The Quest of Every Heart
from In Search of the
True Light Part 1
There is a common thirst in the hearts of
Most human beings are searching.
Searching for purpose. Searching for fulfillment. Searching for identity.
"Who am I?" is a question that echoes deep in the heart of collective
humanity. "Why am I here?" is the question that follows close behind.
Then inevitably, "Where am I going? What's my destiny in this world and
what's going to happen to me after death?"
Darkness is a good description of the condition of our minds
before discovering the truth. We are born in darkness - the darkness of
sense-consciousness. Initially, we are able to define life only by the input
that comes to us through the five sensory gates. Many years are spent, from
infancy through adulthood, in the development and maturing of these senses. In
the process, human beings tend to relate to themselves only within these
experiential boundaries. What a mistake it is to stop at these gates, for if our
motivation is only toward the gratification of bodily cravings, how empty is
that most important and most enduring part!
Life in this world teaches us that daylight always follows the dark-ness of
night. In like manner, no person confronted with the spiritual darkness that
drapes humanity should despair, thinking that light-producing answers are not
available. In a spiritual sense, light also follows darkness, especially for
those who hear the truth and have an opportunity to embrace it.
How insightful it is that all living things - the child in
the womb, the embryo in the egg, and the tiny sprout in a germinating seed - enter
this world in a bowed position! Maybe, just maybe, this is a subtle hint from
the Creator that we have all been created for one main purpose: to 'bow'
before him adoringly all the days of our earthly sojourn.
Though some have dared to question his existence, nature
herself imprints on the minds of men the idea of God. It is impossible to
meditate on the intricate beauty of a flower, the complexities of the human
body, or the vastness of the universe without being filled with awe toward the
magnificent One who fashioned it all. From macrocosm to microcosm, creation
sings an inspiring song. Writings considered sacred in many religions often
celebrate the Creator by celebrating his creation. The following examples are
- "The heavens declare the glory of
God; and the earth shows His handiwork." (Psalm 19:1,
- "Your Name is affirmed by the mantle of the
forest; your infinity proclaimed by every blade of grass." (Jaap
Sahib 1, Sikhism)
- "The light of the sun, the sparkling dawn
of the days, all this is for your praise, O Wise Lord" (Avesta,
Yasna 50.10, Zoroastrianism)
Being filled with wonder when viewing the grandeur and
beauty of the creation should come as natural as breathing to any human being.
The next 'gasp' of inspiration, however, should be an even greater sense
of wonder concerning the Creator himself. When this happens, a holy
metamorphosis takes place - mind-ruled 'seekers' of truth suddenly become
heart-led 'adorers' of the Author of truth. At this stage of the journey,
language is left behind. Earth-born words on the lips of finite men simply
cannot express the full glory of the heavenly, Infinite One. I believe Guru
Nanak, founder of Sikhism, was overcome with this kind of spiritual elixer - this
love that defies language - when he authored the following verse:
"Were I to live for millions of years,
And drink the air for my nourishment,
I should still not be able to express Thy worth.
How great shall I call Thy name!"
(Siri Rag 2.1, 3)
Though I no longer embrace the Sikh worldview, I certainly
agree with the passion for God expressed in this quote. Yes, God's greatness
is inexpressible. Even so, our daily duty - rather, our moment-by-moment
privilege - is to find creative, ever-increasing ways of declaring his eternal
majesty, beauty and value. Though in this life, we may never reach the top of
the ladder that stretches from earth to heaven - we must each 'awake from
sleep' (as Jacob, the grandson of Abraham did) and declare, "Surely,
the Lord is in this place and I knew it not!" (Genesis 28:16) What
a grand discovery - God can be found; he can be known; he can be experienced - in
this wearisome, and sometimes heartbreaking world!
The Most High God always has been, and always will be, our
'natural habitat.' How can a fish survive once removed from the water? How
can an eagle be content in a cage, once accustomed to the windy heights? And
how can human beings, created to enjoy communion with the Source of all
things, ever be truly alive or content without the realization of this supreme
Religion - The Human Phenomenon
The concept of religion is a dominant theme within the human
race. Though the following individuals often embrace conflicting viewpoints on
key doctrinal issues, still, their definitions of this essential facet of the
human experience often strike a harmonious chord:
Mahatma Ghandi made the profound comment:
"Religion ismore an
integral part of one's self than one's body. Religion is the tie that
binds one to one's Creator and while the body perishes, as it has to,
religion persists even after death."1
Henry Pitt Van Dusen's definition pries the door open
"Religion is the reaching out of one's whole
being - mind, body, spirit, emotions, intuitions, will - for completion,
for inner unity, for true relation with those about us, for right relation
to the universe in which we live."
A.W. Tozer, a popular Christian writer, proposed:
"True religion confronts earth with heaven and
brings eternity to bear on time."
Meher Baba emphasized:
"The real meaning of
religion is to know God, to see God and to be one with God. Everything else
about religion is an exercise in rites and rituals."2
The motto of the Theosophical Society (taken from the Mahabharata)
reduces all of these definitions to their simplest essence - "There is
no religion higher than truth."
Most worldviews concur, if we are really 'religious,' it
should strongly impact our character and our day-to-day existence. As British
statesman, Edmond Burke, explained - "Religion is essentially the art
and the theory of the remaking of man. Man is not a finished creation."
Some of the best quotes dealing with this far more pragmatic view follow:
- Albert Einstein - "True religion is real
living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and
- Ralph Waldo Emerson - "Religion is to do
right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble."
- Ramakrishna - "Common men talk bagfuls
of religion but act not a grain of it, while the wise man speaks little, but
his whole life is a religion acted out."
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - "Religion should
forward a way of life[that] every thought, word, and action of the
individual may be guided by a higher purpose"4
After reading these similar sounding quotes, some readers
might feel a compulsion to immediately dive into the deep waters of full
religious syncretism. However, before you jump off the cliff, you need to
closely inspect the nuances, the subtle shades of meaning, conveyed by each of
these statements. Often, you will find them to be at opposite ends of the
theological spectrum. For instance, the Theosophical quote above is powerful and
correct, yet a Theosophist's interpretation of 'truth' may be quite
different than someone of another worldview. And the idea of 'knowing' God
has a unique slant when coming from Meher Baba, for he professed to be an
incarnation of God, a claim adherents of many other religions would quickly
A dark and negative view flowed from the atheistic pen of
Karl Marx. This architect of communism dubbed religion "the opiate of the
people." He was apparently suggesting that religion distorts the senses,
granting a false sense of euphoria that prevents religious persons from dealing
with reality. Actually, the opposite is true. Materialism and sensualism are the
real culprits, the 'opiate-like' influences that distort reality. These have
a drug-like, even addictive influence on human beings causing them to be
consumed with temporal things. Those who seek fulfillment in the pleasures of
this life often seem lulled into a false sense of security, the deception that
these things will somehow go on forever. Those who are wise recognize the
transient state of this world and seek those things that have eternal value.
The world is teeming with countless expressions of religious devotion. These
are primarily the product of man's longing to embrace, not the transient, but
the transcendent. Almost every culture and people-group possesses a distinctive
worldview and path that promises to lead to spirituality. This includes
doctrines, ceremonies and traditions usually designed with the hope of entering
and maintaining a right relationship with some kind of Deity. Being able to even
conceptualize such a possibility is one thing that sets man apart in his special
William Howells, the American novelist, observed that man is a "creature
who comprehends things he cannot see and believes in things he cannot
comprehend." Though at the beginning of life's journey God is
incomprehensible to all of us, those who are lovers of light dare to believe
they can overcome this time-locked, earth-bound, carnal-clad condition of
existence. Eagerly, they seek to comprehend - but lacking confidence in their
own ability to discern the truth, they usually gravitate toward those who appear
very confident. Thus, religions are brought to birth in this world: the unsure
placing their trust in those who claim to be very sure, with regard to
understanding the mysteries of life.
This term "religion" has an interesting origin.
Quite possibly, it stems from the Latin word religio which can mean something
done with meticulous care. Then again, it may be derived from the verb religare,
which can mean to bind back or to bind together. Cicero believed
it came from two words - re legere - which mean to read again or reflect
upon, certainly a reference to the practice of meditating on the Scripture
to ascertain its meaning. He also felt it came from the root word leg
meaning to take up, gather, count or observe.
All of these interpretations have value, because as seekers
of truth meticulously and carefully observe the patterns of life and as
they study those 'communications' believed to be divinely inspired,
they gather a harvest of beliefs - about the earth, the cosmos, our
relationships with other human beings, and the 'Power' that brought all
things into being. This ordinarily results in a sense of holy obligation, the
seeker binding himself to those concepts in the hope of possessing
greater meaning, purpose and destiny in life. Moreover, those of common beliefs
tend to bind themselves to each other - forming a community that often
transcends geographical, political, social and cultural boundaries.
There are, at least, four different types of religions.
(1) Natural religion
occurs because of four fundamental influences that affect ALL people: first, man's
innate, God-given desire to know and serve his Creator; second, his ability, at
times, to rationalize the existence and basic attributes of the Eternal God;
third, the subtle, subliminal influence of the Holy Spirit who woos the human
race by convicting the consciences of all men; and fourth, the automatic,
resulting sense of responsibility and accountability that such affected persons
often feel toward this grand Designer who gave them existence. Quite often,
seeing the amazing beauty and complexity of the universe awakens 'natural
religion' in the souls of the children of this world. This excites a response
of worship, though the full identity of the worshipped One is uncertain.
(2) Invented religion
usually has its roots in 'natural religion,' but religious architects go
beyond their initial, inspired insights to interpolate all kinds of self-created
doctrines, concepts and traditions. This results in the development of a belief
system that is primarily the product of human imagination and often bears little
or no resemblance to the natural religion that spawned it.
(3) Revealed religion
is pure truth, disclosed by the Source of truth himself. Recipients of revealed
religion do not always seek such intuitive insights; these flashes of truth come
at the will of the Almighty. Being divinely authored, they are infallible and
irrefutable. (Of course, the adherents of many 'invented religions' will
claim their worldviews actually fall under the heading of 'revealed religions.')
(4) Enhanced religion
takes place when those exposed to 'revealed religion' add humanly devised
concepts and traditions to what God has revealed. The result? Either the
dilution or the pollution of the truth.
Even though only one of these four types of religion has the
power to actually bring fulfillment and completion to its adherents, still,
there are certain benefits - whether real or imagined - that normally follow the
exercise of religious devotion in all of its forms.
In his classic book titled The World's Living Religions,
Robert E. Hume summarized these benefits. The following list is drawn primarily
from his observations, but condensed into a more readable format:
"Religion gives to a person what he can obtain from
no other source" -
• Confidence in the outcome of life's struggles.
• An added sense of power and satisfaction.
• Help to bear the troubles of life uncomplainingly.
• A solution for the problem of evil.
• Improves the quality of this present life.
• Offers the hope of a better life in the future.
• Outlines an ideal society and influences others
to achieve that goal.
• Sets forth a working plan of salvation.
• Strengthens human relationships by granting a
fulfilling sense of community.
function of religion, in contrast with that of philosophy or ethics, or any of
the idealizing or cultural activities, is to give to a human being the supreme
satisfaction of his life through a vital relationship with what he recognizes as
the superhuman Power, or powers, in the world."5
Admittedly, there are countless opinions offered in many
religions concerning the nature and attributes of this "superhuman
Power," as well as the correct "solution for the problem of evil"
and "working plan of salvation." Yet in all the contradictions, there
are some welcome common elements. These commonalities are discovered, not so
much in the upper levels of theological teaching, but at the base. They usually
concern foundational issues, like guidelines for moral and ethical behavior or
simple longing to believe in God and communicate with him. At times, these ideas
are not only similar; they are universally acceptable.
On the next seven pages you will find some choice quotes
drawn from the 'holy books' of various religions on the following seven
fundamental subjects: the Golden Rule, Separation from the World, Prayer,
Character Development, Faith, Love and Compassion.
The Golden Rule
The social, relational concept that has been termed
"The Golden Rule" is found in the teachings of almost all
religions, as well as popular philosophical sources. Sometimes it is
worded in the positive ("Do unto others"); sometimes
the negative ("Do not do to others").
thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself." (Bahá'u'lláh)6
"Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga
5, 18) "Consider others as yourself." (Dhammapada 10.1)
"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this
is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12)
Confucianism: "Is there one maxim that
ought to be acted upon throughout one's whole life? Surely it is the maxim of
lovingkindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto
you." (Analects 15, 23)
Greek Philosophy: "Treat your friends
as you would want them to treat you." (Aristotle, Lives and
Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, 5:21; Bohn Library translation, 188) "Do
not do to others what you would not wish to suffer yourself." (Isocrates,
Isocrates Cyprian Orations, 149)
Hinduism: "Men gifted with intelligence
and purified souls should always treat others as they themselves wish to be
treated." (Mahabharata 13.115.22)
Islam: "Not one of you is a believer
until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." (Forty Hadith
of an-Nawawi 13)
Jainism: "A man should treat all
creatures in the world as he himself would like to be treated." (Sutra-keit-anga)
Judaism: "Don't take vengeance on or
bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as
yourself: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:18) "What is hateful to
you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire Law; all the rest is
commentary." (Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 31a)
Sikhism: "As thou deemest thyself, so
deem others. Then shalt thou become a partner in heaven." (Kabir's
Hymns, Asa 17)
Taoism: "Regard your neighbor's gain
as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." (T'ai
Shang Kan Ying P'ien)
nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not
good for itself." (Dadistan-i-dinik 94, 5)
Separation From The World
"Separation From The
World" is another common theme found
in almost all religions. Most worldviews agree that to experience Ultimate
Reality, there must be some kind of renunciation of that which is
transitory. To experience that which is pure, there must be a renunciation
of that which is evil.
my brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and
severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the
eternal morning dawn." (The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, 21)
Buddhism: "Come behold this world,
which is like unto an ornamented royal chariot, wherein fools flounder, but for
the wise there is no attachment." (Dhammapada 171)
Christianity: Jesus said of his disciples,
"They are not of the world even as I am not of the world." (John
Confucianism: "To conserve his stock of
virtue, the superior man withdraws into himself and thus escapes from the evil
influences around him." (I Ching 12: Stagnation)
becomes immortal who seeks the general good of man, who does not grieve and who
can renounce the world." (Mahabharata 5.46.20)
Islam: "Renounce the world and Allah
will love you." (Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 40, 31)
Jainism: "He who is rich in control
renounces everything, and meditates on the reflections of lifeLike a ship
reaching the shore, he gets beyond misery." (Sutra-Kritanga Sutra
Judaism: "You are to be holy, for I am
holy." (Leviticus 11:45) "Learn not the way of the
heathen." (Jeremiah 10:2)
Shinto: "Leave the things of this
world, and come to Me daily and monthly with pure bodies and pure hearts." (Oracle
of the Deity Atago)
Sikhism: "Yoga consists not in
frequenting tombs and cremation grounds, nor in falling into trances; nor lies
it in wandering about the world, nor in ritual bathing. To live immaculate
amidst the impurities of the world - this is true yoga practice." (Adi
Granth, Suhi, M.1, p. 730)
Taoism: "If one have
done deeds of wickedness, but afterwards alters his way, and repents, resolved
not to do anything wicked, but to practice reverently all that is good, he is
sure in the long run to obtain good fortune" (Tai-Shang Kan-Ying Pien,
"Prayer" is another
vital subject. Most religions affirm that
in order to touch the Creator or penetrate Ultimate Reality, we must be
people of prayer and use effective methods. Let us be mindful of F. B.
Meyer's comment, "The great tragedy of life is not unanswered
prayer, but unoffered prayer."
Christianity: Jesus taught,
"Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and
you will have them." (Mark 11:24)
Hinduism: The instruction of Deity is to,
"Worship me through meditation in the sanctuary of the heart." (Srimad
Islam: "Prayer restrains one from
shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest thing in life,
without doubt." (Qur'an 29.45)
Judaism: "Prayer should not be recited
as if a man were reading a document." (Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 4.3)
Meher Baba: "The ideal prayer to the
Lord is nothing more than spontaneous praise of his being."7
Roman Philosophy: "Live among men as if
God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening." (Seneca: Epistolue
Shinto: "Pray in all righteousness and
the Deity will be pleased to listen to your supplication. Foolish is he who, in
impatient eagerness and without following the path of righteousness, hopes to
obtain divine protection." (Shinto-Uden-Futsujosho)
Sikhism: "Of all the prayers of the
heart, the best prayer is the prayer to the Master to be given the grace of
properly praising the Lord." (Adi Granth, Maru Ashtpadi, M.5, p. 1018)
Theosophy (Bhagavan Dass): "It is not
enough to pray, however sincerely, that God's Will be done on earth; it is
necessary also to know what that Will is; if we are toact in obedience to
United Church of Religious Science (Dr. Ernest Holmes):
"Some prayers are more effective than others. Some only help us to endure,
while others transcend conditions"9
Zoroastrianism: "The pure whom you have
found worthy for their righteousness and their good mind, fulfill their desire,
O Wise Lord, let them attain it! I know that words of prayer which serve a good
end are successful before you." (Avesta, Yasna 28.10)
is normally emphasized in all religions. Moral
and ethical guidelines fill the doctrinal base of most writings considered
sacred. All tend to agree that human beings cannot achieve their highest
potential until they rise above the sense-driven aspect of their lower nature.
Buddhism: "By degrees,
little by little, from time to time, a wise person should remove his own
impurities as a smith removes the dross from silver." (Dhammapada 239)
Christianity: "We also glory in
tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance,
character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:3"“4)
Confucianism: "The moral man's life
is an exemplification of the universal orderthe vulgar person's life is a
contradiction of the universal order" (Doctrine of the Mean 2)
Greek Philosophy: "The end of life is
to be like God, and the soul following God will be like him." (Socrates)
Hinduism: According as one acts, so does he
become. The doer of good becomes good; the doer of evil becomes evil. One
becomes virtuous by virtuous actions; bad, by bad actions." (Brihad-Aranyaka
Islam: Abu Huraira reported God's
Messenger as saying, "The believers whose faith is most perfect are those
who have the best character." (Hadith of Abu Dawud and Darimi)
Jainism: "Right belief, right
knowledge, right conduct, these together constitute the path to
liberation." (Tattvarthasutra 1.1)
Judaism: "Study of Torah leads to
precision, precision to zeal, zeal to cleanliness, cleanliness to restraint,
restraint to purity, purity to holiness, holiness to meekness, meekness to fear
of sin, fear of sin to saintliness, saintliness to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy
Spirit to life eternal." (Babylonian Talmud, Avoda Zara 20b)
Sikhism: "Liberation comes from living
the holy Word." (Adi Granth, Sri Raga, Ashtpati, M.1, p. 62)
Taoism: "Do not swerve from the path of
virtuelest you cast away that which links you to God." (Kwang Tze
to life, purity is for man the greatest good. That purity is in the religion of
the Wise One for him who cleanses his own self with good thoughts, words and
deeds." (Vendidad 5.21)
"Faith" is the
heart-pulsation of any worldview. It keeps the
'blood flow' of spiritual vitality flowing through the spiritual veins
of its adherents, and perpetuates its doctrine to future generations.
"essence" of faith is "fewness of words and abundance of
deeds." (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas,
Buddhism: "Faith is the best wealth to
man here." (Sutta Nipata 181: Coomara Samy, Sutta Nipata 48, Alavaka
Sutta 2) "By faith you shall be free and go beyond the world of
death." (Sutta Nipata 1146)
Christianity: "Now faith is the
substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews
Confucianism: "Heaven makes hard
demands on faith." (Shi King 188.8.131.52.3) "A people without faith
cannot stand." (Analects 12.7.3)
Hinduism: "Without faith, whatever
offering or gift is made or work done or penance performed, it is reckoned
"not-being" both now and hereafter." (Bhagavad-Gita 17.28)
Islam: "The true believers are those
whose hearts are filled with awe at the mention of God, and whose faith grows
stronger as they listen to His revelations." (Qur'an 8.2)
Jainism: "Without faith there is no
knowledge, without knowledge there is no virtuous conduct, without virtues there
is no deliverance, and without deliverance there is no perfection
[Nirvana]." (Uttaradhyayana Sutra 28.30)
Judaism: "The just shall live by his
faith." (Habakkuk 2:4)
Sikhism: "Inexpressible is the state of
faith; whoever attempts to describe it shall in the end regret his rashness.
This state pen and paper cannot record, nor cogitation penetrate its secret. The
great, immaculate Name of God may only be realized by one whose mind is firmly
fixed in faith" (Adi Granth, Japji 12"“15, M.1, p.3)
Taoism: "Faith, if insufficient, is apt
to become no faith at all." (Tao-Te Ching 17.1; also 23.3)
Transcendentalism: "All that I have
seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen." (Ralph
United Church of Religious Science (Dr. Ernest Holmes):
"In order to keep faith, we must allow nothing to enter our thought
which will weaken this conviction."10
Similar to the "Golden Rule," "Love"
and "Compassion" are also unifying
components in all the positive religious approaches in this world. In a world
sick with senseless hate and selfish lust, the revelation of love provides a
healing balm. This quality injects meaning and purpose into that which can
appear, at times, to be meaningless and purposeless.
The humanist poet,
"Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest
right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the
redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart of life, and is
prophetic of eternal good."
Those who have 'eyes that see' cannot help but behold
these choice character traits celebrated, proclaimed and evidenced in many of
the religious communities that make up our global family.
is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with
man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soulLove is the most great
law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycleLove revealeth with unfailing
and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe." (From the
writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 27)
Buddhism (Tibetan): The Dalai Lama, the most
visible religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, warns: "Love, compassion and
tolerance are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot
the embodiment of divine love, urged his followers, "love your enemies, do
good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and
you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and
evil." (Luke 6:35) "By this will all men know that you are my
disciples, if you have love for one another."
(John 13:35) John,
the beloved disciple, added, "God is love, and he who abides in love
abides in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16)
Jainism: "Charity - to be moved at the
sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable, and to offer relief to them
out of pity - is the spring of virtue." (Kundakunda Pancastikaya 137)
Judaism: "Administer true justice.
Let everyone show mercy and compassion to his brother.'" (Zechariah
immersed in the love of God feel love for all things." (Adi Granth,
Wadhans, M.1, p. 557) "Hear ye, for I speak the Truth, only those who
Love will experience the Almighty!" (Tav Prasad Savvayaa, Guru Gobind
Sufism (Mystical Islam):
"The essence of God is love and the Sufi path is a path of loveLove is
to see what is good and beautiful in everythingThe aim of the Sufi is to be
accepted as a lover by the Beloved, that is, by God."13
"Love means that the attributes of the lover are changed into those of the
Beloved. Now he lives in accordance with the saying of God: "When I love
him, I will be his eye by which he sees and his hearing by which he hears and
his hand by which he reaches out.""14
Universalist Lebanese poet,
Kahlil Gibran, writes, "When you love you should not say, "God is
in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God." And think
not that you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course."15
And there is no more inspiring definition of compassion than
one shared by the well-known Buddhist
teacher, Sharon Salzberg:
"Compassion makes the narrow
heart as wide as the world."16
If we are truly prayerful, inspired, sensitive persons - certainly
this will be the case. Our hearts will widen to embrace this world with its
amazing diversity, to deeply love those who may be quite different from us,
culturally and religiously. When this happens to us, we may well stumble on a
profound realization - that in all of these quotes on various subjects there can
be heard an echo of the heart-cry that connects us all.
Passion for God Must be Respected
Being a Christian minister, I believe in the exclusivity of
Christ. However, I also believe passion for God should be respected whenever and
wherever it is found. One of the most evident examples of such spiritual fervor
is discovered in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Traditional Muslims
emphasize the idea of the transcendence of God - that God is far too lofty and
holy, and man, far too degraded and sinful, for any kind of personal indwelling
and relationship to take place.
On the other hand, Sufis accentuate Mohammed's teaching
that God is "nearer than your jugular vein." (Qur'an 50:16)
They contend that deep, personal communion with God is possible, and ecstatic,
spiritual experiences with him, obtainable. The Sufis are world renowned for
their 'love-poetry' - religious ardor captured in verse toward the desirable
Eternal One, the Beloved. None is more heartwarming than the following excerpt
from a Persian devotional poem by 'Abdallah al-Ansari:
Thou, Whose breath is sweetest perfume"Give me sight, O Lord," they
to the spent and anguished heart,
Thy remembrance to Thy lovers bringeth
ease for every smart.
Multitudes like Moses, reeling,
cry to earth's remotest place.
seeking to behold Thy face.
Multitudes no man hath numbered,
lovers, and afflicted all,
Stumbling on the way of anguish,
"Allah, Allah" loudly call.
And the fire of separation
sears the heart and burns the breast,
And their eyes are wet with weeping
for a love that gives not rest.
Oh God, all other men are drunk with wine:
The wine-bearer is my fever.
Their drunkenness lasts but a night,
While mine abides forever.17
Such poetry gets to the heart of what true religion is all
about - longing for God, for a real experience of God, not just intellectual
concepts about God. All who are parched spiritually, all who feel this 'unquenchable
thirst,' can relate to such poetic language, especially if they believe that,
on an ultimate level, God is personal. Where the words "Allah, Allah"
appear, almost anyone could insert the Name for God he or she feels is correct
and quote the rest of the poem unashamedly, with watering eyes.
Though the externals of religion often leave
participants dry and unfulfilled, this longing for an internal experience
of Ultimate Reality is what binds true seekers together on our pilgrimage, our
quest for understanding. It is this emphasis on the importance of the 'internal
state' as compared to the 'external' that gave birth to the
"Love the pitcher less, and
the water more."18
This is a valuable truth that needs to resound in our minds
again and again. We need to love the "pitcher" less - the form, the
rules, the rituals, the dogma. And we need to love the "water" more - the
deep flow of divine influence that alone can quench our thirst. You see, 'religion'
is the pitcher; 'relationship' is the water - the living water - that alone
can overflow the heart and fill the life. Many religions have conceptualized the
means of possessing this spiritual panacea. The Sufis and others have fervently
sought it. Only a select and unique people have actually found it. Is it
shrouded in esoteric mysteries understood only by a few initiates? No, not
really. Actually, the way is so plain, it is often overlooked.
Interpreting the Names of
Various Religious Groups
In searching for common elements in various religions, it is
helpful to inspect the interpreted
meanings of the names of these groups.
Together, they strike quite a harmonious chord.
A Buddhist is one who seeks "enlightenment."
A Christian is one who seeks "Christ-likeness."
An ECKANKAR devotee is one who seeks to be "a co-worker with God."
A Jainist is one who seeks to "conquer" attachment to this world.
A Jew is one who seeks to be a source of "praise to God."
A Kabbalist is one who seeks to "receive"an experience of the Divine
(through the practice and contemplation of the Torah).
A Muslim is one who seeks "submission" to God and to the truth.
A Sikh is one who seeks to be a "disciple," a "follower" of
A Sufi is one who seeks "purity" and "mystical insight."
A Taoist is one who seeks to live in "the Way."
A Theosophist is one who seeks "divine wisdom."
A Yoga devotee is one who seeks to be "yoked with God."
Without controversy, the interpreted meanings of the names
of these religious groups are descriptive of characteristics that should
be the goal of any sincere seeker of truth.
When seekers of truth observe similarities such as these,
almost inevitably they assume that all these religions are interrelated, that
they spring from the same source, that "True Light" radiates from
every one of them. At one time, this would have been my conclusion as well. Now,
as a follower of Jesus Christ, I abide securely within well-defined and
exclusive doctrinal walls - yet I am very willing to admit that these
commonalities exist. But how did they get there? This is one of the questions
that pleads for an answer, an issue that is yet to be resolved in another part
of this site.
The Common Pulse of Spirituality
Spirituality involves being receptive and responsive to
supernatural realities. When sensitivity in this area 'lights' on a society
in a positive way, it normally 'pollinates' that people-group with a desire
to aim for higher ideals. Those so influenced tend to 'blossom' with
righteous character and compassionate works. This is of great benefit - whenever,
wherever and however it happens. We live in a world that is far too often bent
on pleasure-seeking and self-gratification. How refreshing it is to find people
in every culture who want to lift their world to a better place! How reassuring
it is to know there are still those who reach for virtue, kindness and goodness!
Just as every individual cell in the human body pulsates with the pulsation
of the heart, so all positive religions appear to have a common pulsation. This
has caused many to conclude, as Theosophist Annie Besant:
"Each religion has its
own mission in the world, is suited to the nations to whom it is given and
to the type of civilization it is to permeate."19
Or dramatist George Bernard Shaw, who proposed:
"There is only one
religion, though there are a hundred versions of it."
Pause for a moment. Think deeply. Dwell on the full
ramifications of such an idea. For many thoughtful and compassionate persons,
reaching such a conclusion erects a pleasing portal, especially those whose
hearts groan for unity among men. However, those who entertain this proposition,
must be prepared to answer another important and related question:
"Just because certain
basic beliefs appear to have equal value and validity, do we leap to the
conclusion that ALL of the doctrines of these various religious groups are
valuable and valid?"
Asking such a question does not show lack of love or
narrow-mindedness. It merely reveals a longing for genuineness. Buddha was
apparently a passionate seeker for "True Light." At one point, he also
must have dwelt on this pivotal issue.
Upon reviewing the conventional belief system ingrained in
his particular culture, region and era, Buddha dared to go against the grain.
Not only did he reject many traditional beliefs as invalid, he urged his
hearers, if they encountered questionable doctrine, to do likewise. His
admonition is still relevant today:
"Believe nothingmerely because you have been
told itor because it is traditional, or because you yourselves have
imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of
respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and
analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare
of all beings - that doctrine believe andtake it as your guide."
(Kalama Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya III.65)20
Though I differ with Buddha on many major issues, I readily
relate to this statement. Seeking hearts should be neither gullible nor
skeptical. They should be open, respectful, ready to listen to any viewpoint,
but discerning enough, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to only accept that
which is of the "True Light." The rationalist philosopher Voltaire
"If God didn't exist,
man would have to invent him."
Though I disagree with any insinuation that God could be a
mere product of the imagination, I must admit this statement nudges my heart
toward another important consideration.
Most human beings crave ultimate answers for the mysteries of life. So could
it be, that in many cases, lacking true revelation, they have actually 'invented'
various concepts about God and his universe? Or being unsure of themselves and
easily influenced, have they merely accepted someone else's 'invented'
worldview? Participants in either one of these scenarios may be quite sincere in
striving for answers and quite sincere in arriving at conclusions - but
sincerity is not always an indication of veracity.
Part of finding the "True Light" involves discerning correct
doctrine from that which is the product of man's propensity for inventiveness
in spiritual matters, his impressionable nature and his passion for religious
1 The World's Great Religions
(New York: Time Incorporated, 1957) p. 16.
2 Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher, vol. 12 (Asheville, North Carolina:
Manifestation, Inc.) p. 809.
3 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (Ware, Hertfordshire, Great Britain:
Wordsworth Editions, Ltd., 1996) p. 48.
4 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Science of Being and Art of Living (New York:
Meridian, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books, 1995) p.
5 Robert E Hume, The World's Living Religions (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1936) p. 2.
6 Peter Smith, "Golden Rule," A Concise Encyclopedia of the
Bahá'í Faith (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2000) p. 165.
7 Meher Baba, Beams for Meher Baba on the Spiritual Panorama, ed. Ivy
Duce (Walnut Grove, California: Sufism Reoriented) n.p.*
8 Bhagavan Dass, The Essential Unity of All Religions (Kila, Montana:
Kessinger Publishing Company, rev. ed. 1939) p. 479.
9 Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind (New York: R.M McBride and Co.,
1938, New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., rev. and enl. ed., 1966) p. 155 (page
citation is to reprint edition).
10 Ibid., p. 159.
11 Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the World's Religions (Novato,
California: New World Library, 2000) p. 6.
12 Benjamin Shield and Richard Carlson, eds., For the Love of God
(Novato, California: New World Library, 1997) p. 3.
13 James Fadiman, ed., and Robert Frager, ed., Essential Sufism
(Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1998) pp. 14, 18.
14 Quoted by al-Ghazali in Margaret Smith, trans., Readings from the
Mystics of Islam, p. 35. This is not a quote from the Qur'an, but a
so-called Hadith Qudsi; quoted in John Alden Williams, ed., Islam
(New York City, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1962) p. 146.
15 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, p. 6.
16 David N. Elkins, Ph. D., "Compassion: A Way of Being in the World, An
Interview with Sharon Salzberg," Personal Transformation (Winter
1999): p. 58 (Sharon Salzberg is actually quoting the German monk and scholar,
17 John Alden Williams, ed., Islam (New York City, New
York: George Braziller, Inc., 1962) pp. 156, 158, Note: the last four lines are
from the very end of the poem.
18 Huston Smith, "Sufism," The Illustrated World's Religions:
A Guide to our Wisdom Tradition, Labyrinth Publishing (UK) Ltd., 1994) p.
19 Annie Besant, Four Great Religions, p. 7; quoted in
Robert E Hume, The World's Living Religions (New York: Charles Scribner's
Sons, rev. ed., 1936) p. 10.
20 Frank S. Mead, 12,000 Religious Quotations (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Baker Book House, 1989) p. 17. This particular translation is not a strict one.
A more precise translation of the same passage is: "Do not go upon what has
been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon
what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious
reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor
upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our
teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these
things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and
observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in
them." (Translated from the Pali by Soma Thera)