Philosophy, Mythology, Spirituality, and Transformational Wisdom
Monday, June 17, 2013
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
[A version of this article was originally published in the July/August 2013 edition of Unity Magazine in the "A to Zen" column, and is reprinted here with permission.]
“Truth is One, the sages call it by many names.” – Rig Veda
Religion is the ugliest thing in the world.
Religion is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Even a cursory glance at human history reveals a long parade of pain, often driven by the drumbeat of religious arrogance and ideological fanaticism. From prehistory to today’s headlines, drop the needle anywhere on the sad record of human affairs and a mournful noise threatens to drown out the fragile beauty of the world. Again and again the spiritual insights of brilliant teachers were pounded into oppressive ideologies by fearful overlords. The alloys of our compassionate wisdom were forged into swords by the fires of hatred. Crusades, conquests, tribal genocides and ethnic cleansings have always been with us. It’s easy to sympathize with John Lennon in his immortal classic Imagine as he wonders if the human race would be better off without religion. But even in the midst of the Holocaust, Anne Frank saw something bright and everlasting through the vale of tears. “In spite of everything,” she wrote, “I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Incalculable human suffering is rooted in religious and ideological acrimony, but a contrary fact is also true: the cure for the disease of hatred and violence is found within the principles and practices of the world’s religions. People with deep religious and spiritual convictions do enormous good in the world. Because of their experiential knowing that something sacred and profoundly real is at work in the world (some call it God), religious and spiritual people are willing to emerge from their comfortable cocoons and join together with others in communities defined by purpose, sacred service and right action. They are willing, often at great risk to themselves, to help others. As an antidote is crafted from poison, religion is both the disease and the cure.
As both a blessing and curse, the paradoxical nature of religion has caused great confusion and, in some, debilitating apathy. No matter how you slice it, religion is a many-headed Hydra that defies simple classification. You’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Horrors and beauties abound. It all depends on what you’re looking for.
What we intend to search for in this column is evidence that religion and spirituality in all its many forms offers the best and brightest hope for spurring humankind toward an awakening – an awakening that draws us toward the manifestation of our highest good both as individuals and as a whole. We will comb the world’s wisdom traditions from the Vedas to the Qu’ran, from the Gita to the Torah, from Patanjali to Pythagoras, from the Tao te Ching to the Dhamapada, from the Gospels to the Simpsons – in short, everything from A to Zen. We know, as the Vedas proclaimed three thousand years ago, that “Truth is One – the sages call it by many names,” and no matter where we look, we will find gold.
Truth may be One, but religions are not all the same. They emphasize different facets of the human dilemma, they are founded on often wildly conflicting assertions about human nature and the nature of the universe, they are crafted from different levels of consciousness, they seek specific solutions to specific cultural, social and historical contexts that may no longer exist. But despite the differing surface inflections, there is an underlying unity beneath the waves. It is our goal to look below the surface and find that underlying unity. Despite the apparent cacophony, the great religions of the world are echoes of one ancient song, a song best sung in the here and now by all of us raising our beautiful, disparate voices together as one.