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Is Religion a Barrier to Truth?

by Smita Poudel (smita), Ohmynews, Dec 11, 2006

One needs courage and willpower to set off on a quest for the supreme truth

Seoul, South Korea -- My parents made me realize I was a Hindu early in life. My childish mind could not imagine other religions besides Hinduism prevailing in the world. It was my childhood friend David who first introduced me to Christianity. When I tried to talk about Christianity to my grandmother, I got a bitter response. It is still vivid in my mind.

"It is the cow-eating religion," she said instantly.

She said this, of course, because Hindus worship the cow as an incarnation of God and the same cow is used for meat by other people. People in my village who took to other religions were disregarded.

What my grandmother told me then was the profound truth for me so I tried to avoid Christians and Buddhists, too. I had to pass many monasteries on my way to school and I could see many monks wearing maroon robes. I always tried to escape them because my mother warned me that they carried away children.

All these incidents made me stick to the fact that I was a Hindu and was enough to sketch the deep divisions regarding religion in my mind.

A long time elapsed before I tried to dig deep into the underlying theme of different religions. Religion is the art of living. People's daily activities are directed by religious values and beliefs. Before blindly following a religion, with all its superficial advantages and disadvantages, one should first be clear about its origin and development.

Religion is a code of conduct for directing people's behavior. The religion that is called Dhamma in Pali, and Dharma in Sanskrit, means something that you adopt; it is adopting a particular path that leads to personal well being as well as the well-being of others. However, the main aim of any religion is to make people's life happier by inspiring people to choose the correct means of livelihood and avoid doing wrong. If not weighed against sectarianism, each religion has the same voice: Inspiring us to live better lives.

The religious leaders who helped shape the diverse religions were enlightened people who realized the ultimate truth. They later tried to share their virtue with the whole world and suggested paths to follow. People who favored a particular philosophy and had faith gathered around them.

Though postmodernism claims that truth is different for different people, a spiritual belief is the same ultimate truth for many people. Diverse truths are justifiable because truth is what we see within our horizon. Ultimate truth is also justifiable. People cannot exist as blank books; the ink of philosophy propounded by others is used to fill in the pages of their lives. If everyone were aware of their potential to reach the supreme truth, everyone would have been a Buddha or a Jesus.

Those who cannot find their own way may find it easier to follow the path of others, but the final destination is the same for all: the ultimate truth. When Lord Krishna, Jesus or Muhammad says, "Follow me," they are asking us to follow the path that leads to the ultimate reality. They are at trying to lead those who are lost out of the darkness. They do not want chaos to prevail in the world.

I read a citation belonging to Osho, which said no "system of thought" would define him, since he believed that no philosophy could fully express the truth. He said that his was a "philosophy of no philosophy." However, none of his philosophies is independent because what he says is not even the ultimate truth. I have heard his preaching on Buddha's Vipassana, and how he accepted the truth propounded by Buddhism. Osho's sayings are a mixture of different religions: Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and others. Following in the basic underlying themes of those religions, he has propounded his own.

I cannot claim that Buddha's philosophy was independent because when I was practicing Buddha's Vipassana our teacher told us that many sages of Hinduism born long before the time of Buddha practiced Vipassana but with the different name.

Buddha encouraged people to think for themselves, to reason out and test for themselves and not to be bound by any blind belief. Buddha says,

Don't accept a thing merely because it is handed down by tradition, because many people repeat it, merely on the authority of a sage who teaches it and don't accept a thing merely because it is found in so called holy scriptures. After examination, after testing it for yourself, if you find it reasonable and is in conformity with your well being and the well being of the others as well, then accept it and follow it.

Neither Buddha nor other enlightened people compelled people to blindly follow their philosophy; they just suggested a way to the ultimate truth, which they had experienced.

I remember something S. N. Goenka, who is the teacher of Vipassana, wrote in What is Religion?:

Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad all gave people the elixir in a bowl but people rather than realizing the value of the bowl's content preferred the bowl. The elixir has leaked, but people have embraced the empty bowl regarding it as everything. After the elixir leaked, so many defilements have filled the bowl or the religion as people have added their interpretation.

As the ages passed, people started interpreting religion according to their convenience, which has invited disaster in the world. Religion is never a barrier to people who want to explore the truth; rather, it enriches their quest.

One needs courage and willpower to set off on a quest for the supreme truth. Buddha, Jesus and many others had these qualities, and more -- which is why they are worshipped even though they had invented nothing new and had explored the same truth that already existed in the universe. It would be quite unjustifiable not to respect them for what they did for mankind.

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