Around the year 1991, I was in Russia, where there was an upsurge of energy and interest in spirituality, which had long been suppressed. But the Russian soul, as many have observed, has a strong streak of mysticism to it. At any rate, I was talking with several young men about spiritual life, and they expressed the viewpoint that “all religions are the same” or “all religions go to the same point.”
This is a point of view that I have heard expressed many times in different ways. I feel it comes from a sincere desire and interest to bridge differences between human beings, and to recognize our commonalities, rather than holding up one system of religious doctrine as being “the way” and everything else being a false endeavor. It is a view that shows universality of respect. But the question, “to what extent is it true” is a little complex.
I once heard that in Africa, there are several thousand sects of Christianity, each with their own doctrines, which are vast. Even in America, we have, on one hand, the Westboro Baptist Church with all its intense beliefs about what is righteous, which is profoundly different from, perhaps, the mystics or Jesuit orders who spend a great deal of their time in inner contemplation and love of Jesus.
At any rate, to look [closely] at this question of whether religions are taking us to the same place, it is necessary to start from fundamentals, and also the fundamentals as to what is our human nature.
Yoga postulates that a desire for happiness is fundamental to human nature. That all our human activities are ultimately motivated by attempts to experience happiness, but not all experiences are intended to provide or bring happiness of the same order.
There are some kinds of happiness that go deeper into the cessation of desire for happiness than other kinds of seeking. There are four categories that I think enable us to touch deeper into happiness. All of these involve experiences which bring some kind of opening and connectivity to the human heart.
First of all, there is the connection with community, connection with others, with family, neighbors, whoever may be in one’s circle of connectivity. There is the desire for community and connection with community that is quite deep within the human being.
A second category is one in which there are experiences where there is an unleashing of a creativity that expresses something deep and authentic about who we are and what we are feeling.
A third category is a deep connection with nature, the natural world. Sometimes this can lead to a profound experience of mysticism.
And the fourth category is mysticism itself, when there is an inner connection and experience of the presence of the Divine, however one may conceive of that expression.
By nature, the human longing for happiness is a longing for unlimited happiness. There are all kinds of experiences in our life that bring some kind of partial happiness, and ultimately leave us wanting something more. That drive is there, innate within us, within the very essence of our being to experience unlimited happiness, an experience of that which is, itself, unlimited and which expresses itself through the created world as love.
Human beings seek the fundamental connection with that which is the infinite expression of love, of the Divine. There are three primary ways that have been identified as to how to go about attaining this kind of experience, the ultimate experience of happiness and inner bliss.
One is to be of service to others and to other living beings.
The second is to attain wisdom as to the knowledge of one’s true nature, and the nature of that Divine Entity which one seeks.
And the third is the path of devotion. Devotion, in this context, does not mean simply chanting or ritualistic prayers, ceremonies, or reading aesthetic poetry. The essence of devotion is that of devoting one’s mind to the thought of the Divine, and to the ideation of the Divine. In essence, it is an inner process.
Of the three, devotion is said by many to have the greatest potential to give one the expression of Divine love which is so fundamental to our human longing. This longing which is at the core of what it is to consciously or unconsciously express ourselves.
To the extent that religious experience and religious practice may facilitate these kinds of endeavors, of service, of attaining wisdom of the nature of reality, and of cultivating a spirit of devotion… to that extent, they are all expressions of something fundamental, and something that is common about our human nature. It is not that we have a diversity of fundamental longings.
We have one nature, and that nature is to be expressed through the pathways of service, wisdom and devotion.
This article was transcribed from a talk by Acharya Ravi given in2020. Transcription by Rene Tricou, editing by Michele Renee.
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