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  AHYMSIN newsletter, Issue - March 2012  

Religious Perspective on Unity in Diversity

by Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati

Abstract of a Paper presented at the International Seminar, Religious Perspective on Unity in Diversity, 14-16 December 2011. Organised by the Institute of Meditation and Interfaith Studies, Rishikesh [part of AHYMSIN] and Professor Harbans Singh, Department of Encyclopaedia of Sikhism, Punjabi University, Patiala.

It helps if we are clear about our terminology.  What is religion? Religion the word comes from Latin: religio, meaning being bound, especially being bound by a vow! Religion classically binds people to something that existed before, i.e. to a canon of scriptures, a prophet or divine incarnation, certain rites, laws or dogmas. Thus per definition, religion is an Organization that binds metaphysical insights into form (i.e. teachings, rituals) and people commit to these by vow, ceremony or other customs.

At the origin of any religion is a unique and beautiful experience, where one or more people have direct insight into the Divine (Latin – beyond human); the word stems from the Sanskrit root-word for deva meaning the “shining One”; referring to the Light that is the essence of existence (whether seen as a personalized God, a pantheistic vision, a scripture or a statement of post-modern Physics! Etc.)

That insight is “life a flash of light” in which there is understanding of one’s relationship to that very light.  This so far, non-verbal insight/awareness/consciousness then is processed, takes form in mental concepts necessary for communicating that experience to others. Such insight has consequences, it shifts the perspective of how to understand oneself and the world one lives in, which might or might not include new ways of understanding and living in the surrounding culture and society, etc.

Normally, in general, human beings understand/comprehend experience by relating it to past/stored memory files which have been built over life-times of experience with the internal and external world. In short, whenever we meet on the outside (or inside) world, we note – we take up through our senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching or smelling) – process it and store it. These files then act as reference points to understand present or future input, or what happens within us. Understanding can happen either by comparing new input with what is stored in these memory files, or by simply accepting something as it is, without conceptualizing it.

This latter process of “simply accepting”, one could call a direct or revealed or original experience.  One simply observes what happens, without judgment, without interpretation, without overlay of words and concepts!  Such revealed knowledge is the original nature of the experience of the prophet, patriarch or Sage, Medicine Man or woman, Shaman.

Historically the two steps of – a) receiving revealed knowledge and of b) “understanding” by putting it into a concept, system or law can happen wither within the same human being, or later through different human beings; i.e. the original experience or the followers, disciples or believers. Thus there are two distinct phases at the base of Religion; the original revelation and how people have interpreted it, for their own understanding and/or the world in which they lived.

I propose to say, that the first phase, the revelation is a shared by all religions and spiritual traditions, revealing the same truth – on whatever level, in whatever culture.  Truth by nature must be ONE, it must be the same from whatever perspective one perceives it, otherwise it is subjective, opinion, or interpretation. Therefore absolute revealed Truth must by implication be ONE.

In the equally true and necessary second phase of interpretation and adaption that ONE revealed TRUTH is expressed to the world around, and thus – as the world has different forms (cultures and perspectives) must by implication, in order to be understood – take many forms.

In phase one there is unity, in phase two there is diversity! If we can learn to see this difference, and honour the diversity, as we honour differences in the character of family members, people and cultures we can delight in sharing the Unity within the original experience.  In that core experience there is the Divine; there is Love and Light; there is Beauty, there is consciousness – all words that have been used – to describe the One that is indescribable, has no name and no form – until it limits itself to form appearing with diversity in many forms.

We can take the diversity of rituals, laws and ethical codes – the manifold expression – as a mirror and see how these laws come together in the “Golden Rule” which in a positive phrase says: Do to others only what you would like to have done for yourself. Or – in a negative phrase: Do not do to others what you don’t want done to yourself. This core sentence appears somehow in all ethical concepts, yet the expression in legal and ethical codes varies tremendously.

One truth, shared – but diversity of expression; and yet there exists also the reverse: unity in expression. In most religious cultures – we bow our heads; we fold our hands; we light a fire/candle/light; we use incense and flowers; we offer, we surrender, we pray! (Whenever was there a conference that decided we all have to worship using the same ingredients?). So even the innate expressions are often shared; there is so much unity even within the diversity of our relationships with that Highest! (As so amply demonstrated in Swami Veda Bharati’s [disciple of Swami Rama of the Himalayas] book: The Human Urge for Peace). In all cultures people of different faith have lived together, shared their customs and worships in recognition of diversity simply being different forms of the same. There are many examples of simple people and others of prominent Saints who are examples of such generosity of spirit.

The more ego-centred we become the more separate we feel from others – the greater the conflicts. In Oneness there is no conflict, all conflict start with duality. Therefore let us focus on the unity and honour the diversity as we honour the millions of beautiful flowers as an expression of that Divine existence that reveals itself – for us to see and understand in its multitude of forms. Let’s get away from exclusiveness and become inclusive. Let’s recognize and embrace each other as siblings of one family; one humanity. Then we can delight in each other’s differences, and become enriched by the experience of the other’s perception, without the fear of losing our identity!

Then peace can prevail, within our own minds as well as with each other in a world of diversity of forms. Hari Om.

Editor's Note

Swami Nityamuktananda’s website: http://www.athayoga.info/

Swami Veda’s book The Human Urge for Peace can be found at http://www.yogaineurope.eu/store/books/catalog/14/.  Also inquire at AHYMSIN Publishers http://www.ahymsin.org/main/index.php/Contact-Us/Book-and-DVD-Orders.html.