Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One Nation, Many Religions

"Truth has many aspects. Infinite truth has infinite expressions. Though the sages speak in divers ways, they express one and the same Truth. Ignorant is he who says, "What I say and know is true; others are wrong." It is because of this attitude of the ignorant that there have been doubts and misunderstandings about God. This attitude it is that causes dispute among men. But all doubts vanish when one gains self-control and attains tranquility by realizing the heart of Truth. Thereupon dispute, too, is at an end." (Hinduism, Srimad Bhagavatam 11.15)

Born in the early 1930s, my parents practiced the same protestant religion that their parents before them had practiced for their whole lives. They didn't give much thought as to why they practiced the religion they practiced, and had someone asked them if they'd had ever read, for example, The Lotus Sutra (Buddhism) or the Upanishads (Hinduism), they would have scratched their heads. They simply were not exposed to the variety and wealth of religious experience available in America to those born since my generation, a mere 30 years later.

We're now living in an ecumenical age. According to the book, World Scripture, by the International Religious Foundation, the progress in transportation and communication that has brought all the peoples of the world into one global village has also brought the religions of the world into close contact. Just half a century ago, Christians living in North America might never have met a Muslim or a Buddhist throughout their whole lives; in ignorance they could believe that such people were heathen and in dire need of salvation. Muslims in Syria, or Buddhists in Thailand, could as easily hold a similar view of the foreign religions that occasionally intruded upon their lands. But today Western cities teem with immigrants from Asia and Africa bearing their native faiths, and our commercial and political affairs connect us with all nations.

"Like the bee, gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees only the good in all religions." (Hinduism, Srimad Bhagavatam 11.3)

Many people, such as myself, are excited to be able to learn about different religions and practices. I have been privileged to attend a variety of Christian churches, both Protestant and Catholic. I've experienced God's presence in these services, especially during worship. I've also experienced God in nature, and in the many Wiccan and Native American rituals I've taken part in over the years. I've met God in both meditation and prayer, and gained God's guidance through many sources, such as The Dhammapada, The Bhagavad Gita, and The Bible. God is everywhere and I believe God inhabits the praises of all his people's, not just those of a particular religion.

Those who praise their own doctrines and disparage the doctrines of others do not solve any problem. (Jainism, Sutrakritanga 1.1.50)

Although many believers are open to various religions, unfortunately some are still very close-minded, if not hostile, to those with differing religions, and believe that their religion is the "one right true only way". This is unfortunate and I believe stems mostly from lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown. We fear what we do not understand. Only when we can learn to respect one another's religious beliefs, or lack of religious belief, can we truly be one nation, united.

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