Differences…Divinely Ordained?

After graduating from Texas A&M University in 2011, I promptly moved to India for my spiritual quest hoping that the thorough understanding of a new philosophy (Tartam) that incorporates the teachings of the world’s major faiths would enable me to contribute to fostering religious harmony, the aspiration that I felt would outweigh my personal career goals. It is because I had witnessed overwhelming hatred, misunderstandings and mistrust between people of different faiths resulting from the attacks of Sept. 11 and other subsequent terrorist attacks that followed worldwide during my stay in the US that I was motivated to move to India.

I started attending a seminary called Shree Krishna Pranami Sadhanalaya, a training facility for religious aspirants to reflect on Atman (soul) and understand the underlying messages of Vedic Scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas) and the Semitic scriptures (mainly Quran and Bible). During my stay here for nearly two years, I have learned a great deal about the essence of the world’s major faiths and the potentials for peaceful co-existence of all faiths and have begun articulating the message of harmony through my writings and lectures in academic settings, albeit on a small scale.

When I meet new people, talking about religion and the glory of leading a spiritual life greatly fascinates me. Engaging in spiritual discussions with people apathetic to religions who largely credit religion to an increase in terrorism, sectarian violence, poverty, gender bias, and caste discrimination and other ills satisfies me as I find their concerns genuine. When I was traveling from Mumbai to Raigarh, India, I met a lecturer of sociology at a university in Raipur, India and started a candid conversation on religion. As I stated that the world’s major religions offer identical messages aimed at guiding humanity towards the same eventual goal, he cited some references of seemingly irreconcilable differences and argued that it must not be the same Lord we are all submitting to. Had it been the case, he argued, the scriptures would have offered identical teachings to humanity. I reminded him that indeed difference exists between faiths, as it was the Will of the Lord; however, those differences are trivial compared to their identical eventual goals.

“Unto every one of you, we have appointed a (different) law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community; but (He willed it otherwise) in order to test you by means of what He has given you…” (Quran 5:48)

Lord Shree Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagavada Gita, one of the most revered Vedic scriptures, that all the living entities in this world are His eternal, fragmental parts, meaning that there is a divine spark in every living entity in this world and therefore, there is no differentiation between people on the basis of race, gender, or religious affiliation when it comes to their association with the Lord (1). However, it is due to this relativity and cosmic illusion the Lord has played us into that we witness these variations in scriptures.

Vivekananda, one of the greatest Vedic scholars, argues that these differences are the catalysts for religions moving forward. Had all people believed the same, there would have been nothing to think about. If we all had practiced the same set of rituals, prayed the same way or believed in the same philosophies, we would be like the Egyptian mummies in the museums vacantly, looking at each other’s faces. Perfect balance or equilibrium would be the cause of our destruction and consequently differentiation is why we exist (2).

Having agreed on those apparent differences, he argues however, that religions are complementary rather than contradictory. It’s the same Lord that revealed different knowledge through his messengers and saints. The differences were due to the different languages, traditions and circumstances in which those divine messages were revealed. He further says that eventually all souls merge with the Lord, the Lord that is the same for all. He says, “As the rivers originating from different mountains roll down crooked and straight and at last come to the ocean, so all these various creeds, through crooked and straight courses, at last come unto thee.” (2)

While many acknowledge the differences between the faiths, scriptures state that it’s the Lord’s will that is the cause of such differences. As the Bible says:

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations; but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” (KJV Corinthians 12: 4, 5, 6)

Mahamati Prannath, the founder of a new vision of spirituality called Tartam, states – “Ete Din Ina Hukume Jude Jude Khelaye” – Until now, it’s the Will of the Lord that played us into this relative world with different understandings and beliefs. He argues that despite these differences, all the scriptures are part of the divine and should be treated as such by true aspirants.

“All the scriptures whether they be Quran, Hadiths, Bible, Torah, Puranas or Vedas have come as nectar to us from the same Universal Spirit, hence the true devotees relish the divine wisdom embodied in them” – Tartam Sagar (Singaar 12:16)

Having seen apparent differences in ritualistic guidelines and mythological stories, many religious leaders and scholars argue that all the religions profess different ideals and genuine religious harmony is hard to attain. However, it should be understood that they are the result of divine Will, the Lord’s grand plan to get us to experience the relativity here in this transient world such that we understand eternal bliss and the non-duality of the Lord’s Abode. Such understanding can take us a step forward in realizing religious harmony and working towards finding commonalities between us.
1. “Fifteenth Chapter.” Srimad Bhagavadgita, Sadhaka-Sanjivani. Ed. Swami Ramsukhdas. Trans. S. C. Vaishya. 3rd ed. Vol. II. Gorakhpur: Gita, 2002. 1073.

2. “The Ideal of a Universal Religion.” WHAT RELIGION IS In the Words of SWAMI VIVEKANANDA. Ed. Swami Vidyatmananda. 22nd ed. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 2006.

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4 thoughts on “Differences…Divinely Ordained?

  1. I suppose it is possible to argue that all major religions attempt to answer some of the same big questions, such as what does it mean to live a good life, or how can such a good life be attained. However, I think we can do a disservice to ourselves and one another (as well as our respective understandings of one another) if we attempt to view all religions as essentially driving towards the same ideal and not give enough time or energy to the differences. There is beauty and power in the difference, and a lot can be learned from one another when we embrace not only how we are different but why.

    In God is Not One, Stephen Prothero writes, “One of the most common misconceptions about the world’s religions is that they plumb the same depths, ask the same questions. They do not. Only religions that see God as all good ask how a good God can allow millions to die in tsunamis. Only religions that believe in souls ask whether your soul exists before you are born and what happens to it after you die. And only religions that think we have on soul ask after ‘the soul’ in the singular. Every religion, however, asks after the human condition. Here we are in these human bodies. What now? What next? What are we to become?”

    I think that true religious literacy requires that we probe the differences in our religious beliefs. The understanding that we will gain from this process will allow us to better understand one another as we are, and will change the way that interfaith dialogue and collaboration is undertaken. We can come to the table as ourselves in all our differences, with our distinct problems and questions and still exist together in understanding – that will be true interreligious peace.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful comment Esther.. I do agree that not all the religions ask the same question and have the same depth. I agree too that there are seemingly insurmountable differences in what we believe…

    Yet, it is something to be understood that it’s the Lord (the same Lord for all) because he cann’t be two (otherwise there would a huge clash of interest and the universe we are in would go into ruin) who created these differences between us. Secondly, it’s also true that the same truth can be said in thousand ways…

    These differences are why we are moving forward in religious evolutions and renaissance. Yet, if there is a potential for finding common ground between us and attenuate the religious tension that we see around the world, we should definitely work on that..

    The point that you made on God being indifferent to the millions of lives lost in Tsunamis and other disasters is one of the most frequently asked questions on religion. The answer to which is in the Bhagavada Geeta and the reason of the creation of this relative, illusive and imperfect world is thoroughly answered in Tartam, a new philosophy.

    I will write on the similarities between world’s major faiths next and hopefully you will read and post your comments on them. I see that this conversation on religious harmony and interfaith dialogues would go a long way and we can all collectively find a way out from the mayhem created in the name of God and religions. …

  3. Thanks for this interesting article on an important theme. Perhaps the greatest task of interfaith involves somehow convening common ground among all the world’s religious, spiritual, philosophic and wisdom traditions.

    It does seem a bit shortsighted to argue “either” God is One OR God is not One. There is a tension between the concepts of “The Many” and “The One”. That tension is inherent in logic and conceptual form itself, as well as in theology. It would seem that a more fruitful approach would involve seeing the differences AND the similarities among religions, perhaps as organized within a kind of “spectrum” model — that might be based on a comprehensive assessment of the possibilities of the human mind.

    We might say that each religion or tradition or culture, for historical/psychological reasons of its own, has bonded to some sub-set of this comprehensive range of possibilities, and built its worldview and theology from within this bounded perspective. The “communion of all religions” might occur at some highest juncture within the spectrum — as the differences remain in place, perhaps around the “outer rim of the mandala”, while the common ground and universal communion occurs at the center.

    As regards practice, and values — “what do all religions have in common?” The Golden Rule is often cited — but basic practices and values such as humility and love and community are also universal. Writers such as Ken Wilber and Huston Smith have attempted to outline the structure of such a universal spectrum. In the evolving context of “the globalization of religion”, and the increasing demand for a shared and workable global ethic, it seems likely that some new form of common ground will emerge.

    I like this idea that “the differences are divinely ordained”. When held within a “sacred crucible of mutual respect and co-creation”, different perspectives drive the creation of new solutions.

    I look forward to your article on the similarities.

    1. Thank you Bruce for your insight in this article. I think we should look faiths in subjectively. If we do so, we find both differences being divinely ordained as well as the similarities with the message that it’s the same Lord that sent the message through messengers and sages in different times and settings.

      Our efforts should be finding whether those differences are crucial or not in promoting interfaith conversations and dialogues. To me, as a follower of the vision of Tartam, I see those distinctions between faiths matter not as much as the similarities they profess which I will point out in the next article as you suggested.

      In regards to your argument of short-sightedness in telling the world whether the God is one or many, I see that settling the issue resolves most of our differences. I am talking here from a Hindu perspective and references there are all over the place regarding Hinduism being a monotheistic religion. Since, Christianity, Islam, Judaism already profess monotheism, the agreement of Hinduism as a monotheistic faith, to me helps us narrow down our differences. I call that Khuda that Muslims submit to and the Lord Supreme Hindus pray to being the same.

      I think we should explore as well if there are misunderstandings within our beliefs such that we can genuinely work towards interfaith harmony. Merely agreeing to disagree on our differences and walking on our own paths won’t solve the problems we face in the religious front.

      Thank you again and I promise to write next article on the similarities between the faiths…

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