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(by Aniha das)

(based on Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura's Sri Caitanya Siksamritam, Sree Gaudiya Math, Madras, India)

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This world is full of conflict, between different nations, different races and the holders of different ideologies; and, as everyone knows, the greatest cause of war in this world are the conflicts between followers of different religions. Northern Ireland, the Middle East and the problems between India and Pakistan are the obvious examples.

Of course, those who pride themselves as being true followers of a religion will reject this concept. It is not religion that is a major cause of our wars, but the lack of genuine spirituality in those who profess to follow these particular faiths. Broad minded, liberal thinkers will see no difference between the major religious traditions; after all, we all follow the same path. We are one as brothers and sisters, sharing the same goal of reaching out to our shared Almighty Father.

Thus it may come as a surprise for us to learn that Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, the great saintly19th century preacher of Krishna consciousness, concluded that major differences between the great religions of the world do in fact exist. In his book, Sri Chaitanya Sikshamrta, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura describes that, due to the different natures acquired by persons living in different countries, there will be found five principle differences in the religions promulgated by men in different countries. These are those regarding: i) the preceptors or teachers, ii) the mental attitudes and concepts of the worshippers, iii) the system of worship, iv) the conceptions and conventional actions concerning the object of worship, and v) the names and words according to linguistic differences. Despite pointing out these differences, Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura insists that they should never be a cause of conflict between the adherents of the different religions.

Each country has its own preceptors, sages or prophets. The prophet Muhammad, Lord Jesus and many other great souls or erudite scholars have been the recipients of special reverence and honour. It is the bounden duty of the people of the respective countries to pay suitable veneration to such souls, but it is not proper to insistently propagate the controversial superiority of the teachings of one's own religious leader over those of others. Internally, one may cherish such beliefs in order to acquire steadiness in one's own faith, but no good can be achieved by insistent propagation that results in quarrel.

On account of different attitudes, we find differences in the modes of worship. Some sit on particular seats; others sit cross legged, holding and giving out breaths in a particular way; others alternately stand and fall on the ground five times daily, faces turned towards their main temple of worship; others kneel with folded palms at home or in places of public worship.

Then again there are found different concepts of what clothing is to be worn, the times of worship, the food that can be eaten by worshippers, what is pure and impure etc.

 

In different religions, conceptions differ as to the object of worship. Some, having their hearts suffused with devotion, set up the Deity form of God either in their hearts or in the world, and worship Them with the inner perception that They are He. Others, being lovers of reason rather than devotion, will form a conception in their mind alone and worship the same.

On account of differences in language, some give particular names to God and denominate their religion differently, using different words at the time of worship.

Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura writes that on account of these five differences it is only natural that the different religions will have grown apart from each other. However, he states that it is both improper and mischievous that there should be quarrelling on account of this. If we are present at the time of worship of other religionists, we shall be there in a respectful mood, contemplating thus: "Here is being worshipped my adorable Highest Entity. Due to my practice of a different kind, I cannot thoroughly comprehend this system of theirs; but seeing it, I am feeling a greater attachment for my own system. The Highest Entity (God) is not more than one. I bow down with prostration before His emblem as I see here and offer my prayer to my Lord who has adopted this different emblem that He may increase my love towards Him in the form as acceptable for me."

Those who, instead of behaving thus, create dissension against the different systems in a spirit of jealous spite and malice, are out and out pith less and brainless. They do not cherish love towards their own ultimate object of pursuit so much as towards vain quarrel and contention.

(Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura concludes with one further consideration. Those religions, in which evils such as atheism, polytheism, materialism, no-soulism etc. prevail, should not be regarded as devotees of God. In this case, proper reasoned debate may then be instigated so that the right course may be adopted. This will be beneficial for all souls.)

It is a fact that conflict between different religions will never attract persons to take up the path of spirituality. Indeed, we notice that even within the same religion there may be differences between various parties that result in unholy behaviour. To avoid this, it is particularly important for us to know that those preceptors who propagate the word of God in this world are very great souls, and for us to pour scorn on such a person may well result in our own downfall. It is the duty of all who wish to become sincere devotees of God to abandon such an offensive mentality. The words of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura are meant for the benefit of everyone, and those who wish to follow in his line should take his teachings to heart. Only with a pure heart will we ever hope to spread the light of love of God to others. Then will we realise a genuine bond of brotherhood, not just with the followers of our own religion or with religionists in general, but with all living beings. That bond will be one of pure love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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