By Swami Nityaswarupananda
27 February 2017
(Excerpts from Education for Human Unity & World Civilization, by Swami Nityaswarupananda)
What Is Religion?
Religion is, in the true sense, the science of the knowledge of man’s real nature. It is the perception, realization and manifestation of man’s real nature. Man’s real nature is pure consciousness, pure existence, pure bliss. The soul of every being is thus the same universal spirit, self-effulgent, a sun covered over with clouds of ignorance. The apparent difference between one and another is due to the difference in density of these layers of clouds; the difference is in stages of growth and manifestation, in degree, not in kind. This eternal truth is the conscious or unconscious basis of all religions, and is the explanation of the whole of human progress, either on the material, or on the intellectual, or on the physical plane—the same universal spirit is manifesting itself through different planes. Religion is thus the consciousness of the eternal truth of the spiritual unity and solidarity of humankind and of civilization.
Religion Is One, Forms Are Many
Religion, as has been said, is the perception, realization, and manifestation of man’s real nature, which is divinity itself, the universal spirit in man. The universal spirit expresses itself through infinite aspects, in infinite forms, modes, and media. As one master of the house appears in various aspects, being father to one, brother to another, and husband to a third, so the one universal spirit is described and called in various ways according to the particular aspect in which it is perceived by a particular individual. It is a chameleon, sometimes red, sometimes green, sometimes yellow, sometimes blue, and so on, and sometimes it has no colour at all. Religion, essentially, is thus one in substance, but many in relation to forms and media of expression. As the one universal spirit and its many aspects are the same reality, perceived by the mind at different stages, in different attitudes, at different times and in different circumstances, it is not one particular form, mode, or medium alone, but equally all forms, modes, and media, which are paths to self-realization. These forms are like the different radii of a circle. As many radii, so many paths. All lead to the centre, the one ultimate reality, the universal spirit in man. And at the centre, where all the radii meet, all differences cease; but until the centre is reached, differences there must be. Individuals, according to their nature, travel along one of these lines; one along one, and another along another; and if all push onward along their own lines, all will certainly come to the centre. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines or dogmas or rituals or books or temples or other such concomitants are but non-essential secondary details.
Religion becomes many, called by various names, only in relation to various forms, modes and media of expression. These forms are not universal or fundamental; they vary from person to person, group to group, community to community. Yet, as the husk is necessary to the development of the grain, they are inescapable and inevitable, for they spring from individual constitutional differences in mental make-up. That people, according to different tendencies, tastes, and temperaments, follow different forms, modes and media to express their common goal of divinity is an eternal truth declared by India throughout the ages. Religion, in the sense of the many in relation to forms of expression, is a constitutional necessity. It will fulfil itself and reach perfection only when there are as many religions in the world as there are individuals. The universal spiritual principle of unity in diversity will then become fulfilled not only in spirit but also in form. The diversity of infinite forms enabling every individual to express his potential divinity through his own distinctive medium is the greatest discovery of spiritual science to lead mankind out of chaos to absolute freedom—the ultimate goal of humanity and of human civilization.
Every Religion Is Everybody’s Religion
The greatest discovery of spiritual science, as we have seen, is that Religion is one but religions are many, in the sense that they are but the varied expressions of the Religion which is oneness. Each religion, called by a particular name, expresses a particular aspect of the universal spirit. To this particular aspect a group of people of similarly constituted mental make-up pay allegiance. Since the one universal spirit and its many aspects are the same reality, conceived by the mind at different times in different attitudes, to reach oneness each individual may choose the path that suits him best.
As each religion has its own basic idea which represents a particular aspect of the universal spirit and is expressed through a particular form or medium, it is to that extent one-sided. Its realization is limited to a particular aspect of the universal spirit, whereas the universal spirit has infinite aspects expressing themselves through infinite forms, modes, and media. In spiritual science the different religions are not only not contradictory to each other, but are complementary; for each is a particular expression of the underlying spiritual unity. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for the various religions to complement each other with their distinct realizations, and by doing so develop themselves. A religion reaches perfection and fulfils itself when it embodies the realizations of the infinite aspects of the universal spirit.
Give and take constitutes the key to progress. Science and technology are making rapid progress through this principle of co-operation. This principle is equally valid in the realm of spiritual science. There should be continuous give and take between religions for their mutual enrichment; this will take them towards achievement of the final goal of spiritual unity. It will also establish harmony between religion and religion, and it will provide a solid basis for true understanding and co-operation among the different sections of the people.
The different religions are essential to each other for each one’s development and ultimate fulfilment in spiritual unity. The distinctive particular realization of one religion is needed by every other religion for its perfection and fulfilment. All the spiritual truths realized by the different religions together constitute the world of religion. The manifold spiritual truth of the world of religion is the common heritage of mankind, the common asset of every religion, a common fund from which each may draw. Each religion is a beneficiary of this manifold spiritual truth. Therefore, each religion is also a beneficiary of every other religion, for it may draw upon any or all of the others. Every religion is indeed everybody’s religion. No spiritual truth is the exclusive property of any individual or group of individuals. All truths, physical or spiritual, are universal and ever-existent. Scientists, physical or spiritual, merely discover them.
Every religion is unitive in character. It fulfils itself in unity. T betrays itself when separated from unity. All religions are but the varied expression of the Religion, which is oneness, the fulfilment, the summum bonum, of human life.
Conflict between Religions Is The Greatest Perversion Of Religion
It is now apparent that every religion is everybody’s religion. There is no conflict between one religion and another. Conflict is born of perversion and is, indeed, itself the greatest perversion of religion. The time has come to penetrate, expose, and end the monstrous perverted practices pursued by vested interests which discriminate between religion and religion and create conflict. They invariably set one religion against another and divide man from man. In the way they kill the soul of religion which is unity, the soul of humanity. To say that there is only one God is to affirm that there is only one humanity […]
No Religion Is a Minority Religion
Religion is concerned with the science of the knowledge of man’s real nature and with the development of the consciousness of the eternal truth of the spiritual unity and solidarity of humankind and of civilization. Religion has no social or political status, and there cannot be any such thing as a ‘minority religion’ or a ‘majority religion’, and, ipso facto, there can be no ‘religious minority’ or ‘religious majority’. By virtue of constitutional temperamental differences, every individual may have the religion that suits him best. Therefore, there may be as many religions as there are individuals. The question of ‘minority’ or ‘majority’ in relation to religion is a contradiction in terms. These terms, and the thought and attitude they represent, are a gross misuse of the term ‘religion’. Every religion expresses the identity, the unity, of every human being. It is preposterous to attempt to divide man from man on the basis of the very systems, and the only systems, which are organized to give man a means of experiencing and expressing the unity of humankind.
No Religion Can Claim Any Special Privilege
From what has been said it follows that no religion can claim any special privilege, for privilege presupposes separation. A special privilege for one religion is a contradiction in terms, and is repugnant to the very concept of the unity of religions. To demand a privilege for a particular religion is to limit that religion to the manifestation of only one aspect of the universal self. But this is a suicidal demand for any religion. Religion makes for life, for expansion; life is the expansion provided by religion. Contraction in religion is death, both to life and to the religion itself. It is the duty of every religion to grow from more to more in diverse aspects, and to fulfil itself in unity. But what we find today is the reverse of this.
A special privilege for one religion drags it down from the spiritual to the secular, from the grain to the husk, from the substance to the form, and kills the very soul of the religion itself. The only true privilege for any religion is its fundamental right to complement itself by drawing upon the distinctive contributions of other religions and thus develop, perfect, and fulfil itself.
Consciously or unconsciously, every religion moves towards unity. Unity is thus the measure of perfection of all religions. That is the perfect religion which has reached unity in its varied expressions, and that therefore is the ideal to follow.
‘The’ Religion Provides the Basis Of True ‘Conversion’ And Of Progress In Well-Being
The discoveries of spiritual science make it incumbent on every religion to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Veda nor the Bible nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonizing the Veda, the Bible, and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied forms of expression of the Religion, which is oneness, so that each individual may choose the form that suits him best. It is therefore the Religion that provides the basis of true ‘conversion’, a conversion which is indispensable for real progress in well-being. No one need be converted from one religion to another, but all must be converted from a religion to the Religion. This alone will lead mankind to infinite freedom. This alone will lead mankind to that One ‘in whom is the universe, who is in the universe, who is the universe; in whom is the soul, who is in the soul, who is the soul of man’; knowing him—and therefore the universe—as our self alone extinguishes all fear, brings an end to misery, and leads to infinite freedom. Wherever there has been expansion in love or progress in well-being, of individuals or numbers, it has been through the perception, realization, and the practicalisation of the eternal truth—the oneness of all beings.’
(The book, from which these extracts have been taken, Education for Human Unity & World Civilization, was written by Swami Nityaswarupananda at the request of the Indian National Commission for Co-operation With UNESCO [Ministry of Education and Culture, Government of India]. It was first published in 1986 by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi, and was reprinted in 2003 by The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata. Swami Nityaswarupananda was the founder of this institute and served as its Secretary for almost three decades.)