The media makes sure that we are aware of the differences of each tradition. Christianity claims Jesus is God who brings salvation or healing. Islam claims the Q’uran is God speaking. Judaism claims the Law will save us. Yoga claims the eight-fold path (Ashtanga) will bring divine union or equanimity. Buddhism claims Buddha was a human being who achieved enlightenment.
In spite of their real and significant differences, have you ever noted the interesting similarities between Buddhism, Yoga, Judaism, Christianity and Islam?
We do need to acknowledge that there are vast differences in beliefs between the world’s major philosophical traditions of Buddhism and Yoga, along with the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each of these traditions promises a different goal or end. Salvation, divine union or enlightenment, for example, are not the same thing. We need to trust that each tradition knows enough about its own spiritual path to know where they are taking their followers. We could say that there are many worthwhile destinations in the land of God or ultimate reality, if you like.
Then again, it can be noted that there are vast differences within each of these traditions themselves. In many ways, Reform and Orthodox Judaism are miles apart for example. The same is true of evangelicals and Catholics in the Christian tradition.
Still, as a group, these traditions do highlight surprisingly similar aspects of the experience of living a human life. Today I thought I would detail a few of them quickly. The similarities highlighted here are what I am familiar with from my own personal study in each tradition – but don’t cover every tradition. Nevertheless, I find these similarities curious and in a way, appealing, even comforting.
Each tradition tells us something about the human story or path. Each tradition offers a way for embarking on the spiritual journey. That journey often requires losing or leaving everything behind (“Leave everything and follow me.”) There is great suffering associated with this. Buddha can barely stand to leave his wife and son.
However, the resulting journey is worth this huge cost. The journey requires that we navigate a path that was unanticipated. This path is partially illuminated before us – just like the picture above – it lures us in. But what lies ahead is hidden. We must trust. In many cases it is through a deep suffering or loss that our path is revealed. In any case, we have an opportunity to discover the true nature of reality – which is this: our bliss or joy comes by being truly, deeply present to each moment, as it really is (“Now begins the practice of Yoga.” Sutra 1.1.) This love, joy, divine nature, is in fact the underpinning of reality – “the pearl of great price,” freedom from suffering, liberation from slavery, union with the divine.
We are initimately connected to this reality. More than this, we are actually a part of it. “The Kingdom is within you” Jesus tells us. It is our own minds and undisciplined ego that bring about suffering. “What defiles comes from within not from without.” It is our enslavement to culture, ego and desire – symbolized in the dominant cultures of Egypt or Rome for example – that brings pain to us and others.
We don’t need a monastery, deprivation, or rigidity. This is merely another form of enslavement. Moderation is enough. We only need to be present to the teacher within ourselves which is manifested through each and every moment we live.
Being present to each moment is difficult because it requires letting go of our ego and cultural way of viewing things – a softening of our programmed lenses, if you will or replacing our stoney hearts with hearts of flesh as the Jewish scriptures declare. But if we can use the disciplines of moderation, the Five Pillars, asana poses, other-centeredness and meditation or contemplative prayer, (time in the desert) we can learn to become truly present to reality as it really is.
These disciplines are defined in the Eight-Fold Path (Yoga), the Five Pillars (Islam), the Law (Judaism), the path of moderation and meditation (Buddhism), following Jesus and his teaching to be other-centered or Christ-centered (Christianity). Seeing reality clearly, then, allows us to move along the path of our chosen tradition.
What is not often articulated in these traditions is that “seeing reality as it really is” requires seeing the systemic discrimination we collectively inflict on others (through laws, discrimination and customs) because of greed, anger, ignorance (self-centeredness). The antidotes are generosity, compassion, knowledge and most importantly, working for systemic change to relieve the suffering of others caused by a lack of care embedded in our social laws, customs and structures.