This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studying Theology, her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.
How does a religions start? There is a Wise One and he has great spiritual insights, mystical experience, deep awareness of that Ultimate Reality beyond normal ken, which we call Spirit, in opposition to matter.
These Wise Ones, from their experience and their perspective of existence try to make ordinary people understand, what they saw, what they experienced, furthermore they use language that can be understood by the people they talk to!
So far so good, but then there are two path, of how these became world-religions.
Let's start with one:
The Wise Ones, usually imparted this knowledge to a few select people, (we can take the Rishis as example, or Buddha, or Jesus the Christ). They found, that what they saw in society which, of course, followed the then current 'paradigms', did not fit their experience. They expressed their malcontent; they showed the people they met... what was wrong with the leading paradigm and how there was a mis-match between their insights, their experience , their perception... and their thinking - and what was going on in society (i.e. most people).
Just like leading philosophers they pointed out untruth - and taught truth according to their experience. And people understood, or not, but word spread to more and more people, even those that were not prepared to understand the deeper meaning of what the "rebellious teacher " taught. Many flocked around them and listened.
Now the teacher dies, of old age, of persecution , or what have you - and what happens? The people that heard the teaching... try to capture his words, his spirit and preserve it for "generations to come". Next they collect stories that happened around these Masters, or what might have happened to these Masters and add them. Of course they only know the Master... not his childhood, or bio data - computers were not invented (neither were data-banks!)
So they make up likely stories, a mixture between that which had been heard, whispered and that which could be true and was meaningful in that culture etc. The whole bundle was then cast... i.e. written down. Now it was fixed! Nobody could doubt or change it. It was now "cast in stone"; i.e. this is the way it was...and you better belief it. People heard the stories on their travels and took them home... they even exchanged scripture... from one culture into the other... and gradually the canon grew and calcified.
Often, when it then reached the nobility, the influential group in society, even the kings - the whole "collection" made a quantum leap. Once a king declared the religion as his... it frequently became and was declared as " his state religion..." which often meant, his subjects had to follow it... else one "want to have one's head chopped off!" A state- religion is truly fixed.
Now of course this is a cartoon, but cartoons carry truth. This is in essence the history of many of the "World Religions".
Go back... be clear. At the beginning there is a Wise One, who has insight... when this becomes fixed, embroiled and unchangeable, it becomes a religion.
Wait: the original content was a spiritual experience, even a personal "truth", but now that the form is fixed... and backed up by power - it definitely becomes a religion (i.e. binding people to some structure, organisation). This means the personal truth of a moment in time, the experience of one or several individuals... is cast into an unchangeable form.
The same pattern we find in the most unexpected corners. For example: the wise ones of ancient India, the rishis... so I am told, went so deep into meditation that they heard the vibration of energy that different objects are. Listen... can you hear... the sound vibration of the carpet? The rishis could, and they caught that sound... and it repeated it and from it came the word for "carpet".
Please be aware that again this is a "teaching-cartoon", not to be taken for the absolute truth - of a scholar. Happily in oral traditions this "language, created by sound vibrations, carried on over millennia; a living language. But at some point the grammarian comes, gets hold of it... and cast it in irrefutable rules and patterns of a language; meaning now language becomes calcified and stuck to such a degree, that one of India's greatest poets of the Bhakti movement, Kabir could sing: "Sanskrit is the stagnant water of the lords private well 'whereas' the spoken language is the rippling water of the running stream".
So language too can follow the same path, and become: something that binds the spiritual experience into a form, to be adhered to i.e. it becomes ... a religion.
Anyway... back to the red thread, we are following with these articles:
There is an experience, a truth... which then is clad into words and socio -cultural frame of a particular area/country or people, for them to understand.
Now what happens? As soon as this is mixed with the power of rulers, or the zealous of conquerors... then not only me and my people have to accept what is said and written... but others have too. Moreover, this is not just my private insight cast into a frame, my private religion, but worse, it becomes a power-tool to spread or enlarge my zone of power.
In the extreme concepts arise like: we, the ones who are part of this religion, are the chosen ones... who can understand and live this ways...and others are not, which makes them inferior... and, even so much so, that I can take their land and kill them.
Or in a lesser version: others must believe what I believe... because only the way the truth has been phrased by my prophet can be the real expression. This had such strange forms in the past.
For example, indigenous people all over the globe were told, that their spiritual experience and expression is wrong...they have to leave it. So then, because now they have none, they need my saviour; my religion; my God.
Stories of Missionary cruelty abound across the globe.
As religions grew... their ideology of power over others grew too; power now took the place of truth. Many of the most powerful "World-religions" of the past, followed this crazy path.
But yes there are "less cruel variants" of such autocratic behaviour. For example after the last Tsunami and the conditions it caused, there is much evidence of religious associations offering help, medicines etc. "only... if you follow my faith..."
It reminds me of dinosaurs. A dinosaur had a huge body, so there was enormous powerful movement, but a very small brain. This prevented him from adapting to the changes in the environment... sometimes they were first superseded by other versions of themselves, i.e. bigger versions; eventually they simply died out. World Religions in my perception are on the same path. We are living in a time where the first step on this path is happening; the world-religions are being superseded by a new religion: Materialism. The next step ... we await.
Now let's look at a different path to become a World-Religion.
Start with going back to how the mind was shaped by climatic and social conditions... and in time generated a perception of Gods and religions... in correspondence to their experience; we talked about in the part of this series.
The so called religions of Asia... had a different path... They became world religions... for very different reasons. If we take Confucianism and Taoism for example: they arose in China, a country with a huge population. By sheer numbers of people these have become world religions.
The Chinese people have always been traders, from ancient times they travelled along the silk route, and all over the oceans; they migrated. So via commerce and simply by living and taking their so called religion with them... they spread it across the globe.
Hinduism is another case... but permit me to leave it out right now...suffice here to say, that like China, Indians have travelled and settled around the globe bringing their faith with them.
Jainism is a religion that for a long time has shrunk because of the severity of its asceticism; not long ago, there were barely a million or so people adhering to the faith, but then recently they are increasing, probably due to the strong emphasis on non-violence... in a world that is suffocating in violence.
Buddhism is the real interesting different story. It has all marks of a world-religion... and yet it did not follow the path the western models did. But then one could argue that Buddhism isn't really a Religion.
In my personal opinion, the amazing success of Buddhism in the global picture comes because it has remained flexible and appears sometimes as a religion, imbued with a certain cultural and its frame; sometimes it is a very abstract philosophy... and at other times it is simple lived spirituality... without any formal structure...or becomes so earth bound that it resembles a shamanic tradition.
When we look at a website on world religion, of course we find many, many... from the smallest... have never heard of... to the largest. So "world- religions" as a word, as a technical term, can also mean: not those that have spread around the globe by missionary effort, but those that can be found on the globe. Well that then, in a global society becomes an almost meaningless term... because where else would be find these religions. Of course on the globe... we call earth.
When we talk here of "world-religion" mostly it refers to those religions that have... reached sizable distribution across the globe; i.e. much beyond their original home-land; or culture.
According to Wikipedia, the most global religion is Christianity (with 33 % of the population adhering to it), with Islam following it with 21 % and Hinduism only a surprising 13% despite the vast population of India. The latter data has actually a "funny origin". When the first consensuses where conducted in India, it had of course a question like: what Religion you belong to. And very few people living on the Indian landmass, entered Hinduism. According to the first few poles... very few people in India saw themselves as Hindus. And that is not that long ago. May be 100 years ago.
It is no surprise that the fastest growing religion is Islam. It has 1.36 billion members....another chart says... There are 2.30 billion Christians in the world; and even now, low and behold almost half belong to the Catholic Church, which even now is growing fast, especially in Africa and Asia. Who would have thought?
If we just play a number game... after Islam, the next ones in line today are (what is today called) Hinduism with 900 Million and Buddhism 360 Million members. The problem is not that the globe has "many religions", nor that there are some powerful mass-religions... the problem lies in the understanding of religion itself.
Remember there are founders with experiences and insight, and then there are followers which cement what they understood - the wise one has said. (So now we already twice removed...from the experience); then there comes the organisation... who decides...what of that which the disciples have understood is supposed be propagated; and then that is made into an Absolute Truth; at least within the culture of that very religion.
Now when the religion spreads, this consideration of "Absolute Truth"... walks with them. Which leads to my culture, my religious form is better than yours. Here is where the conflict comes from. When I take the stand that my truth is Absolute... then I do not allow someone else to have their Truth. On the philosophical level... it is right "Absolute" can only be "one"... and that has no form. Because, it is absolute. So If a religion claims to have absolute truth, they mean the "only" truth...That's when it gets dangerous, because it is exclusive and thus confrontational.
The further removed from the original experience... the more words and codes are needed. Someone said something like: The further away we move from God, the more words we need to convince ourselves and others that he/she exists.
That's the problem. And now a crazy thought: This gets aggravated as long as one believes in the paradigm of matter! Then we get religious materialism. My word is solid truth! My rules are solid truth. Religion and materialism are a deadly combination.
Let me paint a picture which will show there is another way. Conquering or persuading is not the only way. The other way, necessitates that we change our mind-set away from materialistic thinking...which includes the thought of the "survival of the fittest, strongest!"
In many spiritual traditions we have the image that the world is like a cosmic being; a cosmic humanoid. So this great cosmic being (let's call it the Cosmic Christ, or cosmic Purusha etc.) is thought of by conditioned mind as a body (hence it includes the reference to body... human body moreover our body!
Now change the vision; look in the body... not at the body! Look beyond the appearance of matter -i.e. body! Just like looking through a huge microscope at matter and see nothing but small particles... or even further...: seeing space with pure light or energy... In this way let's look at the cosmic body.
Now the manifest, what we call physical body has trillions of cells every cell that is part of the human body is an independent, intelligent, sentient being that when given a proper environment, is self-sufficient. However for greater efficiency they have bunched together and crowed together under one skin forming ... incredible varieties of clusters of cells that have taken on specific jobs. I.e. liver cells purify! Muscle cells move! Nerve- cells communicate etc. So although cells are cells they have special interests and they share as members of a certain community their task for greater efficiency in the entire body. They become specialised, have different cultures, with different abilities for greater efficiency of the common good.
A liver culture, a bone culture, a kidney culture - all are such different communities; working together, to help the total community, we can call body, to function more efficiently. Key is not competition but exchange of information!
Now transfer this to the idea of the "cosmic body" of the world... We have all different ways, different cultures; societies of equally able human beings. Each society, each culture, even each religion... can take on a special way of life; enriching the rest. They could all work together just as in the physical body, in order to help the total community of earthlings function more efficiently and evolve more intelligently. Our cells can teach us how to co-operate!
Now imagine what happens in your body, when the liver cells refuse co-operation with the gallbladder; the lungs refuse co-operation with the heart. Instead the gallbladder -cells invade the liver and says: only the rule of bile goes. You have no right dear liver to produce anymore liver cells!
What if the alveoli in the lungs suddenly grow and invade the heart... and tell the heart "stop pumping blood... only alveoli are allowed to reign".
Surely the body would not last very long. In fact the intelligent behaviour of the cells being lost is what we call cancer.
The earth-body, the cosmic body of over-all existence; call it the global society... had to live and is living even now with rampant going "cells" as well as clusters of cells.
Whether conventional religions zeal or materialism... collectively, we are actually behaving like what in our body is called cancer. This is vastly contributing to the suicidal path of humanity.
We have to switch and learn from our own body. Doesn't it say in the Vedas (and many other spiritual books) "as above so below". Our world according to many religious traditions including new sciences teach us to see, that the same patterns, the same laws apply in the body as well as in the world and the cosmos at large. Then live by it!
Cells in our body co-operate. Let societies and cultures learn to co-operate. Help the religions of the world to co-operate.
Only with such co-operation is there a future for anyone them; or better: any one of us!
Again I point to the lesson from the new sciences is, that it is not the survival of the fittest that leads to the greatest flourishing; it's the survival of the one that can co-operate most intelligently with all others. To reach deep peace, to reach spiritual maturity is not achieved by one religion dominating others... but by harmony and co-operation... with the freedom to choose.
That means: not my way, not my tradition, not my culture, not my business, not my religion is stronger or better...
But love and tolerance in mutual co-operation... that is the strongest! That is what lasts and that is what evolves to the highest goal.... To return to the Source, of whatever name and cultural frame.