Volume 7 - Issue 08
August 2009
Other Articles

AN ENLIGHTENED PERSPECTIVE
ON UNITY OF FAITHS
- By Prof. G. Venkataraman

This is an article prepared in connection with the Conference on Unity of Faiths, organised by the Sri Sathya Sai International Centre, New Delhi, held in July 2009. 


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Swami Vivekananda

We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran.

Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of THE RELIGION, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.

                                                            ~ Swami Vivekananda

The subject of Unity of Faiths is traditionally discussed mainly by religious scholars on the one hand, and academics [especially sociologists] on the other.

While the focus of the former community is largely on theological issues with emphasis on the common aspects, academics concern themselves with how religions either promote values in society leading thereby to social benefits, or polarise it sharply, resulting, in extreme cases, to riots, armed conflicts, war, and lately, terrorism.

In this article, I wish to consider the topic at a somewhat higher and trans-religious level, drawing special attention to the fundamental nature of the human Spirit which, in some sense or the other, is the starting point for all religions, whether that fact is explicitly acknowledged or not.

And the reason for this unconventional approach is that based on the teachings of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, I am convinced this is the best way of finding solutions to very complex problems that face society/humanity today. In brief, the stress would be on core or fundamental values that truly define the nature of a good human being; indeed, these values are not only common to all religions, but are embraced, to some extent at least, even by those who claim to be atheists.

The Overriding Moral Law and its Absolute Nature

I shall begin by recalling a remark that Gandhi made in 1932 in England, while he was visiting that country for participating in the Second Round Table Conference. The remark being recalled is part of a special Spiritual Message to humanity, recorded by the Columbia Gramophone Company.

In the course of that Message, Gandhi said, “There is a Moral Law governing the Universe.” These days when relativism is often the core ideology driving many [especially the young], the existence of an Eternal and overriding Moral Law is often superciliously and even contemptuously dismissed by most intellectuals, a phenomenon referred to by Pope Benedict as the ‘tyranny of relativism’. On the other hand, not only have people all over the world, belonging to diverse societies and cultures, maintained balance for thousands of years by leaning on this Moral Law, but even Courts have acknowledged its existence.

These days when relativism is often the core ideology driving many [especially the young], the existence of an Eternal and overriding Moral Law is often superciliously and even contemptuously dismissed by most intellectuals, a phenomenon referred to by
Pope Benedict as the ‘tyranny of relativism’.

For example, in a famous case against a leading politician who was accused of engaging in illegal land deals while in power, the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement that, while the Court could not find the defendant guilty under any provision of the law, she was not exempt from answering her own Conscience. That, in a sense, explains what the Moral Law is all about, and who administers it. In simple terms, the so-called Moral Law is an immutable and eternal guiding principle, based on core values [mentioned earlier], that is unchanging, applicable to all, and under all circumstances – there are no exemptions for anyone, anywhere and at any time, period.

Clarifications regarding this Moral Law [which clearly is a transcendental principle] are provided by the Conscience. In practical terms, this means that whatever one does, one must always be guided by one’s Conscience. That this is a universally acknowledged dictum is evident from Shakespeare’s famous remark: “Above all, to thine own self be true!”

The Universality of the Moral Law

It is important to appreciate that the Moral Law is the same for all human beings, no matter what their race, religion, colour, social status, or whatever. The question may be asked:

It is said that one must seek guidance from one’s Conscience while trying to navigate through life with the help of the Moral Law. But the Conscience of different people could speak with different voices. In which case, how can one speak of the Universality and the unchanging nature of the Moral Law? Given the fact that people are so different from each other and that Time produces its own change in social perspective, it appears that after all it is relativism that is meaningful and not any kind of absolutism.

This precisely is where Baba’s teachings assume importance. His Message can be paraphrased as follows.

  • All religions are unanimous in declaring that God created the Universe and everything in it, including humans.
  • Therefore, all humans are the children of the same God. In other words, there is only one single Universal Father for all.
  • Just as humans inherit a biological gene from their parents and ancestors, all children of God inherit from their Universal Father, an aspect of Divinity, which, for convenience, could be called the Divine Gene; Baba often refers to this as the latent Spark of Divinity.
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    How do we know we have latent within us such a Spark of the Divine? Because everyone without exception is capable of resonating with the beauties of Nature which reflect the Glory of God, everyone can love other beings in some manner or the other [even a hard core terrorist might love his dog dearly!], and everyone can and does show compassion in some form or the other at some time or the other, and so on.
  • In other words, there is no person on earth who is totally devoid of the Divine Spark. At the same time, it is an empirical fact that some people end up almost like the devil, the classic example of course being Hitler. How come there arose a Hitler when even he was supposed to have the Spark of the Divine within him?   
  • That is due to contamination of the Mind, caused by ego operating in various devious and dangerous ways. In other words, ego, which is largely the result of excessive body-consciousness, leads in turn to undue preoccupation with the pursuit of sensual pleasures and worldly attractions of diverse nature. The cumulative effect of all this is to generate a huge chatter by the Mind [in the form of undesirable thoughts] that masks and drowns the Voice of Conscience speaking from within. In turn, this implies that purity of thought, word and deed has to be constantly maintained, if one wishes uninterrupted contact with the Conscience
  • Since the Voice of Conscience is nothing but the Voice of God speaking from within, and further, since there is only one God, Conscience, by definition, has to speak with the same voice for all people, no matter to what religion the person belongs, indeed even if the person does not formally believe in a God.
  • If people think they hear several voices from within, it is merely a trick played by the ego, which if unchecked, can, as just pointed out, drown the Voice of Conscience

It is for this reason that Baba often says:

Prof. G. Venkataraman Prof. G. Venkataraman Prof. G. Venkataraman

Follow the Master; your Conscience is your Master.

Face the devil [meaning, confront squarely the evil tendencies within you].

Fight to the end, and

Finish the game!

Rising From the Individual to the Collective Level

At this stage, it is necessary to raise the discussion from the individual to the collective level, on account of the heavy connectivity of modern society. Whereas in the very early days humans roamed and lived largely as primitive individuals, preoccupied mainly with their own particular survival problems, in later times, the stratification of society compelled the emergence of such institutions as communities, tribes and even small kingdoms.

Thus, mutual co-operation and collaboration became a part of social existence, although the level of such positive interactions was not always steady. For example, people did come together at the time of birth and death, marriage and various other festivals and when facing danger either from other communities or due to natural calamities. At the same time, mutual rivalries also arose frequently, leading to clashes between tribes, and even countries, sometimes for as long as a hundred years [the protracted conflict between France and England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries being one famous example].

[Baba] says that there is a powerful and profound parallel between the human body and human society. At the level of the micro, the individual cell and the individual human being form analogues, while at the macro level, the body and human society as a whole form the counter parts. Baba adds that just as there is a [complex] synergy between the cell and the body, so also, there is a comparable synergy between the individual and society.

Two brutal wars fought in the 20th century made humanity come to its senses and create the UN, besides solemnly resolving that no more such wars would be fought. Yet the record shows that since the end of World War II, the number of people who have died as a result of various wars, genocides, protracted armed conflicts, terrorism, etc., has almost reached the number of deaths during the two World Wars. In fact, it is estimated that during the late sixties and early seventies, more bombs were dropped on one single country [Cambodia] than was done during the Second World War, an “achievement” that was entirely the result of vastly superior military technology.

This raises the question:

In earlier times, spiritual and religious teachings largely focussed on transforming individuals and elevating them to be good children of God. Is that enough in this day and age, or is something more needed?

In my opinion, this critical issue is not receiving the attention it merits, except from Bhagavan Baba. The reason why Baba lays heavy emphasis on this matter has been explained by Him. He says that there is a powerful and profound parallel between the human body and human society. At the level of the micro, the individual cell and the individual human being form analogues, while at the macro level, the body and human society as a whole form the counter parts. Baba adds that just as there is a [complex] synergy between the cell and the body, so also, there is a comparable synergy between the individual and society.

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Just as healthy cells are required for a healthy body,
individual character is important for a healthy society
 

Going one step further, Baba tells His students that just as the body cannot be healthy while the individual cells are rather sick, so also, unless there is individual character, there cannot be any character in the Nation as a whole.

In other words, the Moral improvement and advancement of the individual and society as a whole are inextricably tied together; it is thus not possible to have just one and not the other.

The above statement, while appearing trivially obvious, is nevertheless universally ignored, almost to the point of courting disaster. It is pertinent in this context to mention that the National Motto Satyameva Jayathe! [Truth alone triumphs] is hardly ever referred to in our schools; as a result, millions and millions of our students go through not only school but also the university, without hearing the word Sathya even once! If Truth which is the foundation of honesty, integrity and good character is hardly mentioned in schools, and education is regarded as mere training for the workplace with no responsibility whatsoever for the development of character, it simply means we are in free fall!

These days, polls show that people have come to believe that corruption is something one has to live with and that nothing can be done about it. Can a society ever survive if corruption becomes endemic? It is like saying one can live with cancer and simply ignore it! Corruption is not merely the taking of bribes by officials for doing a job that is actually a part of their duty [like issuing a birth certificate, for example]. Rather, it is largely about cheating.

Once one grants the license to cheat, the virus of deception would automatically spread like wild fire to other areas like the manufacture of fake drugs [which, by the way, is not something where the Government alone can be blamed] or the massive adulteration of milk with melamine, as happened in China.

Can one really be in equilibrium with such criminal and widespread malpractices? Clearly not, which is why Baba has not only made character development the core agenda of His educational institutions, but also constantly advises His students to actively get involved in serving Society, in any manner possible.

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The Media actually deny individual freedom by distorting one's ability
to effectively discriminate and accept responsibility for actions

In passing, it is pertinent to mention that while in ancient societies the duties and responsibilities of the individual always came before claims to rights of any sort, in modern times the concept has been literally turned on its head, with everyone clamouring for his or her rights, totally unconcerned about who then would “carry the buck”.

This “triumph” of extreme individualism has become possible thanks to a vast and powerful coalition of diverse vested interests, that have, by harnessing  the Media, managed to dull people’s capacity of discriminatory listening, discriminatory viewing and arriving at conclusions based on deep personal enquiry.

Karl Marx famously declared that religion was the opium of the masses; he was of course wrong. However, today, the “Market Place” has come up with a real and most potent opium in the shape of 24 hour media-blast, drugging people with instant and ready-made advice, opinions and choices!

As Bhagavan Baba tells His students, people these days are made to see through the eyes of others [read TV], hear through the ears of others [read radio] and think through the minds of others [expert opinions dished out non-stop via every conceivable arm of the Media, including the internet].

It is time to break these shackles, and the starting point has to be a return from a culture of rights to the age-old tradition of duty and responsibility. This is not an easy task and is literally like moving a mountain. A mountain might seem impossible to move, but immediately after discovering the principle of the lever, the great Archimedes declared, “Show me where to anchor my lever and I shall move the moon itself!”

It is time to break these shackles, and the starting point has to be a return from a culture of rights to the age-old tradition of duty and responsibility. This is not an easy task and is literally like moving a mountain.

Translated to our situation, what this means is that if individuals first commit themselves to a path of purity and responsibility, and thereafter cohere together, especially in large enough numbers, they can not only move mountains but also bore though it, just as a laser which is the epitome of the principle of coherence, can cut through as much as ten to twelve centimetres of steel!  

Seeing Cosmic Unity and Purpose in Diversity Rather Than Diversity in Unity

The following points emerge from the above discussion:

  • Although humans tend to differentiate themselves in terms of sects, tribes, communities, nationalities, race, religion, etc., the fact is that even from a scientific point of view, they belong to one species called human, with distinctive genetic characteristics [no doubt somewhat different from that of the lower species].
  • Nevertheless, if one thinks in terms of genes, there is in fact a continuity across the species, going back all the way to the very first appearance of life on earth.
  • If one takes one more step backwards and regards humans as made up not of bio-molecules, but of atoms of carbon, oxygen, calcium, etc., then human existence can be taken all the way to the Big Bang itself. All the above clearly tells us that not only do humans have a lot more in common with each other, but in fact they share much with other species as well [including those that came earlier]. Indeed, in terms of atoms, humans have a connectivity with the whole of the Cosmos.
  • It is significant that Krishna draws specific attention to the Cosmic aspect of man, though briefly.
  • Going even beyond, what really links everything in the Universe is the basic fact that everything came from God, the Creator.

 In short, the amazing thing is the incredible Cosmic and Spiritual Unity that underlies the whole of the Cosmos, rather than the diversity that meets our eye and tends to make an excessive impression in our Minds, thanks to our polarized and restricted way of thinking [of course, aided and abetted by the Media].

I strongly submit that one must, not merely for lofty Spiritual reasons, but even for down-to-earth considerations, really look for Unity in Diversity rather than unnecessarily stressing diversity, based especially on rather divisive considerations. To put it differently and succinctly, I could, paraphrasing Baba, say there are Four C’s that every individual should be conscious or aware of. They are:

Prof. G. Venkataraman Prof. G. Venkataraman Prof. G. Venkataraman Prof. G. Venkataraman

Humans must be conscious of their Cosmic Origin.

They must be conscious of their Cosmic Connections.

They must be ever sensitive to their Cosmic Responsibilities.

They must never forget their Cosmic Destiny.

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Sai Alderman
 
Prof. G. Venkataraman's book

It is not possible to expand on this theme on this occasion [those interested can find further details in my recent book CONVERSATION BETWEEN GOD AND MAN, ISBN-978-81-908439-0-4]. For the present, it suffices to say that once we understand and feel our linkage across species, and across Space and Time, to the One God from whom all of us have come, there is no question we would experience a wonderful Cosmic Oneness that would enable us to draw upon the immense power of Pure Love within us.

As a footnote to the above, I might state that by using the Unity of Faiths as a stepping stone, one can to rise to a much higher plane of realisation and experience that not only fills one with Bliss, but also helps one to tap the literally unlimited Divine Power latent within, for solving the toughest man-made problems.

The Practical Advantages of Cultivating a Feeling of Universality

Roughly two years ago, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University delivered a series of thought-provoking lectures over the BBC, in which he identified three critical problems that face humanity at the present time. They are 1) the threat of terrorism with possibility of triggering a much wider conflict, 2) the severe dangers posed by impending climate change, and finally 3) the dangers lurking in the rapid spread of mass poverty.

Prof. Sachs no doubt gives a masterly analysis of how these problems arose, but when it comes to solving them his arguments seem somewhat weak and doubtful. That is because his analysis is confined [as is perhaps inevitable amongst academics] to levels that exclude Spirituality, and the fundamental as well as the core nature of the human Spirit.

In my view, all the massive problems identified by Jeffrey Sachs arise due to what Mother Teresa famously referred to as the Poverty of Love. The only antidote to that serious and dangerous deficiency is Pure Love in abundance. That this antidote can be provided, and that Pure Love when tapped properly can lead to stunning results, has been demonstrated by courageous souls in many lands and cultures, throughout history.

Heart – the Seat of all Solutions

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Prof. Victor Weisskopf

Abandoning ancient wisdom and forsaking the valuable lessons of history, we have today resorted instead to problem-solving [the latest problem being the greed-driven economic meltdown] via Think Tanks, national and international committees of various kinds and complexion, and even global meets of leaders. Given the fact that this type of solution-seeking does not address the root cause of the huge problems we have created for ourselves, one doubts if solutions can ever be found via bureaucratic methods. An out-of-the-box approach is needed, and what I have attempted is to sketch one possibility.

My suggestion is not based on wild day-dreaming or naive speculation; rather, they merely paraphrase the lifetime teachings of Bhagavan Baba, who has also proved that these ideas are eminently workable. Since His numerous missions of Compassion have been well documented in many places [for example, in this website www.h2hsai.org] I shall skip describing them here. Instead, I would like to conclude by drawing attention to two important remarks, the first of which is due to late Prof. Victor Weisskopf and the second of which is due to Bhagavan Baba Himself.

Weisskopf, an émigré from Austria who escaped to America during Hitler’s witch hunt for Jews, was not only a distinguished Physicist but also a highly cultured person. After working on the atom bomb project during its early days he quit weapon design, turned a pacifist, and became a teacher in MIT where he acquired a lasting reputation. Addressing once the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Weisskopf said: 

[Scientific] Knowledge without compassion is inhuman, while compassion without knowledge is ineffective.

In simple terms, what the learned Professor means is that humanity is engaged in a dangerous pursuit, namely seeking so-called scientific and technological progress, most of the time without any trace of compassion whatsoever.

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In a similar vein, Baba tells His students that while “secular” education might impart tons of worldly knowledge and hone the worldly skills of students to an exceptional degree, it does not teach them how to be balanced, and use their knowledge for purposes that are beneficial to society as a whole, without disturbing Nature in any manner. That missing balance comes only when one soars to Cosmic levels, a noble goal that one can and really must seek, since after all, humans represent the highest aspect of Creation.

Viewed from those exhilarating heights, much of what we currently do and spend money on would appear utterly trivial and pitiably meaningless. This is not the place to dwell on this topic but if one merely considers the astronomical amount countries of the world spend on their military budgets and arms development and arms bazaar, one would be forced to agree that this is not only a massive and unwanted expenditure but a most sinful misuse of knowledge as well, arising entirely on account of a massive Poverty of Love and Compassion.

It is perhaps meaningful to add, before concluding, a few personal remarks so that the reason for my espousing rather unorthodox views might be better understood. When I was young, I was irresistibly drawn to Physics even as an iron piece is attracted to a magnet; fortunately, I got my chance, and was able to spend an entire lifetime working on various frontiers of pure science as well as technology. In those days, I often used to think, as Nehru emphatically declared, and repeatedly I might add, that Science and Technology alone could solve the problems of India.

“Secular” education might impart tons of worldly knowledge and hone the worldly skills of students to an exceptional degree, it does not teach them how to be balanced, and use their knowledge for purposes that are beneficial to society as a whole, without disturbing Nature in any manner. That missing balance comes only when one soars to Cosmic levels, a noble goal that one can and really must seek, since after all, humans represent
the highest aspect of Creation.

Forty years later, I realised that Gandhi understood India and its problems much better. And when after retirement I came to the Sri Sathya Sai University to teach, I realised, after listening to numerous discourses of Bhagavan Baba, that the problems of the world are largely created by the Head. However, where solutions are concerned, the Head is pathetically powerless and utterly ineffective. Solutions to complex problems such as those earlier referred to can be found only via the Heart. And by way of stressing that, let me end with a wonderful quote from Baba who says:

There is only one caste,
The caste of Humanity.
There is only one religion,
The religion of Love.
There is only one language,
The language of the Heart,
There is only one God,
And He is Omnipresent!

Dear Reader, did this article inspire you in any way? Would you like more such stories from devotees who have been touched by His Love? Please write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.

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