Vedanta and Religious Unity
June 14, 2013 Comments Off on Vedanta and Religious Unity
In the West, we first received from India the philosophical teachings of Vedanta as if they exist separate from religion. There were, of course, some religious practices of Hinduism spoken of as methods to reach the Vedanta realizations. But it was all very low key, presented in a way that would not seem challenging or offensive to Western religions. This was fine and as it should be. But it also created misconceptions in the minds of those who earnestly did want to reach toward the Vedantic truths. The West was given the impression that Vedanta was a mystic path which was independent of religion. Yoga was the word used to describe this “trans-religious” spiritual path to God. And this yoga could be adopted by anyone regardless of former or current religious involvement. The problem lies in the fact that many were left with the misconception that religion was unnecessary and perhaps unenlightened; whereas, in truth, yoga is an integral part of our ancient religious tradition. It is not now, nor was it ever, separate from the religious tradition that gave birth to it. Yoga is an advanced part of the Hindu religion, a religion which sees realization of the Vedantic truths as the goal of man.
There is an important reason why many in the West were attracted to yoga and Vedanta philosophy. The idea of a spiritual path separate from religion comes very close to an ideal that many were, and still are today, seeking. This ideal is unity of world religions. This ideal is promoted by many swamis who declare that there is much in common between all religions, that there is, in fact, a meeting ground where all agree on certain basic spiritual truths. So, it would seem that the less important areas of difference could be overlooked and the commonly accepted truths proclaimed in unison. Yoga and Vedanta are said to be the answer, the meeting ground.
But in the final analysis, a spiritual path separate from religion neither fulfills the ideal of religious unity, nor is it really a spiritual path. It remains only a philosophy, a mental concept. Why? Because, for one, each religion knows all too well the true importance of the many seemingly less significant practices and rituals of their religion. They know that for most people the dutiful performance of these practices helps stabilize them in their spiritual lives. For some, any type of theology or philosophy, let alone mysticism, is beyond their realm of thinking. But what they can do, and need to do, are simple religious performances, the fruits of which will, later in life or in future lives, uplift them into deeper stages of spiritual life. To set aside this aspect of religion would be to destroy the religious life of millions.
Secondly, even those who are seemingly beyond the need for external religious practice, who would be inclined to accept a nonreligious spiritual path as their way, will eventually find themselves on unstable ground, and for many reasons. Each religion has a hierarchy of saints, angels and archangels which assist all of its followers from the inner planes, helping them through their difficult times, answering their prayers and supplications. When we leave the fold of religion, we remove ourselves from the benign influence of these great beings and actually open ourselves to much lesser, base influences which can disrupt our lives. Spiritual life, especially as one progresses into stages of mystical experience, is a very delicate process. Powerful forces are awakened in us that we may or may not always be able to perfectly control. – Lesson 304 from Living with Siva by:Sathguru sivaya Subrahmuniya Swami