All over the world we have come across more than 4000 religions and many spiritual paths, each with their own set of commandments or spiritual guidelines that are preached to their masses of followers. Spirituality however is not about being fundamentalistic and attaching vehemently to any one specific religion while condoning others, but about trying to look within ourself so that we can self-discover our common truth that unites all of us. Here are some of the beliefs and guidelines of some popular religions so that we can try to see a common thread.
1. Christ: Believers of Jesus Christ follow his teachings which were revolutionary at his time. Jesus emphases inner purity instead of outer ritual, and love as the mark of being his follower. He stated that God is Spirit, we are truly baptised by Spirit and converted by being like little children and that the Kingdom of God is within us. Instead of ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ Jesus discouraged any form of revenge or retaliation. Similarly instead of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy, he stated ‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’ (Matthew 5.33-44). He mentioned that some of the older laws such as allowing man to unilaterally divorce his wife, were given by Moses to his followers due to the ‘hardness of their hearts’ (Matthew 19) and may not be relevant at all times. As the supreme commandment he emphasised loving God with all your mind, heart, strength and soul, and loving others as yourself, (Matthew 22.37-40 Mark 12.30-31, Luke 10.27) this being the commandment through which all Laws and Prophets are fulfilled. As a new commandment he stated ‘to love each other as I have loved you’ (John 13.34). In short the essence of his teachings was simply Unconditional Love that overrides all other laws.
2. Moses: The major ancient commandments as mentioned in the laws of Moses and followed by most Catholics, Protestants and Jews can be summarised as the ten primary commandments. (i) Believing that God or creator is the same for everyone (ii) Recognizing God as beyond all limited forms or images (iii) Not misusing the name of God for any evil deed (iv) To set aside time for rest and spirituality (v) Honouring our parents (vi) Not killing (vii) Not committing sexual misconduct (viii) Not stealing (ix) Not bearing false witness, and (x) Not to be greedy or to covet what belongs to others. (There are several laws in Torah and there are differences between various denominations of these religions concerning the exact laws and commandments. The version presented here is a simplified derivation by the author)
3. Hindu: Hindus believe that various male and female representations of God are helpful in teaching us positive virtues through its numerous scriptures and mythologies. The prime belief in Sanatana Dharma or eternal law is the Law of Karma which states that all of our actions bring forth their own unique results. As per the Law of Karma all our physical and mental actions are Karma, therefore purity of mind, heart, words and thoughts alead us to a peaceful and happy existence. A good deed or purification ritual does not automatically cancel out the fruits of our harmful deeds as each karma bears its own fruit as it ripens. Those fruits that do not ripen within one lifetime might repeatedly manifest in other existences through reincarnation on earth, other planets or other dimensions until we learn our lessons and stop performing negative karma. Moksha or liberation from karmic cycles of life and death is based on meditation and inner spiritual focus that leads to a detachment from all worldly pursuits such as Dharma (religious), Artha (material) and Kama (sensual) desires. This means performing our work righteously in all these spheres of life without attachment to the fruit of our effort.
4. Buddha: The Buddha taught that all suffering is rooted in ignorant deeds and can end through following the Eight-fold path or the middle path of meditation, which includes: Right Views (inner perspective), Right Thoughts (inner wisdom), Right Conduct (inner morality), Right Livelihood (inner ethics), Right Effort (inner choice of actions), Right Mindfulness (inner peace) and Right Meditation (inner spirituality). To supplement Buddha’s teachings, the five precepts or ethical guidelines generally followed by Buddhists include (i) Not killing (ii) Not stealing (iii) Refraining from sexual misconduct (iv) Refrain from incorrect speech (v) Refraining from intoxication.
5. Sikh: Followers of Sikh gurus believe in Five core virtues of (i) Sat (Truth), (ii) Daya (Compassion), (iii) Santosh (Contentment), (iv) Namrata (Humility), and (v) Pyaar (Love). According to Sikh religion God is One (Ek Omkaar) and Truth (name of Truth) that fulfils all Karma (Karta Purakh), releases from Fear (Nirbhay), frees from Enmity (Nirvair), beyond time and form (Akaal Moorat), Ajuni (born of itself), Saibhang (self caused), Gurprasaad (received through wisdom). Following the five core human virtues are the key to returning to the Source or merging with God to end the cycles of life and death as per Sikhism.
6. Jain: Those who follow the sages of Jainism believe in three Gems that help us attain liberation or Moksha, (i) Right Vision (Samyak Darshana) which is about right beliefs and perceptions (ii) Right Knowledge (Samyak Gyana) which is about learning truth (iii) Right Conduct (Samyak Charitra) which is about ethical behavior or actions. The five great vows of the Jain faith are – Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity), Aparigraha (non-attachment).
As we can see that major religions throughout the centuries, despite all superficial differences, have shared common core beliefs about not harming others and being more compassionate in everything we think, say, believe and do. Each religion seems to agree that we all arise from the same Source and return to this spiritual Oneness or God, through love by detaching from outer worldly pursuits and focusing on inner Spirit or Truth.
By letting go of our judgemental and condemnatory beliefs that divided various religions and led to terror and fundamentalism, we can focus on the common value of kindness that unites us all as One to manifest a happier earth.