The assumption that we are allowed to practise only one religion, and that the great world religions are mutually exclusive, is a quaint notion that will surely become as obsolete as the concept that we should know only one language. The great religions of the world, when taken together, constitute a tremendous reservoir of spiritual and philosophical wisdom and there is really no good reason why we should confine ourselves only to one of them.
In fact, in Nepal, to take an example, there are many people who practise both Hinduism and Buddhism; while in Japan, the well-known saying goes that people are often born into the Shinto tradition, get married as Christians, and die as Buddhists.
In this connection, it must be reiterated that the Hindu-Christian interaction over the past century has been an extremely interesting one. This is highlighted in a remarkable book entitled Ascent to the Depth of the Heart, which is the spiritual diary of Swami Abhishiktananda (1910-1973). A Benedictine monk, born in France as Henri le Saux, he came to India in 1948 and stayed here until his passing away in 1973.
He was profoundly impressed by Hinduism, particularly by the advaita philosophy of the Upanishads. In the great seer, Sri Ramana Maharshi, he found his Guru; and though he remained a Catholic till the end of his life, his remarkable spiritual experiences testify to the fact that theological differences evaporate when spiritual realisation dawns.
Though Hinduism and Christianity have profound theological differences – Hinduism believes in multiple lives until one attains liberation, for example, while Christianity postulates only one life on earth – at a deeper level, such theological differences become insignificant. As is well known, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had no theological problem when, in the course of his amazing sadhana, he encountered Jesus Christ. For Abhishiktananda too, his experience of the all-pervasive Brahmn was overwhelming even while he held on to his belief in Jesus Christ as a unique saviour.
Indeed, the dichotomy between a vast impersonal consciousness and devotion to a personal deity is one that is to be found to a lesser or greater degree within every religious tradition. In Hinduism, the two have always been sought to be harmonised. This is particularly the case in the Upanishads, which are the high watermark of Hindu philosophy. The Ishavasya Upanishad is an outstanding text on the synthesis between the One and the Many, while in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, Shiva is clearly linked with the advaitic consciousness.
It is not possible here to enter into a long debate regarding the advaita
(unitary) and dvaita (dual) consciousness of the Divine.
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