Cause better served by religious leaders To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
November 22, 2001

Pope John Paul has invited "leaders of all the world's religions" to a meeting next month "to pray for peace and to work to overcome armed conflict." The cause may be better served if we have "religious leaders" instead of "leaders of religions."

It is ironic that religion, the true purpose of which is to bring harmony, peace, freedom and love to mankind, should become a doorway to tyranny, corruption and servility. Religion, not properly understood and applied, can breed all conceivable evils. Misdirected religion has been responsible for terrible hatred and bloodshed, exploitation and immorality. In many cases, too, religion has been a stumbling block to scientific, social and economic progress.

Critics of religion have a basis for their reasoning. "How many evils have flowed down from religion?" asked Lucretius, the Roman philosopher. Voltaire and Neitzche, both eminent thinkers, did not spare religion. "The truths of religion are never so understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning," said Voltaire, while Neitzche tersely commented, "A religious man thinks only of himself." When Karl Marx stated, "Religion is the opiate of the people," he was voicing the opinion of many who had seen how, in the name of religious authority, people were brutally subdued and exploited.

Kant, the great German philosopher, however, while admitting that religion does have a dark side, warns the critics not to be too harsh. "Religion", he said, "is too important a subject to its devotees to be a subject of ridicule." Swami Vivekananda presents both sides very soberly: -

"The most intense love that humanity has ever known has come from religion, and the most diabolical hatred has also come from religion. The noblest words of peace that the world has ever heard have come from men on the religious plane, and the bitterest denunciation has been uttered by men of religion. Nothing makes us so cruel as religion, and nothing makes us so tender as religion. No other human motive has deluged the world with so much blood as religion; at the same time, nothing has brought into existence so many hospitals and homes for the poor, and taken such care of humanity as religion. This has been so in the past, and will also, in all probability, be so in the future."

Sectarianism and fanaticism are two great evils which tarnish the name of religion. The theology that presents and preaches a God related to a chosen group of people, and a system of beliefs and practices which must be accepted as final and universal is a fallacious theology. Just as we accept differences in the faces of people, differences in language, food, habits and dresses of different people, in the same way we must accept differences of religious beliefs and practices. The Atharva Veda puts before us this noble idea:

"May the earth that bears different people, speaking varied languages,
With various religious rites, according to the places of abode,
Enrich me with a wealth of understanding in a thousand ways."

This recognition of a variety of languages and religions of mankind lies at the bottom of the catholic outlook of Hinduism. It recognizes that the earth does not belong to any one race, but to all mankind. It has aimed at creating unity in variety, and not conformity, - a unity, not under a common creed, but in a common quest. Its God is "of our own land, and of foreign land." [Atharva Veda].

God meets every aspirant with favour and grants to each his heart's desire. He does not extinguish the hope of any but helps all hopes to grow according to their nature. The Gita says, "Howsoever men seek Me, so do I accept them; for all mankind follow My path in every way." Hinduism recognizes the amazing variety of ways in which we may approach the Supreme.

Plotinus, in his Letter to Flaccus, wrote, "There are different roads by which this end of spiritual apprehension may be reached; the love of beauty that exalts a poet; that devotion to the One...; and that love and those prayers by which some devout and ardent soul tends in its moral purity towards perfection. These are the great highways conducting to that height...where we stand in the immediate presence of the Infinite..."

So long as the object of worship holds fast the attention of the soul, it enters our mind and heart and fashions them. The importance of the form is to be judged by the degree in which it expresses ultimate significance. Hinduism does not speak of this or that form of religion, but speaks of the impulse that is expressed in all forms, - the desire to find God and understand our relation to Him. Even crude views possess something by which men and women who want to live rightly are helped to do so. The quality of mind, and not the object determines whether the source is religious or not. Besides, our views of religion are not chosen by us. They are determined by our ancestry, upbringing and general environment.

In Thoughts of a Tertiary, Elizabeth Waterhouse wrote, "All worship was to him sacred, since he believed that in its most degraded forms, among the most ignorant and foolish of worshippers, there has yet been some true seeking after the Divine, and that between these and the most glorious ritual or the highest philosophic certainty, there lies so small a space that we may believe the Saints in paradise regard it with a smile."

Every scripture has two sides, one temporary and perishable, belonging to the ideas of the people of the period and the country in which it is produced, and the other eternal and imperishable, and applicable to all ages and countries. The intellectual expression and the psychological idiom are the products of time, while the permanent truths are capable of being lived and seen by a higher than intellectual vision at all times.

"There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names; it is however, pure and proceed from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no form of religion, nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren in the best sense of the expression." [John Woolman, the American Quaker Saint.]

We can, also, contemplate on the vision of Swami Vivekananda: "We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best."

Four blind men went out to know an elephant. One touched the leg and said, "The elephant is like a pillar." The second touched the trunk and said, "The elephant is like a thick club." The third touched the belly and said, "The elephant is like a big jar." The fourth touched the ears and said, "The elephant is like a big winnowing basket." A big dispute arose amongst themselves as regard the true nature of the elephant. A passer-by, upon enquiring, was told of the cause for their dispute and was asked to arbitrate. He told them, "None of you has seen the elephant. It is not a pillar; its legs are like pillars. It is not a winnowing basket; its ears are like a winnowing basket. It is not a jar; its belly is like a jar. It is not a club; its proboscis is like a club. The elephant is a combination of all these." It is, thus, that all those who have grasped only one aspect of Divinity, quarrel and fight amongst themselves.

Pt. R. Balbadar.