When Religions Create Divisions and How to Avoid It
SPIRITUALITY, 29 Jun 2020
Religion is supposed to bring us closer to God, which should certainly uplift us and show us that we are all spiritual beings. In that way we are united. This understanding could give us a central focus for general intentions of goodwill and cooperation. However, this is not how it has gone. This is mostly because each religion implies, or comes right out and says, that it is the best or the only way to God. All others are inferior and should be ignored, dominated, pushed away, or even destroyed by force. In this way, a most difficult thing to break down is the barrier between us erected by our religions.
A first-class religion is not the one that claims it is the highest religion. The first-class religion is that which teaches or trains one perfectly how to love God. That is first-class. And in such a first-class religion, no one will claim to be better than any other. That is because he or she will naturally see that we all have the same Supreme Father. The only difference between any of us is in the level of spiritual understanding we have, and how united we are to the Supreme Being. Otherwise, spiritually we are all the same, and whatever our bodily situation may be is temporary.
If you feel that your religion is the best of all others, it is natural to be loyal or appreciate what it has done for you. However, if you feel superior to others because of being a Muslim, or Christian, or something, then that is where your religion has failed. For you to feel that way means that it has provided you with incomplete knowledge. You have not made much spiritual advancement. If your religion has failed to bring you to the spiritual platform in which you can see the spiritual similarities between you and all other creatures, regardless of caste, creed, culture, or species, then your religion has failed. Or you have failed to follow it properly, or to its ultimate goal.
It may have brought you to the path of being pious, but it has not brought you to the point of true love of God and spiritual vision. Real love of God includes the spiritual love for all others, without prejudice, bias, or condescending attitudes. If you have not attained this level, then you still have much progress to make either in your own religion or by adding the help of another more complete source of spiritual knowledge. Those who are not understanding in this way and criticize different systems of religion due to jealousy, envy, malice, or a sense of superiority, are simply revealing themselves to be very immature. They do not cherish love toward their own God, but show more regard for vain quarrels and contentions.
In Ashoka’s Edicts it is rightfully stated,
“Never think or say your religion is the best. Never denounce the religion of others. But honor in them whatever is worthy of honor.”
After all, what good is a religion which condemns everybody else’s philosophy or symbols for God except its own? Some religions say that if God is represented in a form, beautiful or symbolic, or is established in a Deity, then it is heathen or superstition, so it is bad. But if God comes in the form of a dove, burning bush, or a pillar of fire, it is holy. This is completely contradictory to the understanding of the omnipotent ability of the Supreme.
In all religions throughout the world, the external differences are easily noticed. These may be in regard to rituals, posture, clothing, food, behavior, or sanctity. There will be differences in conceptions of God and the objects of worship, or in the name of God because of differences in language or traditions. So it is natural that religions of the world may become disunited because of these differences. But it is very improper that there should be quarrel among them on the grounds of this disunion. We should, as mature servants of God, think that the religion of others still holds the same worship of the same Highest Entity as my religion, my God. Their practice may be different and I may not understand it, so I appreciate my own religion. However, there is only one God, therefore I also respect this form of worship and offer my prayers to God who is being worshiped in a different way.
For example, the Jewish tradition has always implied that a Jewish soul has an advantage over non-Jews to realize or love God, but Judaism itself provides evidence to indicate otherwise. One quote that affirms that anyone has the ability to realize God, regardless of his race, religion, or sex, is: “Elijah said, ‘I bring heaven and earth to bear witness that any human being, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, freeman or slave, according to his deeds, can become worthy of Rauch HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, the transcendental experience.” (Tana DeBei Eliahu Rabba 9, Bahir II. 94)
God does not favor one sect or religion over another, but monitor’s one’s sincerity, devotion, surrender, and willingness to help and love others. And God reciprocates with one to the same degree of his or her devotion and sincerity. God is not the kind of being who favors only one sect and allows all others to be damned. Everyone is a part of God, otherwise they would not be here, and He cares for all.
In order to show His concern, God sends not just one but as many messengers and representatives as it takes to help guide and deliver all beings from material existence. The essence of that message, and all genuine religion, is the same. They all teach that we should not get stuck in material life, but to keep moving toward pure spiritual existence. The essential method in all religions by which this is accomplished is simple: Love God, love all others as parts of God, and act in that way at all times. The Supreme Being has made it simple. It is only humanity that has created the confusion found in the divisions of religions.
From this it is clear that God is the Lord of all beings, and in many ways. God is a multi-faceted being, unlimited in knowledge, ability, character, and personality. If a person is so narrow that he or she can hold allegiance to one faith while condemning all others, he or she will understand God only through that way. They will not know, nor will they be able to understand, that they can realize different aspects of God through other religions or spiritual paths. It is often seen that the most fundamental religions are the most limited in their understanding of God, and also carry with it the extra luggage of prejudice and condemnation of all other religions and cultures. It goes back to the principle that people who know the least about something are also the most fearful about what they do not understand.
Only religionists who are inexperienced and not conversant with spiritual Truth consider their ways as good and superior while hating the ways of others. They may even destroy the temples and images of God of other religions. Thus, they actually show their hatred of God. All good men will refrain from such actions, and all those who engage in such deeds show their improper and animalistic mentality.
However, those religions with real faults–such as being atheistic, materialistic, rejecting the soul or the existence of the Supreme, or using evil methods in its worship–should not be regarded as genuine religions. Their doctrines are antagonistic to true spiritual love and can never please the Supreme Being.
We also need to understand that there is no such thing as two Supreme Beings, or a God of one religion and a God of another. Such distinctions are made through ignorance. God is one. The Absolute Truth is one. So how can there be two religions? When followers of different religions quarrel about Truth, it is a sign that they have yet to experience Truth. Rather than seeking an experience of the Truth, they spend their time in quarrels, nurturing their prejudices against others. They are still far away from God. The word religion comes from the Latin religio, which means to bind to God. If a religion does not teach how to directly link with God, to love, respect, and have regard for all others as His parts and parcels, then it can hardly be called religion.
Once again, God is one. There cannot be two. If there is another, then there is competition. And the one God is neither Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or anything else. Such classifications relate only in the way God is worshiped. Real religion does not mean that we stamp this person a Christian, someone else a Muslim, or Hindu, or a Jain. Such designations are names that have nothing to do with the reality of the soul. Unity between us will never be established by emphasizing such designations on the material platform. So if God is one, why should there be quarrels between those who worship the one God in different ways? There should be no such quarrels, unless they think they are worshiping a different God and feel their God is superior to the God of others. Such a mentality is childish.
Religion means to understand God and to abide by His laws. It means to understand the nature of the soul, which is to love and be loved, and to serve the ultimate lovable object, the Supreme Lover–God. In this way, every living being is a servant of the Supreme Being. Religion means to understand that God is great. We are subordinate. It means to understand that God is the greatest friend and proprietor. He takes care of us. Furthermore, the ultimate purpose of religion is to regain your love for God and to return to God. This means you rise above earthly desires and designations and transcend material life. This is the real unity and purpose of life that we all share. Based on this essential principle, we should all serve, understand and love God. There is no difference. We may pursue different religions, but that is diversity in unity because we all worship the same God. When we realize that, then there can be peace and harmony.
Another way of looking at our unity is in the concept described in the Vedas that explain that one form of the Lord is the universe. We all exist within this universal form of God. None of us are disconnected from Him. Furthermore, none of us are disconnected from each other. Each and every one of us has a particular function in relation to the universal form of God. Although each one of us may have different responsibilities, nonetheless, carrying out our functions within this world in relation to the universal form of God gives unity and harmony between all living beings throughout the world. However, the disruption of discharging our spiritual nature is the cause of disharmony between the living beings. So in order to achieve real peace and unity, we should recognize the fact that everything in this world and everyone is a part of this universal form of the Lord. Everything is an expansion of the Supreme’s energy. No one is independent. Everyone and everything is connected. There are many diverse manifestations of God’s energy. And although our bodies may not all look and act the same, we are all one in the Supreme’s universal form. This is unity in diversity. When life is based on living in this truth by understanding the universal nature of the Supreme and His creation, then embracing universal love and compassion is a normal state of being.
This unity in diversity can be seen in observing the essence of any culture or religion. What we first notice are the superficialities, such as the dress, the outward formalities, the customs, rituals, and festivals. But deeper than this we find the basis of the culture’s origin, the history of its development, the explanation of its philosophy, and the meaning and purpose of its rituals and customs. Still deeper is the essence and goal of the religion. As already pointed out, that essence is based on the principle that the follower should learn and engage in the process of serving, glorifying, and loving the Supreme Being. So, on the essential platform, there is really not much that differentiates the ultimate goals of the world’s major religions.
The only difference in the authentic religions is the time in history in which they appeared, the place where they existed, and the people who were taught. But due to these factors there may be lesser or greater differences in doctrines, beliefs, and rituals. And depending on the intellectual ability of the people who were taught, there may be more or less spiritual knowledge that was provided. Thus, there are different levels of scripture. Some are more direct and complete than others in the same way an unabridged dictionary is more complete than one that is abridged; though they both contain the same type of information. So once again we find the basis of unity in diversity.
The most important difference, however, is the depth of philosophical understanding and spiritual knowledge each particular religious process has to offer, and the level of spiritual realization the aspirant can attain by following the process. It is a fact that all true religious paths can lead to God, but such deep experience is beyond the grasp of fundamental and materially motivated religions that are based on national or cultural traditions and feelings of superiority because of race or geographical region. Such religions fail in their attempts to promote universal or spiritual brotherhood because they lack the spiritual knowledge and potency necessary to do so. Furthermore, because of this deficiency, they cannot give their followers the process that will enable them to become fully spiritually realized. So they remain biased against others because they cannot rise above the materialistic vision that causes them to focus on superficial differences, such as race, creed, cultural background, sex, or dress.
So how do we solve this problem that keeps people of different religions or cultures from accepting each other and working together? It is both easy and difficult. The easy part is to understand that the people merely have to be willing to share their spiritual knowledge with each other. They can all keep their own traditions, holidays, festivals, and rituals, but the essential knowledge and science of the individual souls, the Supreme Soul, and the relationship between them is what is important and what can be easily shared. This spiritual science is not explained more thoroughly than in the Vedic literature (as has been summarized in one of my previous books, The Secret Teachings of the Vedas). In fact, comprehending this knowledge of the Absolute Truth is necessary for everyone’s spiritual advancement, regardless of which spiritual process one is inclined to accept. There must be this kind of open and respectful exchange across global and cultural boundaries in order for peace and unity between all societies to exist. The hard part is to get people to agree to do this. But in some cases you have to look at other cultures and their philosophical systems to get answers that are not provided elsewhere.
In fact, the Bible agrees with the idea of researching other scripture for answers. In II Timothy (3.16-17) we find the following quote:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished in all good works.”
Therefore, it is without a doubt that all scripture everywhere is meant to uplift our consciousness. Such being the case, it is not contradictory to see similarities in various scriptures and spiritual cultures, and it actually adds to and proves the glory of God amongst all nations. The following quote elaborates on this point:
Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth My word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? . . . Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all My words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, 29.7, 10-11)
The above quote is not unlike the Bible verse in Romans (10.12-13):
“For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
We herewith have the reasoning why all our petty quarrels, whether between Catholics and Protestants, Hindus and Muslims, nation and nation, are nothing more than a sign of our ignorance and animalistic tendencies which actually disqualify us from making any spiritual advancement. We may think we are a chosen people, but if we have no spiritual vision to see the unity between all people, then the “promised land” is a lot farther away than we think. For God remembers all of us and, indeed, supplies all nations the knowledge by which they can spiritually advance and live peacefully, depending on their ability to understand and use it. After all, those who are sincerely trying to advance are all sons of God, as verified in Romans (8.14):
“For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
A similar statement is in John (1.12):
“But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Thus, we are all God’s children, as also confirmed by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-gita (9.17-18) in which He says that He is the father of the universe, the mother, the grandfather, the object of knowledge, the purifier, the sacred om, and the Rig, Sama, and Yajur Vedas. He is the goal, the support, the master, the witness, the abode, and the most dear friend. Krishna also says (Bg.7.6) that He is the origin and dissolution of the entire universe, and (Bg.4.35) by knowing the Truth you will see that all beings are a part of Him and belong to Him. Thus, by understanding how we are all spiritually related, all sincere souls will find no difficulty in harmoniously working together and helping one another to understand the laws of the Supreme and advance accordingly, whether we are brother and brother, or nation and nation.
So if we are all spiritually related and can find similarities in the basic law of all religions, then what is the difficulty in cooperating with each other within the essential principles of all religions? And what is the essential principle we are all meant to follow? The essence of the law, as found in the Vedic, the Judaic, the Christian, the Islamic, and other cultures, instructs us to surrender to God and work together to please Him according to His instructions. For example, when the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the great commandment in the law, he told them:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22.37-38)
Lord Krishna taught the same thing in Bhagavad-gita:
“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall protect you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg.18.65-66)
In the Koran (9.112) we find it said that those who turn to God in repentance and serve and praise Him, and engage in devotion to God, who bow down and pray, who do good and avoid evil, will rejoice. So proclaim these glad tidings to the believers. We also find it said (19.65) that everyone should worship the Lord of the heavens and the earth and be patient in constant worship. For who is worthy of the same name as God?
In Zoroastrianism it is believed that a person must live according to the religious tenets if one hopes to joyfully go before the Creator in the next world. The best of all practices is the worship of God, for all are servants of God. So one must lead a righteous life since it is one’s thoughts, words, and deeds that determine one’s next life after death. Similarly, in Sikhism we find the precept that a true follower serves the Supreme Soul alone.
All of this information makes it clear that regardless of which religious system you choose, they all have the same purpose, and they all give the same principles. In this way, they are all united in their essential goals, the most important of which is to bring the living beings to the stage of cooperation in love of God. Obviously, our love for God will be shown by how much we cooperate with one another.
Unfortunately, before we reach this advanced stage we are in the lower levels of understanding. This immature level of love can take on the characteristics of a blind and fanatical allegiance to a particular process of religious expression rather than attachment to real love for God. In this situation, one may proudly and unnecessarily feel that he is on the highest path, and then will denounce every other process and culture without the proper spiritual understanding of himself or others. This is nothing more than sentimentality and fanaticism. Real love of God, which also displays love for all other living beings, will not develop within a person if he or she harbors such a divisive mentality.
People who show their love for their own religion by hating all others will spiritually stagnate and cause disharmony and quarrels between those of their religion and those of others.
Someone may be a kind, generous, and devout person amongst those of his own culture, while ready to howl, insult, hate, and do injury to those of another. This is love of the lowest level, similar to the way a dog may love its master and will show it by snarling at anyone else. Only those individuals and dry forms of religion that are bereft of real spiritual knowledge look at all others with hate and suspicion.
Only when one’s consciousness becomes mature does this form of fanaticism or immature enthusiasm subside. Then real love and respect for all will naturally emanate from that person. As one becomes closer to the all-loving Supreme Being by the development of his own love for God, no longer can he be an instrument of hatred or prejudice because he sees everyone equally with spiritual vision. Thus, he walks away from the animalistic quarrels and wars that others take so seriously due to their ignorance of spiritual reality.
We have to remember that we are in this world but not of it. We are all spiritual beings who are temporarily residing in the material creation. It is futile to try and make a permanent home here, or attempt to be fully content and happy by being absorbed in material pleasures. This world does not and never will offer that kind of accommodation. A spiritual being in the material world, which is what we all are, is like a fish out of water: It is an incompatible situation. So we must understand the reality of our circumstance, that we are all transients evolving in a temporary situation on our way from one point of existence to another.
So what is this life? It is nothing more than a moment on our great path towards full enlightenment. The world primarily is a field for activity which we can use to evolve to a higher state of being, and the body is the tool or vehicle in which we engage in those acts. But if we forget that, then we get caught in the illusion that this world is the cause and basis of our happiness, and our temporary body is the basis of our identity. Nothing can be further from the truth, and anyone with some proper understanding will see this.
By uplifting our consciousness, one will realize his or her spiritual identity and know that the immaterial realm pervades everything within as well as outside this material creation. Therefore, one who has become evolved and detached from the material focus of life knows that he is a spiritual being and a part of the divine strata. In this sense, wherever he goes, he is already home. A person who lives in this consciousness knows that there are only three things that are eternal:
- the Supreme Being,
- all the individual spiritual entities, and
- the relationship between them, which is based on divine love.
This spiritual love is all that has to be reawakened. This is the real goal of life. The spiritual strata, or fully enlightened consciousness, is where that love can manifest to the fullest degree.
If somehow or other the people of the world could give up their superficial differences and join together in genuine spiritual activity, the consciousness of society in general could change to such a degree that this very planet could become spiritually surcharged. It is not that we have to work for a specific change to bring about solutions to the world’s problems, but when the consciousness of the people becomes purified, the solutions to the problems will become obvious and the necessary changes will automatically begin to manifest. The process starts from within, as the Bible states:
“And when he (Jesus) was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17.20-21)
Therefore, entering the spiritual realm, or changing the world in which we presently live, is simply a matter of reawakening our dormant divine consciousness. It is not a matter of outward observation, but it is an inward process of transformation and development.
If the people of the world would be more inclined to recognize that spiritual advancement is a process of inner transformation and participate in this process, and share with each other the different levels of higher knowledge from other cultures rather than merely accepting one particular religious dogma and rejecting all other forms of spiritual growth, then it becomes possible for all of humanity to be a united people. After all, a true religion respects whatever level of universal truth is found in any other culture and religion. Everyone could band together with a common cause of helping each other become enlightened: A universal religion based on hearing about and glorifying the Supreme. Every religion does this, so why not do it together? The only difference then would be whether people were theists or atheists, and atheists are simply those who have no spiritual experience or cannot fathom the depths of divine knowledge.
Otherwise, a world full of isolated religious cultures and doctrines is a world full of scattered and incomplete portions of the universal path to the Absolute Truth. Thus, we must seek to unite these paths by finding the common source from which these portions have sprung, as I have tried to point out in my books, The Secret Teachings of the Vedas, and The Universal Path to Enlightenment. When you find that source, you will find the doorway that leads to full realization of the Absolute Truth and the clear consciousness through which we can see that all living beings share the same immaterial identity.
Spiritually we are all one family. And on this level of consciousness it becomes obvious that all temporary material differences are superficialities. It is only people’s own immature prejudice, caused by their spiritual ignorance, that stop people of the world from being united and cooperating together. Remembering that God is in everyone, and everyone is here by the will of God, and that God cares for all beings, you can respect anyone.
Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa) has dedicated himself to spreading the deepest and most practical levels of spiritual knowledge about the soul–our real identity. Though this world may give us numerous challenges, when we rise above the basic materialistic view and its limited search for solutions, our evolutionary development on all levels greatly accelerates. By recognizing that we are all spiritual beings who are, basically, attempting to achieve the same essentials for our existence–namely love, acceptance, harmony, peace, and happiness, not to mention the ordinary needs of food, water, clothing and shelter–we can reach a new level of cooperation with each other. Stephen has written many books on this and related subjects and studied with A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada becoming initiated into the spiritual line of Brahma-Madhava-Gaudiya sampradaya. He is also president of the Vedic Friends Association. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Materialism, Religion, Spirituality
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