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From Huston Smith, The World's Religions [1991], pages 72 - 74:

That Hinduism has shared her land for centuries with Jains, Buddhists, Parsees, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians may help explain a final idea that comes out more clearly through her than through the other great religions; namely, her conviction that the various major religions are alternate paths to the same goal. To claim salvation as the monopoly of any one religion is like claiming that God can be found in this room but not the next,* in this attire but not another. Normally, people will follow the path that rises from the plains of their own civilization; those who circle the mountain, trying to bring others around to their paths, are not climbing. In practice India's sects have often been fanatically intolerant, but in principle most have been open. Early on, the Vedas announced Hinduism's classic contention that the various religions are but different languages through which God speaks to the human heart. "Truth is one; sages call it by different names."

It is possible to climb life's mountain from any side, but when the top is reached the trails converge. At base, in the foothills of theology, ritual, and organizational structure, the religions are distinct. Differences in culture, history, geography, and collective temperament all make for diverse starting points. Far from being deplorable, this is good; it adds richness to the totality of the human venture. Is life not more interesting for the varied contributions of Confucianists, Taoists, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians? "How artistic," writes a contemporary Hindu, "that there should be room for such variety - how rich the texture is, and how much more interesting than if the Almighty had decreed one antiseptically safe, exclusive, orthodox way. Although he is Unity, God finds, it seems, his recreation in variety!" But beyond these differences, the same goal beckons.

For evidence of this, one of Hinduism's nineteenth-century saints sought God successively through the practices of a number of the world's great religions. In turn he sought God through the person of Christ, the imageless, God-directed teachings of the Koran, and a variety of Hindu God-embodiments. In each instance the result was the same: The same God (he reported) was revealed, now incarnate in Christ, now speaking through the Prophet Muhammad, now in the guise of Vishnu the Preserver or Shiva the Completer. Out of these experiences came a set of teachings on the essential unity of the great religions that comprise Hinduism's finest voice on this topic. As tone is as important as idea here, we shall come closer to the Hindu position if we relinquish the remainder of this section to Ramakrishna's words instead of trying the paraphrase them. "God has made different religions to suit different aspirations, times, and countries.. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with whole-hearted devotion. One may eat a cake with icing either straight or sidewise. It will taste sweet either way."

"As one and the same material, water, is called by different names by different peoples, one calling it water, another eau, a third aqua, and another pani, so the one Everlasting-Intelligent-Bliss is invoked by some as God, by some as Allah, by some as Jehovah, and by others as Brahman."

"As one can ascend to the top of a house by means of a ladder,' or a bamboo or a staircase or a rope, so diverse are the ways and means to approach God, and every religion in the world shows one of these ways."

"People partition off their lands by means of boundaries, but no one can partition off the all-embracing sky overhead. The indivisible sky surrounds all and includes all. So people in ignorance say, "My religion is the only one, my religion is the best. " But when a heart is illumined by true knowledge, it knows that above all these wars of sects and sectarians presides the one indivisible, eternal, all-knowing bliss."

[From Huston Smith; The World's Religions; 1991, pages 72 - 74]


*In this metaphor about ignorance Smith actually inverts one of Ramakrishna's most famous aphorisms:

"The landlord may reside in any part of his estate, but he is generally to be found in his drawing-room (ie, living-room). The devotee is God's drawing room." (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Nikhilananda, p 320). Just as God may own all of creation, and yet most often be found in the human heart, so God has also created many paths to Himself. "You must know that there are different tastes. There are also different powers of digestion. God has made different religions and creeds to suit different aspirants. By no means all are fit for the knowledge of Brahman (ie, God in an Absolute, formless nature). Therefore the worship of God with form has been provided. The mother brings home a fish for her children. She curries part of the fish, part she fries, and with another part she makes pilau. So she makes fish soup for those who have weak stomachs. Further, some want pickled or fried fish. There are different temperaments. There are differences in the capacity to comprehend." (ibid, p 486).

By the way, it is not insignificant that Aldous Huxley wrote the Forward to the first English edition of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (1942). Both Huxley and Smith were students of Swamis of the Ramakrishna order.

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