Monday, July 28, 2014

God is Beyond All Religions!

God is beyond all religions and no religion can claim to possess absolute truth or make the claim of being the norm for all the others. It is rational to believe that a truly religious person cannot be exclusive. They can recognize the presence of God in every religion. At the same time, God has no "chosen people" for all are God's people. A person who has experienced 'God' deeply within the roots of his own faith will not be threatened by other religions, instead he would rejoice in the diversity of religious experiences. It will be prudent to mention Sri Satya Sai Baba of Shirdi and Ramakrishna who did not find any contradiction in practising different religions. They exemplify the ideal of finding God in all religions and respecting the faith, symbols and practices of other religions. It is untenable to hold on to a position that God's revelation occurs only in a particular country or culture.

Sufi Muslim saint Sarafudddin Maneri had once acknowledged that, "A hundred thousand intellects cannot comprehend Thee, O, You who lie hidden from the gaze of eye and soul". Khwaja Abu Sa'id, another Sufi saint, declares: "No one knows the full story, hold your tongue, hold your tongue". Similarly, the Bible affirms that the ineffable mystery of God eludes understanding - "Can you penetrate the designs of God? It is higher than the heavens; what can you know?" (Book of Job 11:78).St Augustine, an early Christian thinker, warned those who hold absolutist claims: "If you know God,it is not God". For St Thomas Aquinas, Christian theologian of all times, the greatest of all knowledge about God is: "To know that one does not know God".   

Even upanishadic sages were aware of the incomprehensibility of the divine mystery. The mystery of God is so ineffable that, "The eye does not reach it, or speech, or the mind. It is not understood by those who understand it; it is understood by those who do not understand it," says the Kena Upanishad (1.3.4).The Absolute is anirvachaniyam or indescribable. Hence, after every description of God, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (3.9.26) adds "neti, neti" - "not so, not so".

Harmonious relationship between religions is possible when followers of all religions realise that the infinite mystery of God cannot be exhaustively grasped. The truth present in one's own religion is part of the infinite horizon of divine truth in which people of various cultures and religions are equal participants. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

God is too vast to be contained in just one religion!

Each of us, individuals and communities, has our own understanding of God. And, we strongly believe that our own perceptions of, or beliefs about, God are true - we may not be entirely wrong there, but at the same time not correct either! It is something like if we look up in the sky, we see in clouds in myriad shapes and sizes - some resembling like monkeys and lions, others like peacocks and whales or even a grandfather with a giant nose! While another person looking at the clouds, say sitting at a different country far away may find clouds forming different shapes like buildings or cars!

God is vast, very vast! While we are limited beings with, at best, only very partial understandings of God, our perceptions of God are naturally limited and partial. What often happens is that we imagine that our particular understanding of God, as represented by the particular religion we claim to follow, reflects His totality - just like the little child who thinks that the bit of sky and clouds that he can see is what the whole sky and its contents are all about. Also, because of this (our limited understanding, partial truth), we go about disparaging, denouncing, combating and even waging war against people who see God in ways other than ours, like children fighting with other children who see bits of sky and clouds other than those that we do.

Our respective perceptions of God may not be wrong, but at the same time they do not represent the whole story of the sky or the whole truth about or reality of God. "When we begin to understand where and how we have erred, we are led to realize that how such a terrible cost in terms of human lives are lost in the name of wars over and about religion," writes Roshan Shah in

When, like the two boys who learn that the sky is much bigger than they had imagined, we are suitably humbled to realize that our understandings of God are just a limited and partial reflection of the Absolute Truth and that others also may possess equally valid (and equally partial and limited) understandings of the same, we might be inspired to reach out to each other in friendship, to learn more about God and goodness from each other and to enrich ourselves spiritually in the process!