Breaking Down Barriers
Spirituality and religion should dismantle discrimination and labels, not shore them up. It should break, not create, barriers between people.
As you pursue your own particular spiritual path, you do so in a world of great religious diversity. It is important to ensure that your religious commitment does not prevent you from feeling closely connected to others, who do not share your particular path. Even though we all share a single world, when we hold tightly to religious labels, these labels can keep us worlds apart. For all that religions can potentially offer us, they can also become a major cause of animosity and social strife, rather than a way to end them.
We are all united by the simple fact that we are human beings. Religious teachings seek to address us on a universal human level. Yet clinging to a specific religious identity might move you further from the spirit of that religion’s teachings. When religions end dividing us, it is a sure sign that something has gone terribly wrong. To guard against that, keeping a wide focus on our shared humanity is extremely important.
Walls come up between people when we attach more importance to the form of our religious identities, than to the substance of what they teach us. When spiritual beliefs are used to build up walls between people, this is a total misunderstanding of the purpose of spirituality. Spirituality should mean coming closer to yourself. When this happens, you become closer to others, too. Spirituality and religion should dismantle discrimination and labels, not shore them up. It should break, not create, barriers between people.
The differences between religious beliefs are relatively superficial. Although the lineages and texts differ, all world religions share many similarities.
Living in a society with a diversity of religious beliefs is a fine opportunity to put our own tolerance, respect and love into practice. Tolerance, respect and love are values shared by all the major world religions. Surely, most people who are strictly secular also hold to the view that respect for others is an important ethical value. We can use a simple analogy to think about religious difference. The fact that we like a certain food does not mean everyone else has to like it. We do not get upset with our friends if they do not share our taste in food. When we eat in a restaurant together, we do not insist that they order the same dishes as we do, do we? We want them to eat food that suits them and that they will enjoy.
We are human beings. We are neighbours. We all share the same planet and breathe the same atmosphere. We are warmed by the same sun, and enjoy the soft light of the same moon. Because of this, we will always have things in common. Spirituality ought to heighten our awareness of all that we hold in common. It should enhance our recognition of the basic worth of all human beings.
The differences between religious beliefs are relatively superficial. Although the lineages and texts differ, in essence, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and the other world religions share many similarities. This is easy to see when we consider their ethical values and their emphasis on the awakening of human beings’ highest potential.
Whether or not we think that the tenets of other religions are true, is not the point. The point is that if we care about others’ happiness, we can be pleased that their religion is serving to bring them some happiness. If their religion or spiritual path is contributing to their well being, that is what really matters.
I keep copies of the scriptures of each of the major religions of the world in my room. I have a personal practice of my own that I do with them. I take each scripture from the shelf and hold it in my hands as I make the aspiration: “Many millions of people have placed their faith and hope in the teachings contained in this scripture. May these teachings become a true vehicle for those who make their own aspirations through them. May these teachings be a vehicle that brings them all happiness.”
(Extracted from The Heart is Noble. Changing the World from the Inside Out, by the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje)