Aspiration for God, Light, Freedom, Bliss, and Immortality has been witnessed throughout all the ages of human civilization, since the human thought grew to be more and more self-conscious. The earliest records of human wisdom, namely the Vedas, testify to this aspiration, and although there have been short or long periods of skepticism, this aspiration appears to return, and even new religions owe their origin to this periodic return. The present period of skepticism has been rather too long, and even more devastating. But the Reason which, at one time, admitted only the evidence of physical senses, has been under great strain and there is a secret compulsion to admit higher sources of knowledge. On the other hand, while at one time, it was believed that revelations were special gifts of Prophets and Founders of Religions, and that therefore they could not be challenged to any scrutiny, rational or supra-rational, recent accounts of scientists have pointed out that their most precious discoveries were visitations of revelations or intuitions, and that they could be tested in due course of time. Also, in recent times there is increasing acknowledgement of Yoga, which lays down methods of cultivating powers of revelation, inspiration and intuition and the resulting knowledge can be tested on the anvil of repetition of the same methods and same results. Thus, as we begin the twenty-first century, the promise of yoga as scientific method of the knowledge by means of supra-rational faculties opens out the possibility of a new turning-point in the climate of the global world, where on account of increasing sweep of democratic and pluralistic systems, the rigid stand point of religion which regarded the realm of revelation to be beyond rationality or scientific scrutiny, will, it seems, tend to become less rigid.
Already dialogues of civilizations and dialogues of religions have compelled or facilitated exchange of notes, and the divisions amongst religions are diminishing. But it will be too facile to suggest that the core beliefs of religions will easily give up their exclusiveness or their claim to have access to superior realms of truth. But the modern trends of critical knowledge will not permit dogmatism, and conflicts of religions can rest on the validity of the theory of dogmatism. The relevance of religions, which advocate dogmatism has, therefore, undoubtedly undergone radical changes, and it is impossible to sustain the belief that in due course of time only one religion and only one dogma will ultimately sway over the world and bring about social cohesion which is increasingly and imperatively demanded by rapid democratization and rapid development of philosophy of pluralism.
With globalization, whatever its merits or demerits, people are obliged to travel, to migrate and to create new cultural settings, and they demand, for purposes of social cohesion, that their religion comes forward and provides new attitudes in connection with spiritual knowledge and restore to contemporary humanity a deeper appreciation of differences among religions and their points of unity, so that in democratic and pluralistic frameworks, they aid the causes of unity and cohesion.
Can religions agree to give up exclusivism? This is the central question of religions and societies in the twenty first century. Admittedly, the issue is perhaps the hardest among all the issues of the contemporary world. But the conditions of the contemporary world demand from religions a new critical research, a new critique of Reason and Revelation and a more comprehensive and more enriching understanding and more ennobling and more integral spiritual experience.
Why should I not be able to embrace Christ, simply because I have so far not experienced the Presence of Christ and the great revelation that He is the Son of God and that the Son and the Father are one? Am I precluded from making an experiment, as the great Sri Ramakrishna conducted such an experiment and found the truth of Christ? Why should Krishna be barred from the totality of spiritual knowledge, simply because of my lack of understanding of the mystery of the incarnation of God, even though I may be prepared to accept the mystery of the incarnation of Christ? If it were the fringes of religions that come in the way, let us cross them and set them aside, but enter into the realm of spiritual experience boldly only in order to know the Truth and the Truth in all aspects. My cultural heritage may impede my plunge into the vastness of the realm of the Spirit, but the cultural climates of the worlds are changing. In my own neighborhood, I find devout Muslims conducting five times a day the Namaz truly and obediently, and shall I say that because they are not worshiping Christ or Krishna or Buddha, God will not respond to them? Surely, there is something wrong in our conception of God. God transcends religions and has the capacity to communicate with the human soul irrespective of the dogmas, rituals, ceremonies of religions. Let us all be like God Himself or like that consciousness in which all conflicts are transcended. Denial of denials seems to be the cure of the conflict of the religions.
The twenty first century will, it seems, be marked by three important movements: First, a radical and critical examination of the role of reason in the acquisition of true knowledge that will liberate reason from the present rigidities of logic, which have for long erected barriers between different modes of knowledge and prevented their harmonization. Second, religions will increasingly agree to understand each other and remove the barriers which have for long prevented harmonization of the realms of pure spiritual knowledge. Finally, the democratic and pluralistic framework of human societies will tend to grow towards democratic democracy and facilitate the growth of free access of human spirit to multiple ways of pursuit and communion with the spiritual realities. Religions are bound to return to their spiritual roots and seek harmonization in developments like spiritual religion of humanity, which will allow each individual to develop his own method of contact with the spiritual reality, and in the vastness of the framework of free spiritual pursuits, roads will be built for synthesis of religions which will exclude their exclusivism.
These three movements are already on the horizon; and the sooner we read the message of these movements, the quicker will be the arrival of universal harmony, fraternity, social cohesion and solidarity. These three movements are likely to be pushed forward by new adventures of science, which, in the interest of pursuit of knowledge, will demand new methodology of scientific investigation, so that methods which were relevant to Matter will give way to the methods which are relevant to realm of life and the phenomenon of evolution. Evolutionary epistemology is already a developing domain, and this domain will encourage the understanding of the laws of evolution of instincts, impulses,
unconscious and subconscious pressures on the formations of living organisms, and the birth of laws of attractions and repulsions, the laws of desires and ambitions and their insatiable hunger which has given rise to the developments of higher forms of consciousness. Darwinism, which rules out design in the evolutionary process, is likely to be over passed by a greater understanding which demands the operation of Intelligent Will as has already been speculated by great philosophers like Whitehead, Teillard de Chardin and Sri Aurobindo.
The riddle of the world is likely to occupy the 21st century. Why is the world what it is? For long science has refused to address this question under the excuse that it is a metaphysical question and beyond its specific boundaries of enquiry. The metaphysician has also escaped this problem under the pretext of limitations of language. But the human enquiry will refuse to be silenced. If science and metaphysics are not competent to answer this riddle, a new branch of knowledge will have to be developed. For the eternal questions that have so far been answered by religions but found not sufficiently satisfactory on account of conflict of religions, humanity will be obliged to find better ways and secure valid basis of the right directions of human progress, which are imperatively demanded by the pressures of globalizations and the imperatives of social cohesion.
We stand today at the great gates of a new synthesis, where religions and spiritual systems of the past will need to recognize the mystery of Matter and admit the truths of science which are not being sufficiently assimilated in the totality of knowledge. A bridge has to be built between Spirit and Matter, and that demands a new methodology and a new experiment. Freed from the burdens of the conflicts, let us have a great concert of Wisdom, where fresh knowledge is welcomed and pursued.