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Sharing the insights I discover as I explore and experience the mystery that is our reality. Join me in my journey and share yours.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Radhanath Swami: True Religion Transforms

                                                             Source: Google Images

 It seems religion is used by so many these days to draw boundaries. To create an us vs.  them mentality. Since leaving organized religion behind me I often reflect on how grateful I am that I am no longer raising my children to see themselves as part of an exclusive group deserving God's grace and compassion while simultaneously viewing the rest of the world as others who will someday face the fate of a fiery hell. I realize that not everyone ascribing to religions feel this way, however, so many unfortunately do.

I believe every religion has the potential in fulfilling an important purpose. In particular, they have certainly been known to inspire followers towards greater capacities of compassion and service towards others, especially towards those who are suffering.  If a religion truly does this than surely it is of great benefit to humanity. All too often, however,  we see the results of this us v. them mentality fueled by religion playing itself out in the world.The sometimes horrifying results tend to overshadow any good religion has been shown capable of doing. We see in the news and in our daily lives how particular groups use the tenants of their faith to discriminate and judge. This destructive type of group thinking produces hatred, violence, prejudice and intolerance and keeps societies from moving forward to greater levels of empathy and progress. Such a narrow and prejudicial approach forbids the flowers of compassion to blossom. Peace begins to shrivel. We have seen  this all the world over time and time again. This causes many of us to wonder, and rightly so, if religion is ever a good thing at all.
I recently listened to a lecture by Radhanath Swami called "The Essence of Religions". It was spoken at a Unitarian Universalist church. I can honestly say Radhanath Swami had me at the edge of my seat the entire 58 minutes. He is an amazing speaker. His talk stirred my heart more than any sermon I had ever heard.  I couldn't help but  to think, while listening, that this is a man who truly has been touched with the knowledge of God.

I'd like to just share some short excerpts from his lecture. I found them heart-stirring and thought-provoking and think you will as well. First, though, I'd like to just paraphrase a short story that he shared near the beginning of the video. 

While he was in India, a friend of his, Narayan Prasad, would take him to his friend's office every day for an hour. Narayan came from the Hindu tradition while his friend, Muhummad, was Muslim and Radhanath Swami at the time did not ascribe to any particular tradition at all. They would all talk with one another sharing their various beliefs. Their exchange was one of mutual interest and did not involve one trying to convert the other. They all perceived that they had something to learn from each other rather than feeling they had something to prove to one another. Radhanath Swami described their discussions as illuminating. I can't help but wonder what this world would look like if more people, from various faiths, would get together and have such open-minded discussions!

One day, while Radhanath Swami and Narayan were talking along the Ganges river, he asked his friend, "How is it in a country where there is such ...violence between Hindus and Muslims you two are best friends?"

His friend answered, "A dog will recognize His master in whatever way the master dresses. The master might be in a tuxedo, in blue jeans and a t-shirt, in his underwear or no clothing at all. But the dog will recognize and love the master. If we cannot recognize our master, or God, when the Lord comes in different dresses to different people in different times and places, than we are lower than the dog. Than we have so much to learn from the dog."

I found that to be an extremely poignant remark. (Note: I think my atheist friends could easily replace "God" with "Truth.) Regardless if one believes that God, Himself, in personal form, comes down to communicate with man, I think many of us will recognize that the many figures of faith coming from the various traditions all had recognized some inherent truths that are universal. And it is these universal, transcendental truths that Radhanath Swami says are at the heart of and are the essence of all the religions.

"True religion is meant to bring about universal transformations." Radhanath Swami shared with listeners at his lecture. He went on to say, "In my searching... although I found very different philosophical interpretations, very different rituals, very different types of packaging of spirituality- I found that those who really sincerely went deep, they had very similar qualities.”  Examples of universal religious principals that Radhanath Swami gave were: love, forgiveness, tolerance and compassion.

I would highly recommend watching the complete lecture. You can view it here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygQ-n50bZbI. I will conclude this post with sharing some reflections from Radhanath Swami that are densely packed with truth and understanding.

"When the ego rules over our consciousness it can create conflict and hatred politically...but the most dangerous dimension is when the ego comes into religion because we can take religious texts, religious traditions, and utilize them to give absolute authority to our ego. Now I hate you, now I am right and you are wrong and I have the power of God and you are dangerous to the world....

Spirituality is the greatest power. When it is in good hands it has the greatest benefits. When it is in the wrong hands it can have the greatest damage. There is a very very dire importance to understand what is the essence of religion. In a very broad sense it is to transform our consciousness from arrogance to humility. From vengeance to forgiveness. From
greed to generosity. And most of all, it is meant to connect us to the love within us so that we might be instruments of compassion in everything we do. This is the universal principle of religion. To absorb ourselves in the love of God and to be truly and genuinely compassionate to all living things...

Wherever we find the love of God that is broad and deep and induces us to be truly compassionate and make sacrifices for the welfare of others. That is where truth is. That is real religion. It is not about being a Muslim or a Jew...It is about loving God. It is about connecting to that higher experience of love within our heart and being an instrument of compassion within this world. That is the essence and that is the greatest need..."

Thoughts? I'd love to hear them! Please share in the comments section! Thank you!