Friday, September 14, 2012

Many paths to the summit

There have been recent incidents where one of the great religion's followers felt hurt and offended (and probably frightened) by those of another.  So, Huston Smith's fine writing about Hinduism's official take (not always actual actions, certainly, but the ideal) on plurality of religions seems relevant.

That Hinduism has shared her land for centuries with Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians may help explain a final idea that comes out more clearly through her than through the other great religions; namely, her conviction that the various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal. To claim salvation as the monopoly of any one religion is like claiming that God can be found in this room but not the next, in this attire but not another. Normally, people will follow the path that rises from the plains of their own civilization; those who circle the mountain, trying to bring others around to their paths, are not climbing. In practice India's sects have often been fanatically intolerant, but in principle most have been open. Early on, the Vedas announced Hinduism's classic contention that the various religions are but different languages through which God speaks It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge. At base, in the foothills of theology, ritual, and organizational structure, the religions are distinct. Differences in culture, history, geography, and collective temperament all make for diverse starting points. Far from being deplorable, this is good; it adds richness to the totality of the human venture. Is life not more interesting for the varied contributions of Confucianists, Taoists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians? "How artistic," writes a contemporary Hindu, "that there should be room for such variety—how rich the texture is, and how much more interesting than if the Almighty had decreed one antiseptically safe, exclusive, orthodox way. Although he is Unity, God finds, it seems, his recreation in variety!" But beyond these differences, the same goal beckons. For evidence of this, one of Hinduism's nineteenth-century saints sought God successively through the practices of a number of the world's great religions. In turn he sought God through the person of Christ, the imageless, God-directed teachings of the Koran, and a variety of Hindu God-embodiments. In each instance the result was the same: The same God (he reported) was revealed, now incarnate in Christ, now speaking through the Prophet Muhammad, now in the guise of Vishnu the Preserver or Shiva the Completer. Out of these experiences came a set of teachings on the essential unity of the great religions that comprise Hinduism's finest voice on this topic.

Smith, Huston (2004-05-10). The World's Religions, Revised and Updated (Plus) (Kindle Locations 1626-1647). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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