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A Harmony of Faiths and Religions
by Swami Krishnananda

Our subject today happens to be what is known as the faith of people. As we will all appreciate, a person has faith in an objective when the person beholds an ultimate value in that objective. If there is no visualisation of an ultimacy of value in the object of faith, that faith will also not be ultimately valid.

Now, how does one develop faith at all? What are the causative factors that engender faith in people in general? This question cannot be easily answered because the empirical observation characteristic of human knowledge does not seem to be involved in such a category of human life as faith. For instance, scientists discredit faith as an ultimate process of correct knowing. No scientist will go by faith. There is always a demand for observation and experiment, intellectual investigation and laboratory finding by means of the employment of different types of apparatus, but faith is debarred from scientific thinking.

Do people have faith in anything? No one can say that people do not have faith. In fact, it does not appear that people live by their logical conclusions. Rather, they live by their faiths. Everyone knows that the earth revolves around the sun and there is no such thing as the rising or the setting of the sun, but we do not say that the earth has revolved in a particular direction and now it is in another location, and so we call it morning or evening. We say that the sun has risen or the sun has set, or that now it is midday and the sun is high in the sky. There is also a belief that we survive after death, which cannot easily be established by logical conclusions. For instance, why should there be faith in the survival of the soul after death? What kind of logical argument can be used to prove the substantiality of this faith?

Something speaks from within the person: “I have done so many good things in this world. I have done a lot of charity; I have sacrificed myself for the welfare of people. Will all this go to waste, and will I not be rewarded for the feelingful sacrifice that I have performed for the welfare of people?” Knowing well that life is brittle and tomorrow may be the end of this physical body, if tomorrow is to be the final hour of one's existence in this world, why does one try to do good deeds today, twenty-four hours before one's passing? How would one expect the good deeds of today to bear fruit for one's own experience and enjoyment, knowing well there may not be more than twenty-four hours of living in this world? Here is a faith which goes beyond understanding, which tells us: “Somehow or other, for whatever reason it be, my virtuous deeds will not go to waste. I shall be rewarded.”

People want to have a good name in this world: “May I go from this world with a good name.” Where is the value of a good name if we are leaving this world and going somewhere, of which we know not? One does not want to leave this world with ignominy, but when we are not existing at all, where is question of ignominy or even name and fame? Here is a very subtle, intriguing feature of human understanding and faith which defies logic and any kind of syllogism.

It is a well-known fact that no one can know when their end will come. Knowing it, who will do good deeds in this world but for the fact of a belief that these good deeds will be rewarded in an afterlife, though no one has seen even in one's dream what an afterlife would be. Who tells anyone that there is survival of the physical mortality of a person? This is faith. Now, would you regard this faith as valid, or is it a foolish concoction of the human imagination? I believe no one would feel that there is a meaningless imagination behind this kind of faith, for the reason that everyone in the world has this faith. It is not my faith or yours, but it is a uniform feeling in every human being.

Do we call it faith or rationality? People offer prayers. To whom are they offering prayers? Are these prayers directed to visible objects in this world? Certainly not. Our prayers to our altars, in our temples, in our synagogues, in our churches, are certainly directed to some unknown categorisation of existence, of which there is absolutely no understanding, and which cannot be proved by logical arguments. After all, providence will protect us, is an old saying. What is meant by providence? Where is it situated? Has anyone seen providence? So people believe in the existence of unseen things for reasons they themselves cannot know.

Every religion, every faith is directed to an otherworldly existence. If we had no belief in a life in a world beyond this world, there would be no moment of peace in our mind even in this world. We would be caught by mortal fear every moment of time, not knowing the meaning of our life itself. But we do not have such a fear because we know that one day or the other we are going to be blessed. Who told us that we are going to be blessed? Which book, which prophet and which prophecy will confirm that we are going to be blessed one day or the other for our good deeds? And what is meant by ‘good' deeds? Who told us that our actions are good or bad? This also is a classification made by a kind of faith which transcends understanding.

There is something which the heart speaks. It has its own logic. As it is well said, the heart has a reason which reason does not know. Have we some faculty in us which is above reason, a faculty which is decried by pursuers of science, those who go by the laws of physics and chemistry? Religions of the world, the faiths of people, adore a non-physical existence which is addressed in various ways: the divinities, the angels, the gods in heaven, the celestials, and so on. This acceptance of the presence of mysterious forces above nature is the working of a deep faculty within us, which is faith.

The scientist's conclusion that an observation that has been made in a laboratory is correct to the core is ultimately also a kind of hypothesis based on certain assumptions, without which premise a conclusion cannot be drawn. The scientist who does not believe in any kind of hypothesis has himself or herself a hypothesis that the world is there because it is concretely presented before the sense organs. This belief in the existence of the externality of worldly existence, or earthly life, can be regarded as something which can be proved by logic. Can we prove that the world exists? Can we prove that we exist?

Such fundamentals go beyond logical proof. Neither can we argue about the existence of a world outside, nor can we argue about the existence of our own self. We have to accept that we exist, and we have to accept that the world also exists. Do we call it faith, or do we call it reason? Why are there religions in this world but for the fact that there is a supernatural acceptance of the fact of there being divinities beyond earthly concepts, in a world beyond, of which one cannot have any kind of rational knowledge?

Why there are differences among faiths is perhaps the reason why this subject requires to be discussed. Is there a general belief among all people unanimously that there is a ubiquitous super-physical existence pervading everywhere, or is there a multifaceted belief in the existence of a variety of realities beyond this world? This is a deep philosophical issue which raises as many questions as there are faiths in this world.

The differences that we observe among faiths in this world can in some way be attributed to geographical conditions, different types of cultural backgrounds, differences in languages, differences in upbringing, and various other external influences which condition the way of thinking right from the beginning of one's life. Unconditioned thinking is difficult to find. We are conditioned by our parents, by the atmosphere of our living, by the culture of the people to whom we belong, by the scriptures and books we that read, and by the company that we keep. There is an old saying: Tell me the books that you read and the company that you keep, and I shall tell you what you are. The effect of the influence of external factors in human nature is so much that it is difficult to accept that we are capable of independently coming to any conclusion by our own selves minus this influence.

The question arises once again: Is it good, then, to have a diversity of faiths in this world? It is generally believed that the diversity of faiths and the multiplicity of religious values cannot be avoided, for well-known reasons. Can there be a harmony among these faiths, or should there be always a clash among faiths?

As I mentioned at the outset, the belief in the ultimacy of the object of one's belief is responsible for denying this particular ultimacy to other faiths of people and sticking to one's own ground that the ultimate meaning that one observes in the object of one's faith cannot be the same meaning that others are seeing in their own objects of faith. This would be like saying that many kinds of ultimacies are possible. Rather, it would be another way of saying that there can be many infinites. If infinites cannot be many, ultimacies also cannot be manifold. Hence, there is some serious defect in the faith of a person who comes in conflict with the faiths of other people, not knowing that the differences in faiths are something like the differences in the rivers of the world which lead to the one single ultimacy of the ocean, towards which they are directed. But the egoism of the human being is so strong that it sticks to its point: What I feel is ultimate, and I cannot accept the ultimacy of your feeling or conclusions.

As mentioned, the differences of faiths may be attributed to cultural backgrounds. Of course, let them be there; there is no harm in that. But why should there be conflict unless there is egoism at the back of every faith? It is not difficult to accept that the ego is a malady in human thinking, because if the immortality of the soul is permitted and acceptable in one's faith, then the ego-ridden conclusions made by people's faiths will come in conflict with the belief in the immortality of the soul. The belief in the survival of the soul after death is actually a belief in the deathlessness of the soul, the immortality of spirit. But the affirmation of individual personality, which is nothing but a characteristic of the psychophysical organism, is openly in conflict with the concept of the immortality of spirit. So there is a clash of psychic operation in one's own self, even in one's dual beliefs of immortality of one's existence and the primacy and ultimacy of one's own ego-ridden concept of the ultimacy of one's belief.

We have to go deep into this matter in order to understand what it all means. When we pass from this world and go to the other world, do we exist in the same way as we are existing now in this world, or do we think that we get transfigured? Towards the end of the Mahabharata it is mentioned that when Yudhisthira went to heaven, he saw his opponents, Duryodhana and others, reigning supreme in heaven, and he did not find any of his brothers or his own queen there. He was shocked.

“Where are my brothers?” Yudhisthira asked Indra. “How is it that this wretched, evil man Duryodhana is here on the throne of the gods, and I do not see my own brothers?”

Well, the story goes that he was led through certain narrow tracks, dark, dungeon-like and stinking in nature, where Indra said, “Your brothers are here.”

“Is it true that in this hell-like condition my brothers are living, and Duryodhana is reigning supreme on the throne of heaven? I shall stand here with my brothers, and I shall not go back to your heaven.”

“No, no,” Indra said. “You are fit for heaven. You should not stand here. Come on.”

“No, I shall not,” he said.

Indra said, “My dear friend, you are still thinking like a human being, that you are Yudhisthira of the earthly kingdom. Take a bath in this celestial reservoir. Take a dip in it, and then let me see what you say.”

Yudhisthira took a dip in that reservoir. When he rose up, he rose up as an angel, a mirror in which every other mirror shone, and all the ideas that he had of his brothers and his enemies vanished, and he found every soul reflecting itself in every other soul. This is the picture of heaven that we have in the Mahabharata epic, towards its end.

When we depart from this world as spirits, do we go as mortals? We carry our prejudices of the physical and social personality to the heaven which is above us, for attaining which we are having this belief in religion and faiths. If our true nature, which is what we ought to be in our heavenly region, is a scintillating, resplendent, mirroring existence which reflects every other existence within itself, how could that true nature of ours, which is a scintillating reality, not be reflected in our day-to-day human life here, in our social existence? Is there any meaning and substance in our quarrels and wars based on religion and faith if we believe in an afterlife, wherein placed we live a different kind of life altogether with a comprehensiveness of universality entering into the souls of all people?

Herein is something for us to ponder deep into the honesty of our own beliefs. Do we feel a contradiction in the faiths that we are entertaining in our own selves? Is our faith actually only a make-believe, a kind of patting on one's own back, which means nothing in the end? Religion, faith which is spiritual in its nature, is honesty of spirit. Dishonest people do not go to heaven, and as ego is the height of dishonesty, we cannot carry it to the heavenly region, the after-death existence. But it is this malady that is preponderating in human existence today that causes the wars, strife and corruption of various types that are visible to us in daily life.

Therefore, we have to be a little more than our own selves in order that we may have harmony among faiths and religions. I mean to say, we have to transcend our own selves in order that we may be more than what we are and can also be other persons. In order that there may be real harmony among faiths and religions, we have to concede to other people what we are conceding to our own selves. Ātmanaḥ pratikūlāni pareṣāṁ na samācaret (MB 5.15.17) is a great ethical dictum: That which is not proper for you cannot be proper for others.

Great thinkers in the realm of ethics and morality have ordained that that alone can be regarded as proper behaviour which accepts all humanity, the world as a whole, as a kingdom of ends, and not of means. No one in the world can be regarded as a means to some other person who is an end. We cannot employ a person as a servant of another person because the so-called social status of servants and slaves in the world is an unfortunate characteristic of servitude foisted upon them due to their helplessness and the carelessness of society. Even a slave is an end in himself or herself. There is as much a soul in a slave as there is in an emperor or a king. How can one soul be a servant of another soul? To recognise that all particulars are ends in themselves and constitute a kingdom of ends, that would be the fundamental philosophical and rational foundation for it being possible for people to have a harmony of faiths and religions in the world.

To repeat, it is necessary to transcend ourselves in order that we may accept the value of another person. If we are just clinging to our own personal physical and mental personality, we will not be able to accept even the existence of another person. There is a superior personality in ourselves, a higher reason, a higher self, as we are told by great masters. There is a higher self in us which commingles with the selves of other people, but a lower self is also there which always sees evil everywhere and comes in conflict with other people.

We should accept the presence of a higher Self in our own selves, and also concede that in our after-death life we will not be the same people as we are here today. We should be mirrors of spiritual resplendence reflecting one in the other, which is supposed to be the nature of Brahmaloka, according to scriptures, where everyone is everywhere and we do not know who is where, in which place. Everything is seen reflected everywhere. All souls are all souls. Every soul is all soul, all soul is every soul. This is Brahmaloka, the highest heaven conceived of. If that is our real nature, how would we live this kind of wretched life of conflict, quarrel and disbelief among people, even if there is a difference of faiths and religions?

The differences among faiths and religions are due to the unfortunate segregation of cultural values, geographical conditions, languages, etc., as I mentioned, but they are not true to the personality of a human being. We are human beings first, Hindus and Buddhists and Jains and Sikhs and all other things afterwards. We are human beings first. In every religious person there is human nature preponderating, and no other thing can influence this human element in every person. If I am a human being, if you are a human being, then there is something common among ourselves. Any other designation that we have foisted upon ourselves based on conjectures of certain beliefs which cannot actually be regarded as ultimately meaningful will have to be abandoned.

We have to be very, very careful here in order that we may be blessings to our own selves. We cannot be receivers of blessing from heaven if we have no blessing to our own selves from our own selves. If we go contrary to our own nature and every action of ours is a conflict within ourselves, if we are ridden over with psychological discrepancies, then there is nonalignment of personality which creates nonalignment in society, and there is naturally conflict everywhere. We are ourselves torn individuals, and so we create a torn society. How would we join society together if individuals who form the society are tattered and torn, are shreds psychologically and psychoanalytically?

Should we not be honest to our own selves in this matter and have the courage to go to the depths of our problems? Merely saying that there are problems is of no meaning. If there are problems, there are also solutions to the problems. If we do not want to find the solutions and only want to parade the problems, and we go on yelling out that there are problems in the world and there is corruption everywhere, we will be nowhere, actually.

Let us, therefore, be honest and go deep into the problems of life, and see that there is a solution if we really want it, and there is certainly a possibility of not only an inter-blending of the religions and faiths of people, but it is possible to bring heaven to this earth, as great masters have told us.