By Thomas Chillikulam
Divine understanding ...
Religious fundamentalism runs on the engine of arrogance. A religious fundamentalist claims to possess absolute knowledge and truth about God. The basic teachings of religions regarding God prove such claims to be false because all religions perceive God as an inexhaustible and indescribable mystery that cannot be grasped fully. 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".
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". Sufi Muslim saint Sarafudddin Maneri acknowledges: "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".
Historical experiences and cultural expressions of being gripped by God give rise to particular religions. Religions are existentially manifold, yet at the inner level of spirituality there is an essential unity because the core experience of being gripped by God is the same. Nonetheless, diversity and plurality of religions have contributed positively to the spiritual evolution of humanity. Each religion is the expression of a unique interplay of the divine spirit and the creative human spirit in and through diverse cultures and symbols. Therefore, it is important to respect the diversity of religions and at the same time recognise the basic unity of 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. Truly religious persons cannot be exclusive. They can discern the presence of God in every religion.
Ramakrishna and Sri Satya Sai Baba of Shirdi 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. God has no "chosen people" for all are God's people. A person with a deep experience of God and rooted in his own faith will not be threatened by other religions, but rather would rejoice in the diversity of religious experiences.
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. In this way, religions need not be competitive but are complementary. We are co-pilgrims on a journey towards fuller life and communion with God. In such a common journey every faith is part of a festive delight.
The writer is a professor at Gyanodya Regional Theology Centre,Patna