Understanding all faiths

One morning during his sojourn in Varanasi at the bank of the Ganges, Adi Shankara, the Hindu seer, and his disciples had gone down the Ghats of the Ganges to ablutions. Returning, they were faced with a Chandala, a low caste pariah, leading a pack of four dogs.
When the seer asked the lowly man to step aside from their path, instead of abiding the Chandala is said to have responded with the wise words, “Like your own, my body too is made up of the material food that is consumed and performs the same biological functions as any Brahmin’s. My Atman or consciousness too is identical to the Suprame Brahman which is omnipresent and forms the composition of your soul as well and is totally unaffected by the bodily aspects. So which part of me do you ask to step aside, the body or the consciousness (Chaitanya)? And why do you do so, learned Brahmin?”

These words were a direct reference to Adi Shankara’s own philosophy of Advaita Vedanta which sought to establish the existence of the one Supreme Brahman as the sole truth and all the remaining material substances as illusory.

The seer was dumb struck and awed with the enlightenment of a lower caste man. Adi Shankara prostrated to the Chandala and conceded that he had erred. This is actually the point where he composed the ethereal shlokas “Manishapanchaka”. The Vedantic purport of these shlokas is to accede that the only man who may claim to be illuminated is one who has learnt to see the world and all its beings as part of the Self and not in the form of individuals belonging to various castes.

This made me understand that no matter how often the masters have reminded us of deep principles, we tend to ignore the principle and only stick to rituals and external symbols. Certainly, it would help if we were to understand the core concepts for only then can we move towards true enlightenment. This is true of Hinduism and all faiths.. And hence, I began exploring all faiths..

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A tryst with Shankaracharya


Adi Shankaracharaya is an epitome of Hindu wisdom and a pristine guru. Continuing my quest to speak with masters and prophets, I thought I would consult him to clarify the doubts that still persist in my mind.Swamiji, Pranam. I am born a Hindu and am enamoured at your story and teachings. Sometimes, however I am confused by some of the tenets that prevail. Could you help me understand these better in today’s context ?Of course. I will be happy to.In your time, the caste system was sacrosanct. Today there is more openness but many people still do feel each group has slightly different traits and so there was an order created through the caste system. What is your opinion?

Of course, there are differences as humans are bound to be different. But, this is no way means one group is superior to another. Further, birth is not the deciding factor. Each person is who is his because of so many factors. So, I feel and have stated also that caste system is a stumbling block to realization. In my own case, when I happened to see a Chandala as one of a lower caste, I was jolted to realize it is highly contradictory to the principles I espouse.

Similarly, not accepting others because they are different in any one aspect, such as the God they pray to, is also one such stumbling block.

Only if we see all people as part of the same cosmos can we be true followers of Vedanta.

Why then do we have different Gods?

Just as there are different colours in the rainbow, different notes in music, there are different Gods and deities. The seven colors of the rainbow are actually manifestations of pure white light. But, doesn’t a rainbow look beautiful because of the different shades? Just as there is no reduction of harmony in nature with these differences, there should not be any disharmony because of differences. Sameness is not unity. Understanding is.

Some claim idol worship is not a good practice. And yes, there are some sacrifices undertaken in front of idols that even I don’t understand. Even the ecological damage during Ganesh festivities clearly create too much pollution. How do we understand these?

If through idols, you are able to connect better with a higher power, then do continue but remember to understand the symbology.

If Ganesh’s symbology is understood, none of you will create so much ecological damage in his name. A simple prayer to give more determination and persevere on the right path despite obstacles would make the vignaharta much happier.

Similarly, pray to Lakshmi for abundance (not excessive wealth but ample for your needs), Saraswati for wisdom and Durga for a sense of right and wrong and supporting justice.

With people of other faiths, how best must we understand the differences?

Each has evolved in a particular mileau in a particular context. Even Hinduism which we say is the oldest is not static but dynamic. It is necessary to grow with times while keeping the principles of oneness, compassion and both inner and outer peace as the goal.

Inner and outer peace?

We end each chant with Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. First for inner peace, second for the environment around us and the third for the entire world. Only the approach of bringing change through a change in our own selves can ever wok, be it in one’s family, one’s environment or in the entire world.

Still, if others create violence, what should we do ?

The other you speak about, is obviously also a part of the same cosmos. Approach him with an attitude of understanding and peace. If nothing, at least don’t foster hatred.

If you do wish to make a difference, ask, why is this violence happening? What can I do to prevent it and bring about better understanding? All this obviously can be done only in a non violent way. .

However, would non-violence succeed?

Of course it will but you would need to continue your efforts not remain passive. See, the satyagraha of Gandhi almost succeeded but not completely only because of people not being able to understand oneness in the complete sense. Remember, the seed he has sown is not dead yet. Foster it to bloom completely.

As I bow and take leave of the Shankaracharya, I offer my gratitude and seek his blessings for all of India and indeed the world to move towards this pristine understanding of each other as part of a single cosmos

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Islam – the confusion

With Islam now at its crossroads, some questions have been plaguing my mind for a long time. After much thought, I felt I should confer with Prophet Mohammed directly. As I hoped, he was happy to talk to me.

I am so glad to meet you, Prophet. I would like to clarify certain aspects of Islam with you. Could I?

Of course. Please do.

Is music prohibited in Islam?
No, definitely not.
You just have to see closely at my messages. I have asked you clearly to respect all the prophets before me. That includes Prophet David, who sang and played music. How could music itself then be sinful and prohibited?

Why is this misconception there among people?

You must have heard of the saying “Don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. This is exactly what is being done with this injunction.
What I had asked people to do was guard against music which uses foul language and steers people toward alcohol, lust and such sinful activity. I have never stipulated that there should be no music at all.

Do you personally like music?
Totally. God created music so that it could give us joy. Music relaxes the mind and helps the person to gain energy and refresh himself..

What is jihad?
Jihad is a struggle. In recent times, the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi is certainly a jihad as it required tremendous courage and perseverance.

Many terrorists call their activities a jihad.

That is absolutely incorrect. If they have any issues or grievances, they can peacefully bring it up in accordance with the law of the land and persevere in their strife. That is what I would call a Jihad.

Can the shariat be changed?
See, Shariat is like a constitution which I made for the people of that time. Naturally, it relates to conditions of that period. There were tribes and people staying with girls without marriage. Yes, I did allow polygamy with full consent of both the groom and bride. Now, obviously times have changed and so should the shariat.

Who is a kafir and how do you recommend we should treat them?
A person who is a disbeliever, not just of God, but of human values, is called a kafir. Still, that is their choice and we should never forget they are human too.

Is attire, such as burqa for women stipulated in Islam?
There is no attire prescribed.
I do recommend modest dressing in women to preserve their dignity. That is not a rule, just a recommendation. Now, how that is achieved is based on the culture of a place at that time. For instance, if I was born in Iceland, I would have been dressed in fur. If I was born today, maybe I would have gone to the moon in a spacesuit.

Please try to see the core teachings and not the external layer of any teaching.

What is the core teaching of Islam? How do we apply them?

Brotherhood.

Treat everyone as a brother. Share, care and respect each other. Don’t pity, empathize. The other is your brother.
If this can be done without fail always, then you can create your own heaven on this earth.

Wow ! This is so clear and complete. Much of the confusion in my mind vanished.

Buddha explains the law of karma


Prince Siddhartha was born in a royal family but gave it all up in his quest for a right path. After many years of penance, he became the enlightened one or the “Buddha” and brought forth some tenets which are extremely valuable. Still, I did have a few questions which I wished to clarify.
Lord Buddha, I have deep respect for you and your teachings. I would like to clarify some issues. Could you answer my queries?Of course.I know you do not believe in an external God and have advised against idol worship but sometimes people do use idols, especially to concentrate and meditate. Many even use your idols. What would you say to this ?See, I have only shared my own experience, which is focusing inward. Do use what suits you but try to live in accordance with the principles of
1. Right Understanding
2. Right Thought
3. Right Speech
4. Right Action
5. Right Livelihood
6. Right Effort
7. Right Mindfulness
8. Right ConcentrationDesire may be the root cause of most suffering, but desire for positive change has brought in a lot of good, too. Is it then wrong to desire?

It is only detached action that can serve you and the world. As the outcome is not entirely in your hand, it is best to work with that in mind. I realized through my own experience and hence, advise you to try this approach.

Buddhism prohibits killing and yet, some Buddhists do eat meat. Isn’t this a contradiction?

I made a clear distinction between killing an animal and consumption of meat. See, the monks in ancient India were expected to receive all of their food by begging and so, had little or no control over their diet.

Now also, depending on your environment, you may or may not consume meat. That is entirely your choice.

Do remember that it is immoral conduct that makes one impure, not the food one eats.

You have advocated the principle of karma, yet good people also do suffer sometimes. How should one’s response be in this case?

Some actions bring instant retribution while the results of other actions may not appear until a future lifetime.

Still, this should not be used as an excuse to treat the people of poor karma poorly; indeed, all should help them and help to alleviate their suffering. Do remember you too may have been where they are right now.

Further, redemption is always available to all, no matter how heinous the crime as can be seen in my experience with the dacoit Angulimala.

I have found that this is the best way of applying the understanding the dynamics of karma.

As I bow and take leave of the Buddha with an improved understanding, I hope to apply the principles of karma better and wish others also do the same.

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Zarathrustra tells me about the choices we have


Living in ancient Persia, now Iran, Zarathustra put forth for the first time the idea of monotheism, that is one God, rather than many gods (polytheism) of his tribal religion and other religions of those days. He addressed this one God as Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord.

With great vision and creative genius, Zarathustra explained the principles of good and evil, of light and darkness as the basis for the human struggle with life.
The principles he espoused are wonderfully simple and clear. Still, there are issues which Parsis or Zorastrians seem to be struggling with.. Hence, I felt I should speak to him about them.

Salulations, Prophet. There are a few questions I would like to ask you. May I?

Of course.

What are the basic principles of Zorastrianism?

God, or Ahura Mazda, is the beginning and the end, the creator of everything which can and cannot be seen, the Eternal, the Pure and the only Truth. In practice, every one is free to choose between good and bad. However, only those who choose the good will achieve happiness and peace.

Do you think one should not get converted? Couldn’t these principles be adopted by all?

The principles could be applied by all but they need not convert to Zorastrianism. If they understand and apply the true tenets of their own faith, and also read and imbibe from other traditions, that would be fine. It is, after all, the practice that is often flawed.

Today, in order to be a Zoroastrian, one must be born of two Zoroastrian parents. One is not enough. No children of mixed marriages are officially Zoroastrian. How then would these children fit it in any faith?

The children are entirely free to choose one faith or the other. The practice is what is more important and I do hope they adopt the right ones.

As I thank and take leave of the Prophet, I realize how simple and yet profound his principles were and still are and do hope more and more people realize this completely in the true sense.

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Abraham tells me who the chosen ones are…


Abraham was a man who was tested severely by God many times and is revered by the Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. I do have some queries on some aspects of the faith, though, so I approach him to clarify the same.
Dear Father Abraham. I have heard much of you and would be honoured if you could clarify some doubts for me.Yes, of course. Go ahead.You have been tested several times in your life.
What was it that made you never falter?I always believed in a greater power and I would implore you to do the same.It is said the Jews are a chosen people. What makes them the chosen ones

The Chosen People is a metaphor for the choices we make in our lives. All Jews are Jews-by-Choice in that every person must make a decision, at some point in their lives, whether or not they want to live Jewishly or as per correct principles.

All are God’s children. Still, human beings are more empowered and therefore, are more fortunate, if only they make right use of this power.

In this way Jews are called to be a “light to the nations” by doing good in the world through gemilut hasidim (acts of loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Who are the messiahs?

There is no single messiah. They come at various times in various places of God and spirituality.

This is happening all the time.

Will this suffice to overcome the world’s suffering?

Ultimately, it will. However, the ending of all evil could take some time. Besides, the process of good and evil permeating the world is cyclic. Still, goodness alone will ultimately triumph.

The answers seems resonating perfectly with the the theory of Karma. Whether one believes in rebirth or a heaven and hell we would go to later, isn’t goodness alone that we would carry with us ? Isn’t that what all religions teach us?

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The true message of Christianity

Jesus of Nazareth’s life and message has inspired many, all through the ages. He welcomed and embraced the sinners, the despised and the harlots and gave them solace and peace. To Jesus, God was a loving Father. Jesus’ mantra was love for God and one’s fellowmen. There is so much to learn from him and yet, he is misrepresented at times. I felt I must meet him and clarify the doubts I have

My dear Lord Jesus, so many people have been inspired by you, still there are some doubts that persist. The areas which do not somehow seem to be in synergy with your teaching. Could you clarify these doubts for me?

Of course. Go ahead and ask me the queries you have.

It is a fact that different people pray to a different God. Some do not even believe in an external God but believe in God being a presence within us. In this scenario, what is the criterion for deciding who is a true ‘Christian’ is? One who believes in the principles you spoke on or one who uses the name “Jesus” instead of say, Allah or Ram?

Evidently, the former. It is the principle which matters not the names used. This one principle has caused tremendous conflict and I really would like to implore people to stop promoting Christianity as the sole way to reach higher levels of consciousness.

Is idol worship to be avoided?

See, the important thing is remembering the presence of God everywhere. If idols help you concentrate on this divinity, use them as a channel. But do remember it is only a channel and remember to perceive the divinity one can perceive in the world.

In the Christian tradition, a lot of people are quite scared of ‘Satan’ What is this force?

As you probably know, my sermon on the mount clearly stated that God is within each of us. Similarly, Satan or negative forces too are within us. These vices are the ones we need to combat. Ego, jealousy, anger, violence – these are mini Satans among many people. The path to totally rise above them may be ardous, but the results are wonderful.

You sacrificed your life on the cross to save the sins of the world and asked for the
forgiveness of the tormentors. This sort of attitude is sometimes too difficult to cultivate. Is this really possible for ordinary people?

If you are in touch with love, you will realize that holding grudges can only make your path difficult. In my case, I did not want even those moments of torture to take me away from love. Remember this all through your life.

How do we get in touch with the God within us?

One’s life needs to be directed by the spiritual element which is its basis, which manifests itself as love, and which is extremely natural to man.

Unfortunately, this simple truth has often be misrepresented by many and a lack of complete clarity has occurred everywhere in all faiths.

Discard this misrepresentation and understand the true principles of spirituality from all faiths and wisdom traditions.

Which are the sayings you admire apart from the Bible.

See, wisdom is present all over the world. Some beautiful sayings found in other traditions, say the truth which I have ttried to convey in my own life.

For instance, the Thirrukural in Tamil says –

The punishment of evil doers consists in making them feel ashamed of themselves by doing them a great kindness.Of what use is superior knowledge in one who does not endeavour to relieve his neighbour’s want as much as his own?

If, in the morning, a man wishes to do evil unto another, in the evening the evil will return to him….

My what clarity and completeness of Christ’s true message. I sincerely hope this message permeates to all humans…as Christ would have liked it to.

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Mahavira’s wisdom of anekanta

Lord Mahavir was the twenty fourth and the last Tirthankara of the Jain religion. He became a Siddha, living for ever in a state of complete bliss. I felt I should speak to him to clarify some doubts I have today.Lord Mahavira, Your journey and experience are just amazing. I have some queries which I would like you to clarify. Could you answer them ?Of courseIs it possible for people now to aim at enlightenment ?

Yes, of course. All Tirthankaras were born as human beings but they have attained a state of perfection or enlightenment through meditation and self realization.
This can be aimed for by anyone, anytime

The ultimate objective is to attain the total freedom from the cycle of birth, life, pain, misery, and death, and achieve the permanent blissful state of one’s self. This is nirvana

What is the way to do this?

The first step is to recognize that it is necessary to destroy his inner enemies like anger, greed, passion, ego and so on
As human beings, we keep going in and out of these traps, and one must remain guarded.

What is the stumbling block that one may face?

From eternity, every living being (soul) is in bondage of karmic atoms, that are accumulated by its own good or bad deeds. Under the influence of karma, the soul is habituated to seek pleasures in materialistic belongings and possessions.
Karma goes beyond sinple cause and effect of action. Even one’s thoughts do accumulate karma.

Self-centered violent thoughts, deeds, anger, hatred, greed, and such negativities too need to be discarded.

I can only stress upon avoiding all situations and actions which may lead to violence.

Today, I would like to also stress intolerance too is a kind of himsic (violent) thought.

Here, I quote Acharya Kundkund who rightly stated “I am presenting a comprehensive knowledge of soul as differentiated from external objects based on my understanding and experience. Accept it if (in your estimation) it satisfies the condition of authenticity (PRAMAAN). But if I fail in my description, reject it.”

Such humility is what one needs to emulate.

Further, anekantavada, a principle I have spoken about also points out to diverse points of view being acceptable.

What is anekantavada?

Anekāntavāda refers to the principles of pluralism and multiplicity of viewpoints, the notion that truth and reality are perceived differently from diverse points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.
This is to contrast attempts to proclaim absolute truth with adhgajanyāyah, In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each blind man felt a different part of an elephant (trunk, leg, ear, etc.). All the men claimed to understand and explain the true appearance of the elephant, but could only partly succeed, due to their limited perspectives. Since we cannot comprehend objects in all aspects and manifestations; no single, specific, human view can claim to represent absolute truth.

In practice, Anekāntavāda encourages its adherents to consider the views and beliefs of their rivals and opposing parties. Proponents of anekāntavāda apply this principle to religion and philosophy, reminding themselves that any religion or philosophy—even Jainism—which clings too dogmatically to its own tenets, is committing an error based on its limited point of view.

The principle of anekāntavāda actually influenced Gandhiji to adopt principles of religious tolerance, ahimsa and satyagraha. Even here, he was not dogmatic about vegetarianism, for instance, but only shared his own experience.The key is not to sit on a seat of judgement.

Can karma also be used in a negative manner? For instance, some people do not really get moved by the suffering of others, stating past karma as the cause?

Unfortunately, sometimes people do not understand karma as dynamic.
We must remember that just as ego is thought, so is pride, self righteousness and intolerance.

As I thank and take leave of Mahavira, I understand the deep significance of acceptance as a way of life of true Jains and hope we all learn religious tolerance from the principle of Anekanta..

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Being a Sikh (learner) with Guru Nanak


Guru Nanak, the first Guru in Sikhism denounced wrong practices of those days, even if they were in the name of religion and found his path in discovering a supreme Godhead who although incomprehensible, manifests in all major religions.

Sat sri Akal, Guruji. I have deep respect the tenets of the Sikh religion but am not clear in some areas. Could you clarify them for me?

Of course, my dear. Go ahead.

What was the original foundation of Sikhism?

I realized and traveled all over India and the world and found the basic truth that there is One God who looks after the welfare of all. There are no other division like Hindu. Muslim and so on.

I introduced the langar, a meal shared as a way of not just service but bonding and sharing.

All through, I was against empty religious rituals, pilgrimages, the caste system and the sacrifice of widows. In my time, there were both priests and mullahs who exploited people’s weaknesses and I told people to be free of any such dependence.

I told people also that one not should depend on books alone for religion but practice religion in the true sense in one’s own life.

Isn’t the forbidding of gurus and using the Guru Granth Sahib alone as a guru a kind of contradiction? After all, you too were a Guru at one time. Besides, you yourself have stated that there should not be a dependence on books alone.

Let me explain. During my time, all followers still remained Hindu, Muslim, or of the religion to which they were born, but then gradually they became known as the Guru’s disciples, or Sikhs, ‘people who learn’.

It was here that my followers began to refer to my as teacher, or guru.

When Guru Gobind Singh became the Guru, he felt we should maintain the principles as they were and not allow any more change and therefore, asked the Granth Sahib to be the only guru.

Now that Sikh-ism is a religion, as long as people are following the basic tenets of the religion which are really tenets of humanity, people can remain Sikhs (learners) of wisdom. If this guidance is sought from a human being and people seek a person for some guidance, there is no issue.

There are some countries and some airlines which do not allow the Sikhs to carry a kirpan (sword). How should a Sikh respond to this?

See, the five Ks each had a specific symbolism as that time.

Kesh – uncut hair and beard, as given by God, to sustain him or her in higher consciousness; and a turban, the crown of spirituality.

Kangha – a wooden comb to properly groom the hair as a symbol of cleanliness.

Katchera – specially made cotton underwear as a reminder of the commitment to purity.

Kara – a steel circle, worn on the wrist, signifying bondage to Truth and freedom from every other entanglement.

Kirpan – the sword, with which the Khalsa is committed to righteously defend the fine line of the Truth.

Now, in today’s world, carrying of a kirpan is neither necessary nor really useful. If one does come across injustice or wrong ways being practised, defend it courageously with the appropriate tool.

What is important is adherence of these principles, not the external symbols.

Regarding the five Ks, I have even said in the Guru Granth Sahib,

Kabeer, when you are in love with the One Lord, duality and alienation depart.
You may have long hair, or you may shave your head bald.

So, kesh (hair) is an external symbol, not an intrinsic core of Sikhism. Such is the case with all other symbols.

You adhere to the nirgun (formless) God, is it not?

Yes, that is true. I have maintained that God can be neither incarnated nor represented in concrete terms. In my time and even now, sometimes this workshop does lead to mindless rituals and conflicts. Still, if there are some who wish to worship Him with a form, that’s fine as long as the principles of truth and righteous conduct are upheld. I am aware that some of my own devotees keep my photo to pray and that is all right if it helps them connect more easily to the divine.

Which are the principles which you would like to emphasize in today’s world?

Courage, equality of all and integrity is something that has sadly deteriorated. If all could work to revive it, the world would be a wonderful, safe place. This is what I sincerely wish for the entire world.

As I thank and take leave of Nanak ji, i realize the power of what he espoused when he spoke of a universal, unifying approach to the divine and hope that we learn to celebrate the lives of the Gurus and the universality of the liberating faith that they helped found.

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