How to choose the Right Path?
Question: Among the many spiritual paths, how can we know the right path?
Answer: Let’s first understand the criterion to categorize and evaluate various paths. Then the right path will become self-evident.
Various religious paths can be placed into three basic categories:
Exclusivism: Followers of exclusivist paths claim that their way is the only exclusive way to God. They further claim that all those who don’t accept their path are destined to go to hell – forever. Religious exclusivism sometimes degenerates into fundamentalist violence. This further puts off intelligent people, who are already skeptical of the claim to exclusivism. After all, if God is unlimited, why should the path to him be limited? Why should one particular religion have monopoly on the path to him?
Pluralism: Pluralism is the notion that there are many paths to God. Nowadays, this notion is sometimes expanded to say that there are as many paths to God as there are people. While this notion seems to promote religious tolerance, it often breeds spiritual impotence. A religion can be compared to a university meant to train students in knowledge and love of God. The claim to exclusivism is like the claim of that one’s own medical college is the only college that can produce doctors. This is obviously a fanatical and fallacious claim. However, the claim to pluralism is like the even more fallacious claim that every building everywhere is a medical college.
Inclusivism: Inclusivism explains that there are not many paths, but basically one path that includes many levels. The levels on the path correspond to the progressively higher motives with which people approach God: fear, desire, duty and love. (Please see the previous article, “Why to approach God?”)
A medical college’s level can be assessed by observing the caliber of its graduates and the progress of its students toward that caliber. Similarly, the level of a religious path can be assessed by observing the caliber of its mature practitioners and the progress of its budding practitioners toward that caliber.
What caliber should we look for among mature practitioners of a spiritual path?
Systematic, profound knowledge of God that answers all the fundamental questions of life and establishes God as the essence and goal of existence.
Deep inner love for God that expresses itself by:
Constant longing to worship God, chant his holy names, and relish his message of love.
Care and concern for all living beings – humans and nonhumans – seeing them all as family members in God’s universal family.
Detachment from godless, materialistic indulgences like illicit sex and intoxication.
When we see these characteristics in the practitioners of a path, we can confidently infer that path to be the right path.