In this period of incredible spiritual awakening, we still witness unproductive divisions among religions. Each faith struggles as it attempts to maintain its distinctiveness, fearful that open dialogue with other faiths might undermine its core doctrine and bring about its demise. As a result, each path continues to lock its adherents into a tight box of beliefs – a box that supposedly contains all the answers to the vast obstacles to spiritual emancipation.
While we all claim that our individual spiritual paths are monotheistic, we continue to behave as if our God is somehow just a bit higher than that of others. Not only that, some of us behave as if God has given special considerations to people who belong to our own religion. We sometimes hear religious groups proclaiming that they are God’s favorites. But when you scrutinize the behavior of some of these individuals, you can’t help but wonder how they arrived at their conclusion.
All religions spring from God to fit a certain level of awareness. Each is needed as a stepping stone. The fundamental basis of all true religions is Love. Practically all religions, in so many words, are encouraging us to "Do Good and to Be Good." It is the same message. What is the need therefore for religious wars? Why are we killing another? Because he cannot see God the way we see God? How are we so sure, other than through our beliefs and very limited inner experiences, that the way we see God is really the totality of God?
The truth is that no one has the complete picture. Having said this, a religious war is a war of ignorance. People are fighting over what they really don’t know. It is an irrelevant exercise. The human mind can be quite baffling and pitiful. I am reminded of a story of Buddha on this issue of irrelevancy.
Someone once asked Buddha about the nature of ultimate reality, and Buddha responded that this question is irrelevant. The human condition, Buddha said, is comparable to someone who has been shot by an arrow. And your question is like the wounded person asking about the type of wood out of which the arrow was made, the kind of bird from which the feathers came, and the name and occupation of the person who shot the arrow. If one insisted on knowing the answers to all of these queries before having the arrow extracted, one would surely die. Buddha concluded by saying that what concerned him was extracting arrows and healing wounds; everything else was unimportant.
Similarly, we should be concerned about being the best we can be within the limits of our own understanding. Instead of pointing fingers and arguing, we should become the best practicing Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists and other practitioners that we can be. The aim is to develop, unfold and grow spiritually. Being intolerant of other faiths is a clear indication that "religion" has become an obstacle to our spiritual progress.
Much of the fighting we see in religion is a result of our attachment to our personal beliefs and ideologies. As soon as we begin to realize that our religious faith does not have a monopoly on Truth, much of the suffering and violence can be resolved.
We can promote greater interaction and dialogue between people of different religions by modifying the way in which we present ourselves. For example, when you meet someone for the first time, instead of saying, "I’m a Christian," "I’m a Muslim" or "I’m a Buddhist," we should instead say, "I’m studying the Christian Teachings," "I’m studying Buddhism or the teachings of Buddha" or "I’m studying the teachings of Islam." When you say that you are studying a particular tradition, (which, incidentally, is what you are doing, because are all students), you open a forum for discussion. The other person now sees you as a student and is interested to hear what you’ve learned so far. Now you have two curious scholars sharing and comparing notes, and expanding their scope of understanding.
At the same time, the students are deconditioning themselves from the dogma of their particular ideology and becoming more objective in their outlook. But, when you say, "I’m a Buddhist," and the other person says, "I’m a Christian," you both build a wall between yourselves. Each one of you assumes that the other person’s mind is already made up and conditioned to his or her set of beliefs. This leaves little or no room for dialogue. You now begin to judge each other based on your limited understanding of each other’s religion.
There are many ways to reach this sacred entity that we call God. Your particular spiritual path represents just one of the ways. It is not the only way. The more we learn about other teachings that coexist with our own, the more we will appreciate and respect each other’s paths. At the same time we will expand our knowledge, and inadvertently promote world peace.
Because we are all responsible for creating our world, we need to occasionally ask ourselves, "How am I influencing the world?"