Another Line of Inquiry: Verifiability of
One very helpful idea, which has been suggested, is that, in order to determine as to, in which among various religions lies the right way, is not to compare doctrines but to compare spiritual experiences which lie at the roots of religions. In the history of Indian religion, the effort to compare the nature and contents of underlying spiritual experiences has been very prominent.
There are, however, religions which, although founded on spiritual experiences consisting of visions, voices, intuitions, revelations or inspirations of the founders or some rare individuals, explicitly or implicitly state that verification of such experiences is not feasible, and that the only way by which one can enter into the truths and contents of the spiritual experiences is to take recourse to verbal or intellectual formulations in which the doctrines of religions are made available to humanity. To these doctrines the many minds of a half-ripe knowledge or no knowledge at all attach themselves with exclusiveness and passion and hold that this or the other doctrine or this or the other revelation or book ot revelations is alone the eternal Word of God and all others are either imposters or less imperfectly inspired, that this or that doctrine or philosophical or theological reasoning is the
last word of the reasoning intellect and other systems are either errors or saved only by such partial truth in them as leaves them to the one true philosophical cult.
Humanity is, however, inclined today to grow a little modester and wiser; our fellows are no longer being slain, except by acts of terrorism, in the name of God's truth or because their minds have been differently framed or differently constituted from ours. We are less ready to curse and revile our neighbour because he is presumptuous enough to differ from us in opinion. Movements like theosophy and interfaith dialogue have created a climate in which increasing number of adherents of different religions are getting ready to admit that Truth is everywhere and cannot be a sole monopoly of one group of religious adherence. More tolerant, more receptive and more impartial studies are being initiated and developed to study religions and philosophies for the discovery of the truth and the help they contain and no longer merely in order to damn them as erroneous or false. Nonetheless, overwhelming number of adherents of each religion are still apt to declare that the truth declared in their religion gives the supreme knowledge which other religions or philosophies have missed or only imperfectly grasped so that they deal with subsidiary and inferior aspects of the truth of things or can merely prepare less evolved minds for the heights which have still not been scaled by other religions. Religious adherents are still prone to force upon themselves or others their sacred messages of the books or gospels that they admire; there is still overwhelming insistence that their preferred book of reverence shall be accepted as the eternally valid truth and no iota shall be denied its part of the plenary inspiration. We are still in the midst of sharpness of conflict of religions.
Dialogue among Religions for Conflict - Resolution:
But in the healthier climate of mutual understanding, dialogue and interchange, three alternative attitudes have come to be formulated. According to one view, all religions are sacred and equally sacred, and therefore they all deserve to be equally respected. According to another view, all religions give the same message of universal brotherhood, of peace and harmony, and of the superiority of moral and spiritual praxis over verbal or intellectual formulations in which their doctrines have been set or declared. In works such as Bhagwan Das' "Essential unity of religions",41 detailed comparisons among conflicting religions have been carried out in order to show how all religions are essentially one or united in their essential beliefs, or at least in the moral prescriptions which are provided in their message to humanity. According to the third view, each religion will stand to profit if all religions agree to learn from each other, — since each religion needs to be supplemented by the truths or doctrines or moral or spiritual emphasis which can be found in other religions. All these three views can be supported by reference to various aspects of data which can be discerned by comparative studies of religions.
There is no doubt about the fact that the sense of the Holy permeates all religions; in the symbols, in the temples or churches or mosques, or in the recitations of sacred words of religions or in the various acts prescribed in the performance of various religions in the practice of pilgrimages and fasting and prayers and austerities aiming at purification, and even in the lives of the adherents of different religions, one can perceive, feel and experience genuine presence of holiness and sacredness. On this ground alone, the message of equal
respect to all religions can be sustained. But the problem of the conflict of religions goes deeper. If equality of religions were to be advocated on the ground of the common sense of sacredness or holiness, the matter would have been much simpler, although there would still be a ground for claiming superiority of the one and inferiority of the other on the basis of the contention that one's own preferred religion evokes a higher degree of sacredness or holiness than that evoked by other religions.
The view that all religions are essentially one and that their spiritual or ethical prescription are essentially identical or similar can greatly be substantiated. All religions maintain that physical reality is a subordinate reality and that the higher or superior or ultimate reality or realities are supra- physical in character; all religions promise to open the gates for dwelling in higher planes or heavens for joy and harmony, the quality of which transcends the limitations of pains and pleasures of the physical world; and all religions advocate kindness, compassion and pursuit of ethical goodness and spiritual sacredness. But differences and conflicts among religions lie at deeper roots, and no comfort of the balm of some common elements among religions can soothe or heal the conflicts among religions. Some religions hold belief in God, some do not share their belief in God; even those who believe in God have different and conflicting views of the nature of God: some hold dualistic belief, others atheistic belief, and still others pantheistic beliefs; some believe in the existence of only one God, some believe in the existence of only one Absolute; some believe in one God but with inherent trinity and some believe in one God but also in many gods, too. And if we examine the beliefs of various cults and sects, we shall find hundreds of variations and subtle
differences which seem too difficult to be reconciled with each other. There are also varieties of beliefs and doctrines pertaining to the nature of the soul, the nature of the soul's life on the earth and the destiny of the soul during its sojourn on the earth and after the completion of the sojourn. The theory of rebirth is held in common mostly in religions which had their origin in India, but this theory is not held in common by all religions. Even where the theory of rebirth is acknowledged, the nature of the soul is not shared in common. Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism share the belief in rebirth; but in the multi-sided Hinduism itself there is no common belief in regard to the nature and the reality of the soul. The law of karma as understood in various religions is understood differently in different religions, and the significance of human action, even in those religions which do not believe in rebirth, is viewed differently. In the presence of these and many other differences among religions, the' problem of conflict of religions seems to be impossible of solution. Religions, therefore, tend to be exclusive and to look forward to their exclusive conquest of the entire human race as the one real and permanent solution which can bestow universal peace on the earth.
It is clear that the claims of one dogma cannot overcome the claims of another dogma; in any process of argument, the claims of a dogma remain, by their very nature, unquestionable and beyond argument. If, therefore, there is no way in the field of argument by which the claims of a dogma can be examined or verified, the only alternative for an unbiased seeker is to come back to inquire whether the claims of spiritual experiences, which lie at the root of dogmas, can be examined and whether an impartial conclusion can be arrived at.
Exclusion of Exclusivism As a Solution
In the meantime, as a result of the growing climate of mutual understanding among religions, a new way of solution is being proposed. For a comparative study of religions shows not only several common points but also some specific and unique points that seem to characterize each religion. In this context, a question is being raised whether these unique points should necessarily be counted as factors of opposition and division and conflict among religions? Cannot these unique points be seen as special contributions to the total fund of the richness? And can these points not be shared by all religions? An assembly of religions in which religions can give up their exclusiveness by sharing the uniqueness of each religion could prove to be a real breakthrough for a genuine solution.
One of the major developments that has taken place in India during the last part of the 19th century can be regarded as a very propitious development towards the coming together of religions; this development is related to the colossal experiment carried out by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836-1886). This experiment was an experiment in yoga, and the methods that Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa followed in this experiment were yogic. He practiced in a quick succession, methods after methods, and taking recourse to the yogic methods contained in every major religion, including Christianity and Islam, he verified that each of these religions had at its roots a valid yogic experience and realization and that therefore all of them can be united by admitting the truths of all religions in the light of the yogic experiences by which their truths can be verified. Happily, Swami Vivekananda, the great and heroic disciple
of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, became a potent vehicle of the message of the unity of religions. This message, when uttered publicly in the first Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893, was so refreshing and electrifying that it evoked among the representatives of all religions a warm welcome. That message was brief but packed with power, and it stated: "As the different streams having their sources in different places mingle their water in the sea, so, 0 Lord the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."42
Sri Aurobindo, recognizing special contributions that different religions have made, stated the following:
"Each religion has helped mankind. Paganism increased in man the light of beauty, the largeness and height of his life, his aim at a many-sided perfection; Christianity gave him some vision of divine love and charity; Judaism and Islam how to be religiously faithful in action and zealously devoted to God; Hinduism has opened to him the largest and profoundest spiritual possibilities...."43
A catholic recognition of each religion may lead to a pursuit of a synthesis in which individuals, instead of confining themselves to any particular religion, may adopt an attitude and practice where exclusivism of religions is excluded. In doing so, dogmatism, ritualism and the temporal aspect of religions can come to be subordinated and even transcended. Increasing emphasis may fall on ethical perfection and psychological integration of the total being, — somewhat in the direction suggested by Cottingham. A major difficulty in the pursuit of this direction, however, lies in the fact that there are many concepts of ethical perfection,
and they collide with each other so acutely that one may wonder as to how that conflict could be resolved. Even in regard to the question of integration of the total being, there are varying notions and conflicting notions, the resolution of which would necessitate a long and detailed pursuit of various psychological disciplines that have been developed and which are still being developed in various systems of yoga and in their synthesis.