Universality of Religion

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Siva Speaks to the Nation on All India Radio

"Blessed Immortal Selves!

May the joy of oneness and the peace of God-will infill you all! In this world of phenomenon, the general rule is that the subtle is veiled or covered over by the gross. The truth or the inner essence of anything is hidden by its outward appearance. The tattwa is hidden by the nama, name, and roopa, form.

To perceive the inner truth, the underlying essence, you will have to combine observation with discrimination and impartial enquiry. If you fail to do this, you will get but a superficial glimpse of things and miss the substance thereof.

Religion is no exception to this rule. The real import is not properly understood by a great many, precisely because of the above-mentioned reason. A sincere enquiry into the true implication of religion is conspicuous by its absence. Thus religion, from being rightly understood in its true light as the greatest common factor and universally unifying force in the world, has come to be misunderstood and misconstrued as a disruptive element that is at the bottom of many a quarrel, conflict and warfare, too.

Many would readily quote history, remote as well as recent, to support this opinion. The term universality with reference to religion will perhaps evoke a skeptic smile in many. I would laugh at such skepticism, for they err in the same way as a man seeing a coloured Diwali lamp takes the external coloured glass to be the real lamp and fails to perceive the pure light.

The same inner process

Universality is the greatest characteristic of true religion. This fact is not affected by the vote or opinion of the non-discriminating men. When I say 'true religion', I mean religion in its pure essentials and not its conventional conceptions. The universality of religion does not lie in the rituals, external marks or traditional observances, nor in the personal apparel and social customs adopted by followers of particular aspects of religious life. These are but its ever changeable surface appearances.

A little reflection and enquiry will reveal to us the un­mistakable truth that religion is the root impulse in the heart of every human being. Religious sense is one that is common to the entire mankind, because this religious sense or religious feeling springs out of the very fact of your being a man. At its basis religion constitutes the primal spiritual 'urge to self-awareness' of the eternal principle in man. This principle throbs in the heart of all.

All religions and faiths that ever existed and exist today are but slightly varying processes for the development and consummation of this fundamental universal urge towards the one infinite source and origin of all life. It is, therefore, the one fundamental aspect of human consciousness.

All the other aspects of man's consciousness, such as that of sex, age, caste, parentage, pedigree and power, religious group or political party, are acquired by the individual later on in life as he grows up and develops individuality and becomes an adult. These aspects depend upon factors external to him. They change when things change. They also change when the individual alters his thoughts, mode of living, or his philosophy and view of life.

A Hindu youth falls in love with and marries a Christian girl. He begins to live and move like a Christian. An Indonesian lady marries a Hindu and begins to feel entirely like a Hindu lady. A Japanese professor domiciled in America voluntarily becomes a citizen of the USA. After some years he becomes oblivious of his previous political consciousness. Count Leo Tolstoy, the high nobleman, completely transformed himself into a peasant. We see how these outer layers or upadhis (as the Sanskrit term goes) are easily shed by man as they are later acquired from this world. But you cannot shake off your soul-consciousness, as this matter springs from the depths of your nature within.

Real religion is the method of awakening and making manifest this soul-consciousness. At different times in human history divinely inspired beings, prophets and world teachers appear and present their selfsame method of inward awakening and attainment in a form peculiarly suited to the need of the people of that time. But always the aim and the inner process has been, is now, and will forever be, the same to all mankind everywhere and at all times.

The spiritual being of man is the atman. This atman is sat-chit-ananda. It is also ineffable peace. Aayam atma shanto, Shivam Shubham, Sundaram, Shantam, Advaitam – Peaceful, auspicious, the best, beauty, radiance, non-dual: such is the nature of the atmic experience. To manifest these is, therefore, the essence of true religion. It is the concern of religion to eliminate the evil in man's personality and to develop in him all that is sublime, good, auspicious and beautiful.

Religion does this by first laying down upon the seeker the practice of a perfect good life. All religion is based on the foundation of sadachar. Moral rectitude and ethical perfection form the universal basis of every religion the world has seen so far. Be good, do good, be kind, be pure, be compassionate, be tolerant, serve, love, give, form its prime principles. One important aspect of universality is thus found in the starting rungs of its practical ascent. The beautiful anecdote of Abu-ben-Adam, the moving story of Ranti Deva, the biblical narrative of the good Samaritan and the sublime depiction of Gautama the Buddha at the sacrifice of King Bimbisara, serve to bring out most beautifully and effectively the universal nature of the true essential religious consciousness.

The unvarying insistence upon the practical acquirement of the daivi sampat or godly traits like purity, truth, compassion, universal love, forbearance, humility, absence of anger, spirit of brotherhood, self-denial, selfless service and sacrifice, forms yet another beautiful golden bond of universalism in practical religious life. The conquest of brute passions, of passion and sensuality, control of the senses and the renunciation of greed, covetousness, attachments, desires, pride and egoism, which go to form the indispensable part of practical religion, are further aspects of universal prevalence in the true religious life.

Self-expression

Real religion awakens man to the consciousness of the unity of all existence and a perception of one spiritual essence that pervades everywhere and indwells every being. To bestow the highest perfection, the highest knowledge and the highest bliss of self-experience is the meaning of life. The craving for knowledge, for undiminishing joy and abiding peace is inherent in every human being. The unceasing struggle, consciously or otherwise, to attain the above state is part and parcel of life.

To bestow the bliss of this attainment is the main concern of religion. Thus its universality is seen in the fact of its being the root urge throbbing in the heart of all human kind and of human life being the active expression of this urge. Its universality further lies in the fact that in its fundamentals the round-up of world religions reveals but a single, simple pathway to blissful unity, the pathway to peace, here and hereafter, to brotherhood and universal self-hood. Isa vasyam idam sarvam; Sarvam brahma mayam are expressions of this experience.

The religious sense, therefore, makes all mankind kin. It enfolds all mankind in a warm embrace of spiritual oneness. Such unification alone could be vital, effective and abiding; for, through religion you link up man to man at the deepest abiding and essential root part of his spiritual personality. This consciousness interpenetrates the entire humanity like a beautiful golden thread running silently through all the numerous gems of variegated hue that go to make a necklace. No conflict or divergence in any superficial part of man has any power to mar this sweet spiritual unity, if only you wake up to a full appreciation of this fundamental fact.

When religion is thus perceived in its true essence, the Christian, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jain and the Parsee will feel themselves not as any particular religionists but as brother-souls proceeding together in perfect harmony along the pathway to perfection and bliss. They will feel their identity of aspirations, of the inner sadhana and the identity of their spiritual aim. The right view of religion will unfailingly make it into a powerful unifying factor by making the entire mankind feel as one through perfect identity of aspiration, endeavour and ultimate attainment.

Blessed self, understand, therefore, the true import of religion. Know religion in its proper light. Let not personal bias, force of conventions, or opinions of fanatic or dogmatic persons, blind your vision into a narrow view of religion. Embrace, therefore, this religion of heart that helps to link you with the one common source and origin of all existence. Religion is one for all human beings. It is one, universal and eternal. May peace, oneness and bliss be yours. May the One God, the Supreme Being, lead us all from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light, from mortality to immortality."

—6 November 1950, Delhi, From Sivananda's Lectures, during All-India and Ceylon Tour – 1950, Chronicler Swami Venkatesananda