religion is not to be confused with the objects and effects its produces — such as dogmas, doctrines, Bibles, Korans, Gitas, churches, temples, cathedrals. These are WORKS of art. You can call them works of the art of religion, but religion should not be confused with them…

Works of art are a form of property, that’s why you can sell them, purchase them; but you cannot sell art and you cannot purchase art. If you ask Pablo Picasso to sell you his art, it will be impossible. You may be ready to pay any fantastic price for it, but he cannot sell it. He can sell his paintings, but he cannot sell his art. There is no way of selling it because it is not a thing. It remains always invisible. Only effects become visible. God remains invisible, only in the world does he becomes visible. You are invisible, only the body is visible.

That’s why Blake says religion is not money. He is right. He means religion is not property. Religion is not like that, religion is like love — you cannot buy it, sell it, or keep it in a bank. You cannot possess it; on the contrary, it possesses you. The work of art can be possessed; it is property, it is dead. You can learn the Koran and the Gita and the Bible, but you cannot learn religion. You have to live it — there is no way of learning it. You have to be possessed by God, you have to become available to God. You have to open up your being. You have to withdraw. You have to become empty so that God can enter and possess you totally. In that very possession, you have transcended humanity. You are no more a human being, you are a god, a Christ, a Buddha.


Listen to complete discourse at mentioned below link.

Discourse name: The Secret of Secrets, Vol 1 Chapter title: Riding on a Miracle Chapter #9

19 August 1978 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on distinguished poets like Byron, Coleridge, D.H. Lawrence, Ghalib, Heinrich Heine, John Ruskin, Kahlil Gibran, Kalidas, Keats, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Milton, Oscar Wilde, Rabindranath Tagore, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar, Rumi, Rudyard Kipling, Shakespeare, Shelley, William Blake, Wordsworth and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. The Book of Wisdom
  2. The Sword and The Lotus
  3. Returning to the Source
  4. Light on the Path
  5. The Secret
  6. The Hidden Splendour
  7. The New Dawn
  8. Beyond Enlightenment
  9. From Bondage to Freedom
  10. The Golden Future
  11. Take It Easy, Vol 1
  12. The Dhammapada: The Way of the Buddha, Vol 4, 5
  13. Theologia Mystica
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