By Joyous Agnos, New Age Islam
21 Jan 2013
The more you think about it, the more utterly foolish it strikes you as. Much of the conflict that the world has witnessed down the centuries in the name of different religions stems from one basic phenomenon: belief embodied in rival truth claims about matters that cannot be verified by humans through the use any one or more of our five senses.
Each set of believers in a particular religious or secular belief-system insists on the supremacy of its unverifiable beliefs. And this, quite naturally, sets different sets of believers against each other. In other words, antagonistic differences between different sets of believers are rooted in the very fact of belief. Belief in rival ultimate truth-claims thus produces, underlies and continually reinforces divisions between different sets of believers.
Belief has conventionally served as the basis of religiosity in most traditions, but this need not necessarily be the case. Historically, scores of mystics in various parts of the world have discounted belief almost completely. Some have gone so far as to insist that belief in unverifiable dogmas is, in fact, a heavy shackle and a major obstacle on the spiritual path. They have castigated it as a form of attachment or clinging that reinforces the false ego sense, and, therefore, an enormous hindrance on the path of enlightenment or liberation. In place of belief, these figures have stressed being, rooted in knowledge based on personal experience. It is what you are, rather than what you believe, they have pointed out, that counts.
This being-centric approach is nothing less than a complete paradigm shift in understanding what religiosity is, or, rather, should be, all about. It isn’t, however, a novel approach, although it has been overshadowed by conventional religiosity based on dogmatic belief promoted and defended by the religious establishment in almost every tradition. I may be wrong here, but I suspect that at least some key figures who are regarded as founders of various belief systems were actually votaries of this sort of being-centric religiosity but that their reality has been carefully camouflaged by centuries of misappropriation and misinterpretation by priests and clerics, who have a strong vested interest in promoting belief-centric religiosity, a potent means to dupe the gullible.
The radical implications of the being-centric understanding of religiosity for inter-religious relations are immediately apparent. Shifting the focus of our religiosity from belief to being has crucial consequences for relations between rival sets of believers. As we have indicated above, it is the very fact of belief in unverifiable dogmas that defines rival sets of believers and, at the same time, sets them apart from, and opposed to, each other. In the being-centric understanding of religiosity, wherein belief in unverifiable dogmas plays no part, this basis of inter-religious antagonism is completely absent. Accordingly, you relate to every other person simply as a fellow being. His or her religious beliefs, or lack of them, make no difference at all to how you perceive and behave with him or her. He or she may be a confirmed atheist, a sceptic agnostic, or a believer in one God or a million gods, but that has no bearing at all on your perception of him or her, because for you belief itself is of no consequence in defining your religiousness. Hence, another person’s religious beliefs do not matter at all in your perception of him. All that matters is that he is a fellow being.
Since belief has no place in shaping this sort of religiosity, there is no need to constantly obsess about, and wage wars over, rival and irreconcilable claims of ‘true belief’ and ‘infidelity’, which is what belief-centric religiosity often leads to. No longer is your world divided between ‘true believers’, pitted against ‘unbelievers’, ‘infidels’ or ‘disbelievers’, a frightening dualistic understanding of humanity that is intrinsic to many belief-centric religious systems. And with that, of course, the very basis of inter-religious antagonism is effectively demolished.
Understandably, it isn’t easy for many people to accept this alternate, being-centric approach to religiosity. The belief-centric approach has, over the centuries, become the dominant one in many religious traditions, although some of these may actually have started off as being-centric spiritualities. Then, again, believing in dogmas seems a much more easy and comfortable way of leading your religious life than by focusing on your own being and developing and realizing your inner self, which needs effort and constant awareness. How much more convenient, it seems, to be able to imagine that just by believing in certain dogmas and performing a fixed set of daily or weekly rituals you can win God’s approval and gain entry into eternal paradise!
The being-centric approach is definitely much more demanding, in a way, for here clinging onto a set of beliefs and engaging in rituals can do nothing at all for your salvation or liberation, which depends entirely on the efforts you make to refine or realise your own being. Harder this may seem to some, but it is definitely a much more meaningful and rewarding way to make sense of yourself, of others and of the world around you. And as for it being much more conducive than belief-centric approaches to harmonious living with people who think and behave differently there can be no doubt at all.