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Bridging Unbridgeable Gaps between Religions

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Part II

Bridging Unbridgeable Gaps between Religions


I would like to give a few examples of how Theosophical knowledge can bridge seemingly unbridgeable gaps between religions. We know that Jews, Christians and Moslims preach monotheism, that Hindus teach polytheism, and that Jains, Daoists, Buddhist and others teach atheism (though this in itself is disputable). Islam says that obedience to God is the Way. Buddhism teaches that the believe in God is the greatest obstruction on the Way. Jainism teaches that the inner being of each entity is a god (jīva), but that there is no external God, whereas Buddhism seems to forcefully deny even the Jain concept of jīva by means of its anātma (no-permanent-soul) doctrine. How are such opposing ideas reconcilable? How can a Buddhist ever feel at home among Jains or Christians, or a Muslim between idol worshiping Hindu’s and Jains?

Theosophy teaches that there is one Divine Principle, Unchanging, Eternal, Universal, which in itself is an aspect of the Great Incomprehensible. This Divine principle is not a god, nor God with a capital G. It is the first appearance above the horizon of perception in a particular universe. It is that in which everything has its being, right now and ever. We are It. In It everything exists, and enfolds itself according to the paths of consciousnesses of all beings. If we like we can call this principle ‘God’, and as everything exists within it, we are also within It, we are It in our essence, Its essence. Nothing that manifests as our universe is separate from It. In other words It is the whole universe, the unseen and the seen universe, the historical as well the future universe.

We can readily understand why the Buddhists, who wish to liberate their minds completely from every limited conception in order to experience unlimited Reality refuse to give It a name. They will not even call It ‘It.’ Nor will they call it God or ātman, or Allah or jīva. But because Buddhists are also human beings, their minds cannot do anything but give It a name-that-is-not-a-name. All these are just mental concepts which by definition can never cover the Truth. Truth cannot be covered because it has no finitude. Therefore they phrased the term Śunyatā, Emptiness. That is why Buddhist continuously emphasize that every existing thing and being and process is ‘empty of inherent existence.’ Nothing is really what we think it is. All Reality is beyond this illusionary existence of daily life.

Nevertheless all existing beings, including we ourselves, are It or ‘God.’ Still we appear to our perception separate, distinct egos. But because we are in Reality the same Essence-beyond-the-limits-of-existence, we can, from our mental point of view, say that each of us ‘has’ or ‘is’ a ‘jīva,’ an indivisible unit of consciousness that by its own nature is pure, omniscient and indestructible. Now you see that, ultimately, Buddhists when talking about anātman, Hindus about ātman-that-is-brahman and Jains about jīva just approach the same Truth from different angles, or rather from different levels of inside. They do not contradict each other, and each of these approaches has its teaching value, and each can lead to misunderstanding when the mind is not subtle enough to grasp it. Every human being who strives to understand spirituality can ponder for himself or herself which way of expression is the most subtle – and thus the highest religion is born.

As everything exists within and is the same as It, and arises from a source which is beyond mental speculation, we are legitimized to say that all beings as apparently separate souls emanate from It, like rays from the sun. And as apparently in every process of life in the microcosms as well as the macrocosms Intelligence is involved, it is also possible to speak of Creation – as long as we do not make the mistake of fancying a creator as some kind of super-mind existing outside us and without us. Such ideas are the exoteric pollutions of the ages. These cause the decline and finally the death of any religion. It is completely true to say that Allah of Islam, for example, which can not be depicted because ‘He’ or rather ‘It’ is beyond imaging, and has as ‘His’ main impersonal characteristics Forgiveness, Mercy and Justice (Karma), emanated or brought forth or created from within ‘Him’self the existing universe including all beings and forces, including all men and plants and animals and jinns, including all intelligence and intelligences, mental possibilities, curative herbs, emotions, the universe’s physical and super-physical properties.

It seems to me that the effort of those great beings of compassion – the mahatmas of gods in their individual tasks, or ‘God’ in their togetherness – was to bring spirituality and enhanced noble culture among men. In the Arabic world of Mohammad the emphasis was laid on devotion, divine confidence, and the option to choose between the two paths: the one of the world which is finite, or the path of the spirit (Allah) which leads to immortality.

And perhaps we can say about Jainism, in general, that the emphasis is on developing the individual scientific mind, the individual purification, and an ethics understandable by the manas or mind, directly and practically applicable to daily practice. And about Buddhism, more especially Mahāyana Buddhism, we can say that the emphasis was and is on developing that what is beyond the mind – called buddhi or spiritual intuition, or higher mind. Jainism is individualistic and can therefore lead to spiritual selfishness, just as Hinayana or Theravada Buddhism; Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes ‘the well-being of all living beings’ in every prayer and ritual. Islam teaches peace, divine justice and brotherhood rather than intellectualism and philosophical speculation (as prominent within Hinduism), Buddhism continuously emphasizes compassion, altruism for the sake of other beings, which includes non-violence, as so strongly emphasized in Jainism.

Are these approaches contradicting each other, or are they complementary? Or are they different colors of the same spectrum of one white light? Phrase it as you like. Go beyond the mind (but don’t abandon it) with its divisions and separations, its putting up of limits and borders, but don’t abandon the higher mind. Theosophy embraces all and makes the relations between religions understandable. That is Theosophy’s task in religious reconciliation. This leads to peace and non-violence, brotherhood and happiness – but regrettably we can hardly doubt that there will be streams among the less intelligent within humanity in the coming centuries which will be fighting about it, against it and against each other. That has always happened.

Another seemingly ‘unbridgeable’ distinction exists between pantheism and liberation-directed religions. The first recognizes that every creature is ensouled, and that such creatures of the forest and in nature have their own spiritual hierarchies, with some deity at the top. They may be friendly towards humans – but don’t make them angry, and always give them what they desire. Of course such invisible creatures do exist. Every person who is sensitive for nature is aware of them. On the other hand, in peoples like such as may still exist at some places in Africa and South America etc., where such devatās have become the only recognized beings while one has lost more awareness or recognition of divinities who are beyond humanity in evolution, intelligence and ethic, the people may life in constant fear and psychological slavery. Still, pantheism is included in Jainism and Theosophy. In the Jain system, for example, there are vyantaras and jotiṣas, bhavanavasi, yakṣas and hundreds more. Some are non-human or subhuman, other are humans which died on earth. Such astral creatures indeed exist, and have there own, unselfconscious powers, and their own psychology. They can be used by magicians for good or for bad purposes: they have no conscience of their own. They embody strong forces and properties which humans do not have (like passing through walls and changing their form). Within the Theosophical system there is no contradiction between pantheism, monotheism, polytheism, spiritual atheisms and magical religions. All are included and are all are understandable. Some of course have deteriorated and their teachings can no longer be regaarded as true. Some aspects of the invisible worlds are undesirable and fiendish to humankind, and such beings are not our teachers or preceptors or noble examples. We should be their examples, because they too have consciousness and go a path of evolution for the better. We should feel responsible for them, and color nature herself with our unseen beauty of mind and good emotions.

Another illusionary problem is that between dualism and non-dualism. Jainism, Christianity, Islam for example, are dualistic, within Hinduism we find both dualism and non-dualism, and Buddhism, Advaita, praised by Theosophy, are fundamentally non-dualistic.

Dualism belong to the manas (thinking faculty of man), non-dualism belongs to buddhi (spiritual insight). Of course there is no place in one universe for two infinities, such an infinity of matter and of spirit next to each other. Logically matter and spirit are one, like the front and back curve, or top and lower curve or a circle. Logically we can not say that a circle has a front or top or back or bottom. It is equally round on all sides. But as long as the great majority of humankind has its emphasis on the development of mind – and that will remain so for hundreds of thousand of years – it is impossible for many to understand non-duality. And if non-duality would be the only teaching given to humankind at this moment, humanity would not be able to understand and handle it. After Buddha came Śaṅkara – which was a consciously taken step down from an esoteric point of view, because Śaṅkara had to reinstate the ātman concept which was rejected by the Buddha – even though the Buddha was right. Then Viśiṣṭādvaita (‘qualified Advaita’) was a step down from Shaṅkara’s pure Advaita, and after Rāmānuja, Dvaita (absolute dualism) developed and the masses of people tended to adhere more and more to the dualism which for many fulfills the function to satisfy the psychological needs, and they call it bhakti, external devotion and service (actually a corruption of inner devotion). All of these have their function for different human psychologies and stages of awakened wisdom.

Theosophy has given us doctrines, ancient doctrines in the form of explanations applicable for our time – it has in modern times lifted a small tip of the veil of divine wisdom – for humanity, for those who can see, so that humanity can now start its own independent spiritual evolution, by its own effort, independent of systems, formalized religions and practices, rituals, meditation methods and other intermediary prescriptions. It is the right of every human soul to recognize and know his own ātman, and the best way to do that is to transcend all concepts of ātman and recognize such ātman as a mere illusion – however useful this illusion has been as an interim concept, as a provisional teaching, and still will fulfill that function for a long time. The Real Ātman is no concept, nor does it exist, nor does it not exist. It is beyond that:

Ātman is Brahman

[This is part II of a paper titled ‘Religious Harmony and Cooperation from a Theosophical Point of View’ prepared by Dr. Rudi Jansma, Theosophical Study Center Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, for the International Seminar on Religious Harmony and Co-operation for Ensuring Social Justice: The Role of Buddhism, on 19. January 2012 organized by Centre for Buddhist Studies of the Department of Jainology, University of Madras, Chennai -05.]




  1. Continued from Part I: Theosophical efforts towards reconciliation and brotherhood. []