I was thinking about the statement that ‘India is a cradle of many religions’. Well, that means India must have always been a tolerant country that has welcomed newer thoughts getting infused into existing religion and breaking out into new religions. That speaks volumes about the nature of its people who were ready to embrace any new thought, invention, discovery fully aware that nothing can ever shake the mother tree which can withstand any great storm without getting affected. Thus our country with its ancient religion has seen the birth of religions like Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
Hinduism speaks about pluralism that is- all paths lead to the same goal ‘ekam sat viprah bahudah vadanti’– Truth is one; the wise call it by different names. There is no rigidity here. You can have sadhus sitting in the icy perch of the Himalayas or you can have karm yogis going about their dharm without any other care except to do what is ordained to be theirs. In between you can also have the mad frenzy of those rushing to temples to participate in community worship. And then there is the silent seeker who goes about his quest quietly and finds peace in the silence of his being. Oh, the wide variety that our religion offers, there is such a basket of options you can choose what suits you best. I love this pluralism that is accepted here.
Fascinatingly, this pluralism is also there in Jainism. It was Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher who said famously, ‘everything we hear is an opinion not a fact; everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.’ Reality is always dependent on one’s perspective and this certainly cannot be considered as the absolute truth. The Jains accept that reality can comprise of many truths as seen from each one’s perspective and are willing to accept that premise.
Buddhism is also amazingly pluralistic. Sikhism also seems to extol the same thing. Sikhs are always advised to follow the path shown by the great gurus and prophets. The holy book of the Sikhs (the Sri Guru Granth Sahib) says, “Do not say that the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran are false. Those who do not contemplate them are false.”
The thought expressed in each of these is so true that I feel enthused to delve more so I can learn more. I started reading on the various rituals observed by these four religions and was quite startled to see there is a string that runs through all of them even in this aspect. The fire ritual, havan, yagnas are terms not just restricted to Hinduism but I learnt that Mahayana Buddhism in Japan, Tibetan Buddhism and some other branches of Buddhism adopted them and absorbed it in their respective cultures. So also, the prayers to the ancestors- This too seems to be there in these religions. In Jainism the likeness is even more similar. Prayers for a good baby soon after conception, celebrating the new born, naming ceremony, offering the first solid food to the infant, beginning of the education process, ceremonies connected to marriage, death, building a new house, initiating new year, starting the financial year – all these bear close resemblance to Hindu customs but of course with a distinctive Jain slant like the recitation of the Navakar mantras and chanting the peace mantra. Hinduism speaks of Jiva karunya or compassion to all living beings and this can be seen fully fulfilled in Jainism and Buddhism.
I found Sikhism also to be speaking of many of the same things – the importance of consecrated water Amrit, prayers for the newborn, naming ceremony, importance to the soul and not the ephemeral body all seem to have a common thread running through them. It is only when we understand these features we can appreciate the beauty of every religion or sect. These theories state that most of the religion or sects originated in Bharat have many similarities and believe in growing on the common grounds of reincarnations, liberation, cycle of birth and death, karma and strong family bonding. Isn’t this amazing?