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VEDANTA KESARITowards Relative Conception of Truth in Religions  

 

 

 

 

 

     Towards Relative Conception of Truth in Religions

 

 

 

     Major H.Subramanian

 

 

 

     Major H. Subramanian holds degrees in science and telecommunications. He served in the Indian Army for twenty-two years and another ten years in industry in top management positions. Having carefully studied major world religions, he is presently engaged in promoting a new religious consciousness in India and abroad through lectures and articles.

 

 

 

     One of the questions often posed at all inter-religious meetings and forums is, 'Why is it that religion which is supposed to have been created by man to serve humanity failed to fulfil its role?' The answer the champions of the different religious traditions give is that if one and all had accepted their respective religions, the question would not have arisen. But, the reality as every one knows, is otherwise. So, this is a question certainly worth consideration and examination in depth. This is more so, as religious pluralism is becoming the order of the day and people all over the world have to live in multi-religious communities.

 

 


     Why Do Religions Get Conditioned

 

 


     Religions came into being as a result of the quest for truth in man. If we look at the history of the principal living religions of the world, we cannot fail to notice a common pattern in their origin and development. In the past, each community, when confronted with a problem, produces a hero. He takes up the challenge, goes forward and tries to commune with God or the Ultimate Reality for an answer to the problems. After some time, as a result of his persistent efforts, he gets a response from the Ultimate reality and also the answers to (some of) his questions. He returns to the society, proclaims his findings and the community understands him in a particular way and draws its own conclusions. And his followers interpret his pronouncements in their own way. Thereafter, these 'truths' grew in the respective cultures and generally in isolation due to the geographical separations and constraints for travel and exchange of ideas in those days. So, each religion was totally conditioned by the culture, the language and the psyche of the people who contribute to its growth. This is purely a historical accident or development.


     Taking only the principal theistic religions of the world for consideration, we find that they all are founded on certain basic premises which are common, namely, the existence of a God who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, transcendent as well as immanent, Lord as well as creator of the universe, a perfect, all-knowing, benevolent, compassionate, forgiving and merciful being, who conveys his authoritative and indisputable message to mankind either directly or through a prophet; a distinct relation between man and God, and that man can benefit by paying obeisance to God and by implementing His Will. Even in the atheistic and agnostic religions, the Ultimate Reality is a human conception, though different from the theistic ones and not labelled God as such. All theologies, religious philosophies, rituals and dogmas are built upon these basic premises. But, due to the varied interpretations of the theologists, religious heads and missionaries who try to propagate their respective religions, and the culture and customs of the people who practise the same these tenets get modified and over a period of time due to the outer garb of rituals, liturgy and practices introduced into them, they appear to be entirely different and meant, as if, for totally different purposes. In this process, the original message and purpose for which these religions were founded even gets lost.

 

 


     Concept of Reality: Advaita Vedanta vis-avis Other Religions

 

 


     Here we should be clear about the concept of the Ultimate Reality in Advaita Vedanta, and other traditional religions. The pivotal message of Advaita Vedanta is that the Ultimate Reality, or Brahman as it is known in this school of thought, of which the myriad worlds are appearances, is non-different from the Atman, the pure, objectless consciousness. Neither Brahman nor Atman can be perceived by the senses or the mind. It is something not perceivable or conceivable, but can only be experienced in non-dual intuition, Pro/по, by rendering the mind quiescent and still, say, through various yogic or spiritual practices. Also, here it should be understood that Brahman (or Atman) is not the God of the theistic religions. God is merely a conception of the inconceivable. Different religions are centred on different conceptions of the inconceivable. Hence, different religions have different Gods and some of them claim that their own conception is the true and real conception, and that the other people's religions are false.


     So, the differences in the basic theological concepts from one religion to another are due only to the way the different communities understood and interpreted the revelations made to them by the Ultimate Reality. That is, the institutionalized religions are but an extension of the culture of the different communities. It has now been accepted by many religious thinkers the world over that the Ultimate Reality revealed itself only partially and to a limited extent at different times to different communities commensurate with their requirements and the nature of the quest or the questions posed to it. It is this revelation that forms the core of the theology of that particular religion. But, unfortunately in the past, too much importance was given to these phenomena and they were treated as sacrosanct and beyond any questioning. Also, each of these religions claims that it alone is in possession of the truth, the whole truth and, that others are incomplete ones. This tendency in the Judeo-Christian religions to attribute disproportionate importance to certain spiritual phenomena and incorrect understanding of the message of their own prophets have been the cause for much conflict and suffering in the name of upholding one's faith and forcible conversions. It has rightly been observed, 'The truth which the Prophets commanded their disciples to carry to those who did not know it was that "spirit is more precious than material possessions; that God rules the world and negation of his rules leads to destruction." The command was to "carry faith to the unbelievers; not to disturb the faith of the other believers'".

 

 


     Information Explosion Leading to Challenge the Theological Dogmas

 

 


     Many of the readers of The Vedanta Kesari may be aware of the rapid changes taking place in the field of religion and philosophy in the global arena. Globalization has brought about an era of information proliferation and knowledge explosion. Change has never been welcome by the champions and custodians of religions who are bound to tradition and unquestioning acceptance of authority. Enormous amount of information about theology, liturgy, customs and practices of each and every religious group is readily available on the internet. This has resulted in greater awareness for a larger cross-section of the public, of not only one's own religion, but those of other faiths as well. This has brought about in their minds not only a better understanding of one's own religion but also introspection vis-a-vis the theological concepts and practices of other religions. Thus religions are subject to a process of fermentation from within and cross-fertilization from outside.


     Hitherto, in any community, philosophy was considered the exclusive reserve of the 'greybeards' and the intelligentsia. It has never been a popular subject. Philosophers were very few; approach to them very difficult and access to books and literature on philosophy very restricted. But now globalization has effected rapid changes in the field of philosophy as well. Books and papers on every school of thought in philosophy can be readily accessed on the internet and one can join a discussion group of one's choice easily and can have free exchange of ideas. This new fillip to free thinking has resulted in growth of several new schools of thought in philosophy. What is interesting is most of these new schools of thought seriously challenge the traditional and orthodox concept in several areas like literature, arts, ethics and morals and even the theological affirmations and dogmas, of religions in general and the Abrahamic religions in particular.

 

 


     Perspectival Views Are Also True

 

 


     All knowledge is based on human perception. On any issue, there can be not just one but two or even more viewpoints. In the bipolar concept of truth, if there are two different viewpoints on any topic, then only one of them can be true; the other, therefore, must be incorrect or false. As against this, the concept that when there are more than one viewpoint, on any issue, neither viewpoint is absolutely right or absolutely wrong but each one of them could be partially right is known as relational concept of truth. A simplification may help us to know that the average mindset was conditioned to the bipolar concept of truth due to a rigid approach over a long period of time on several matters on which it contented to be the ultimate authority. As against this, the Vedantic mind has been accustomed to liberal thought on very many subjects including theological concepts like God or the Ultimate Reality, etc. In fact, for the ancients of this land, all schools of philosophies were only different viewpoints (Darshanas) and even religious traditions that denied or negated the Vedas were only different opinions (mata) or traditions (Sampradayas). The Indian mind has been influenced by the oft-quoted Vedic concept or declaration, 'Truth is one, the wise speak of it in different ways.' (1) It has been repeatedly affirmed by persons belonging to religions of such origin, to be more precise, that no religion is ultimately or finally true but are only partial glimpses of the one 'Truth' or the 'Ultimate Reality'. Hence it could live in harmony with diverse faiths. No world-view is wholly true, i.e., true in an all-comprehending and absolute sense. And by the same token, no world-view is absolutely wrong. This thesis was perfected by Jainism in its doctrine of Syadvada. (2) It means that various perspectives, being by their very nature relative, can never comprehend the whole truth. Each view is being simultaneously perceived, understood and interpreted by innumerable other perspectives. No perspectival view can claim infallibility, finality or all comprehensiveness. But, none of them are to be rejected as false either. All perspectives are only partial glimpses of truth, and are always open to future correction and supplementation by other perspectives. Above all, these perspectives are neither infallible nor self-contained nor incommensurable. This means that people who belong to or interpret the reality from any particular perspective have no right to criticize, far less to condemn, the other perspective.


     Gandhiji had very cogently presented this pluralistic perspective in religious understanding. He realized that in a religiously pluralistic country like India, if religion is to serve the public, then the followers of the different religions must be prepared to accept a pluralistic perspective. In his own words:


     'After long study and experience I have come to the conclusion that (1) All religions are true; (2) All religions have some error in them.... And if we are imperfect ourselves, religion as conceived by us must also be imperfect.... Religion of our conception, being thus imperfect, is always subject to a process of evolution and reinterpretation.' (3)

 


     Conclusion

 

 


     So, in conclusion, it can be said that religions are but an extension of the culture of the different communities. They helped in uniting humanity and served it when the emphasis was on the mystical (or spiritual) and the moral aspects, but, divided it into inimical groups when the emphasis shifted to the traditions, customs and dogmas or their 'uniqueness'. The divisions are only damages or aberrations caused due to history, and history can also now undo the causes for the damages. Firstly, the champions and custodians of the different religious traditions should leam to underplay the differences and 'unique' claims to truth and learn to accept the relative concept of truth in different religions. Secondly, they should also learn to rise above the petty features that create the differences and set their sights high on the planes of morals and spirituality. Then, and only then, in a religiously pluralistic world, will religion be able to serve humanity the way it is expected to and meant for.

 

 


     References:

 


     1. Ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti - Rig Veda, 1.164.46.
     2. Swami Prabhavananda, Spiritual Heritage of India (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1960), 167. For more details on Syddvada, please see the article on Jainism by Shri Appaswami Chakravarti in The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. I (published by The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, 1958), pp. 414-433.
     3. Gandhi Reader for 1988, pp. 47-50.

 

 

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     Vedanta Kesari

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International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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