Interreligious Genius – Through the Lens of Religious Genius

Question for consideration

Each cluster of texts is comprised of contributions from authors of different religious tradition. Each text has a brief commentary by a scholar and one or two questions to assist you in focusing on its particular approach to the theme under discussion.

It is recommended for those not so familiar with text study that each of the texts is read guided by the accompanying question or questions. However, advanced readers may not need the guidance and may prefer to encounter the texts without the mediation of the questions.

After reading the individual texts, consider the following general questions in relation to the theme.

For each cluster of texts on a particular theme ask the following questions:

1. In what way do each of the texts reflect a unique cultural/ socio-religious setting and to what extent are they reflective of a universal human quest for meaning?

2. What unique contribution to our understanding of the theme does each text make? Can the unique contributions resonate with followers of another religious tradition?

3. Identify any understandings of the theme that are common to all the selected texts. Do these understandings appear more prominent in one tradition than in another or are they likely to resonate equally across all traditions?

4. How do these texts enhance your appreciation of their authors as ‘religious geniuses’?

Interreligious Genius

Sources 53, 79, 38, 40, 12

The concept paper on religious genius suggests a notion of an interreligious genius, an expression of genius that is able to accommodate other religions in its worldview and internal experience. The following readings give provide some examples or models for such interreligious genius. Are you able to relate to them? Attempt to account for your answer, whether positive or negative, in both theological and sociological terms (that is: the teachings of your religion and the current views within your society).

Read the texts and the commentaries, if you desire, guided by the accompanying questions. After reading the texts, respond to the questions above, which is a synthesis of the four questions on the previous page with respect to the theme of ‘Interreligious Genius’.

Source 53 (Hindu): Mata Amritanandamayi

Address at the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago, 1993

God is love, the life-force behind the entire creation. It is indeed rare to find a religion which does not consider love for all beings as the supreme factor. If religions adhered to this principle of Love, the differences seen today would become insignificant. God expects love, fraternity and cooperation from His children. Clinging to their superficial differences, human beings are paving the way for their own destruction.

Religion is supposed to spread the light of Love and Truth to humanity. Religion should not encourage separateness. There is only one Supreme Truth shining through all religions. Viewing religion with this attitude brings us closer to the Supreme Truth, it helps us to understand each other, and it leads humanity toward peace.”

Commentary by Dr. Amanda J. (Huffer) Lucia: Amma’s theology attempts to draw together diverse religious ideologies by locating their core as the universalizing essences of love and compassion. In so doing, she demonstrates her allegiance to Advaita Vedanta, a Hindu philosophical tradition drawing primarily on Upanisadic texts that centralizes the non-duality of all existence. But Amma’s focus on love and compassion also demonstrates her profound roots in the bhakti tradition, a devotional movement that radically upset religious hierarchies by demanding unmediated access to God and celebrating the ecstatic experience of union with divinity. The core of Amma’s theology develops from precisely this dialectic between Advaita Vedantic and bhakti sensibilities.

Amma also inserts a sense of urgency in her message, warning that humans are “paving the way for their own destruction.” Frequently she warns of a nearly apocalyptic future if humanity does not soon alter its course.

Amma centralizes love as the core of her message, even constructing the popular theological universalism, “God is Love.” Her identity statement “Love and Serve” constructs the central ethos of her movement. Amma situates herself as a loving mother caring for her devotees as children, a relationship she performatively enacts though her global darshan programs wherein she physically hugs all attendees as a mother would embrace her children. Amma has embraced more than 32 million people and she keeps an incessant schedule criss-crossing the globe to hug more people in more locations. During darshan programs, Amma invites her devotees to witness her constant aura of love and compassion that she exhibits by hugging strangers of all castes, genders, religions, and dispositions without rest for 8-26 hours at one sitting. Amma situates love as a universalistic language that should be at the nexus of all human activity.

Source 79 (Christian): Thomas Merton

Source 79a

If I affirm myself as a Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic; and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.

– CGB14

Source 79b

I cannot be a Catholic unless it is made quite clear to the world that I am a Jew and a Moslem, unless I am execrated as a Buddhist and denounced for having undermined all that this comfortable and social Catholicism stands for: this lining up of cassocks, this regimenting of birettas. I throw my birettas in the river. (But I don’t have one.)

– Letter to Czeslaw Milosz, January 18, 1962, CT 79

Source 79c

To be truly Catholic is not merely to be correct according to an abstractly universal standard of truth, but also and above all to be able to enter into the problems and the joys of all, to understand all, to be all things to all men. – CGB 167

Source 38 (Jewish): Rav Kook

Shemoneh Kevatzim 1:575 [vol. 1, p. 182]

For He [the true holy righteous one] always ascends in His thought and will to the spiritual supernal world, in which there are no limitations, in which all can enter, and obviously, all that is good can gather together. He acts with his supernal power, so that the good that is dispersed among all the individuals in Israel, and in the entire world, and in all the worlds, will assemble together. There are unfathomable degrees in this trait. The most righteous man encompasses the most comprehensive breadth, and he has no contraction of strict judgment. For he, in his entirety, is replete with compassion and many mercies, and truly desires the good of all. He loves to find merit for all people, and hates to find guilt in them and convict them. The world is incapable of recognizing this degree of righteousness, and every paramount righteous one must enclothe his supreme righteousness in many garbs, since after they restrict the light, people can derive benefit from him.

Source 40 (Jewish): Rav Kook, Shemoneh Kevatzim 1:210 [vol. 1, p. 82]

40b. The great righteous ones include all in their soul. They possess all the good of all and, also, all the evil of all; they suffer tribulations on account of all, and they derive pleasure from all; they transform all the evil of all to good. By force of their being elevated by means of the sufferings they endure, all is elevated by them, for in the root of their soul are all the very vast branches of all the souls, of which the righteous are the foundation.

Commentary by Dov Schwartz: The saint undergoes processes parallel to those of the divine Sefirot [emanations]. The saint succeeds in bringing down the divine emanation because of his adherence to the trait of lovingkindness, that is, he loves all people and contains them, despite their being many and diverse.

Source 12 (Hindu): Ramakrishna

“There are several bathing ghats in a large tank. Whoever goes to whichever ghat he pleases to take a bath or to fill his vessel reaches the water, and it is useless to quarrel with one another claiming one’s ghat to be better than another’s. Similarly, there are many ghats that lead to the water of the fountain of Eternal Bliss. Every religion of the world is one ghat. Go direct with a sincere and earnest heart through any one of these ghats, and you shall reach the water of Eternal Bliss. But say not that your religion is better than that of another.

“Many are the names of God and infinite are the forms through which He may be approached. In whatever name and form you worship Him, through them you will realize Him.

“Different creeds are but different paths to reach the one God. Diverse are the ways that lead to the temple of Mother Kali at Kalighat in Calcutta. Similarly various are the paths that take men to the house of the Lord. Every religion is nothing but one of these paths.

“The cries of all jackals are the same. So are the teachings of all the wise ones the same.”[1]

“Two persons were hotly disputing over the color of a chameleon. One said, ‘The chameleon on that palm tree is of a beautiful red color.’ The other contradicted him saying, ‘You are mistaken, the chameleon is not red but blue.’ Being unable to settle the matter through argument both went to a man who always lived under that tree and had watched the chameleon in all its phases. One of the disputants asked him, ‘Sir, isn’t that chameleon, on that tree, of red color?’ The man replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ The other disputant said, ‘What do you say! How is that possible? Sure it is not red but blue!’ The man again humbly replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ He knew that the chameleon constantly changed its color. So he said yes to both the conflicting views.

“God, who is Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, has likewise various forms. The devotee who has seen God only in one aspect knows that aspect alone. None but he who has seen God in manifold aspects can say, ‘All these forms are of the one God, for God is multiform.’ God is formless and with form, and many are His forms which no one knows about.”[2]

Stripped of all theological trappings, every spiritual tradition seeks to transcend human limitations to touch the Reality beyond. Everything else in religion is secondary.

There is only one ultimate Reality, which manifests in various forms, with various attributes, and even as formless, and is known by various names. The Reality beyond is not different from the Reality within.

Every spiritual tradition has the inherent power to take its practitioners to the supreme consummation of human life. All spiritual paths lead to the same goal, although the “goal” itself may be conceptualized in diverse ways.

Commentary by Swami Tyagananda: What do we discover if we look in our hearts and try to “experience” the truth instead of just talking or arguing about it? We find that beneath the obvious and real differences between religions, there is also an undercurrent of unity. Ramakrishna’s insights regarding religions of the world can be summarized as follows:

Stripped of all theological trappings, every spiritual tradition seeks to transcend human limitations to touch the Reality beyond. Everything else in religion is secondary.

There is only one ultimate Reality, which manifests in various forms, with various attributes, and even as formless, and is known by various names. The Reality beyond is not different from the Reality within.

[1] Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, 131–32.
[2] Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, 133.