Religion. Just the word religion conjures up a plethora of reactions within each of us. In some it brings back childhood memories – some good, some perhaps bad – in others it gives a feeling of warmth or security, and in still some others it evokes a sense of tragedy, of betrayal, or even prejudice.
In my mind, I separate religion from spirituality, which I see as a sense of the true. Spirituality is the basis of everything that exists (not just the occult or hidden side of nature, but all-encompassing reality). Because we are an integral part of it we are able to 'know' it without any intermediary.
Religion is manmade. It does not emanate magically from somewhere beyond. Many great teachers have come in this world to teach us of the true nature of things, and it is their followers, their proponents, who gather their teachings and crystallize them into codified ‘law,’ requiring unswerving obedience unless you want ‘bad’ things to happen to you. I don’t believe fear was a component teaching of any sage or seer. The message instead was love, pure impersonal love for All, regardless of any condition or boundary.
Religion – really, what the spiritual teachers taught that eventually we molded into religions – came to humanity in different parts of the globe at different times to restate those primal truths of life to those of us who were confused or dismayed about our place in the scheme of things. Using the words and concepts of the times, they attempted to bring out of us what we already knew inherently – the truths of the universe.
When we took these truths and institutionalized them, the things of man became more prevalent than the original message. Politics, fame, fortune, power – all became enwrapped in the message, and many times overtook the essence of the teaching, accreting all around it mansions of glory and stories of life and death, which as the centuries rolled on, little resembled the import of the original.
Thus disagreement naturally evolved, mincing words and forgetting concepts which are central to all the major religions. Strip away the dogma, the accretions of political nonsense, and look at the original teachings of the major religions with an eye to similarity, and I think you will find them in hearty agreement.
A question asked of Dr. Ingrid Mattson during the Dalia Lama’s recent visit to Seattle was; "Some people wonder: if God wanted harmony, why did he create more than one religion?" Her thought was that inherent in these various religions is the opportunity for all humanity to learn tolerance. I would add for us also to be able to respect others’ choices and be non-judgmental of people with different outlooks. Succinctly, to actually live the concept of universal brotherhood, the oneness of life.
Mahatma Gandhi said; “In nature there is fundamental unity running through all diversity we see about us. Religions are given to mankind so as to accelerate the process of realization of fundamental unity.”
Swami Vivekananda wrote; “We know that toleration is not sufficient toward another religion; we must accept it. Thus it is not a question of subtraction, it is a question of addition. The truth is the result of all these different sides added together. Each religion represents one side, the fullness being the addition of all these.”
Krishnamurti said; “When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim, or a Christian, or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition [or by anything I would submit] it breeds violence.”
Let us therefore look for the commonality, the agreement among religions, and not focus on their separateness. Let us look for the common thread which binds us all together as one humanity, one world, all struggling for common understanding of the truth which lives all about and within us. – Talk delivered December 2008
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