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Common Denominators of World Religions

"I believe in the fundamental Truth of all the great religions of the world.
I believe that they are all God-given.
I came to the conclusion long ago...that all religions were true,
and also that all had some error in them."
- Mahatma Gandhi

What do the major religions of the world have in common?

Well, we, your trusty LiveReal Agents, thought it was an interesting question to ask. So, being the curious, hardworking, and incredibly humble folks we are, we started digging around.

Sometimes, certain folks in different particular religious groups see other religious groups as threats. And vice-versa. One group seems to believe that they have really very little in common with the other, and each sees the other as, well, for the most part, missing the mark.

The purpose of this article is not an attempt to state that "all religions are the same," as they are clearly not; neither is it an attempt to convert any individual from one belief to another.

Rather, well, we just got curious about the question of whether there were aspects of different spiritual teachings which transcends particular cultures, time periods, historical trends, and popular fashions.

Along the way, we definitely became very aware of the way that the words we use can often confuse more than they clarify. Because so far, at least, when you strip away the words themselves and really dig down to the root of what the words really mean, well, at some point, they start to sound pretty similar.

So, here are a few thoughts.

Note: Suggestions, helpful hints, glowing praise, insightful tips, umm, and other juicy morsels of practical wisdom are always welcome. So, if you run across a good morsel or two, send it to us at info -at - livereal.com

Common Denominators of Major Religions:

The Divine
Love
"The Human Condition"
The Origin of Suffering
Behavior that increases suffering
Behavior that decreases suffering
The Origin of Suffering
"Spirit"
Exoteric and Esoteric
The Cure For Suffering
The Structure of the Universe

"Who are . . . the greatest benefactors of the living generation of mankind?
I should say: 'Confucius and Lao-tzu,
the Buddha, the Prophets of Israel and Jeddah, Zoroaster,
Jesus, Mohammed and Socrates."
- Toynbee

The Divine

Many traditions seem to have different names for, well, something that can't be named, or rather, words for something that can't be grasped with words . . . um, something inherently frustrating to try to talk about. But still: a "something" although it's not really any "thing," that's unknown and mysterious, yet present; that can be said to "exist," but can't be pointed to; something that sees but is not seen, hears but is not heard, something that is the source and origin of all that is seen, heard, and experienced that is called by many names . . .

Judaism: "Yahweh"
Christianity: "God"
Islam: "Allah"
Hinduism: "Atman"
Buddhism: "Nirvana"
Taoism: "The Tao"

Love

"Love," called by different names and described in different ways, is a central core and key teaching throughout religious thought.

Judaism
"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:17)
"Whatever is hateful unto thee, do it not unto thy fellow. This is the whole Law. The rest is commentary." (Hillel)
"Salvation is attained not by subscription to metaphysical dogmas, but solely by the love of God that fulfills itself in action. This is the cardinal truth of Judaism." (Chasdai Crescas, 1410)

Christianity
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
"Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8)
". . . Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love,
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life." (St. Francis of Assissi)

Hinduism
"Love alone will abide thee." (Tamil Proverb)
"I met a hundred men on the road to Delhi, and they all were my brothers." (Indian Proverb)
"Lord, I do not want wealth, nor children, nor learning. If it be Thy will I will go to a hundred hells, but grant me this, that I may love Thee without the hope of reward, unselfishly love for love's sake." (Hindu Prayer)

Buddhism
"However innumerable beings are, I vow to save them." (One of the Four Vows of the Bodhisattva)
"Whatever happiness is in the world has arisen from a wish for the welfare of others; whatever misery there is has arisen from indulging selfishness." (Buddhist Proverb)
"Let none deceive another, Nor despise any person whatsoever in any place. Let him not wish any harm to another out of anger or ill will. Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate a boundless heart toward all beings.." (The Metta-Sutta)

Islam
"(Paradise will be occupied by) those who love one another for God's sake, those who sit together for God's sake, and those who visit one another for God's sake." (The Hadith)
"Love alone will abide thee." (Tamil Proverb)

Taoism
"The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. It is content with the low places that people disdain." (Tao Te Ching)
"Those who embody love to act for the sake of the world seem to be worth of the trust of the world." (Tao Te Ching)

Confucianism
" . . . . To be the first to treat my friends as I would expect them to treat me." (The last Doctrine of the Mean)
"If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world."
- A Proverb from Confucianism

Native American
"Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves." (Chief Seattle)

There is Ultimately One "God"

"He who is in the Sun and in the Fire and in the heart of man is One. He who knows this is one with the One." - Hindu

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!" - Hebrew

"No divinity if not One divinity." - Mohammed

"The entire universe is one bright pearl." - Gensha

"One fist is the entire universe." - Dogen

"There exists just the One Mind." Huang Po

"I and the Father are One." - Christ

"Above the heavens, below the heavens, I alone am the Honored One." - Buddha

"The way is one and only One." - Mencius

"The Human Condition"

Many traditions state that "ordinary" human life, as it is normally lived, when you really scratch the surface, is inherently full of suffering and pain, at least in comparison with what it can be.

  • Christianity and Judaism: Mankind is in a "fallen state," having fallen away from "the grace of God," of which man must repent and find forgiveness and salvation.
  • Buddhism: Mankind ordinarily is lost in a state of "samsara," or impermanence and suffering
  • Hinduism: Mankind lives as "Brahman," a state fundamentally split from its source of life and being, the "Atman."
  • Islam: Mankind is to "walk the straight path" through crookedness, selfishness, and corruption.
  • Taoism: Taoist teachings normally emphasize "unity with the Tao" more than the state of disharmony or separation from the Tao.

Behavior that increases suffering

Many traditions state that certain ways of acting, sooner or later, increase suffering.

  • Judaism: Pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth
  • Buddhism: The "three poisons" or the three "unwholesome roots" or kleshes are "Moha" (delusion, confusion), "Raga" (greed, sensual attachment) and "Dvesha" (aversion, ill will.) These cause "Tanha" (craving) and Dukkha (suffering, pain, unsatisfactoriness.)
  • Christianity: "Sin" and "lack of faith"
  • Taoism: briefly, lack of harmony with the Tao.

Behavior that decreases suffering

To paint with some admittedly broad stokes, many different traditions state that certain ways of acting, sooner or later, decrease suffering. While they differ in degrees and emphasis, they are all so similar within the traditions, we just put them all into one list.

Faith, Hope, and Love, longsuffering, patience, responsibility, perseverance, non-attachment, compassion, wakefulness, endurance, righteousness, self-possession, discretion, discernment, moderation, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and many

The Origin of Suffering

It seems that, according to many various traditions,
a degree of "suffering" is, in a way, built in to the game,
and described as various forms of "ego" . . .

  • Christianity: The fall of man, Adam and Eve, pride
  • Hinduism: Brahman; the cycle of reincarnation
  • Buddhism: Rebirth into Samsara; bondage to the wheel of birth and death
  • Islam: Separation from Allah
  • Judaism: The fall of man, Adam and Eve, pride
  • Taoism: "Loss of unity with the Tao"

"Spirit"

Different traditions describe an active, tangible spiritual force, "divine inspiration" "divine spiritual power" or light-energy.

  • Christianity: "The Holy Spirit"
  • Hinduism: Shakti
  • Buddhism: Sambhogakaya
  • Islam: Ruh al-Qudus or al-Ruh
  • Judaism: ruach hakodesh or rua ha-qodesh
  • Taoism: Chi or Qi

Esoteric Branches

Many traditions seem to feature an exoteric aspect, centered around rituals, beliefs, and traditions, and an esoteric aspect, which emphasizes direct experience.

  • Christianity: Christian Mysticism
  • Hinduism: Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism
  • Buddhism: Zen, Dzogchen, Vajrayana
  • Islam: Sufism
  • Judaism: Kabbalah
  • Taoism: Esoteric Taoism

"The Cure For Suffering"

Essentially all traditions that bring up the issue of suffering, do it because they've found a way out of it, which they call by various names.

  • Christianity: Prayer, contemplation, repentance, grace, and salvation.
  • Hinduism: Various types of yoga, self-inquiry, meditation, Tantra
  • Buddhism: "The Middle Way," meditation, wakefulness, devotion, koan practice
  • Islam: Prayer, devotion, duty, and grace.
  • Taoism: "Harmony with the Tao"

"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord
And there are diversities of operations,
but it is the same God which worketh in all."
- I Corinthians (12:4-6)

diagram from
A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber

So, where does that leave us?

If there truly are "common denominators" to major religions, which we've roughly attempted to begin sketching out here, then where does that leave us in regards to sorting it all out?

It seems to us that a mere synthesis of religions into some sort of new metareligion - a kind of spiritual casserole - might not appeal to folks in some ways, especially if it's something that sweeps away the others.

Similar with the "choosy young bachelor" approach to spirituality: a continual hopping back and forth across various religious scenes, where one dabbles in a tradition here, a ritual there, a saying from this approach here, a habit from a different approach there; tolerant of all but committed to none. This might appeal to some folks, but only the few who really enjoy that sort of thing.

A different approach we ran across seemed, we thought, interesting - one described as "The Rose of the World" by Daniel Andreev. It can be described as something that will encompass and embrace all the religions and spiritualites that we know today but without depriving them of their distinctive features. As Andreev says, "It will be...a teaching that view all religions that appeared earlier as reflections of different visions of spiritual reality...If the older religions are petals, then the Rose of the World will be a flower: with roots, stem, head, and the commonwealth of its petals..."

It's an idea that seems to preserve the integrity and historicity of individual religions while also achieving a higher integration, where they focus their combined energies and specialties toward a common aim, in Andreev's words, "fostering humanity's spiritual growth and on spiritualizing nature."

Seems to us like a pretty interesting idea.

We'll stay on the search.

For further reading...

Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind by Roger Walsh

and

A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom by Whitall N. Perry

"I am convinced that the day will come
when psychologists, poets and philosophers
will speak the same language, and
will understand one another."
- Claude Bernard

If you liked this, check out...

Perennial Philosophy: The Evidence

Who or What is "God"?

What is Real "Enlightenment"?

Spiritual Giants: A User's Guide

Practical Spiritual Experiments

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