Those closest to me (and many of those who aren’t so close to me, thanks to the wonderful advent of social media) know that I am deeply interested in philosophy, religion, theology, and the like. For most of my life up to this point, that has meant exploring the Christian tradition I was raised in despite the fact that I have believed for years now that all religions contain divine truth. Now, however, as I approach my twenty-ninth year, I have reached a point where I am no longer trying to hold on to my faith. What I mean to say is that I have grappled with questions surrounding my own Christian identity throughout most of my twenties and have discovered that faith that must be constantly grasped and clung to isn’t really faith.
This is not to say that I have abandoned Christianity in any sense, but that I feel (notice I did not say “believe”) that whatever those of us who use such language mean when we speak of God or of the Divine cannot be contained within the confines of any one religion or book or, God-help-us, dogma. Instead, for my part, I have decided that I will let the Spirit blow my intellectual and spiritual curiosity wherever it will. I now float in my faith rather than grasp at it, to paraphrase the philosopher Alan Watts.
There is a book entitled “The Bible of the World” that has been sitting rather neglected on one of my bookshelves for quite sometime. It is a considerably old book, at least from my perspective. It was published in 1939 under the editorial guidance of Robert O. Ballou and contains English translations of many of the world’s major religious texts. I am currently making my way, albeit more slowly than I’d like, through the section containing a selection of Hindu texts. While my study of Christian theology and first-hand Christian experience has taught me that a religion is much more than its own revered books, reading through the Hindu scriptures has, over the past few days, filled me with incredible peace.
I’ve found the two following selections particularly beautiful.
“Even in bondage thou shalt live with the virtuous, the erudite, and the truthful; but not for a kingdom shalt thou stay with the wicked and malicious. The vile are ever prone to detect the faults of others, though they be as small as mustard seeds, and persistently shut their eyes against their own, though they be as large as Vilva fruits.” This was taken from the Garuda Purana. Obviously, I can’t help but notice the similarity to the words of Jesus in the Book of Matthew when he asked, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). It makes me wonder to what extent Christ and the biblical writers were exposed to the predating Eastern philosophy of the Indian people. It also begs the question of why is it that if these themes are so well-entrenched into all of the world’s religious traditions that we have such a hard time applying them in our daily lives? I can’t help but feel a tinge of guilt as I know that the capacity to judge others is definitely within me, even as I often give myself a pass on my own faults, much to my own detriment.
I was also especially struck by this passage in the Vishnu Purana:
“It should therefore be the assiduous endeavor of wise men to attain unto God. He dwelleth eternally in all beings and all things dwell in him; and thence the lord Vasudeva is the creator and preserver of the world. He, though identical with all beings, is beyond and separate from material nature, from its products, from properties and from imperfections; he is beyond all investing substance; he is universal soul; all the interstices of the universe are filled up by him; he is one with all good qualities; and all created beings are endowed with but a small portion of his individuality. Assuming various shapes, he bestows benefits on the whole world, which was his work. Glory, might, dominion, wisdom, energy, power and other attributes are collected in him. Supreme of the supreme, in whom no imperfections abide, lord over finite and infinite, god in individuals and universals, visible and invisible, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty. The wisdom, perfect, pure, supreme, undefiled and one only by which he is conceived, contemplated and known: That is wisdom. All else is ignorance.”
A final note on this blog update. I’m in no way claiming to be an expert on comparative religion or anything of the sort. I am very much a student of these things and have much to learn. If anyone who considers themselves a member of the Hindu tradition should read this, know that if I have incorrectly made any assumptions, misstatements, or have presented any un-truths about that faith that such things were done out of my own ignorance, not out of any sort of willful maliciousness. I only wanted to share with my own small readership that which I had learned today.