Vision of Eternity: Seeing Beyond the Differences


Many pilgrims, one river. Spiritual life asks us to look beyond differences

This week found me sharing several interesting hours with Christian and Jewish ministers from my town. The first meeting was in a local hall, and attended by the Mayor; the second, a special explanatory Sabbath service in one of the two high street synagogues. Now, I don’t attend such meetings and services regularly, mainly because in my daily work my path inevitably crosses that of many religious people of all traditions, particularly those who have elected to teach or lead others. We discuss our mutual thoughts and challenges, and laugh about our failings.

All of us have two tasks to perform. The first is to support, encourage, guide, engage with, and regularly gather together for readings, prayer, spiritual discovery, and practical action all those who say: “This is the way I want to walk and I’d like you as a walking stick on my path.” This first task involves the building of a faith identity, the ability to instil a sense of pride of belonging to a particular tradition. It entails explaining and guiding readers through the pages of sacred texts, deriving from those ancient words morality and the path of contemporary action in an often confusing world. It means sometimes, when necessary, engaging in hair-splitting theology when questions require it, and to act always to preserve the great intellectual legacy bestowed on us by thousands of saintly teachers over many centuries.

The other task, almost a role-reversal of the first, is to be able to engage with others who share not a scrap of fidelity to, or even interest in, your own tradition and to do it as a good human being. To be able – really able – to see the similarities between apparently different religions and the people who follow them, and to be happy that they are happy on their path. To think, speak and act in a way that will build that person’s faith in God even when the external prayers, practices and beliefs are very different. To rise above the externals and to see the soul within is the equal vision of the sage, says the Bhagavad-gita. Its not easy, but it is essential if one’s religion is to become factually spiritual.

There is no point to religion if it doesn’t include such genuine spirituality, and no point in spirituality if it doesn’t result in being a person with good manners, kind speech, and clean habits. And the gentle art of spiritual conversation is to know what to say, with all types of people and in all circumstances, that will both please and elevate the person in front of you.

The very opposite of this has been displayed this week in Mumbai. Fanaticism, or ‘religion without philosophy,’ is the opposite of actual spirituality but when religion is held as the raison d’etre of the fanatic it can seem to the uninformed observer that religion itself is the very cause of the fanaticism.

Fanaticism is anti-intellectual and non-spiritual. Not a great deal of theological deliberation goes into becoming a fanatic; it rests upon the principle of blind following and dictation, not enlightening conversation. It is an attempt to have the elevated emotions of the enlightened saint but without performing the inner work. That inner work, the struggle involved in making oneself fit for God’s grace, creates humility; and it is next to impossible for the genuinely humble to think of others with contempt.

The feelings of exclusivity, contempt for others, the lack of empathy with others feelings, these are the marks of the fanatic. These are the products of the childish notions of an angry God who comes and speaks to only one saint, in only one part of the world, at only one point in history. Hatred of others, and the desire to see them hurt are all easy to create with such an exclusive and territorial God. That such a sad loss of life occurred in Mumbai, of people from all religions and nationalities, reveals that hatred and the blind urge to destroy exceed even the sense of kinship with people of the same faith.

Particularly sad, amongst all the human grief this week, was the story of Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzman, two young people who had given up the comforts of home to preach and minister to the needs of the Jewish community in Mumbai. Their two year-old son was found by their bodies at the Chabad-Lubavitch house they ran. A piece about them can be read here.

Very close to where the terrorists were moving was our own Hare Krishna temple in Chowpatty. Indeed, one of the killers was shot dead and another arrested as they tried to escape, just 50 yards from the temple door. You can read a report here. On other occasions the Hare Krishna devotees have been warned of their vulnerability. Precautions have been taken at many of our temples in India.

Finally, and more positively, over in the world headquarters of the Hare Krishna movement on the other side of India, 133 kilometers from Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the West Bengal rice plains by the banks of the Ganges, a gathering of the world’s religions has been taking place all week. The United Nation’s inspired United Religions Initiative (URI) have been having their annual convention entitled “Many Paths-One Purpose“, hosted by the Krishna devotees of Mayapur. 450 religious people of all faiths, most of them coming to Mayapur for the first time, have been having their discussions amid Krishna hospitality. You can read about that here.

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7 Comments

Filed under Journal, Religion

7 responses to “Vision of Eternity: Seeing Beyond the Differences

  1. 16krogov

    You say, “The feelings of exclusivity, contempt for others, the lack of empathy with others feelings, these are the marks of the fanatic. ”

    Would you say ISKCON is above this? Is your “Vision of Eternity: Seeing Beyond the Differences” able to include ritvik camp, for example?

  2. Fanaticism is an obstacle to spiritual progress; it is one of the stages that adherents to a path have to move on from.

    Wherever there is sufficient knowledge to begin a religious path, but not to move rapidly along it; wherever there is sufficient guidance to point in the direction of transcendence, but not to have a living example of it; and wherever there is stirring rhetoric to inspire positive emotions but not to rise above negative ones, it will be very easy for fanaticism to flourish there.

    ISKCON is an organisation set up to help people move forward in spiritual life. Because fanaticism is one of the obstacles in spiritual life you may, of course, find it within ISKCON. Wherever the requirements listed above are not found within ISKCON you’ll continue to find fanaticism.

    ‘Seeing beyond differences’ does not mean that one becomes blind to those differences. A great sage may see the soul in the body of a tiger to be the same as himself – but still he does not embrace the tiger.

  3. It is interesting that the prominent Muslim cemetery in Mumbai has refused to take the bodies of the terrorists saying that no true Muslim would have done what they did.

  4. Dear Prabhus

    Pranams. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    I thank you so much for this wonderful and timely article. I was abhorred at the destruction in Bombay/Mumbai during our Thanksgiving Holiday.

    I was meditating on how Abraham is the acknowledged Ancestral Father of both the Jews (as well as the Christians) and the Moslems. Just as at Camp David, President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minster Begin and Egyptian Sadat were able to reach a Peace agreement by first acknowledging that they (a Christian, a Jew and a Moslem) were all worshiping the same God, then True Peace will come in the Middle East.

    Prabhupada used the wonderful example of:
    As anyone and everyone taking a pail of water out in the noonday sun will see a reflection of the sun; there are many reflections of the sun in each pail yet there is only one sun. No one argues about there being one sun even though we may have many different names for that orb in our sky, like Sol, Helios, etc.
    Even a small child can understand this. So why is all this fighting going on! We all agree there is only One Creator! My God, your God – He is the Eternal Father of us all!

    Thank you.

    your lowly servant, Mata Ana
    from the desert outback of No. Nevada, USA

  5. Yes, apparently the Indian Muslims are the first to make such a statement. Outside Indonesia, India has the most Muslim citizens at around 200 million. If even a small number of them begin to speak like this it will make a difference to the preachers of hate in other countries.

  6. Thank you for this post as it really got me thinking. I have taken a quote and hope you don’t mind. We need more tolerance in the world and I truly believe manners and kind speech are so important. I almost felt alone in thinking this until you mentioned it!

    • Thanks Priya. I’m so happy to learn that you found something useful. I think we all have to try hard to be a force for good in this world. Good luck with your own writing.

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