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How Seekers from Different Faith Traditions Can Live in Harmony—Some Insights from Vedanta

By Swami Satprakashananda

25 February 2017

(Excerpts from “Vedanta for All” by Swami Satprakashananda (published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India)

“Vedanta views different religions as so many ways to the same goal. Vedanta does not antagonize any religion. Vedanta takes the position that the same God can be viewed by individual minds in different ways. There are sure to be various conceptions of God. The human mind can conceive of God according to its capacity. The Hindus may conceive of God in one way. Mohammedans in another way, the Christians in another way, the Jews another way. Each of these conceptions can lead the spiritual aspirant to the ultimate goal.

As the aspirant advances in spiritual life his understanding of spiritual truth also develops. His conceptions change until the Supreme is realized. Until then he is bound to be in the realm of ideas and conceptions. But each and every view of God helps him to reach God, if he is sincere. He cannot have a complete idea of God as long as his mind is not ready for this. For example: You can have many photographs of this house from different angles, but none of these photographs will be a complete picture of the house. Still, each picture will stand for the whole house. Similarly, your view of God may be very partial, but even that view of God stands for the entire God.

Whatever conception you may form of God according to your mental capacity, that very conception will help you to move towards God if you are sincere. But if you want to reach God quarrelling about the conceptions, then it will take you a long time to reach the Goal. So, Vedanta doe not quarrel about the conceptions. Vedanta wants to see if you are anxious and eager to reach the Goal, instead of quarrelling about the way. The way is not a safe place to live forever.

Vedanta does not make any converts in the ordinary sense. To Vedanta, real conversion is the transformation of the inner nature, lifting a person from a lower to a higher plane. You cannot be converted in the true sense simply by a kind of external purification, changing of name or dress. Vedanta says whatever you may have, if it is worthy of the name ‘religion’—and in these days the word ‘religion’ is used very loosely—it is something that will lead to the Supreme Goal, otherwise it is not worthy of the name of religion.

By its very definition religion is a particular way to the Supreme Goal. It is the search for the eternal. So, Vedanta says that whatever religion you may profess, you will not have to change that course. But you should not think that your course is the only course and all other courses are wrong. You follow your own course without quarrelling with others about the course. If you are sincere, you will reach the Goal.

One and the same God is being worshipped by the Christians in the churches, by the Jews in the synagogues, by the Mohammedans in the mosques, and by the Hindus in the temples. The main thing is knowing how to reach Him.

Until you reach Him you are sure to be in the domain of suffering and darkness. There may be occasional glimpses of a little joy, but mainly it is a state of bondage because your knowledge is limited, and any limitation is bondage. This is the view that Vedanta has towards all other religions of the world.

Any follower of any religion can be a Vedantist if he accepts these basic principles: that the Supreme Goal can be reached not just in one way but in different ways if you are sincere, if you cultivate devotion to the Ideal and inner purity. Whatever external form of worship you may adopt, you cannot reach the Goal unless you fulfil these basic conditions. All the great spiritual leaders, if you analyze their teachings, want you to fulfil these two conditions of spiritual life. Whatever you may do, if you do not fulfil these two conditions you are not on the spiritual path. Dogmas, doctrines and practices will not be adequate unless they help you to develop your inner purity and also your spiritual eagerness for devotion to God.”

“Vedanta is actually a foundation of all religions, but is seldom recognized as such. They are so buried under doctrine and dogma they fail to recognize two truths—that human nature is essentially divine, and that there is one Supreme Being. No religion can deviate from these truths. But in Vedanta these two truths find the clearest expression, so much so that all doctrine, dogmas, and practices that Vedanta suggests are based on these. Vedanta never loses sight of these two truths. These truths are more or less implicit in all religions, but they find the clearest expression in Vedanta.

Vedantic teachers have kept these truths in the forefront of the mind. This is why they have cosmic vision to see all religions as so many paths leading to the same goal. Vedanta is above all fanaticism and dogmatism and intolerance.

[…] According to Vedanta, the direct perception of Reality is the goal of life. Then the entire human life must be keyed to that Supreme Goal. Vedanta also suggests that there are different courses to reach the goal. The courses differ and the spiritual aspirant can follow the course according to his or her development […]

[…] Vedanta views all religions as the expression of one eternal religion, as so many paths or ways to reach the goal.”

 (Swami Satpurushananda [1888-1979] was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Author of numerous books, he established the Vedanta Centre in St. Louis, USA, in 1938, where he remained till his passing at the age of 91.)