Offered to the delegates of the 1993 Parliament of World Religions with respectful greetings and loving good wishes - Swami Chidananda
Just as the different or various paths of Yoga are but varied approaches to the Divine through one or another facet or aspect of your human nature, even so, the various religious systems that exist and prevail in this world today are ever so many ways of approaching the one Supreme Cosmic Reality, who is transcendental and cannot be encompassed within the confines of the limited experience of our finite senses or our finite inner cognising instrument of mind, intellect, etc. He is known as "Para", in the Sanskrit language meaning that which transcends, that which goes beyond, that which is beyond.
There are many effective, equally valid religions. They are, therefore, to be equally reverenced, equally recognized and equally loved and cherished - not merely tolerated. They speak of religious tolerance. The word tolerance smacks of a sense of condescending to allow something to be, condescending to recognize the authenticity or validity or bonafides of something else from a relative or comparative point of view. It is a term that should be gradually eased out. For it is not so much a question of tolerating another's point of view, but rather being able to understand that view from the other's viewpoint. If you are able to look through the eyes of the one with whom you are not able to agree, then you will understand why that person is seeing it in that particular manner.
"Ye yathaa mam prapadyante taamstathaiva bhajaamyaham" - In whatsoever way men approach Me, even so do I go to them. (Bhagavad-Gita Chp. 4-11) This is the motive or maxim par excellence for people of all religions to adopt in their approach to the so-called different religions of this world. Religions are apparently different, but they are essentially one. There is a non-difference in religions in that they all exist with one objective to fulfill, with one great process or one great spiritual purpose. And that great purpose is religare - once again to bind yourself back unto the supreme Cosmic Source of your being.
You were bound unto the Supreme in the beginning. But there now seems to have been a loosening of that bond, not bondage but a bond, which is a desirable thing, a necessary thing, an indispensable thing. That bond has been loosened, so a connection has been broken, as it were. There is never any loosening of the bond or breaking of the connection between you and that being. Ever you abide in him. It is because you have lost your spiritual awareness that you are regarding yourself as some other being, non-spiritual, material, physical, gross, phenomenal.
Due to this lesser consciousness, obscured consciousness, you are not able to experience and feel that essential spiritual connection between you and that supreme source of your being. But, again and again, the scriptures declare that there never has been a separation. It is impossible, for He abides within you as the innermost Self of your being. And you abide in Him. Why ? Because you cannot abide anywhere else. For, He is infinite and thus everywhere present, omnipresent.
It is not only that He brought you into existence, but also, there is an essential non-difference between the essence of your being and that Supreme Being. The sages and seers of yore who realized That Being within the deepest depth of their spiritual consciousness were given the supreme inner experience that That Supreme Being is one and non-dual. That Being alone exists. That Being alone is the one, sole, eternal Reality. They realized: "ekameva advitiyam brahma" (Brahman (God) is one only and non-dual), "nehananasati" (There is no diversity here).
Therefore, "sarvam khalvidam brahma" (All this is verily Brahman (God)) became a fact. It had to be recognized. It was truth. And because that Supreme Essence or Principle or Being is one and non-dual, then the many that we see must necessarily, in essence, be the outcome of that one Supreme Being.
In a home there are so many different items such as bedsheets, pillowcases, table cloths, shirts, towels, handkerchiefs, napkins, etc. But one who sees a little beyond says that they are all cotton only, no matter what shape, form or color they may be. A lady may wear a variety of ornaments such as a necklace, bracelets and rings. We see many things, each one different from the other, but the goldsmith sees only one thing - gold. In a pottery factory you can see innumerable different items of pottery in all shapes and sizes. We see the great variety, but the owner of the factory knows that they all consist of a single element-clay.
So, even as various kinds of cloth of different sizes and shapes and colors are constituted of but one material, namely cotton, even as different types of gold ornaments worn on various parts of the body are made only of gold, and even as different kinds of pottery are but one material, clay, even so, the entire universe of innumerable variegated names and forms are, in essence, but one Being in a glorious cosmic manifestation. Therefore, the appearance of the many does not invalidate the non-duality of the one Supreme Principle. IT alone prevails, non-dual, one without a second.
All religions have come into existence in global human society, in this phenomenon of man, in order to take man back to the eternal source of his being, and not only take him back, but bind him back, bring about a firm relationship. How ? Either by love of your heart, through devotion, prayer, adoration, glorification; or by the penetrating analysis of the intellect, constantly dwelling upon it, enquiring about it, analyzing it, trying to approach it, to grasp it through understanding it from all various facets; or by concentrating all the scattered rays of your mental powers into one powerful, single unified ray and focusing that unified mind upon the concept of that one supreme, non-dual Divine Reality to the exclusion of all other ideas through the inner, mystical process called meditation; or trying to approach it by feeling the presence of that Being pervading and prevailing everywhere, now and here, and directing your entire life, love and thoughts into a continuous stream of service unto that Supreme Reality in and through its various appearance as human beings, animals, insects, plants, all forms of life existing on earth, thus making yourself a servant of the immanent God indwelling all his creation.
Even within the context of the Vedic religion, all these different approaches, the different paths of Yoga - one through feeling, one through reasoning, one through concentration, one through active service, although being apparently different, are recognized as being one. All lead to that oneness. Even so, all the religious systems that prevail and exist in this world today are directed towards the adoration of one Supreme being who is non-dual, Who is the identical, same Being, call Him by a hundred different names.
All religious systems ultimately are ascending movements in the direction of the one, supreme, non-dual Cosmic Reality that is the source and origin of countless billions of universes, known and unknown. All religions move in that direction and have but one self same objective: to once again bring the individual, the human monad into direct contact and permanent relationship with the cosmic Universal Being. This objective is the same; the goal is the same. The means may be different, but the way is one - directed towards one ultimate destination, that is, God-experience. You may call it Allah-experience, Bhagavan-experience, Nirvana-experience, Brahman-experience, Yahweh-experience. Call it any name; it is the Supreme transcendental experience of the cosmic source and origin of your being, the cosmic source and origin of all existence.
This is what requires to be recognized. This is what requires to be lovingly preached. This is what requires, with firm faith and conviction, to be brought to the knowledge of the masses. And it is the great onus, the responsibilty, and the supreme duty to man as well as to God and one's own honesty, of all learned ones who are the custodians of the various religions, not to preach difference, that we are different from one another, but to rather proclaim this inner, essential spiritual oneness that is the one and only fact of the phenomenon of man upon this planet earth. Then alone humanity will gradually become one.
All the supreme heads of the religions should sit together. They must recognize that a new chapter is opening up for global mankind and that the part that religion has to play is not the part that it has played up till this moment. It has to undo the follies of the past religious history of the world. It has to make ammends for all these follies as well as sins. Religions have commited the greatest sins in the name of religion. They have to make ammends. We must go down on our knees, lift up our hearts and hands to God and weep and repent, and say that religion has been in error. Religion has misguided humanity. Religion has taught humanity to be irreligious in the name of religion.
Religion is love. Religion is recognizing the presence of God everywhere and in everything as a living truth, and real religion is to live a life emphasizing and manifesting this truth through the love of all that exists.
And until religion becomes what it is meant to be, the fate of humanity will always be clash and conflict, hatred and disunity, discord and disharmony. Only sorrow can come out of it, not joy, not peace, not prosperity. Religion must now assume a different role, its true authentic role. Until now it has lost its direction, it has gone off at a tangent, it has become derailed.
Whereas everything else seems to proclaim the differences in God's creation, religion is the one phenomenon which is supposed to proclaim the truth of our oneness. We are non-different. We are children of the One Being. Essentially, we are all one. But it is a matter of great regret that up till now religion has failed in its global mission of unifying man. It has emphasized the wrong factors, the changing factors. It has emphasized the non-essentials of religious forms. It is the Spirit that has to be emphasized, not the form. Form cannot affect the essential unity of the spirit within.
Therefore, religion now must recognize that till now in human history, religion has erred. It has not fulfilled its real mission on earth. It has brought about a great deal of pain and suffering. It must recognize this error, correct it and make up its mind that the time has now come that a new chapter is opening up, that its role is now different. We have to play the role of unifiers.
It's never too late to mend. There should be a resurgence of essential religion, real religion, which is one. There are not many religions. there is only one religion: man's path back to God, the individual's ascent to the Universal Reality, the cosmic phenomenon of the human being once again linking himself to his Divine source and abode. This is religion. And now, the unified religious policy of global humanity must seriously engage itself in undoing what it has done by losing its direction and take on this new role as proclaimers of oneness, proclaimers of harmony.
All religions, therefore, exist and prevail in order to raise up the human spirit towards its essential divine status, godly status, so that man's nature becomes filled with the godlike qualities of love, compassion, kindness, purity and with everything that is sublime, beautiful, holy and sanctifying. Man's heart is the right field for the play of these sublime, godly qualities such as harmony, understanding, unity, selflessness and a spirit of service. This is real religion. This is true practice of religion - to be a true child of God, to be a true witness to His all-perfection.
If we are representatives of that Cosmic Being, then through our lives, the whole world must see and recognize the perfection that That Being is. Then alone a new era can dawn for global humanity in the twenty-first century. Religion can and must become a great unifying force, a great force for unity and harmony. Then we can say indeed that God has spoken to man and that religion has now come to take its rightful place in human society and to fulfil its destined, great, sublime role of making man aware of his spiritual nature and his oneness with humanity. For within all, that same Light of God dwells as their own true eternal identity.