This post looks at how we can reconcile extremist destructive religions with the instruction to respect all people who believe in God. Interestingly a fellow Saivite has just published a post looking at the issues at the other end of the spectrum, In “Devas on the head of a pin?” he asks how can we give enough credit to the beliefs of other religions where the teachings appear to be different but the truth behind must be the same.
I have been prompted to think about this by an interesting comment by Kodanda, where he talks about sattvic and non-sattvic religions. He asserted that the Hindu proclamation “Ekam sat, viprah bahudhaa vadanti” or “There is one truth (God), but sages describe it differently” could only be applied to sattvic religions. Religions that promote violence, conversion by force, threats, bribes or deceit, that subjugate unbelievers should not be included in this. It is certainly possible that the sages who first wrote this had only come across Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism and not the exclusive religions who would like to see an end to all other beliefs.
At first I was worried that this would contradict the teachings of my sampradaya (Hindu schdenominationool) as Gurudeva says:
How Do Saivites Regard Other Faiths?
Religious beliefs are manifold and different. Saivites, understanding the strength of this diversity, wholeheartedly respect and encourage all who believe in God. They honor the fact that Truth is one, paths are many. Aum.
His Nandinatha Sutras also say:
SUTRA 231: INTERACTING WITH OTHER FAITHS
Siva’s devotees properly respect and address virtuous persons of all religious traditions. They may support and participate in interfaith gatherings from time to time with leaders and members of all religions. Aum.
SUTRA 232: NOT DEMEANING OTHER SECTS OR RELIGIONS
Siva’s devotees do not speak disrespectfully about other Hindu lineages, their beliefs, Gods, sacred sites, scriptures, or holy men and women. Nor do they disparage other religions. They refuse to listen to such talk. Aum.
How are we to understand this? Does this mean that we should respect faiths even if they clearly express a desire to eradicate Hinduism or convert through violent means? Sutra 231 above is easier than the others, because it says that we should respect “virtuous persons of all religious traditions”, which implies that we don’t have to respect those promoting or using deceit and violence. It is clear from the other passages that we should respect all those who believe in God. However I don’t think it means that we have to respect everything about their religions.
One way that some people try to justify respecting all religions is by saying that those who promote viloence, etc. are not “true followers” of the religion, or that they misunderstand their faith. There is some justification for that when it comes to small minorities like the Westburo Baptist Church, whose teachings are opposed by almost all other Christians. It is not as easy to say this when the accepted teaching of a faith promotes negative activity, and it is supported by the majority. This was the case with Christianity in the crusades and for a lot of the time that India was under British rule.
We hear this argument used inappropriately today, for example when people say that “not all Muslims believe that apostates from Islam (those leaving the religion) should be killed” it is true – but when people say “true Islam doesn’t believe that apostates should be killed” this is a bit far fetched when death for apostasy from Islam is widely supported, and It is the law in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, the UAE, Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, (Northern) Sudan, Quatar, Yemen, Malaysia, Mauritia, Nigeria, and Syria.
So should we respect all faiths? My answer, which I believe is in line with the teachings of the Nandinatha Sampradaya is that we should look at it the same way that we look at respecting all people. As Hindus we believe that all people contain a divine spark, and should be respected for that. At the same time we are told to avoid bad company, and keep satsang (good company).
Similarly we should respect all religions for having some basis in truth, and potentially being right for people at some stage of their spiritual journey. At the same time we should avoid the non-sattvic religions and not encourage any of their negative beliefs and practices. After all we can say that the criminal is divine at heart and still encourage better behaviour.
In this way I think we can accept that “Ekam sat, viprah bahudhaa vadanti“does not apply fully to all religions, but that virtuous followers should be respected and all religions respected for what truth they contain.