Why does every religion claim that it is the only way? Doesn’t this lead to violence?
Why are there so many religions in the world today? Each religion proclaims that it the true religion. Some go on to say that people who do not follow their religion will have extreme sufferings etc etc and such.
Does it not make one shy away from religiousity? What is the point in having religions if they give rise to so much hatred and crime in the modern world? Aren’t the more secular countries of the world also more peaceful than the so called religious ones?
Regarding how to find out our path amidst the conflicting claims of various religions, please read this article:
1. How to choose the right path
Regarding how to understand the exclusivist claims of various religions, please read this article:
1. Why do people who follow a religion often claim that their path is the only way?
2. Why do people fight in the name of religion?
Regarding whether religion causes war, please read these two articles:
1. Does Religion Cause War? (short)
2. Does Religion Cause War? (long)
(Transcript of answer by Geetanjali Mataji)
ANSWER: Thank you for this important question. To understand the roles that religions play in our life, a beneficial analogy is to compare a religion to a medical system. So why are there different treatment therapies? There is allopath, there is ayurveda, there is homeopathy, there is naturopathy. And even further, within allopath there might be clinical treatment, there might be surgical treatment, there might be counseling as a psychological treatment which primarily involves discussion not medication. So all these different medical practices or systems have ultimately one person to cure, one purpose, that is to cure the patient. Similarly, if we look at the different religions in the world, they have one common denominator. That is they talk about devoting oneself to God and developing love for God. So our desire to love temporary things is our disease because it causes us suffering. And the desire to love God is actually the cure because that will take us to the eternal realm. When we love something eternal, then that love can go on eternally and we can be in eternal happiness. So religion is to cure our desire from material to spiritual, from Krishnetara to Krishna, from “away from God” to “towards God”. Of course all religions may not accept Krishna to be God. But that is because just as the mountains peak is seen from different perspectives by different people, similarly one absolute truth is seen differently. So, once we understand this common purpose – “all religions want us to devote ourselves to God and to detach ourselves from the temporary because the attachment with the temporary is the cause of suffering.” Unfortunately, the nature of small minded human beings is to stick to externals and to neglect the essentials. So, various religions have their external aspect and their essential or internal aspect. It is called the exoteric aspect and the esoteric aspect. For example, the exoteric aspect of all the religions is that we offer respects to God in varying ways, but the esoteric aspect is that we need to develop a reverential feeling towards God. Now the Hindus may offer this respect to God by folding their hands, Muslims may offer it by raising their hands in front of them in namaz, and the Christians may offer it by moving their hands from their chest towards their head as in mass. So if somebody has only external vision, then they will see that there are differences in these paths, and small minded people whom latch on to the externals, neglect the essence and fight over the externals.
So why are there different religions? Because different people have different mental dispositions. And according to their mental dispositions, the spiritual treatment for them is revealed according to their individual level and their capacity. So, are there any essential differences within the various religions? There are differences in externals, but if you go deep into the internals or the heart of all religions teaches the same message that is to “develop love for God”. How that love for god has to be developed, the practical recommendation may vary. Just like all good doctors would want to cure their patients, but what sort of treatment they may prescribe for the same fever, two different doctors may prescribe two different tablets. Or one may prescribe injection and other a tablet. But the purpose remains the same. So if two patients start quarrelling with each other, “I am taking the tablet, I am right”, and the other person says, “No, I am taking the injection, I am right “, it is absurd situation. So that is what is the actually the fight between the religions in the world today. And regarding the idea that if you don’t follow this particular religion you will have to suffer, or this religion is the only way. Now, that is stated in those particular scriptures for the purpose of creating a single minded focus. Just as if a patient goes to a doctor and the doctor tells him ‘this is your disease and take this medicine”. Fine, but now if the patient starts telling him “I went to this doctor, he told me this, and I went to that doctor and he told me that, and till now I have gone to twenty five doctors. And the patient is the personification of confusion, telling all the different diagnosis that the previous doctors have given him. So what will the present doctor say? “Just forget all your past doctors, take this medicines. This will cure you. This is the way for you to get cured. Just forget everything else.” So the exclusivist statements in the various religions that are there are in this spirit. That many people are often confused by seeing differences in various religions and they just do not know which to follow, so to avoid this confusion the religions tell them that just follow this path and you will get well. So it is not that that statement by that doctor is an absolute statement meant to be eternally true. It is a contextual statement which is meant to be circumstantially true, “This is the only treatment that will work for you, take this and you will get cured”. So, like that in the bible it may be said that Jesus says that “I am the way and the life and none shall go to the father except through me”. Now this verse, if you look at the original Hebrew, there is a very crucial Sanskrit word from the Hebrew which is left out. So if we look at this quote from the bible John 14:6, which is often used to claim Christian exclusivity where Jesus apparently says, “I am the way, the truth the life and no one comes to the father except through me”. In the conversation between Steven Rosen and Reverend Elvin P Heart in the book “Krishna consciousness and Christianity- East West dialogue”, Rev. Heart, who is himself a Christian teacher, goes back to the original Greek of the verse, and he points out that in Greek there is a crucial word erketai which is often skipped from most translations. The erketai is a very highly present tense form of the verb. So, as Rev. Heart points out, the more accurate translation would be “I am the way the truth and the life, no one can presently come to the father except through me”. So Jesus is referring that at that time the people who are facing him, he is telling them that, “if you want to come back to me, this is the way”. Just like the doctor telling the patient “If you want to get cured, this is the way”. It is not a statement which is meant to be eternally true. So unfortunately if the religious practitioners use their religious practices not to cure themselves but to prove themselves; Religion is meant for us to improve ourselves and not to prove ourselves; but when we use the religion to prove our own superiority. Religion is meant to free us from ego but people use their religion to solidify and expand their ego; then people start thinking that my way is the only way. It’s like the patients of one doctor claiming that ‘this doctor is the only bona fide doctor in the world. Anybody who does not come to this doctor is going to suffer”. And some religious fanatics will go further and say, “yes, you are going to suffer and we will accelerate your suffering, and they will inflict further suffering.” This sort of narrow mindedness completely defeats the purpose of the religion which is ultimately an expression of the compassionate love of God. So therefore, when we are trying to practice Krishna consciousness or practice any religion path in general, we will fell a little apprehensive or intimated. “There are so many paths in the world, how do I find out which is the right path?”. Some people, by seeing the conflicts among different paths, may feel “better let me not get into this business only”. But that is like a patient saying that “Oh there are so many different doctors, so many different therapies, and often the doctors also have disputes among each other about how to treat a patient. I do not want to get into all this business. I’ll not go to any doctor”. Result is that the person will stay sick, the patient will stay sick. Like that, you know all of us are spiritually sick. And the symptom of our spiritual sickness is that we, although wanting to live happily and eternally, have to suffer miseries and have to suffer death. So, just as a patient who refuses to go to doctor can never achieve his full potential for health, similarly if we avoid a religious path then we miss out on our full potential for happiness, for lasting and fulfilling happiness. What do we do when we have to go to a doctor? We basically try to find the credentials of the doctor and see if what the doctor says makes sense. And after that we take the medicine and see if it works. And if it does then we conclude that “yes, this is a good doctor”. Similarly we have to trust our intelligence and our experience. And if we come to a particular spiritual path, we observe and analyze whether it makes sense, and then whatever practices are told over there, we start those practices and see if we feel transformed, our mind becomes less agitated and attached, it becomes more peaceful and satisfied, and we become more composed and focused. And when we see these positive differences, we understand that this is working. So we don’t have to go about on the exhaustive search of all religions before choosing our own path. You can hear lecture “Tap the power of faith” on the site to understand this whole principle of reasonable faith which has two characteristics that it is sensible and verifiable. This is what we use when we go to a doctor. Whether we put faith in whenever we go to a doctor but that faith is reasonable because it is sensible. Does the diagnosis that the doctor is giving me make sense? And does it work? Is it verifiable? Is it curing me? So yes, people may go away from religion if they see the conflicts, and on one hand they will be the losers and on the other hand at least the matured practitioners of religion need to take the responsibility to try to minimize their mutual conflicts. The great saint in Vaishnava tradition, Bhakti Vinoda Thakura, would say that different religions are not the enemies of each other. All religions have one common enemy that is materialism, atheism, hedonism which keeps people forgetful and away from God. So that ecumenical, that broad minded spirit has to be adopted by the various religions of the world. And Srila Prabhupada himself embodied this. When he was asked by some Christian priest “what do u think about Jesus Christ?’, Prabhupada would say,” He is our guru, he is like our teacher because he had so much love for God that he was ready to lay down his life and sacrifice for the cause of God. Somebody who has so much love for God he is an exalted person”. Similarly, when Srila Prabhupada was in Iran and one time in the back ground the namaz started, so Srila Prabhupada was discussing with some people and immediately he closed his eyes and became absorbed almost in meditation and he heard the full namaz prayerfully, and then after that he opened his eyes and his eyes were looking so bright and he said “wasn’t that beautiful?”. So some of the people who were a little not so broad minded they said “Prabhupada, wouldn’t it have been better if they chanted Hare Krishna?” Srila Prabhupada looked dimed and he said, “Why are you making me narrow minded? We are glorifying God in our own way; they are glorifying God in their way”. This is the spirit that will actually bring harmony in the world today. The principle is that we have to develop our devotion for God and there are different ways in which different people will feel inclined and inspired to do it. The purpose of religion is not to promote sectarianism, but it is to promote a spiritual consciousness among people. Our goal is not to convert people from one religion to another that should not be the goal of any religion. If at all there is any conversion it is not horizontal from Hindu to Muslim or Christian to Hindu, or anything like that. The conversion, Srila Prabhupada told that ‘I have not come here to make Christians into Hindus; I have come here to help people develop love for God. If there is any conversion that is at all to be there, it is not horizontal from one religion to another, but it is vertical, from materialism to spirituality. So if this understanding is there, then the conflicts in the world will become minimized and eliminated gradually. And at least we can do our part, firstly by practicing the path that is available to us right now-‘Krishna Consciousness’, purifying ourselves, making spiritual advancement, and helping others to make similar spiritual advancement.
Regarding the further question that does religion cause war or are the countries with less religious influences, which are secular, are they happier or more peaceful? History does not support this contention. If we look at the last century itself, the two biggest wars were the World War I and World War II. They were fought purely on the secular grounds. Similarly so many of the wars-the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Peru missile crisis and so many other wars, we see that they are caused by purely materialistic motives and secular reasons. The religion was never the issue in it. So, the issue was really the human materialistic greed for power and wealth. So that is the actual cause, and when that is cause then sometime people may garb, mask their cause even under the name of religion. So, what causes violence is greed, selfishness and excessive materialism and the only way to remove that is by genuine spirituality and religion is the means to develop that spirituality. So, spiritual consciousness is the goal and religion is the way to develop that goal, but if we do not have any spirituality and no religion to develop that spirituality, then we will have materialism and that will lead to even greater suffering and violence. Ultimately, if people do not have faith that there is a God, they do not have faith that they are accountable for whatever they do, then what is going to stop them from controlling themselves? They will just grab, beg, borrow, steal, kill but just grab and enjoy. So godlessness and non-religiousness is the recipe for violence and disaster. And if we look at the historical record also the world watch institute published a statement that “in the twentieth century the amount of violent deaths and wars and violent crimes is seven times more than the amount of violent deaths in all the previous nineteen centuries, from 0 AD onwards, combined together. So both logic and statistics, support the point that the more godless and materialistic we become the more we will quote violence. Of course, the last century saw the significant decline in the religion and the significant and unfortunate increase in the materialism. And that’s why the violence also increased drastically. So we need to combat and curb excessive materialism and religion and spirituality are the way to do that. But if people do not understand the purpose of religion, and they use the religion to promote their materialistic agendas, then that religion may cause violence. So what we need is not the rejection of religion, but the rejection of materialism in whatever garb it comes, whether it comes in the garb of secular materialism or it comes in the garb of religious materialism.
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