One Truth, Many Paths

World Religions
Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

If you wanted to answer the big questions such as why we are here and how to live a meaningful life, and you had no preconceived notions or indoctrination, the following puzzle would confront you: The world is filled with literally millions of people who say Christianity has the answer, millions who say Islam has the answer, millions who say Buddhism has the answer, millions who say Taoism has the answer, millions who say science has the answer, et cetera.

Now many of these people might be easy to write off as stupid or unquestioning, but within each of these belief systems also are some extremely intelligent, thoughtful people who are not so easy to dismiss. How to reconcile the fact that there are intelligent men advocating a range of beliefs?

One solution is to look at commonalities—to look for common themes that emerge when all of the major schools of thought are compared. What is common among the various perspectives has a much greater chance of being true since all we really have–barring a divine sign that is seen by our own eyes–is logic, observation and best guess.

In fact, there are common themes when you look at science and world faiths. The emphasis often is different, some paths are easier than others, and a lot of culture is mixed in with the timeless truths, but universal truth such as love and selflessness emerges from every faith. Beyond the rituals and the doctrines, it turns out that the various paths lead to the same end. All major religions, practiced earnestly, lead to the same basic place eventually.

“We must learn that truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand ways, and that each of these ways is true as far as it goes,” says Swami Vivekananda, who effectively brought Vedanta to the United States in the 1890s. “We must learn that the same thing can be viewed from a hundred different standpoints, and yet be the same thing.”

He goes on:

Take for instance the sun. Suppose a man standing on the earth looks at the sun when it rises in the morning; he sees a big ball. Suppose he starts on a journey towards the sun and takes a camera with him, taking photographs at every stage of his journey, until he reaches the sun. The photographs of each stage will be seen to be different from those of the other stages; in fact, when he gets back, he brings with him so many photographs of so many different suns, as it would appear; and yet we know that the same sun was photographed by the man at the different stages of his progress. Even so it is with the Lord. Through high philosophy or low, through the most exalted mythology or the grossest, through the most refined ritualism or arrant fetishism, every sect, every soul, every nation, every religion, consciously or unconsciously, is struggling upward, towards God; every vision of truth that man has is a vision of Him and none else.

Suppose we all go with vessels in our hands to fetch water from a lake. One has a cup, another a jar, another a bucket, and so forth, and we all fill our vessels. The water in each case naturally takes the form of the vessel carried by each of us. He who brought the cup has the water in the form of a cup; he who brought the jar—his water is in the shape of a jar, and so forth; but, in every case, water, and nothing but water, is in the vessel. So it is in the case of religion; our minds are like these vessels, and each one of us is trying to arrive at the realization of God. God is like that water filling these different vessels, and in each vessel the vision of God comes in the form of the vessel. Yet He is One. He is God in every case. This is the only recognition of universality that we can get.

The recognition that truth is one–that sages just call it by various names–is an important feature of Vedanta. Without sacrificing rigorous belief or sinking into relativism, Vedanta genuinely finds peace and unity with science and other faiths. Instead of antagonism or disagreement, Vedantins applaud the insight from scientific discovery and have infinite sympathy for all people. As long as there are different natures born in the world, the same spiritual truth will require different expressions and flavors to reach all natures. Spiritual truth is not one size fits all, even if the truth is the same at the deepest level.

Finding truth wherever it may be found and learning from other traditions also makes Vedanta a vital faith with a strong repertoire for reaching the divine.

“Its acceptance of diversity prevents [Vedanta] from becoming oppressive, monotonous, static and insipid,” writes Swami Tathagatananda, the senior minister at the Vedanta Society of New York. “It does not pigeonhole truth into a single creed, recommending instead various helpful disciplines suitable for growth in different individuals. Vedanta grants wide latitude for personal choice in religion.

“That is why,” continues Swami Tathagatananda, “we find religious expression in a bewildering variety of sects, rituals, beliefs and forms of worship. We worship according to our individual spiritual development and knowledge. A Sanskrit text draws attention to this fact of life: ‘The higher castes worship God in the fire, the advanced seekers meditate on Him in their own hearts, the ignorant think of Him in the image, and those who have attained to the Infinite realize His presence everywhere.’”

Each faith has its place; none has a monopoly on the truth. If the faith tradition you were born into makes sense and brings you closer to the truth, stick with it and practice it earnestly. If you are unsatisfied, keep looking but respect the faith traditions of others. We each are on our own spiritual journey.

For spiritual guidance, contact me and I will gladly help or put you in contact with someone who can.

 


3 Comments

  1. by Mae

    On January 1, 2012

    Well said. God (love) is universal. Only human constructs make it seem otherwise.

  2. by Kalhan

    On November 22, 2012

    Genetics of individual mind differs ,materially, so we ‘feel’ differently, being in the ‘sense’ world of individuality; with sincere meditation , with reverence in it,in depth, we can we can cross the barrier of the body-sense-genetics, and reach the higher ‘feel’ of nonmaterial purity to discover the realm of core unity in the ,so called, point-individuality…for , from the beginning to the end we are,we were, ONE.Thinking makes us differ, in the no-thought depth, we are eternally ONE.Peace is only in that state,for there is no conflict.

  3. by Kalhan

    On November 22, 2012

    That state is DIVINITY where we ‘exist’ in eternal unity.
    Process of religion, all religion, has got only purpose to cross the barrier of the ‘sense-perception’ and to reach the Divine-enjoyment and express the divine-treasure in our behaviour in the relation in the world around.

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