Unity of Religions
In the modern context, there is a larger confusion regarding numerous terms, philosophies and techniques that are used in the spiritual/ religious context, as well as, in understanding the goals and aims of many of these systems. In the present times, the increased possibility of coming in contact with persons and scriptures of different religious faiths, has made understanding and coming to terms with all these differences much more confusing. It has become quite difficult for individuals and society to align and bring to agreement all these different stimuli. Added to this, is the fact that materialism has played a large role in making people more individuated, moving them further from moral and ethical values as well as spirituality. Here I make an attempt, to bring to agreement some of these various differences, as well as, to give some understanding to this confusion.
From ancient times, humans have been at war with each other, often causing each other enormous harm. Many of these wars have been what can be termed as religious wars. Often members of one religion have tried to capture and convert the other to their faith or belief. In reality, most of these people may have never understood religion, instead their main aim being more to expand their circle of influence, their power, economy and at the same time to subject the losers of these wars to serve them. Never can spirituality, religion, belief, faith, from amongst many other things be forced upon an individual or a people. It is and will always be a matter of choice for an intelligent individual. Always, it is only a few who have a higher level of consciousness or a wish to progress on the spiritual path, therefore they become the leaders and most of humanity will allow itself to be led by these few persons. However a new age is dawning and in this age, a larger number of individuals will seek to transform and evolve.
The origin of the term religion is from the Latin ‘Religio’ meaning reverence for god or the gods, to ponder over the divine, obligation to the gods. Cicero defines it as the proper performance of rites in veneration of the gods. However, in the modern context, religious or religion has come to denote more than a reverence for god. Instead the word religion has atleast three dimensions, these being the spiritual, the social and the political. Here I use the term Spiritual to mean an effort to connect with God, to increase one’s consciousness, and to move towards perfection.
In a general sense, whenever any organization/body becomes overly politicized, it tends to lose much of its original qualities, values, objectives and goals. A similar process has happened to many religious organizations and institutions taking them often far away from the original spiritual goal, and in most cases, in the interest of promoting the organization, the spiritual system has been weakened and diluted; in some cases, quite severely. As a result, some form of vacuum has come to exist in most cultures of the world, since the spiritual seeker has nowhere to go and he/she does not really find the answers to his/her questions. It would indeed have been wonderful if the present culture focused on the spiritual more intensely, however today’s world is more focused on the economic and material world.
In India, if you asked a person (Hindu) who had some basic background of the spiritual, what religion or faith he followed; he would quite correctly not call himself Hindu but instead say that he followed “Sanatan Dharm”. The word ‘Sanatan’ means without any beginning and without an end, one could also say ‘eternal’ or ‘unchanging’. The term Dharm originates from the Sanskrit root ‘Dhri’ meaning to uphold or to uplift. It also indicates numerous other things (Read article ‘The meaning of and understanding Dharm’). If one looks at the overall meaning of the term ‘Dharm’, then it is composed of all these:
- Acts that uphold or/and uplift an individual and society as a whole.
- Moral and Ethical Values
- Virtuous acts
- Correct and proper behavior
- Compassion (read article on compassion)
- Noble qualities
- The duties or obligations of –an Individual/Official etc.
- Deeds that are done for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole keeping in view the above points.
- An integrated way of life that harmonizes and integrates an individual and society on the physical, mental, social and spiritual planes helping the individual and society to evolve.
- A spiritual way of life that helps one evolve to achieve self realization (including spiritual practices needed to evolve and philosophy to understand god).
So the sense, in which it is generally used, the term Sanatan Dharma means eternal or unchanging laws (of morality, ethics, correct behavior, noble qualities, in the pursuit of higher values and spirituality). In Sanatan Dharm there is no rigid system of agreeing to or of following only one system of worship or one form of god or a certain set of beliefs or ideology. One is free to choose as one likes, however upholding the values of Dharm. On the other hand, most religions are very limiting in their approach. In modern times, the term Dharm has often (incorrectly) been used to mean religion.
From our perspective we will leave out the social, economic and material aspects of religion and focus only on the spiritual aspect. If one were to break into components, the spiritual aspect of religion one would see that it constitutes of these three parts. The first being the principles of higher values, i.e., morality, ethics, correct behavior, noble qualities etc; the second being spiritual practices; and the third being God (aspect of god) and specifically the oneness of God. If one examines the various religious teachings, one will realize that most of them uphold all these principles of morality, ethics, correct behavior, noble qualities, the pursuit of higher values and spirituality. So on this they all broadly agree. At the same time almost all major religions agree on the oneness of God. After all, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jew, the Christian and the Muslim do not have different gods, instead each agree that there is one God. So in other words, the base is the same, the end or the goal is almost the same, what differs is the means. In many cases, the means too are similar, for example there are universal techniques such as meditation, reading of holy scriptures, repetition of prayers and holy words (mantras). Yet there are many differences in the spiritual practices in each religion, due to different systems and philosophies. But apart from this, there is a basic underlying unity in all religions.
No religion teaches to harm or hurt others. All religions uphold moral and ethical values. These values are common to all. Some of these common values are Non- violence, Truth, Honesty, Straightforwardness, Simplicity, Benevolence, Kindness, Respect, Tolerance, Love, Faith, Compassion, Tranquility, Forgiveness, Friendliness, Contentment, control over the senses, lack of sensuality, refraining from sex indulgence and intoxicants, study of scriptures, regular spiritual practice, obedience to the Guru (spiritual preceptor, guide, etc).
All religions and truly spiritual people are in broad agreement that there is one god; one can call him by many names—Shiv, Brahma, Vishnu, Buddha, Allah, the holy ghost, the holy spirit, holy father, God the Father, Yahweh and so on. All religions philosophically agree on the oneness of God, on the unity of God. It remains for the people to realize this underlying oneness and to put to use the religious teachings as they were meant to be, as they will benefit humankind to live in peace, in prosperity, to develop higher qualities and to evolve. May there be more understanding, sharing, love and compassion among all humans and all other sentient beings.