Religion percolates from above downwards - from a Seer (Incarnation, Prophet, Saint, Man of God or the Founder) to ordinary masses. While the Seer speaks from the transcendental standpoint (the state He has experienced in his life) the masses, who receive his message and teachings, are immersed in ordinary human consciousness. Thus, the original knowledge and teachings get diluted, and even distorted, in flow of time for want of requisite qualifications in the receivers. While experiences of the Seer are at superconscious plane, his words are at ordinary life consciousness.
The second important problem relates to the disciples and followers of such a Seer who erroneously think they have fully understood and acquired the knowledge from their Teacher. An occasional disciple might have had attained to such exalted state as his preceptor had, agreed, but such disciples are exceptions rather than the rule. The Seer has not one or ten, but thousands of followers and devotees. All these people, out of faith and devotion, claim to have understood the principles of religion. But is it really so?
Here comes the main difficulty. The Seer is like the ocean, and his followers come to the shore of this ocean to take away whatever little knowledge they can carry in their small vessels. Thus, everyone gains at least something, but at the same time leaves a large portion behind! Knowledge gained by the followers remains incomplete. Over a period of time, the decreasing stores of knowledge trickles down from one disciple to a group, getting further diminished at every stage.
Ultimately what remains is a caricature of original religious truths. Decline in religion (Dharma Glani) manifests as ritualistic monotony, crass materialism, and excessive engagement in sense pleasures with resultant lack of discrimination and renunciation. Values of kindness and generosity, forbearance and simplicity take backseat, contracting to the narrowness of nationalism and sectarianism. Selfishness replaces altruism, and religious fanaticism erupts as a legitimate weapon to spread the 'true religion' and destroy the 'false beliefs'. The priests and the rulers, the rich and powerful with vested interests become custodians of religious truths!
In such a hapless state of decline of righteousness, a Man of God comes on the scene to destroy wickedness and reestablish the path of dignified truth. These great seers and teachers come to 'set in motion the wheel of dharma' as did Lord Buddha 2500 years back. Such incarnations come from time to time, in every era, in every land and help revive the noble path of transcendental realization as the source and proof of Knowledge and Truth. They give the sagging wheel of spirituality a powerful push to move it again in right direction. Today the world faces such a situation.
Recent events in USA and all over the globe point to one fact: Unless we accept the truth of every religion (and faith) in the world, we stand to lose peace. The clashes would increase and untoward incidences would continue to plague humanity till we understand and accept 'harmony and co-existence of religions,' a phrase coined and used by Swami Vivekananda
in the World Parliament of Religions one hundred and eight years back. Those words were not mere rhetoric, not mere a concept; those words were proved in the life of his master, Sri Ramakrishna
as truths borne out of unusual sadhanas including those of Muslim and Christian faiths.
Subsequently, great scholars, peacemakers, and preachers insisted (and are still insisting) upon such necessity, but unfortunately had negligible audience. Why does this happen? Why are people not ready or interested in listening to the wise words of truth and sanity! Why such an apparently simple but true concept of 'harmony of religions' meets with resistance and blind eye and deaf ears? One should try to find answer to these questions.
I feel the reason lies in the foundations on which the religions base their principles. For instance, most religions are dualistic in their convictions. They proclaim separateness of individual being and Supreme Being: God. The name of Divine Being varies from one religion to the other, but important point to note is that every such named Supreme Being differs from the Supreme Being of the other religion! The statement of supreme truth that 'I am Brahman' and 'Truth is One, but sages call it by various names' are relegated to background of casual forgetfulness. Some religions even call such statements to be blasphemous, leading to further problems in accepting 'unity in diversity'. Some other religions are silent about the highest unitary principle that their founder saint has had alluded to, and are happy to adhere to dualistic teachings only. They are happy to accept 'The Father in Heaven', but reluctant to lend serious ear to 'My Father and I are One'.
Such dualistic approach posits one Supreme Being for each religion; and it follows that no one would like his or her 'Supreme Being' to be called inferior to other. Thus, unnecessary ideological clash sets in and the truth takes backseat in the quarrel over superficialities. In fact, what is not true is projected as truth. And it follows that a strong desire sets in the minds of such believers to convert others to their faith, which they believe to be the only true faith. The world gets divided into religious compartments, when there should have been none. Economic, military, and cultural factors add to the discomfort in such waywardness and erroneous analysis.
Advaita philosophy can solve the problem to some extent; I say to some extent because howsoever one may hammer the truthfulness of this philosophy the humanity is not yet ready to accept it, for it has not reached the state of full comprehension. This Advaita is not the property of Indian thought; it is the basis of every religion, whether one is ready and mature enough to see or feel it or not. This caveat should allay all doubts and fear about 'Hindu Superiority' etc.
What is this Advaita Principle?
Advaita says and maintains that 'each soul is potentially divine; religion is to manifest this divinity within. Do it by work or worship, by philosophy or psychic control (either singly or by any combination of these four paths) and be free.' This neo-Brahma-sutra of Swami Vivekananda is not a figment of imaginative brain; it is a spiritual fact visualized by ancient Rishis when no religion was born! There was no Hinduism, no Islam, no Christianity, no Judaism, no Sikhism, no Buddhism, no Jainism, when the Rishis of ancient Upanishadic period proclaimed these Truths: 'Tat Tvam Asi' - Thou Art That; 'Aham Brahmasmi' - I am that Supreme Being; 'Prajna-nam Brahman' - Knowledge is Brahman, and 'Ayam Atman Brahman' - this Atman in individual self and Brahman as the Supreme Self are one.
Sincere emphasis to decipher such meanings hidden in the Teachings and Books of one's religion is the need of the hour. Let us give a boost to religious unity by firing the rocket of knowledge to get established in the higher orbit of spirituality. Then there is a chance to get rid of some of the problems posed by religious fanaticism. Why should I love and serve others? Every religion calls for compassion, service, kindness, and help, but none can give reason why should one do so or be so. Only Advaita gives us the reason for all such noble gestures. Because you and I are one! Because everything is divine, because everybody is one God!
c s shah