Do We All Worship the Same God?
RELIGION, 18 Nov 2013
I would like to think so. Something tells me that heaven isn’t divided up into a Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Jewish heaven. I would like to think that, up there, we are united regardless of our faith here on Earth.
Sure, while on Earth, we have been given unique ways in which we connect with the Divine. However, even in our differences, there are many similarities. For example, many Hindus express their devotion to God through devotional song and dance, personal and individual prayers and through silent and mantra meditation practices that can go on for hours at a time. Christians also engage in song and prayer as an expression of their devotion to the Supreme. Sufis and some Jewish sects also engage in dance as an expression of joy in worshiping God while the Muslims pray five times a day.
Most of these traditions observe fasting at least once, if not, many times a year. The Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset on Ramadan. Catholics fast on lent and on Good Friday. Jews fast on Yom Kippur. The significance of fasting for all these traditions is the same, which is to reduce the focus on our physical bodies and to concentrate on our spiritual selves and our relationship with God.
There are similarities between the connection of food and the divine. During Mass, Catholics accept bread and wine or grape juice as the body and blood of Christ. This is done in remembrance of the persecution Jesus suffered for his people. Within the Hare Krishna movement, the monotheistic strand of Hinduism, vegetarian foods are offered to Lord Krishna before consumption. Food is purchased and cooked with the intention that it is for the pleasure of God or Krishna. Once the food is offered to God, with prayers of devotion, it is ready for consumption.
It is understood that once the food has been offered, because it was touched and tasted by the Divine, it becomes non-different from God. Those who then partake of such sanctified food, purify their heart and mind of envy, greed, pride, anger and selfish desire.
Even the descriptions of God that are given in the different traditions are somewhat similar to each other. In Judaism, God is known as the “First Being, without beginning or end, who brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them.” In Islam, “God is the All-Powerful and All-Knowing Creator, Sustainer, Ordainer and Judge of the universe.” In Christianity, “God is the divine being from which all things come.” In Hinduism, God is the “the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest from whom everything emanates.”
I know there are many differences within these same traditions. The age of the universe varies between the Abrahamic traditions and Hinduism. The Eastern traditions and the mystical sects of the Abrahamic faiths believe in reincarnation. A belief that suggests that the current life isn’t an individual’s first life and won’t be the last and that a person gets many chances to correct oneself and achieve the spiritual realm. The Abrahamic faiths believe in only one life, after which, one is either elevated to heaven or descends to hell. The Western traditions are monotheistic while Hinduism comes across as polytheistic.
While no one can deny the stark differences that exist between the traditions, I would like to put greater focus on the similarities. We spend enough time differentiating ourselves from others, which only leads to factions. This mentality makes us want to feel that we have the right way and all others are wrong. One way to have harmony is to pay increased attention to what we all have in common.
It’s not just religion that is practiced differently by people of the Earth. We have different languages and ways in which distinctive cultures communicate. Does it make any sense to make the claim that one language is better than another? Each part of the world has some unique tastes, colors, and smells to their food. It doesn’t make sense to decry the food of any other culture. There are so many differences in the world, and too often these differences are creating quarrel and a need to feel superior.
I’m not suggesting we close our eyes to the differences that exist in our traditions, but am proposing that we maintain a balanced perspective by looking at both with an open and positive mind.
Gadadhara Pandit dasa is a lecturer and the first-ever Hindu chaplain for Columbia University and New York University. He has spoken at a recent TED Talks and was featured in the PBS Documentary on the Bhagavad-gita, as well as the New York Times. His life is chronicled in his autogiography, Urban Monk: Exploring Karma, Consciousness, and the Divine. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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