Honoring Religious Diversity As God’s Will
Question: Why do we have so many religions, philosophies, paths to liberation, sacred scriptures, sects, beliefs and practices? If God really wanted us to be wiser and work for our salvation, he would have created a uniform religion. Why did he not do it?
It is God’s will. He wants us to approach him by different paths because we are not all alike. If all of us think alike, act alike and choose alike, we would have been living like robots. Fortunately, we are not robots. We have hearts and minds. We have emotions, feelings, intelligence and free will which make each of us a unique human being, despite the conditioning and the influence of the world, society and Nature. Ultimately, your salvation is your problem, not that of a religion or a religious institution. They may help you, but they cannot be responsible for your choices.
People differ in their thinking, beliefs, behavior, backgrounds, nature, habits, lifestyles, choices, attitudes, knowledge and understanding. Then, how can they all live alike, pursue the same goals, compete for the same things or practice the same faith? The permutation and combination of the triple gunas, along with karma, create in the beings a diversity of desires, behavior and attachments. This, in turn, creates in them different preferences, desires and likes and dislikes.
Therefore, what appeals to one may not appeal to another. The same holds true for faith also. The Bhagavadgita states that as is nature, so is faith. Therefore, a person is verily made up of his faith only. If he has divine qualities he believes in gods, and if he has demonic qualities he worships the demons. Therefore, it is almost impossible for everyone to practice the same religion or worship the same God. In the following discussion, we examine the significance of religious diversity, its implications for the humanity and what we may learn from it.
Religious diversity is a part of the diversity in creation
Religious diversity is reflective of the diversity we experience in ourselves, our lives and the world. It cannot be wished away. Social and cultural differences and differences in knowledge, understanding, values and upbringing shape the beliefs and attitudes of people and thereby their preference for particular religions. Religions are also part of our collective identities, which are more powerful than individual identities. Hence, they have a life of their own and often incite wars, conflicts and bloodshed.
Religions are essentially human inventions. They are the products of our religious egos. They influence people and their behavior, and people in turn influence their beliefs and practices. Hence, they have the potential to appeal to our pride and violent nature. You may find in them knowledge and revelations of God, but much of its knowledge and doctrine are derived from intellect and memory. They not only reflect the needs and aspirations of the people who practice them but also their baser nature, delusion, ignorance and destructive tendencies.
As people change with the progression of time, and as their knowledge and understanding of the universe and the world change, their religions also change. The scriptures may remain the same, but their interpretation and understanding keep changing according to the progress achieved by the humanity. For example, in the ancient times people believed that the earth was flat and at the center of the universe. Now, many religions are forced to change such outdated views.
According to Hinduism, God is one and indivisible, but his creation is diverse. The whole creation of God is characterized by diversity as he becomes many during the creation. The diversity is part of God’s design to engage the mind and the senses, bind the souls and keep the worlds going. There is also unity in the diversity because God pervades all and remains hidden, to be discovered, approached and worshipped by people for their liberation. For that he created diverse paths, belief systems, philosophies and methods of worship, which eventually lead to him only.
Thus, the religions are a part of God’s creation. As part of his projected reality, they too are subject to the same influences, limitations and impurities. They too are vulnerable to change and destruction for better or worse. Hence, multiple religions manifested upon earth for the welfare of the world. In course of time they underwent further diversity within themselves to cater to the needs and aspirations of changing populations of the world and their growing knowledge and awareness. As time goes by, the current religions have to adapt themselves to the emerging scientific reality or perish.
Karma and religious diversity are interrelated
Religious diversity gives people freedom of choice in matters of faith. As they exercise their will and use their discretion to live according to their choices and preferences and engage in desire-ridden actions, they become subject to karma. Thus, karma has its roots in the diversity of creation, which in turn is sustained by karma. As people seek peace and happiness in diverse ways and engage in diverse actions they become bound to the world and keep the creation moving forward, creating further diversity.
Karma plays an important role in shaping our lives and influencing our thinking, behavior and choices. It is also responsible for the faith of each individual or the lack of it. It is not certain that in every birth you practice the same religion or worship the same gods or God. In each birth, your faith or the religion may change according to your karma or your predominant desires. In this, the triple gunas play a major role
Just as everything in creation is influenced and permeated by the gunas, the world religions are also influenced and permeated by them. Thus, each religion may have the predominance of one or more of the triple gunas namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Within each religion also there may be aspects and teachings which are either sattvic, rajasic or tamasic.
Those who are sattvic, find the sattvic teachings appealing. Rajasic people may take up rajasic teachings and tamasic people tamasic ones. It is why there is diversity within each religion and their followers are not all alike in their aspirations, choices and preferences. Some are gentle, some are violent, some are disinterested, and so on. It is also why the demons and the divine beings obtain different results although they worship the same gods.
The Goal is one but the paths are many
In any journey, the destination is always one, but the paths that lead to it are numerous. God’s creation is open-ended, in which the possibilities are infinite, while the outcomes are uncertain. You can reach any point from any other point in innumerable ways. Recent researches in quantum science suggest that theoretically, it is not even necessary to travel in space to reach one point from another. Since space is like a fabric, it can be folded to connect two distant points and minimize the travel time. Of course, we do not yet have the means to bend space.
Hindu seers might not be aware of these revelations, but they knew that the infinite God could be manifested in one’s own consciousness across all barriers in infinite ways to attain Moksha. They knew that the possibilities were endless in God’s creation to perform any task or reach any goal, including the goal of self-realization, but what influenced individual choices and outcomes in any situation were purity, faith, and intelligence.
Yet, they suggested caution and reliance upon an enlightened teacher to pursue liberation since it was easier for the novices to become lost in the maze of possibilities as well as uncertainties. As our knowledge grows, our knowledge of the methods, paths, and solutions improve and thereby our discretion and choices. Some paths may take longer to fructify and appear more strenuous but their merits or demerits cannot be determined with a sweeping judgment since they may be suitable to certain categories of people. However, it is better to proceed with caution, with humility and an open mind.
Appreciating diversity in religious and spiritual practice
Diversity is part of Nature’s survival mechanism. By creating diverse life forms, it increases the probability of life continuing upon earth and the evolution of better beings. Religious diversity facilitates the spiritual evolution of beings in diverse ways by offering them a wider choice and catering to their specific needs. If you are deluded, you may not find the diversity appealing. You may even develop a deeper attachment to your own faith and become distracted by it.
However, the diversity can be a blessing if you are open-minded and if you have discretion. To the discerning minds, the diversity offers many opportunities to learn and grow. You may follow a particular path or religion, but by practicing tolerance and showing appreciation, you can learn from others and bring those principles into practice if they fit into your spiritual aims.
You can transcend your likes and dislikes and your preferences and prejudices to draw richly divine knowledge from different streams and sources. For example, a non-Hindu, can practice Yoga even if he does not follow Hinduism to purify himself and stabilize his mind in the contemplation of his chosen deity. Each religion has its own light and wisdom and lessons to teach. Whether you believe in them or not, you can study them and learn from them. By being open-minded, tolerant, flexible and adaptable you can accept the religious diversity as an opportunity to learn and grow as a better human being rather than becoming deluded and distracted by it.
The multiplicity of religions and paths give people numerous opportunities to transcend attraction and aversion, cultivate detachment and sameness, learn from others, solve problems in creative ways, remain open-minded and curious, make informed choices and live according to their best aspirations, interests and priorities. One may also see in them the play of God and view them as the different facets of the same eternal truth.
Faith does not define a person. The belief system is just an aspect or part of the spiritual nature of every human being. Whether one is a theist or an atheist, a Christian or a Hindu, each is a creation of God only. Therefore, people must accept diversity in all forms as the essential nature of God’s creation and tolerate the differences in beliefs, practices and lifestyles rather than complaining about them.
This is the truth. Appreciate the diversity in all forms as part of God’s creation and as an opportunity to learn and grow as a religious or spiritual person. God does not want us all to be alike. Otherwise, he would have created all beings alike. By making each of them unique and distinct, he conveys the universal message that people must accept diversity in the world and in their lives as God’s will. Therefore, each person must not only respect his or her individuality and distinction but also recognize the same in others.
Fortunately, this is one of the guiding principles of Hinduism and the Hindu way of life. It offers us many choices, approaches, beliefs, paths, sects, gods, methods, yogas and techniques. Some may feel confused by them, but if you study the scriptures and acquire the right knowledge or if you approach a learned person and seek his guidance, you can enjoy your freedom and customize your faith according to your essential nature. This in itself is a great blessing. Therefore, instead of complaining that we have too many religions or too many gurus and messengers, appreciate the diversity and embrace it.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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