Throughout history human beings have searched
for meaning and a deeper reason for living. From earliest times,
people 'worshipped' something beyond themselves. It may have
been the sun, or fire. It represented something powerful. Over
thousands of years, what we call religion began to evolve. As
we come to the end of the 20th century we find that humans in
their millions all over the world subscribe to some kind of religion
- Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam - (to name a few listed
in alphabetical order). There is also an increasing number of
people who have abandoned organised religion and are seeking a
deeper spirituality in different ways. However, the fact remains
that while religion has inspired great feats of human achievement
and sacrifice, it has also divided human beings from each other.
We live in an information age where access
to knowledge is no more the monopoly of a few. Technology has
transformed us into a global community and we have instant knowledge
of what is going on anywhere in the world. Yet in the spiritual
dimension, we continue to remain largely insulated by our own
religions. We fail to access the rich heritage and knowledge
that each religion has to offer. As we become one world community,
it is time for each one of us to open our hearts and minds to
the 'spiritual journey' of others and be open to the enrichment
that they can bring to our lives.
"The next stage of evolution of the
human race may depend on how we understand our common history
as a human family."
Over the centuries, crimes of all kinds have
been committed in the name of religion. The next stage of evolution
of the human race may depend on how we understand our common history
as a human family. The evolution of all religions is part of
our history, not their history.
In my home my father, who was born in India,
practiced Hinduism and my mother, a Sri Lankan, was a Catholic.
I was baptised a Catholic and went to a Catholic school. As
a Christian I felt I was a 'chosen' one, and viewed my father
as not quite 'chosen' like me!
This contradiction always worried me and it
led me to seek a much more universal approach to God. Through
my father I absorbed Hinduism and at school was taught catechism.
To add to our cultural diversity my aunt was a Buddhist and another
aunt belonged to the Dutch reformed Church! Not once in my family
did I encounter prejudice or indifference to each other's religions.
My mother fully adhered to the Hindu customs, fasting days and
traditions to make my father feel at home, yet she never failed
to take us to Mass every Sunday at 6 am! This set the stage for
my universal view of religion and God. At home God was worshipped
in many different ways. I did not see this as significant until
On one of my travels in Asia, I was taken
to a Hindu temple by a friend. As I sat in silence reflecting
and absorbing the sound of bells and the smell of incense, a deep
sense of inner-peace came over me. At that moment I felt my father's
presence and I heard him say (he died 27 years ago), "be
at peace all will be well." Although seated on my own, I
felt connected with something beyond me - a force, an energy,
a power. I felt connected with something my father treasured
and which I respected but did not really understand. I came out
of that temple a different person. That connection I made has
become a permanent part of my life. I feel a richer human being.
It may sound strange but I experienced Christ in that temple
and my father reassured me that "all is well."
I'd like to quote the great Russian literary
giant and philosopher, Tolstoy who, in a letter to the painter
Jan Styka said, "The doctrine of Jesus is to me only one
of the beautiful doctrines which we have received from the ancient
civilisations of Egypt, Israel, Hindustan, China and Greece.
The two great principles of Jesus; the love of God, that is absolute
perfection, and the love of one's neighbour, that is of all men
without distinction, have been preached by all sages of the world.'
If the Hindu chants the Vedas (prayers dating back more than
3500 years and learnt by little children in schools in India to
this day), if the Japanese worships the image of the Buddha, if
the European is convinced of Christ's divinity, if the Arab reads
the Quran in his Mosque, if the African bows down to worship,
each one of them has the same reason for their particular confidence.
The different creeds are the historical formulations of the formless
truth. While the spiritual 'treasure' is one, its expression
takes the shape and colour of its time and environment.
"Tradition is society's memory of its own past."
We tend to relate religion to the specifics
of our own history. Tradition is society's memory of its own
past. To forget our social past is to forget our roots. So,
as a result, our religion and our roots get linked and it is difficult
to separate our religion from the collective memory we carry with
us through life. Human nature is not a clean slate or a white
board, on which we can scribble anything and then wipe it off
with a sponge. It is a reservoir of the spirit where the subtlest
impressions are recorded. That is why religion stirs the deeper
emotional levels in us because it awakens the old impulses whose
echoes go back to the childhood of the individual and their race.
We need therefore to practice our own religion,
but keep ourselves open to any deeper experiences that other religions
As Christians we refer to the Bible. In fact,
the Bible belongs to the historical heritage of Asia - along with
the Vedas (1500 - 1200 BC), the Upanishads (900-600 BC), the Mahabharata
and the Puranas (330 - 450 AD) of the Hindus; the Tripitaka of
the Buddhists and the Quran of the Muslims. Sadly, the Bible
was brought back to Asia not as part of Asia's heritage but as
an alien book. Thus began the estrangement of a great part of
history from its own roots. Christianity today still remains
a 'Western' religion. As Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, is not Jesus
an Eastern figure, perhaps more open to an Eastern interpretation?
Christ said, "Love one another as I have
loved you." This is one of the most beautiful sentences
in the world. It leaves no one out because he did not say 'love
only those who are the same religion as you'. The challenge facing
all of us is to open our hearts to the breadth of spiritual experience
of all peoples of the world, not just of our own religion. Educational
institutions take pride in giving us a 'global' sense of history.
But in the study of religion, we become very narrow. It is time
to redress this imbalance. Global Express readers could begin
a dialogue on this subject. I have only given my view in this
Mohan Bhagwandas, Australia