By Norm Phelps
While we abide in this mundane world, our lives should always be guided by love and compassion for others. In our relations with everyone, we should always strive to do the least harm and be the most help. In Islam, this teaching is found throughout the Qur'an and the Hadith and is expressed quite concisely in Imam Nawawi's Forty Hadiths: "None of you truly believes until you wish for your brother what you wish for yourself." (Hadith 13). In Christianity, this same teaching is summed up in Jesus' saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The other great religions all have their own expressions of this universal principle that is the foundation of all ethics.
These two great truths form the heart of authentic spirituality. I like to think of them as the magnificent jewel that is humanity's most precious possession. But a beautiful jewel requires a setting, not to improve it in any way, but to focus our attention in ways that enable us to appreciate the jewel's true worth. Knowing this, our great spiritual teachers have created rituals and doctrines (sometimes called dogmas) to serve as settings that can help us see the jewel of spiritual truth in the fullness of its worth. In every true religion, the jewel is the same, but each religion crafts its own unique setting, suited to the society for which it is intended.
The value of these doctrines and rituals does not reside in themselves, but in their capacity to point us toward the two great truths. When we fail to recognize this, we risk falling into the trap of believing that our religion is the only true religion and superior to everyone else's. And from there, it is only a short step to hating our brother and doing to him things that we would never wish for ourselves.
The world and all who share in it have suffered too long from the spiritual provincialism that results from clinging to our separate dogmas so fiercely that we behave in ways that mock the very message that they were created to promote. The followers of every religion - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, all have at one time or another been both perpetrators and victims of the sin of enmity toward those who do not share their specific doctrines or their history. It is long past time for all of us to honor our faiths by allowing their dogmas to serve their true purpose of revealing the universal message of love for all of our fellow sufferers on this earth.
When we are truly religious, our faiths serve to unite, not divide us; they lead us into conversation, understanding and compassion; they do not become excuses for hostility and strife. If peace is to become more than a fantasy, we must not let the differences among our doctrines and rituals lead us down paths that can end only in suffering and death. Instead, we must learn to talk to one another - and listen to one another, using as the common vocabulary of our conversation the two great truths that are the priceless gift of our religions.