Chapter Five: The Divine Message
There will never be enduring peace unless and until human beings come to accept a philosophy of life more adequate to the cosmic and psychological facts than the insane idolatries of nationalism and the advertising man's apocalyptic faith in Progress towards a mechanized New Jerusalem.
In the process of comparing the messages revealed in the six holy scriptures, it is imperative to learn what the scriptures say about themselves. It is then useful to compare these self-descriptions with what the various texts either state outright or imply about other spiritual teachings. It may be surprising to "religious" dogmatists and their secular counterparts to learn that all the major world religions declare the truthfulness of revelations from other spiritual traditions. The Divine Message, although taught in many forms, is universal.
The esoteric theological differences in these holy books regarding the Divine Message relate to the nature of the messenger. The Qur’an (and the holy scriptures of Judaism) states that God speaks to chosen prophets, usually through an angelic intermediary. Hinduism teaches that divine messengers are corporeal avatars of the Ultimate Godhead. The Chinese traditions refer to inspiration from the perfect order of Heaven. Christianity holds that certain prophets are allowed to speak to God or intermediate angels, with the person of Jesus himself being one with God. Finally, the Buddha is said to have gained his illumination of the mysteries of the universe through complete self-mastery.
Regardless of the means of Divine inspiration, the fundamental message in these texts is the same. Human beings human beings are instructed to be kind and compassionate, and the immoral and materialistic are warned of the inescapable realities of Divine Justice. The Ultimate Divine is always described as all-knowing, ever-present, and the omnipotent source and refuge of created existence Beyond these striking uniformities, all six texts examined in this book either state outright or strongly imply that the teachings of the major faiths are valid messages from the Ultimate Divine. Herein lies an explicit endorsement of the common narrative that binds together all religious teachings into one coherent and consistent message.
In order to compare the self-descriptions of the Divine Message found in these texts, let us first examine the words of the Bhagavad Gita. At one point in the sacred dialogue, Krishna tells Arjuna that he taught the secrets of the Universe, and the path for sentient beings to reenter the Supersoul, to the sun-spirit Vivasvan. Arjuna then asks Krishna (chapter four verse four):
Vivasvan is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?
To which the Personality of Godhead replies (chapter four verses five through eight):
Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!
Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.
Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion -- at that time I descend Myself.
To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.
Krishna in his corporeal form did not claim a monopoly on prophetic testament to mankind. The Gita teaches that there have been many human incarnations of the Divine Messenger. Indeed, it is said that the Supersoul manifests Itself as a human messenger at many points in history, both past and future. The message and the goal is always the same - to advance true religious understanding of Reality, and correct humanity’s evil ways; to promote a message of mercy to the righteous, and to warn wrongdoers of divine retribution. The constant purpose of the Divine Message is to educate humanity. This timeless instruction has come from many different teachers. Unsurprisingly, most Hindus believe that all religions have inherent validity, and are different paths to the same goal.
The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad contain parallels to the above dialogue from the Gita. Muhammad saw himself as simply the latest in a long procession of prophets tasked with rectifying human theology and society. Thus the Qur'an refers to itself in the first two verses of Sura thirty two as:
The Revelation of the Book in which there is no doubt,- from the Lord of the Worlds.
Or do they say, "He has forged it"? Nay, it is the Truth from thy Lord, that thou mayest admonish a people to whom no warner has come before thee: in order that they may receive guidance.
The purpose of the Qur'an is to guide a people living in ignorance of Divine mandates, just as Krishna states that his mission is to "reestablish the principles of religion". Clearly, both texts have the same purpose, and the similarity of their instructions leads one to believe that both are sourced from the same Ultimate Inspiration.
Furthermore, just as Krishna claims to have made his warnings to different groups of humanity at different stages of history, sura ten, verse forty-seven of the Qur'an explicitly states that the Prophet Muhammad is not the sole provider of Divine revelation:
To every people a messenger: when their messenger comes, the matter will be judged between them with justice, and they will not be wronged.
In this verse the Qur'an says that "every people" have been sent a messenger by Allah - not just the Israelites and Arabs, but every tribe of humanity. A perfect and just God would not favor one group of human beings with a divine revelation whilst leaving others in ignorance and darkness. The Qur'an specifically describes the basic veracity of the teachings and scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and all those who “believe in God and the Last Day" of Divine Justice. Additionally, sura thirty five, verses thirty-one and thirty two explicitly state the truthfulness of the religious prophets who came before Muhammad :
That which We have revealed to thee of the Book is the Truth,- confirming what was before it: for Allah is assuredly- with respect to His Servants - well acquainted and Fully Observant.
Then We have given the Book for inheritance to such of Our Servants as We have chosen: but there are among them some who wrong their own souls; some who follow a middle course; and some who are, by Allah's leave, foremost in good deeds; that is the highest Grace.
"The Book" mentioned in the Qur'an is not the Qur'an itself, but Allah's Book of all that is true, right and good. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is a part of this larger body, a Book that, to transcribe completely, would require more ink than there is water in the world's oceans. This is why Jews and Christians, in traditional Islamic law, are known as "People of the Book"- because Abraham and Jesus were Prophets who were blessed with a message from The All-Knowing and charged with the task of warning their people of the Divine Realities. Muslim theologians believe that the differences between the Qu'ran, the Christian New Testament, and the Torah are a byproduct of linguistic (and sometimes deliberately political) misinterpretation. If one could extend this distinction to the teachings of Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius and Krishna (as indeed some Islamic scholars have), then Islam would regard the vast majority of humanity as "People of the Book". The preceding passages of the Qur'an imply that this liberal and tolerant interpretation of non-Islamic religious traditions is the fundamentally correct one.
Verse thirteen of sura forty-nine of the Qur’an further attests to the relevance and utility of the spiritual teachings of other cultures:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
The various peoples of the earth exist so that we may learn from each other. No one group of people has a unique license on the Divine Message. The fact that such striking parallels can be found in disparate revelations, which have historically been separated by immense geographical distance, a multitude of languages, and thousands of years, is a testament to their fundamental Truth. All six of the revelations examined in this book are best understood when compared to each other. The various religions of humanity exist to mutually-confirm the messages of anti-materialism, Divine Justice, and compassionate action. Additionally, the above verse reminds us once more that the best amongst humanity are those who act in accordance with the Divine Realities, rather than self-professed members of any specific spiritual tradition. The immense commonalities found between the Qur’an and the other holy books of humanity point to a common Source, and this inherent unity is spoken of in each sacred text.
Jesus frequently paid homage to the older Abrahamic foundations on which his message was based. Although a social and religious reformer, Jesus' fundamental goal was to seek a return to true religion, a practice that focuses on worshiping God through love and service to human beings. He did not seek to turn away his fellow Jews from their religious traditions, but rather to restore their original essence. In chapter five, verses seventeen through nineteen of the Book of Matthew Jesus says:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus explicitly acknowledges the veracity of other religious teachers. As mentioned previously, the Christian perspective on divine inspiration sits somewhere between the accounts of the Gita and the Qur'an. The Jewish prophets before Jesus are said to be human messengers inspired by God, whereas Jesus himself is the Divine made human. This theological divergence is of minor significance when compared with the commonalities found between teachings of Jesus and those of other holy traditions. Note that in this passage, Jesus says that his mission is to "fulfill" the messages of Jewish law and prophets. In other words, Jesus saw his mission as a continuation of an ancient mission.
Jesus said that all Divine Messengers teach similar, but distinct and unique, revelations to humanity. In verse fifty-two, chapter thirteen from the book of Mathew, Jesus says:
Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.
The Bible explains that all legitimate holy teachings will share some common messages, and yet still remain unique. The “old” and the “new” treasures of Divine inspiration are best understood when related to each other. The immense common ground found throughout the six texts compared in this book testifies to a unity of Source and intent, although each holy tradition still maintains its unique identity. Jesus, just like all the other founders of religious traditions, did not claim a monopoly on the truths of the Divine Message. He states outright that the other revelations which teach this timeless and universal instruction to humanity are fundamentally true.
A reverence for other spiritual teachings is common throughout all six religious texts examined in this book. This universal theme applies to the Chinese traditions. As Confucius says in the Analects (chapter two verse eleven):
If a man keeps cherishing his old knowledge, so as continually to be acquiring new, he may be a teacher of others.
This verse is strikingly similar to the words of Jesus quoted above. Like Jesus, Confucius saw himself as someone who had a duty to bring his society back to its ethical traditions, and who revered the sages who preceded him. He did not claim to be the inventor of his message. As Confucius states in the first verse of chapter seven:
A transmitter and not a maker, believing in and loving the ancients, I venture to compare myself with our old P'ang.
The Master taught his followers a message which is as old as humanity. Unfortunately, it is not known to modern scholars exactly who “P’ang” was. In any case, it is clear that Confucius viewed himself as simply another messenger tasked with rectifying a wayward society. He does not lay claim to a monopoly on sacred Truths, but rather tells the common message that binds together all spiritual knowledge.
From wherein did Confucius claim his knowledge emanated? To some extent there is a sense of his own innate wisdom being combined with careful scholarship to arrive at the conclusions found in the Analects. However, there are also passages that point to a Divine source for Confucius' message of human compassion and social reform. This would justify grouping Confucius in the same category as Krishna, Jesus, and the prophet Muhammad. Chapter three verse twenty-four of the Analects reads as follows:
The border warden at Yi requested to be introduced to the Master, saying, "When men of superior virtue have come to this, I have never been denied the privilege of seeing them." The followers of the sage introduced him, and when he came out from the interview, he said, "My friends, why are you distressed by your master's loss of office? The kingdom has long been without the principles of truth and right; Heaven is going to use your master as a bell with its wooden tongue."
In the above passage we see again the common theme found throughout these texts of the Divine Message. An individual in a society gone awry is tasked with a knowledge and warning that goes beyond normal human learning. The Divine, variously given the titles of "Brahman", "Allah" "Yahweh" or "Heaven" both blesses and burdens these messengers with the knowledge of hidden matters to be explained to a skeptical and materially-focused humanity. Confucius’ teachings are a medium for explaining universal truths. The Analects' claim of divine inspiration, combined with Confucius' stated reverence of previous "knowledge" yet further evidences the universal essence of the six traditions examined in this book.
The Buddha is believed to have earned his knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and Nirvana through self-mastery and the destruction of his desires. This account differs from the other traditions examined in this book. Nevertheless, there are passages in the Dhammapada that seem to confirm the veracity of non-Buddhist revelations and teachings, such as the first two verses of chapter six:
If one finds a person who points out faults and who reproves, one should follow such a wise and sagacious person as one would a guide to hidden treasure. It is always better, and never worse, to cultivate such an association.
Let the person admonish, instruct and shield one from wrong; this person , indeed is dear to the good and detestable to the evil.
All those who admonish their brethren to be compassionate and focused on Ultimate Reality, rather than transient material desires, are to be respected and followed. This message confirms the authenticity and utility of non-Buddhist religious messengers. The self-described "religious" tradition of the guide is not the essential element - a sage is to be listened to and followed so long as such a teacher sincerely provides rectifying instruction to humanity. These "wise and sagacious" messengers are "detestable to the evil" - their warnings will often fall on deaf ears, and meet with hatred and oppression. (This is yet another common thread which ties together these various scriptures, to be examined in Chapter Seven of this book.) The Buddha taught that all teachers who seek to reform humanity by explaining the methods of achieving the Deathless are valuable. Humanity’s sages are to be followed and respected, regardless of semantic differences in the spiritual traditions.
Finally, we come to the words of the Tao te Ching, from Lao Tzu, the contemporary of Confucius and the Buddha. The Old Man, like all true spiritual teachers, believed that he did not own an exclusive right to mystical realities. The various divine messages will help to confirm one another. In section twenty-seven of the Tao te Ching, Lao Tzu says:
One who excels in travelling leaves no wheel tracks;
One who excels in speech makes no slips;
One who excels in reckoning uses no counting rods;
One who excels in shutting uses no bolts yet what he has shut cannot be opened.
One who excels in tying uses no cords yet what he has tied cannot be undone.
Therefore the sage always excels in saving people, and so abandons no one;
Always excels in saving things, and so abandons nothing.
This is called following one's discernment.
Hence the good man is the teacher the bad learns from;
And the bad man is the material the good works on.
Not to value the teacher
Nor to love the material
Though it seems clever, betrays great bewilderment.
This text’s mystical language leaves it somewhat open to interpretation, but given the context of the passages quoted previously in this chapter, its meaning is clear. The focus here is on "saving people" through the use of mysterious talents and abilities. Those blessed with a specific skill are to use their gifts to assist and educate others. Of course, the question arises as to what humanity needs to be saved from. Based on other sections of the teachings of Lao Tzu, the obvious implication is that knowledge and wisdom provide the guidance which can rectify individuals, and attune humanity to the imperishable Way of Heaven. Nothing is to be “abandoned”; the fundamental truths must be sought from all aspects of life. As in the Dhammapada, Lao Tzu teaches that cooperation is essential, with the master and the apprentice working together towards a common goal. One cannot find fault or blame in skillful speakers - their messages will always contain an essential element of truth. Therefore, any teaching which leads humanity on a path to the Divine is to be respected and practiced.
Section forty-two of the Tao te Ching contains the following passage that further confirms the unity of message in these six holy traditions:
What others teach I also teach.
'The violent shall not come to a natural end.'
I shall take this as my precept.
Lao Tzu explicitly states that his message is not an innovation, but rather a continuation. Lao Tzu taught his followers that his message is part of a larger Divine narrative. All six of these holy scriptures command nonviolence(see Chapter Thirteen for a discussion of this theme). Divine Justice will punish those who misuse their earthly powers. Just like all the other prophets, the Old Man did not claim a monopoly on Truth. All legitimate teachings are to be respected, and the essential common message of compassion is found throughout all sincere traditions. Those who know of the Eternal Way shall not childishly dispute with one another. The true, timeless message of the sages is inherently one, and the knowledgeable shall seek the unity, not the differences. Lao Tzu saw his message as part of a larger account, an instruction to humanity that transcends linguistic, cultural, temporal, and geographical divides.
Despite the assertions of narrow-minded fundamentalists, none of the holy texts in the six traditions of Hinduism, Christianity, Taoism, Islam, Buddhism and Confucianism lay claim to an exclusive right over Divine Teachings. All of these scriptures either state outright or strongly imply the usefulness and veracity of other religious scriptures and methods. As the reader has seen throughout this book, all major world religions have a vast theological, ethical, and metaphysical common ground. This is because all have been inspired by the same Source. Indeed, these six teachings are best understood when related to teach other. There is no greater disservice to humanity than to twist and misuse the words of holy people in order to incite violence against a group of human beings who happen to use unfamiliar expressions for the same concepts and ideals.