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Mike Shreve was a teacher of yoga at four universities. (The portrait above was drawn by one of his students in 1970.) Then a spiritual rebirth brought him into a real relationship with God and drastically changed his heart, his life and his belief system.  Read his story here.

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The Quest of Every Heart

from In Search of the True Light Part 1

Artwork donated by Mia Lane Studios

There is a common thirst in the hearts of all men!

Most human beings are searching. Searching for purpose. Searching for fulfillment. Searching for identity. "Who am I?" is a question that echoes deep in the heart of collective humanity. "Why am I here?" is the question that follows close behind. Then inevitably, "Where am I going? What's my destiny in this world and what's going to happen to me after death?"

Darkness is a good description of the condition of our minds before discovering the truth. We are born in darkness - the darkness of sense-consciousness. Initially, we are able to define life only by the input that comes to us through the five sensory gates. Many years are spent, from infancy through adulthood, in the development and maturing of these senses. In the process, human beings tend to relate to themselves only within these experiential boundaries. What a mistake it is to stop at these gates, for if our motivation is only toward the gratification of bodily cravings, how empty is that most important and most enduring part!

Life in this world teaches us that daylight always follows the dark-ness of night. In like manner, no person confronted with the spiritual darkness that drapes humanity should despair, thinking that light-producing answers are not available. In a spiritual sense, light also follows darkness, especially for those who hear the truth and have an opportunity to embrace it.

How insightful it is that all living things - the child in the womb, the embryo in the egg, and the tiny sprout in a germinating seed - enter this world in a bowed position! Maybe, just maybe, this is a subtle hint from the Creator that we have all been created for one main purpose: to 'bow' before him adoringly all the days of our earthly sojourn.

Though some have dared to question his existence, nature herself imprints on the minds of men the idea of God. It is impossible to meditate on the intricate beauty of a flower, the complexities of the human body, or the vastness of the universe without being filled with awe toward the magnificent One who fashioned it all. From macrocosm to microcosm, creation sings an inspiring song. Writings considered sacred in many religions often celebrate the Creator by celebrating his creation. The following examples are choice:

  • "Whatever is in the heaven and on earth doth declare the praises and glory of Allah." (Qur'an 64:1, Islam)

  •  "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the earth shows His handiwork." (Psalm 19:1, Judaism/Christianity)
  • "Your Name is affirmed by the mantle of the forest; your infinity proclaimed by every blade of grass." (Jaap Sahib 1, Sikhism)
  • "The light of the sun, the sparkling dawn of the days, all this is for your praise, O Wise Lord" (Avesta, Yasna 50.10, Zoroastrianism)

Being filled with wonder when viewing the grandeur and beauty of the creation should come as natural as breathing to any human being. The next 'gasp' of inspiration, however, should be an even greater sense of wonder concerning the Creator himself. When this happens, a holy metamorphosis takes place - mind-ruled 'seekers' of truth suddenly become heart-led 'adorers' of the Author of truth. At this stage of the journey, language is left behind. Earth-born words on the lips of finite men simply cannot express the full glory of the heavenly, Infinite One. I believe Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, was overcome with this kind of spiritual elixer - this love that defies language - when he authored the following verse:

"Were I to live for millions of years,
And drink the air for my nourishment,
I should still not be able to express Thy worth.
How great shall I call Thy name!"
(Siri Rag 2.1, 3)

Though I no longer embrace the Sikh worldview, I certainly agree with the passion for God expressed in this quote. Yes, God's greatness is inexpressible. Even so, our daily duty - rather, our moment-by-moment privilege - is to find creative, ever-increasing ways of declaring his eternal majesty, beauty and value. Though in this life, we may never reach the top of the ladder that stretches from earth to heaven - we must each 'awake from sleep' (as Jacob, the grandson of Abraham did) and declare, "Surely, the Lord is in this place and I knew it not!" (Genesis 28:16) What a grand discovery - God can be found; he can be known; he can be experienced - in this wearisome, and sometimes heartbreaking world!

The Most High God always has been, and always will be, our 'natural habitat.' How can a fish survive once removed from the water? How can an eagle be content in a cage, once accustomed to the windy heights? And how can human beings, created to enjoy communion with the Source of all things, ever be truly alive or content without the realization of this supreme privilege?

Religion - The Human Phenomenon

The concept of religion is a dominant theme within the human race. Though the following individuals often embrace conflicting viewpoints on key doctrinal issues, still, their definitions of this essential facet of the human experience often strike a harmonious chord:

Mahatma Ghandi made the profound comment:

"Religion ismore an integral part of one's self than one's body. Religion is the tie that binds one to one's Creator and while the body perishes, as it has to, religion persists even after death."1

Henry Pitt Van Dusen's definition pries the door open further:

"Religion is the reaching out of one's whole being - mind, body, spirit, emotions, intuitions, will - for completion, for inner unity, for true relation with those about us, for right relation to the universe in which we live."

A.W. Tozer, a popular Christian writer, proposed:

"True religion confronts earth with heaven and brings eternity to bear on time."

Meher Baba emphasized:

"The real meaning of religion is to know God, to see God and to be one with God. Everything else about religion is an exercise in rites and rituals."2

The motto of the Theosophical Society (taken from the Mahabharata) reduces all of these definitions to their simplest essence - "There is no religion higher than truth."

Most worldviews concur, if we are really 'religious,' it should strongly impact our character and our day-to-day existence. As British statesman, Edmond Burke, explained - "Religion is essentially the art and the theory of the remaking of man. Man is not a finished creation." Some of the best quotes dealing with this far more pragmatic view follow:

  • Kahlil Gibran - "Your daily life is your temple and your religion."3

  • Albert Einstein - "True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness."
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson - "Religion is to do right. It is to love, it is to serve, it is to think, it is to be humble."
  • Ramakrishna - "Common men talk bagfuls of religion but act not a grain of it, while the wise man speaks little, but his whole life is a religion acted out."
  • Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - "Religion should forward a way of life[that] every thought, word, and action of the individual may be guided by a higher purpose"4

After reading these similar sounding quotes, some readers might feel a compulsion to immediately dive into the deep waters of full religious syncretism. However, before you jump off the cliff, you need to closely inspect the nuances, the subtle shades of meaning, conveyed by each of these statements. Often, you will find them to be at opposite ends of the theological spectrum. For instance, the Theosophical quote above is powerful and correct, yet a Theosophist's interpretation of 'truth' may be quite different than someone of another worldview. And the idea of 'knowing' God has a unique slant when coming from Meher Baba, for he professed to be an incarnation of God, a claim adherents of many other religions would quickly challenge.

A dark and negative view flowed from the atheistic pen of Karl Marx. This architect of communism dubbed religion "the opiate of the people." He was apparently suggesting that religion distorts the senses, granting a false sense of euphoria that prevents religious persons from dealing with reality. Actually, the opposite is true. Materialism and sensualism are the real culprits, the 'opiate-like' influences that distort reality. These have a drug-like, even addictive influence on human beings causing them to be consumed with temporal things. Those who seek fulfillment in the pleasures of this life often seem lulled into a false sense of security, the deception that these things will somehow go on forever. Those who are wise recognize the transient state of this world and seek those things that have eternal value.

The world is teeming with countless expressions of religious devotion. These are primarily the product of man's longing to embrace, not the transient, but the transcendent. Almost every culture and people-group possesses a distinctive worldview and path that promises to lead to spirituality. This includes doctrines, ceremonies and traditions usually designed with the hope of entering and maintaining a right relationship with some kind of Deity. Being able to even conceptualize such a possibility is one thing that sets man apart in his special uniqueness.

William Howells, the American novelist, observed that man is a "creature who comprehends things he cannot see and believes in things he cannot comprehend." Though at the beginning of life's journey God is incomprehensible to all of us, those who are lovers of light dare to believe they can overcome this time-locked, earth-bound, carnal-clad condition of existence. Eagerly, they seek to comprehend - but lacking confidence in their own ability to discern the truth, they usually gravitate toward those who appear very confident. Thus, religions are brought to birth in this world: the unsure placing their trust in those who claim to be very sure, with regard to understanding the mysteries of life.

This term "religion" has an interesting origin. Quite possibly, it stems from the Latin word religio which can mean something done with meticulous care. Then again, it may be derived from the verb religare, which can mean to bind back or to bind together. Cicero believed it came from two words - re legere - which mean to read again or reflect upon, certainly a reference to the practice of meditating on the Scripture to ascertain its meaning. He also felt it came from the root word leg meaning to take up, gather, count or observe.

All of these interpretations have value, because as seekers of truth meticulously and carefully observe the patterns of life and as they study those 'communications' believed to be divinely inspired, they gather a harvest of beliefs - about the earth, the cosmos, our relationships with other human beings, and the 'Power' that brought all things into being. This ordinarily results in a sense of holy obligation, the seeker binding himself to those concepts in the hope of possessing greater meaning, purpose and destiny in life. Moreover, those of common beliefs tend to bind themselves to each other - forming a community that often transcends geographical, political, social and cultural boundaries.

There are, at least, four different types of religions.

(1) Natural religion occurs because of four fundamental influences that affect ALL people: first, man's innate, God-given desire to know and serve his Creator; second, his ability, at times, to rationalize the existence and basic attributes of the Eternal God; third, the subtle, subliminal influence of the Holy Spirit who woos the human race by convicting the consciences of all men; and fourth, the automatic, resulting sense of responsibility and accountability that such affected persons often feel toward this grand Designer who gave them existence. Quite often, seeing the amazing beauty and complexity of the universe awakens 'natural religion' in the souls of the children of this world. This excites a response of worship, though the full identity of the worshipped One is uncertain.

(2) Invented religion usually has its roots in 'natural religion,' but religious architects go beyond their initial, inspired insights to interpolate all kinds of self-created doctrines, concepts and traditions. This results in the development of a belief system that is primarily the product of human imagination and often bears little or no resemblance to the natural religion that spawned it.

(3) Revealed religion is pure truth, disclosed by the Source of truth himself. Recipients of revealed religion do not always seek such intuitive insights; these flashes of truth come at the will of the Almighty. Being divinely authored, they are infallible and irrefutable. (Of course, the adherents of many 'invented religions' will claim their worldviews actually fall under the heading of 'revealed religions.')

(4) Enhanced religion takes place when those exposed to 'revealed religion' add humanly devised concepts and traditions to what God has revealed. The result? Either the dilution or the pollution of the truth.

Even though only one of these four types of religion has the power to actually bring fulfillment and completion to its adherents, still, there are certain benefits - whether real or imagined - that normally follow the exercise of religious devotion in all of its forms.

In his classic book titled The World's Living Religions, Robert E. Hume summarized these benefits. The following list is drawn primarily from his observations, but condensed into a more readable format:

"Religion gives to a person what he can obtain from no other source" -

• Confidence in the outcome of life's struggles.

An added sense of power and satisfaction.

• Help to bear the troubles of life uncomplainingly.

• A solution for the problem of evil.

Improves the quality of this present life.

Offers the hope of a better life in the future.

Outlines an ideal society and influences others to achieve that goal.

Sets forth a working plan of salvation.

Strengthens human relationships by granting a fulfilling sense of community.

"The distinguishing function of religion, in contrast with that of philosophy or ethics, or any of the idealizing or cultural activities, is to give to a human being the supreme satisfaction of his life through a vital relationship with what he recognizes as the superhuman Power, or powers, in the world."

Admittedly, there are countless opinions offered in many religions concerning the nature and attributes of this "superhuman Power," as well as the correct "solution for the problem of evil" and "working plan of salvation." Yet in all the contradictions, there are some welcome common elements. These commonalities are discovered, not so much in the upper levels of theological teaching, but at the base. They usually concern foundational issues, like guidelines for moral and ethical behavior or simple longing to believe in God and communicate with him. At times, these ideas are not only similar; they are universally acceptable.

On the next seven pages you will find some choice quotes drawn from the 'holy books' of various religions on the following seven fundamental subjects: the Golden Rule, Separation from the World, Prayer, Character Development, Faith, Love and Compassion.

The Golden Rule

The social, relational concept that has been termed "The Golden Rule" is found in the teachings of almost all religions, as well as popular philosophical sources. Sometimes it is worded in the positive ("Do unto others"); sometimes the negative ("Do not do to others").

Bahá'í: "Choosefor thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself." (Bahá'u'lláh)

Buddhism: "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga 5, 18) "Consider others as yourself." (Dhammapada 10.1)

Christianity: "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12)

Confucianism: "Is there one maxim that ought to be acted upon throughout one's whole life? Surely it is the maxim of lovingkindness: Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you." (Analects 15, 23)

Greek Philosophy: "Treat your friends as you would want them to treat you." (Aristotle, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, 5:21; Bohn Library translation, 188) "Do not do to others what you would not wish to suffer yourself." (Isocrates, Isocrates Cyprian Orations, 149)

Hinduism: "Men gifted with intelligence and purified souls should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated." (Mahabharata 13.115.22)

Islam: "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." (Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 13)

Jainism: "A man should treat all creatures in the world as he himself would like to be treated." (Sutra-keit-anga)

Judaism: "Don't take vengeance on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather, love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:18) "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary." (Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 31a)

Sikhism: "As thou deemest thyself, so deem others. Then shalt thou become a partner in heaven." (Kabir's Hymns, Asa 17)

Taoism: "Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss." (T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien)

Zoroastrianism: "That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself." (Dadistan-i-dinik 94, 5)

Separation From The World

"Separation From The World" is another common theme found in almost all religions. Most worldviews agree that to experience Ultimate Reality, there must be some kind of renunciation of that which is transitory. To experience that which is pure, there must be a renunciation of that which is evil.

Bahá'í: "O my brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn." (The Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, 21)

Buddhism: "Come behold this world, which is like unto an ornamented royal chariot, wherein fools flounder, but for the wise there is no attachment." (Dhammapada 171)

Christianity: Jesus said of his disciples, "They are not of the world even as I am not of the world." (John 17:16)

Confucianism: "To conserve his stock of virtue, the superior man withdraws into himself and thus escapes from the evil influences around him." (I Ching 12: Stagnation)

Hinduism: "He becomes immortal who seeks the general good of man, who does not grieve and who can renounce the world." (Mahabharata 5.46.20)

Islam: "Renounce the world and Allah will love you." (Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi 40, 31)

Jainism: "He who is rich in control renounces everything, and meditates on the reflections of lifeLike a ship reaching the shore, he gets beyond misery." (Sutra-Kritanga Sutra 1.15.4, 5)

Judaism: "You are to be holy, for I am holy." (Leviticus 11:45) "Learn not the way of the heathen." (Jeremiah 10:2)

Shinto: "Leave the things of this world, and come to Me daily and monthly with pure bodies and pure hearts." (Oracle of the Deity Atago)

Sikhism: "Yoga consists not in frequenting tombs and cremation grounds, nor in falling into trances; nor lies it in wandering about the world, nor in ritual bathing. To live immaculate amidst the impurities of the world - this is true yoga practice." (Adi Granth, Suhi, M.1, p. 730)

Taoism: "If one have done deeds of wickedness, but afterwards alters his way, and repents, resolved not to do anything wicked, but to practice reverently all that is good, he is sure in the long run to obtain good fortune" (Tai-Shang Kan-Ying Pien, characters 1200"“1230)

Prayer

"Prayer" is another vital subject. Most religions affirm that in order to touch the Creator or penetrate Ultimate Reality, we must be people of prayer and use effective methods. Let us be mindful of F. B. Meyer's comment, "The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer."

Christianity: Jesus taught, "Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them." (Mark 11:24)

Hinduism: The instruction of Deity is to, "Worship me through meditation in the sanctuary of the heart." (Srimad Bhagavatam 11.5)

Islam: "Prayer restrains one from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of God is the greatest thing in life, without doubt." (Qur'an 29.45)

Judaism: "Prayer should not be recited as if a man were reading a document." (Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot 4.3)

Meher Baba: "The ideal prayer to the Lord is nothing more than spontaneous praise of his being."

Roman Philosophy: "Live among men as if God beheld you; speak with God as if men were listening." (Seneca: Epistolue ad Lucilium)

Shinto: "Pray in all righteousness and the Deity will be pleased to listen to your supplication. Foolish is he who, in impatient eagerness and without following the path of righteousness, hopes to obtain divine protection." (Shinto-Uden-Futsujosho)

Sikhism: "Of all the prayers of the heart, the best prayer is the prayer to the Master to be given the grace of properly praising the Lord." (Adi Granth, Maru Ashtpadi, M.5, p. 1018)

Theosophy (Bhagavan Dass): "It is not enough to pray, however sincerely, that God's Will be done on earth; it is necessary also to know what that Will is; if we are toact in obedience to it."

United Church of Religious Science (Dr. Ernest Holmes): "Some prayers are more effective than others. Some only help us to endure, while others transcend conditions"

Zoroastrianism: "The pure whom you have found worthy for their righteousness and their good mind, fulfill their desire, O Wise Lord, let them attain it! I know that words of prayer which serve a good end are successful before you." (Avesta, Yasna 28.10)

Character Development

"Character Development" is normally emphasized in all religions. Moral and ethical guidelines fill the doctrinal base of most writings considered sacred. All tend to agree that human beings cannot achieve their highest potential until they rise above the sense-driven aspect of their lower nature.

Buddhism: "By degrees, little by little, from time to time, a wise person should remove his own impurities as a smith removes the dross from silver." (Dhammapada 239)

Christianity: "We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." (Romans 5:3"“4)

Confucianism: "The moral man's life is an exemplification of the universal orderthe vulgar person's life is a contradiction of the universal order" (Doctrine of the Mean 2)

Greek Philosophy: "The end of life is to be like God, and the soul following God will be like him." (Socrates)

Hinduism: According as one acts, so does he become. The doer of good becomes good; the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous actions; bad, by bad actions." (Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad 4.4.5)

Islam: Abu Huraira reported God's Messenger as saying, "The believers whose faith is most perfect are those who have the best character." (Hadith of Abu Dawud and Darimi)

Jainism: "Right belief, right knowledge, right conduct, these together constitute the path to liberation." (Tattvarthasutra 1.1)

Judaism: "Study of Torah leads to precision, precision to zeal, zeal to cleanliness, cleanliness to restraint, restraint to purity, purity to holiness, holiness to meekness, meekness to fear of sin, fear of sin to saintliness, saintliness to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit to life eternal." (Babylonian Talmud, Avoda Zara 20b)

Sikhism: "Liberation comes from living the holy Word." (Adi Granth, Sri Raga, Ashtpati, M.1, p. 62)

Taoism: "Do not swerve from the path of virtuelest you cast away that which links you to God." (Kwang Tze 29.2)

Zoroastrianism: "Next to life, purity is for man the greatest good. That purity is in the religion of the Wise One for him who cleanses his own self with good thoughts, words and deeds." (Vendidad 5.21)

Faith

"Faith" is the heart-pulsation of any worldview. It keeps the 'blood flow' of spiritual vitality flowing through the spiritual veins of its adherents, and perpetuates its doctrine to future generations.

Bahá'í: The "essence" of faith is "fewness of words and abundance of deeds." (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, 156)

Buddhism: "Faith is the best wealth to man here." (Sutta Nipata 181: Coomara Samy, Sutta Nipata 48, Alavaka Sutta 2) "By faith you shall be free and go beyond the world of death." (Sutta Nipata 1146)

Christianity: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

Confucianism: "Heaven makes hard demands on faith." (Shi King 3.1.2.1.3) "A people without faith cannot stand." (Analects 12.7.3)

Hinduism: "Without faith, whatever offering or gift is made or work done or penance performed, it is reckoned "not-being" both now and hereafter." (Bhagavad-Gita 17.28)

Islam: "The true believers are those whose hearts are filled with awe at the mention of God, and whose faith grows stronger as they listen to His revelations." (Qur'an 8.2)

Jainism: "Without faith there is no knowledge, without knowledge there is no virtuous conduct, without virtues there is no deliverance, and without deliverance there is no perfection [Nirvana]." (Uttaradhyayana Sutra 28.30)

Judaism: "The just shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4)

Sikhism: "Inexpressible is the state of faith; whoever attempts to describe it shall in the end regret his rashness. This state pen and paper cannot record, nor cogitation penetrate its secret. The great, immaculate Name of God may only be realized by one whose mind is firmly fixed in faith" (Adi Granth, Japji 12"“15, M.1, p.3)

Taoism: "Faith, if insufficient, is apt to become no faith at all." (Tao-Te Ching 17.1; also 23.3)

Transcendentalism: "All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

United Church of Religious Science (Dr. Ernest Holmes): "In order to keep faith, we must allow nothing to enter our thought which will weaken this conviction."10 

Love and Compassion

Similar to the "Golden Rule," "Love" and "Compassion" are also unifying components in all the positive religious approaches in this world. In a world sick with senseless hate and selfish lust, the revelation of love provides a healing balm. This quality injects meaning and purpose into that which can appear, at times, to be meaningless and purposeless.

The humanist poet, Petrarch, suggested:

"Love is the crowning grace of humanity, the holiest right of the soul, the golden link which binds us to duty and truth, the redeeming principle that chiefly reconciles the heart of life, and is prophetic of eternal good."

Those who have 'eyes that see' cannot help but behold these choice character traits celebrated, proclaimed and evidenced in many of the religious communities that make up our global family.

Bahá'í: "Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soulLove is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycleLove revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe." (From the writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 27) 11 

Buddhism (Tibetan): The Dalai Lama, the most visible religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, warns: "Love, compassion and tolerance are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive."12

Christianity: "Jesus, the embodiment of divine love, urged his followers, "love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil." (Luke 6:35) "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) John, the beloved disciple, added, "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16)

Jainism: "Charity - to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable, and to offer relief to them out of pity - is the spring of virtue." (Kundakunda Pancastikaya 137)

Judaism: "Administer true justice. Let everyone show mercy and compassion to his brother.'" (Zechariah 7:9)

Sikhism: "those immersed in the love of God feel love for all things." (Adi Granth, Wadhans, M.1, p. 557) "Hear ye, for I speak the Truth, only those who Love will experience the Almighty!" (Tav Prasad Savvayaa, Guru Gobind Singh)

Sufism (Mystical Islam): "The essence of God is love and the Sufi path is a path of loveLove is to see what is good and beautiful in everythingThe aim of the Sufi is to be accepted as a lover by the Beloved, that is, by God."13  "Love means that the attributes of the lover are changed into those of the Beloved. Now he lives in accordance with the saying of God: "When I love him, I will be his eye by which he sees and his hearing by which he hears and his hand by which he reaches out.""14

Universalist Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran, writes, "When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, "I am in the heart of God." And think not that you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course."15

And there is no more inspiring definition of compassion than one shared by the well-known Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg:

"Compassion makes the narrow heart as wide as the world."16

If we are truly prayerful, inspired, sensitive persons - certainly this will be the case. Our hearts will widen to embrace this world with its amazing diversity, to deeply love those who may be quite different from us, culturally and religiously. When this happens to us, we may well stumble on a profound realization - that in all of these quotes on various subjects there can be heard an echo of the heart-cry that connects us all.

Passion for God Must be Respected

Being a Christian minister, I believe in the exclusivity of Christ. However, I also believe passion for God should be respected whenever and wherever it is found. One of the most evident examples of such spiritual fervor is discovered in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Traditional Muslims emphasize the idea of the transcendence of God - that God is far too lofty and holy, and man, far too degraded and sinful, for any kind of personal indwelling and relationship to take place.

On the other hand, Sufis accentuate Mohammed's teaching that God is "nearer than your jugular vein." (Qur'an 50:16) They contend that deep, personal communion with God is possible, and ecstatic, spiritual experiences with him, obtainable. The Sufis are world renowned for their 'love-poetry' - religious ardor captured in verse toward the desirable Eternal One, the Beloved. None is more heartwarming than the following excerpt from a Persian devotional poem by 'Abdallah al-Ansari:

Thou, Whose breath is sweetest perfume
to the spent and anguished heart,
Thy remembrance to Thy lovers bringeth
ease for every smart.
Multitudes like Moses, reeling,
cry to earth's remotest place.
"Give me sight, O Lord," they clamor,
seeking to behold Thy face.
Multitudes no man hath numbered,
lovers, and afflicted all,
Stumbling on the way of anguish,
"Allah, Allah" loudly call.
And the fire of separation
sears the heart and burns the breast,
And their eyes are wet with weeping
for a love that gives not rest.
Oh God, all other men are drunk with wine:
The wine-bearer is my fever.
Their drunkenness lasts but a night,
While mine abides forever.
17

Such poetry gets to the heart of what true religion is all about - longing for God, for a real experience of God, not just intellectual concepts about God. All who are parched spiritually, all who feel this 'unquenchable thirst,' can relate to such poetic language, especially if they believe that, on an ultimate level, God is personal. Where the words "Allah, Allah" appear, almost anyone could insert the Name for God he or she feels is correct and quote the rest of the poem unashamedly, with watering eyes.

Though the externals of religion often leave participants dry and unfulfilled, this longing for an internal experience of Ultimate Reality is what binds true seekers together on our pilgrimage, our quest for understanding. It is this emphasis on the importance of the 'internal state' as compared to the 'external' that gave birth to the Sufi maxim:

"Love the pitcher less, and the water more."18

This is a valuable truth that needs to resound in our minds again and again. We need to love the "pitcher" less - the form, the rules, the rituals, the dogma. And we need to love the "water" more - the deep flow of divine influence that alone can quench our thirst. You see, 'religion' is the pitcher; 'relationship' is the water - the living water - that alone can overflow the heart and fill the life. Many religions have conceptualized the means of possessing this spiritual panacea. The Sufis and others have fervently sought it. Only a select and unique people have actually found it. Is it shrouded in esoteric mysteries understood only by a few initiates? No, not really. Actually, the way is so plain, it is often overlooked.

Interpreting the Names of
Various Religious Groups

In searching for common elements in various religions, it is helpful to inspect the interpreted meanings of the names of these groups.

Together, they strike quite a harmonious chord.

A Buddhist is one who seeks "enlightenment."
A Christian is one who seeks "Christ-likeness."
An ECKANKAR devotee is one who seeks to be "a co-worker with God."
A Jainist is one who seeks to "conquer" attachment to this world.
A Jew is one who seeks to be a source of "praise to God."
A Kabbalist is one who seeks to "receive"an experience of the Divine (through the practice and contemplation of the Torah).
A Muslim is one who seeks "submission" to God and to the truth.
A Sikh is one who seeks to be a "disciple," a "follower" of God.
A Sufi is one who seeks "purity" and "mystical insight."
A Taoist is one who seeks to live in "the Way."
A Theosophist is one who seeks "divine wisdom."
A Yoga devotee is one who seeks to be "yoked with God."

Without controversy, the interpreted meanings of the names of these religious groups are descriptive of characteristics that should be the goal of any sincere seeker of truth.

When seekers of truth observe similarities such as these, almost inevitably they assume that all these religions are interrelated, that they spring from the same source, that "True Light" radiates from every one of them. At one time, this would have been my conclusion as well. Now, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I abide securely within well-defined and exclusive doctrinal walls - yet I am very willing to admit that these commonalities exist. But how did they get there? This is one of the questions that pleads for an answer, an issue that is yet to be resolved in another part of this site.

The Common Pulse of Spirituality

Spirituality involves being receptive and responsive to supernatural realities. When sensitivity in this area 'lights' on a society in a positive way, it normally 'pollinates' that people-group with a desire to aim for higher ideals. Those so influenced tend to 'blossom' with righteous character and compassionate works. This is of great benefit - whenever, wherever and however it happens. We live in a world that is far too often bent on pleasure-seeking and self-gratification. How refreshing it is to find people in every culture who want to lift their world to a better place! How reassuring it is to know there are still those who reach for virtue, kindness and goodness!

Just as every individual cell in the human body pulsates with the pulsation of the heart, so all positive religions appear to have a common pulsation. This has caused many to conclude, as Theosophist Annie Besant:

"Each religion has its own mission in the world, is suited to the nations to whom it is given and to the type of civilization it is to permeate."19

Or dramatist George Bernard Shaw, who proposed:

"There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it." 

Pause for a moment. Think deeply. Dwell on the full ramifications of such an idea. For many thoughtful and compassionate persons, reaching such a conclusion erects a pleasing portal, especially those whose hearts groan for unity among men. However, those who entertain this proposition, must be prepared to answer another important and related question:

"Just because certain basic beliefs appear to have equal value and validity, do we leap to the conclusion that ALL of the doctrines of these various religious groups are valuable and valid?"

Asking such a question does not show lack of love or narrow-mindedness. It merely reveals a longing for genuineness. Buddha was apparently a passionate seeker for "True Light." At one point, he also must have dwelt on this pivotal issue.

Upon reviewing the conventional belief system ingrained in his particular culture, region and era, Buddha dared to go against the grain. Not only did he reject many traditional beliefs as invalid, he urged his hearers, if they encountered questionable doctrine, to do likewise. His admonition is still relevant today:

"Believe nothingmerely because you have been told itor because it is traditional, or because you yourselves have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect for the teacher. But whatsoever, after due examination and analysis, you find to be conducive to the good, the benefit, the welfare of all beings - that doctrine believe andtake it as your guide." (Kalama Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya III.65)20

Though I differ with Buddha on many major issues, I readily relate to this statement. Seeking hearts should be neither gullible nor skeptical. They should be open, respectful, ready to listen to any viewpoint, but discerning enough, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to only accept that which is of the "True Light." The rationalist philosopher Voltaire proposed:

"If God didn't exist, man would have to invent him."

Though I disagree with any insinuation that God could be a mere product of the imagination, I must admit this statement nudges my heart toward another important consideration.

Most human beings crave ultimate answers for the mysteries of life. So could it be, that in many cases, lacking true revelation, they have actually 'invented' various concepts about God and his universe? Or being unsure of themselves and easily influenced, have they merely accepted someone else's 'invented' worldview? Participants in either one of these scenarios may be quite sincere in striving for answers and quite sincere in arriving at conclusions - but sincerity is not always an indication of veracity.

Part of finding the "True Light" involves discerning correct doctrine from that which is the product of man's propensity for inventiveness in spiritual matters, his impressionable nature and his passion for religious tradition.


1 The World's Great Religions (New York: Time Incorporated, 1957) p. 16.

2 Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher, vol. 12 (Asheville, North Carolina: Manifestation, Inc.) p. 809.

3 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet (Ware, Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions, Ltd., 1996) p. 48.

4 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Science of Being and Art of Living (New York: Meridian, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books, 1995) p. 253.

5 Robert E Hume, The World's Living Religions (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1936) p. 2.

6 Peter Smith, "Golden Rule," A Concise Encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith (Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications, 2000) p. 165.

7 Meher Baba, Beams for Meher Baba on the Spiritual Panorama, ed. Ivy Duce (Walnut Grove, California: Sufism Reoriented) n.p.*

8 Bhagavan Dass, The Essential Unity of All Religions (Kila, Montana: Kessinger Publishing Company, rev. ed. 1939) p. 479.

9 Ernest Holmes, The Science of Mind (New York: R.M McBride and Co., 1938, New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., rev. and enl. ed., 1966) p. 155 (page citation is to reprint edition).

10 Ibid., p. 159.

11 Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the World's Religions (Novato, California: New World Library, 2000) p. 6.

12 Benjamin Shield and Richard Carlson, eds., For the Love of God (Novato, California: New World Library, 1997) p. 3.

13 James Fadiman, ed., and Robert Frager, ed., Essential Sufism (Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1998) pp. 14, 18.

14 Quoted by al-Ghazali in Margaret Smith, trans., Readings from the Mystics of Islam, p. 35. This is not a quote from the Qur'an, but a so-called Hadith Qudsi; quoted in John Alden Williams, ed., Islam (New York City, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1962) p. 146.

15 Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, p. 6.

16 David N. Elkins, Ph. D., "Compassion: A Way of Being in the World, An Interview with Sharon Salzberg," Personal Transformation (Winter 1999): p. 58 (Sharon Salzberg is actually quoting the German monk and scholar, Nyanaponika Thera).

17 John Alden Williams, ed., Islam (New York City, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1962) pp. 156, 158, Note: the last four lines are from the very end of the poem.

18 Huston Smith, "Sufism," The Illustrated World's Religions: A Guide to our Wisdom Tradition, Labyrinth Publishing (UK) Ltd., 1994) p. 171.

19 Annie Besant, Four Great Religions, p. 7; quoted in Robert E Hume, The World's Living Religions (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1936) p. 10.

20 Frank S. Mead, 12,000 Religious Quotations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989) p. 17. This particular translation is not a strict one. A more precise translation of the same passage is: "Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them." (Translated from the Pali by Soma Thera)


"In Search of the True Light" ©2002 copyright by Mike Shreve.
All articles unless otherwise noted are copyright by Mike Shreve.
Personal Stories are the work of the individuals.
All Rights Reserved.

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