Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try
No hell below us, above us, only skies
Imagine all the people living for today,
Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do
-John Lennon, “Imagine”
Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) was not a Buddhist, Jesus of Nazareth not a Christian, Muhammad not a Muslim. Yet all three founded world religions while thinking of themselves primarily as reformers. Hinduism was influenced by Buddhism, and Buddhism exported Hinduism worldwide. Christianity includes Judaism, and Jewish people have been irreversibly impacted by Christianity. Islam was strongly influenced by Judaism and Christianity, which were, in turn, permanently altered by Islam.
No faith can be fully appreciated until it interacts with other faiths and starts to blend with them. Very often, people grow up with a specific religion and never even question it until they go off to college. Many people then lose their faith, only to revive it in another form after a vital encounter with another tradition.
Is there one faith that might act as a superset of all other faiths, including humanism? The Hindus referral to Santana Dharma, and modern mystics speak of the Perennial Philosophy. Is there an inner core common to all faiths that might inspire universal consciousness?
Globalization has accelerated since the 1980’s, having begun by European and American imperialism and colonialism. After the decline of the Cold War, China, Russia and India all entered the free market. Immigration increased throughout the world.
All faiths are in the process of coming together in a universal consciousness. In many U.S. cities, you will find cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, temples, ashrams and shrines.
Many Americans now actively explore Eastern traditions. Hindus have grown to 1% of the U.S. population. As a consequence, India has become increasingly pro-America and adapted Western conventions.
It used to be a simple choice of Protestant, Catholic or Jew. Now it includes Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Baha’i, Taoist, Humanist, Mystic or “Spiritual, But Not religious.” Today’s college students have a bewildering number of options. If they stay with the faith of their childhood, they will most certainly adopt a broader perspective.
Every faith tradition is sufficient for transformation, variously called awakening, realization or being born again. For example, in the Sufi tradition of Islam, you can go all the way through to the very highest realizations of Hinduism and Buddhism. However, no one tradition, including Christianity and Islam, is truly complete, as other traditions reveal subtle nuances of the Supreme Identity and Transcendent Mystery we call “God.”
For example, I was raised a devout Christian and endeavored to evangelize my peers. After going through college, I deepened my respect for other traditions and began to study them. After working with South Asians for several years, I began to feel that Hinduism was superior to every other tradition. Yet ironically, it led my back to a whole new appreciation of Christ.
After immersing myself for decades in Eastern traditions, I am now convinced that the Western traditions need the Eastern, and vice versa. Ironically, I was first led to the East while studying at Cal Berkeley. I was most influenced there by Jewish students and faculty. Baba Ram Dass was an early example, who, while remaining ethnically a Jew, is truly a Hindu.
All great traditions show evidence of being initiated by mystics: Moses with the burning bush, Buddha with enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree, Christ baptized in the River Jordan, Mohammad hearing the voice of Gabriel and Guru Nanak in the river with the realization there is neither Hindu nor Muslim.
Mysticism is the direct experience of God beyond rational thought. Many people who ingest the most powerful entheogens, such as 5MeO DMT, find that the only word that comes close to what they encounter is “God.” They encounter the transcendent in a deeply personal way that obliterates all doubt.
A new generation places a premium on spirituality over religion. Spirituality focuses on the practice of religious tenants with an eye to transformation. It is what the Eastern Orthodox churches has referred to as divinization, literally becoming divine. Today, nothing else will do.
Faith is simultaneously the most unifying and divisive force ever known. Economics, politics and society can only go so far. Faith touches the unmanifest, that which lies just beyond the senses. It is far more than a belief system. It is an integral way of being that touches every aspect of our lives. It is only within that context that we can realize that we truly are all brothers and sisters.
While every tradition is expanding to touch and include others, each tradition has a long way to go. We can see this in Pope Francis I’s thrust on deep ecumenism outside the Christian faith. It is no longer simply a dialogue with Protestant and Orthodox Christians, but of Jewish people, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists… even humanists.
With the environmental crisis pressing upon us from all directions, along with religious terrorism the new norm and the global economy increasingly fragile, we need a higher court of appeal. Fortunately, mysticism is no longer limited to a few hundred or thousand people, but involves hundreds of thousands, even millions of people.
Imagine that every single religion and philosophy offers a unique piece of the puzzle. What is the full face of God? Only until we contrast the various traditions does the nature of God come into sharp focus. The East stresses wisdom teaching and insight, while the West everyday experience interpreted through revelation.
Judaism contributes a sense of destiny, Hinduism a sense of the divine presence everywhere, Buddhism a deep appreciation of the central role of transformation, Christianity a recognition of the ultimate power of divine love and Islam absolute unity.
Every great tradition is already growing into all the others. What will such a superstructure look like? With the United Religious Initiative and the World Parliament of Religion, people are insisting upon a greater and greater God. No more a vengeful deity on a golden throne throwing down thunderbolts.
Most importantly, a universal faith will allow anyone at any time to tap into infinite, absolute love that overcomes all obstacles. It takes a transformed consciousness to live the Sermon on the Mount, to actually love your enemy. Only with full maturation do Christians, and even Buddhists, approach that level.
For most of us, it is a matter of presencing God, of simply invoking His or Her Presence. Over time, this is surprisingly effective. Neale Donald Walsch taught us all to have our own “conversation with God.” He maintains that God is always speaking to us in many different ways, through synchronicity, dreams, other people, words and ideas. We simply need to start listening.
Divine Love will triumph in the end, as there really is no other alternative. If God is Love, then Love is God. We all know what love is. We are just foggy on how to access it and freely share it. When the pain of clinging to unworkable lifeways becomes unbearable, we will all let go and let God. As the Qur’an puts it, God is closer to us than our jugular vein. We simply need shift our gaze from outward to inward. We will then find our only true and ultimate Self IS God.