My local paper has been running this quiet debate about religious pluralism. A week ago there was an opinion piece by a Muslim guy who spoke about multiculturalism of the modern world and the types of religious pluralism that we should be aware of.
That’s two big words I’m not very comfortable with, to be honest, and in one sentence, too. I wish I knew what he was on about exactly but these are the concepts that everyone understands in his own way and still they are all correct at the same time, so I’m no exception if I offer my take on the matter.
The logic was more or less like this – we have different cultures around the world. Due to globalization, interconnectedness and free movement of the peoples these different cultures are learning to co-exist side by side.
Religions in the modern world are thought to be part of the national culture but the guy argues that they remain still independent. He points out that Islamic world has a wide variety of cultures, ideologies, political systems and cultures yet Islam itself remains relatively monolithic. The cultures and ideologies might depend on Islam but not the other way around, not to a degree the modern secularism lead us to believe.
I think he’s got a point here.
Anyway, he is more concerned with co-existence of religions and he analyzes various solutions. Pluralism can manifest in the followers as exclusive, inclusive and actually pluralistic.
We all sort of tolerate the existence of other religions but exclusivists quietly think that everybody else are going to hell, inclusivists think that they are dingo okay but true salvation still lies only in their own religion, and real pluralists think that all religions are equal. That’s the position he was trying to promote.
Most religions groups have moved on from exclusivism to inclusivism, at least outward tolerance of differing religions beliefs, but very very few people have reached the level of real pluralism. He rightly notes that it is a very difficult process to adjust to because it shakes the core religious convictions born of socio-religious conditioning form an early age. It might get easier for the future generations but at the moment nobody was ever taught that all religions are true and equal.
That observation is correct for me, too. I have a real trouble accepting that all religions are true and equal, that’s not how I’ve been brought up, but the guy really stakes the future of civilization on making this a common sense idea, like helping starving African children or democracy.
This week another pundit responded and he apparently has a problem with equality, too. First he has the problem with truth – all three Avraamic religions can’t all be simultaneously true. Either God is one, or He has a son and a spirit, either Mohammed is His latest prophet or not.
Religions are obviously not equal in how they are manifested, too. Some have significantly more followers, some have longer history, some appeal to the rich and some appeal to the poor, some demand more respect and some are dismissed as new age phenomena, like they did in Hungary recently. Some have moral values incompatible with modern civilization, like human sacrifices of the mayas.
Actually, there’s very little they agree upon unconditionally. Some deny God, like Buddhists, some make God very personal, like Catholics, some make God multiple manifestation of impersonal divinity, like Hindus.
What this guy proposes instead is equality of the practice, not equality of beliefs themselves. There are some moral principles, ethics that all religions subscribe to, and there are some methods of developing those that are not very different from one religion to another.
This guy brings in Dalai Lama with his book on the unity of all the religions, stressing the need to see things they have in common rather than fighting over the differences. He even quotes a verse from Mahabharata that I’ve never heard before – dharma unites people, adharma drives them away.
Then he admits being a fan of Ramakrishna, the guy who claimed to achieve perfection in practicing every religion he could lay his hands on. All the Deities in the world were eager to appear before Ramakrishna and unite with him in the bliss of devotion.
There’s even a claim that Sri Sri Banka Bihari in Vrindavan got of the altar and ran towards Ramakrishna and that’s why now they open the curtains for a very short time only.
Anyway, Ramakrishna proved that all religions of the world lead to the same goal and so all paths are equal. As far as I know he is the source of modern day pluralism. He, however, stressed bhakti as one unifying aspect of practice.
So, the second contributor to the debate refused to treat all religions as true and equal, but the best practices within them are. Ramakrishna never claimed that all religions he had mastered were equally true, he meant that bhakti works with all of them equally.
This is where I don’t really know what to say.
Is Ramakrishna some kind of religious authority? From my search through Prabhupada’s books Ramakrishna escaped being called a rascal and a cheater and we don’t have a definite word from Prabhupada how to deal with his theory. At one time, I remember Prabhupada avoided passing judgement on him and recommended to follow our path to be sure.
That’s a good point – if Ramakrishna was a real thing and a real acharya then how come no one has been able to follow his teachings and achieve similar success?
Then there’s a question of impersonalism. All his current followers are die hard impersonalists and just today sone “nonism” dude became a @fakekrishna follower on tweeter. We all come from nothing, we disappear into nothing, so we have to achieve happiness in between.
Why do they think there’s real happiness to be found between two nothings? Beats me.
Back to Ramakrishna and equality of all religions – I don’t buy it. Maybe he was a real paramahamsa and all the deities in the world were dying for his darshan, maybe he was really a messenger from the spiritual world to preach unity and equality in anticipation of globalization that came a hundred years later. Maybe he was all that but if he really thought that Sri Sri Banka Bihari came from the same source as Kali Maa I think I have all Prabupada given rights to call him a rascal and a cheat.
His teaching might have helped various religions to co-exist in the modern world but they co-exist on the shared premise that there’s no God anyway. That’s the common ground the secularists were able to put them together whether they like it or not.
Now we are forced to treat every deity equally for the sake of peace, now every deity has got equal rights, there’s no hierarchy between them anymore – they are all concoctions of the same human need to believe in higher powers or they are all permutations of the same non-differentiated Brahman.
Thanks to Ramakrishna we now have democracy among gods, too.
Why should I put up with this? Why is this approach becoming so popular? Why do I see Dalai Lama quotes in my tweetfeed, posted by devotees?
I accept that some people are very knowledgeable in their fields and so their opinions on those relevant subjects are worth quoting even if they are non-devotees, but why Dalai Lama of all people? As a religious authority he has nothing to compare to what Prabhupada taught us.
With all due respect, and I haven’t got much, I admit, I don’t see him as offering anything more than another quick fix for the problems of the material world. He doesn’t give a crap about trying to please Krishna, why should I care what he has to say? What can I learn from him I can’t learn in our parampara?
God is the witness I often try to find connections between various human endeavors and Krishna consciousness. I never found any in Dalai Lama quotes.
On the same note, I have another feed from devotees where I have noticed a slight pre-occupation with bringing peace and harmony to the world through compassion and better management. Nice try, but this is going to fail.
The only way to peace if everyone becomes Krishna conscious, otherwise it’s only a temporary cessation of hostilities.
There will be no peace until we all agree that we exist for Krishna’s pleasure and not for our own comfort.
There will be no peace in the material world and especially during Kali Yuga, why would anyone mislead people to believe it is possible? What kind of service to the humanity is this?
Is this what Prabhupada brought us Krishna consciousness for?
I believe is a gross misapplication of the best thing we could ever have in our material existence.
This rant is getting long and tedious and there’s no end in sight so I might just stop it right here.
I’ll have a fresh look at it tomorrow.