Chapter One: The Divine
One Universal Creator God. Truth Is The Name. Creative Being Personified. No Fear. No Hatred. Image Of The Undying. Beyond Birth. Self-Existent.
-The Sri Guru Granth Sahib
Human beings are naturally inclined to look for order amongst chaos, and seek out the source of our world. All faiths instruct humanity to seek meaning beyond our material senses and experiences. The teachings of the various holy texts regarding the nature and capabilities of the Divine contain striking parallels. These vital similarities should lead one to believe our spiritual traditions are all speaking of and originating from the same Ultimate Force, regardless of the specific names attributed to this universal concept.
There are four essential aspects of the Divine found in each of the religious traditions. The Ultimate Divine is all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent, and the creator of the universe. Brahman, Yahweh, Allah, the Tao - in all traditions, this incomprehensible Entity has complete power over and knowledge of the material world, and is both the originator of all material forms and the goal and final refuge of every being. Furthermore this Spirit is the primal cause of the material world but not Itself material, and therefore imperceptible through the senses. All created, conditioned beings are brought back into the Divine fold, either through a process of reincarnation or a final Judgment Day.
There are some superficial disparities in the sacred texts regarding the Divine. Islam and Christianity (along with Judaisim) share a nearly identical narrative of God creating the entire universe, and then gathering all creation in order to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. The Vedic faiths of Buddhism and Hinduism see the process of creation and destruction, reward and punishment as cyclical, but nevertheless hold that there is an origin and goal beyond these cycles. Confucius believed that Heaven and its mandated Virtue are eternal. Taoism sees the Tao as the source and dissolution of conditioned reality. Regardless of what name humans attribute to the Ultimate Divine, it is always said to be the source and goal of all creation, and beyond recognition through conventional senses. The process through which nature emanates from and returns to the Ultimate Divine is somewhat different in each religious faith, but the fundamental concepts remain the same.
The Ultimate Divine is impossible to define; no human being can adequately describe their God. Therefore this chapter will not attempt the impossible task of fully defining a Power that transcends material limitations. Rather this chapter presents and explains the common properties of the Divine within the six religious texts. The conspicuous commonalities found in these scriptures stem from the fact that the religious messengers all spoke of the same Ideal Essence which originates and pervades all reality. Furthermore, the shared conclusions of these texts regarding the Primal Knower are congruent with the latest advances of scientific discovery.
Chapter thirteen, verses fourteen through eighteen of the Bhagavad Gita provide an excellent introduction to the common teachings on the Divine found throughout all six holy texts:
Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes, heads and faces, and He has ears everywhere. In this way the Supersoul exists, pervading everything.
The Supersoul is the original source of all senses, yet He is without senses. He is unattached, although He is the maintainer of all living beings. He transcends the modes of nature, and at the same time He is the master of all the modes of material nature.
The Supreme Truth exists outside and inside of all living beings, the moving and the nonmoving. Because He is subtle, He is beyond the power of the material senses to see or to know. Although far, far away, He is also near to all.
Although the Supersoul appears to be divided among all beings, He is never divided. He is situated as one. Although He is the maintainer of every living entity, it is to be understood that He devours and develops all.
He is the source of light in all luminous objects. He is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested. He is knowledge, He is the object of knowledge, and He is the goal of knowledge. He is situated in everyone's heart.
This passage presents the universally-taught aspects of the Divine. Brahman is the omnipotent "maintainer of all living beings". Because the Supersoul's means of perception and action are everywhere, the Ultimate Divine is both omniscient and omnipresent. Indeed, the Supersoul’s omnipresence is such that this Being is within our very selves - “situated in everyone’s heart”. Beyond merely being all-knowledgeable, the Ultimate Divine is "knowledge" itself, "the object of knowledge", and "the goal of knowledge". It is the Source and consumer of all created objects. Furthermore, Braham is eternal, as chapter ten, verse three reveals:
He who knows Me as the unborn, as the beginningless, as the Supreme Lord of all the worlds -- he only, undeluded among men, is freed from all sins.
The description of the Supersoul found in the passages above is entirely congruent with the following descriptions of the Ultimate Divine found in the other holy texts. “Brahman” is simply the specific name in the Gita for the Ultimate Being spoken of by all spiritual sages.
An almost exact parallel between the Gita’s description of Brahman and Lao Tzu’s teachings on the Tao is found in section twenty five of the Tao te Ching:
There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
Silent and void
It stands alone and does not change,
Goes round and does not weary.
It is capable of being the mother of the world.
I know not its name
So I style it 'the way'.
I give it the makeshift name of 'the great'.
Being great, it is further described as receding,
Receding, it is described as far away,
Being far away, it is described as turning back.
Hence the way is great;
Heaven is great;
Earth is great;
The king is also great.
Within the realm there are four things that are great,
And the king counts as one.
Man models himself on earth,
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.
“The way” is the original source of all material creation. This Entity’s omnipotence is expressed as the Tao's freedom from danger, and Its nature as the source of the laws of the material universe. The Tao is both omnipresent and eternal. This passage further emphasizes the complete autonomy of the Tao, and the dependence of all material forms upon the Tao. All laws of the world emanate from the nature and directives of the Tao, the only force that is entirely self-sufficient. At first the Tao hides Itself from the world, later It returns all creation to the Divine Fold. Thus, despite being omnipresent, the Undying Being referred to in all holy texts is impossible to see. With regards to the fundamental aspects of the Ultimate Divine, the above passage from the Tao te Ching is entirely congruent with the teaching found in all holy scriptures.
The Tao is the Ultimate Divine in the teachings of Lao Tzu - the, eternal, all-powerful Force that is impossible for the limited mind of a human being to fully understand. Lao Tzu, as an imperfect human being, does not know a proper name for this Power, so his designates it the "Tao", the Way that originates and binds all of creation. The Ultimate Divine is conceived of as feminine in the teachings of Lao Tzu, unlike the male deity spoken of in the Abrahamic faiths. This minor philosophical point is obviously superficial. That which created "male" and "female" should be thought of as transcending such dichotomies. All religious traditions are simply using different names for the same Eternal Being.
An additional explanation of the undying nature of the Tao, and its mysterious lack of a proper name, are also found in the first section of the Tao te Ching:
The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way;
The name that can be named
Is not the constant name.
The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.
These two are the same
But diverge in name as they issue forth.
Being the same they are called mysteries,
Mystery upon mystery -
The gateway of the manifold secrets.
This recurrent emphasis on a name is an important link throughout humanity’s faiths. Similar to the adherents of classical Judaism, Taoists believe any humanly-derived name for the Ultimate Divine is necessarily imperfect. The manifestations of the Ultimate Divine have many names in Hinduism, and the Qur'an mentions more than one hundred names for Allah (such as “The Perfectly Wise” and “The Giver of Life”). What is important are not the sounds or symbols used to describe the Divine, but rather what aspects the Eternal Spirit is said to possess. This passage refers one more to the eternal nature of the Ultimate Divine, and how It is the source of the material world. Therefore, the Tao of Chinese traditions is fundamentally analogous to the "God" of the West, and the “Brahman” of India. Minor semantic differences in the various holy texts stem from the fact that these texts often emphasize different aspects of the same Incomprehensible Force. This passage also introduces yet another common theme found throughout all six holy texts examined in this book. In order to understand and commune with the Divine, we must shed ourselves of lower desires. It is impossible to experience the Eternal when one’s mind is focused upon transient material lusts and desires.
Christian teachings on the nature of the Ultimate Divine mirror the portrayals found in all spiritual traditions. Testimony to the all-powerful, all-knowing, and ever-present nature of the creator God is found throughout the Gospels. A rather mystical formula (that ties in with the Hindu concept of the Ultimate Divine as grounded in ultimate awareness) is found in the first five verses of the Book of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
"The Word" – understanding and consciousness -is the essence of God. From this perfect Source and Sentience all material creation emanates. The inherent light of the Ultimate Divine is contrasted with a darkness that lacks understanding. The Primal Knower is the source and maintainer of all material forms. Therefore, just as in the Bhagavad Gita, the fundamental nature of God (and the trait of human beings that allows us to commune with the Ultimate Divine) is consciousness. This passage also refers to the ignorance inherent in the nature of evil, the mental force opposed to the Divine presence, to be discussed in chapter six.
The God of the Bible, as with all descriptions of the Ultimate Divine in the various holy texts, is ever-present in the material realm, and yet hidden from the corporeal senses. In chapter thirteen, verse thirty-three of the Book of Mathew, Jesus says:
The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
The Ultimate Divine as spoken of by Jesus is omnipresent, just like the descriptions of the Tao, the Supersoul, and Allah. The “leaven” can be thought of as God, and the “three measures of meal” is the material world. The Divine spreads throughout the physical world – in a sense, activating creation just like yeast activates flour and water. With this parable, Jesus taught that although the spiritual world is everywhere, God remains hidden from view.
God is also the final end of all creation. In verses forty-seven through fifty of the same chapter of the Book of Mathew, Jesus warns:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.
So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
In Christian teachings, just like in all faiths, the Divine is the final goal of all material existence. None can escape the inexorable power of God. These verses teach another common theme of all religions (to be discussed in chapter four), specifically that the Eternal Spirit is the arbiter of Divine Justice - the immutable laws of the universe that will reward the compassionate and punish the greedy.
Finally, we come to the universal teachings on the all-powerful nature of the Ultimate Divine. In chapter ten, verse twenty seven of the Book of Mark, it is written:
And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
The power of humanity is limited, but God can do “all things”. No possibility is beyond the capacity of The Eternal One to bring about. The reader should recognize that, as in the other faiths examined in this chapter, the God of the Bible is described as all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present, and the source and destination of conditioned reality. Clearly, the “Jehovah” of Jesus is the same Force given the name the Tao, Brahman, or Allah by the other holy messengers.
Many of the verses of the Qur'an detail explicitly the nature of the Ultimate Divine in language that confirms and reinforces the descriptions found in other sacred texts. For example, Sura twenty-nine, verses nineteen through twenty-one read:
See they not how Allah originates creation, then repeats it: truly that is easy for Allah.
Say: Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things.
He punishes whom He pleases, and He grants Mercy to whom He pleases, and towards Him are ye turned.
The Islamic tradition teaches of the Divine source and final end of all creation. The “Allah” of the Qur’an, just like the Supersoul of the Gita, and the Tao of Lao Tzu, is the Timeless Being with complete power over all material existence. Furthermore, the Qur’an specifically states that Allah and the God of the Bible are one and the same. Verse forty-six of sura twenty nine instructs Muslims to say to Jews and Christians:
"We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow.”
Clearly, the Bible and the Qur’an speak of the same Ultimate Deity. Muhammad was acquainted with Arab Jews and Christians, and saw himself as another prophet in the same line stretching back to Moses and Abraham. The descriptions of this All-Powerful Being found in the Qur’an restate universal teachings in all holy books.
Finally, we come to the omnipresent and omniscient nature of the Ultimate Divine. Verse seven of Sura fifty-eight:
Seest thou not that Allah doth know (all) that is in the heavens and on earth? There is not a secret consultation between three, but He makes the fourth among them, - Nor between five but He makes the sixth,- nor between fewer nor more, but He is in their midst, wheresoever they be: In the end will He tell them the truth of their conduct, on the Day of Judgment. For Allah has full knowledge of all things.
The Qur'an formulates the Ultimate Divine, Allah, as having four essential qualities. Allah is omnipresent, omniscient, the originator of creation, and its ultimate goal. The Supreme Being is a constantly present the universe, and has authority over all material forms. The common descriptions of the Ultimate Divine found throughout the Qur'an and the other holy texts are mutually-supportive. Obviously the holy books of humanity use distinct titles to refer to the same Incomparable Being. Those who emphasize the different names used by the various religious traditions to call upon the same God stir up unnecessary divisions. Such exploitative fools completely miss the true purpose of human spirituality.
The Buddhist idea of the Divine Perfection is rooted in limitless knowledge. Recall that “Buddha” literally means, “awakened one”. Once a sentient being sees the imperfections of physical existence and renounces Maya, the temporary material illusion, he or she turns away from suffering and enters into the eternal bliss of Nirvana. As is written in the first six verses of chapter two:
Heedfulness is the path to the Deathless, heedlessness is the path to death. The heedful die not, the heedless are already dead.
Clearly understanding this excellence of heedfulness, the wise exult therein and enjoy the resort of the Noble Ones.
The wise ones, ever meditative and steadfastly persevering, experience Nirvana, the incomparable freedom from bondage. Ever grows the glory of one who is energetic, mindful and pure in conduct, discerning and self- controlled, righteous and heedful.
By effort and heedfulness, discipline and self-mastery, let the wise one make for oneself an island which no flood can overwhelm. The foolish and ignorant indulge in heedlessness, but the wise one keeps one's heedfulness as one's best treasure.
Awareness and self-control are the essence of eternal life itself. By attaining the perfect state of Nirvana, one is protected from the imperfections and transience of the material world. Through knowledge, self-control, and right action, one can enter the abode of Eternal Life. This Perfection, allowing one to build "an island which no flood can overwhelm", is free from all danger, and therefore of unmatched power. Such a State is incomparable to all others; it is the Ultimate End. There is a clear link in the teachings of the Buddha between limitless awareness, unassailable power, and the eternal. Furthermore, the Dhammapada speaks of the Divine thusly in the first verse of chapter fourteen:
By what track can you trace that trackless Buddha of limitless range, whose victory nothing can undo, whom none of the vanquished defilements can ever pursue? By what track can you trace that trackless Buddha of limitless range, in whom exists no longer the entangling and embroiling craving that perpetuates becoming?
The Awakened One is unconfined by special realities, and therefore exists throughout the material world. Yet at the same time, this Ultimate Being is distinct from conventional material existence. This Force can never be defeated by the imperfections in the world. It is impossible for a flawed human being to ever fully realize the scope and majesty of this primal Spirit. Although it is hidden from conventional senses, this Nature is within the reach of all beings. Despite the lack of focus on the Ultimate Divine in Buddhist teaching, the fundamental congruence of these passages with the deity-centered religious texts is uncanny.
Much like traditional Buddhism, the teachings of Confucius do not emphasize a creator deity. Nevertheless, a concept of a Higher Power corresponding to the Ultimate Divine spoken of in all religious teachings is present throughout Confucian thought. The idea of Heaven (as discussed in the overview on Confucianism in the introduction) is taken for granted as the expression of the Ultimate Order. Confucius felt at times unable to fully describe and define the Ultimate Divine, which he nonetheless venerated. Chapter five, verse thirteen of the Analects reads:
Tsze-kung said, 'The Master's personal displays of his principles and ordinary descriptions of them may be heard. His discourses about man's nature, and the way of Heaven, cannot be heard.'
This is not to say that Confucius was a faithless skeptic. Indeed, his teachings contain allusions to the Ultimate Divine, and the path that humanity must tread in order to reach the Deathless. Confucius spoke of “Heaven” as the source and maintainer of material existence. Chapter seventeen, verse nineteen of the Analects contains the following dialogue:
The Master said, 'I would prefer not speaking.' Tsze-kung said, 'If you, Master, do not speak, what shall we, your disciples, have to record?' The Master said, 'Does Heaven speak? The four seasons pursue their courses, and all things are continually being produced, but does Heaven say anything?'
Confucius clearly believed that the physical world of objects and actions all have a transcendental, eternal, and Divine source. The Master wished to emulate this perfect Force.
Furthermore, in chapter five, verse thirty-five of the Analects Confucius tells his followers:
Virtue is more to man than either water or fire. I have seen men die from treading on water and fire, but I have never seen a man die from treading the course of virtue.
De (virtue) is the human method for conforming to the Will of Heaven. The power of Virtue is such that it exceeds the elemental forces of fire and water, and the path of virtue is the way to everlasting life. True Virtue, like all expressions of the Divine, is said to be eternal and unchanging. The first verse of Chapter Two of the Analects reads:
The Master said, "He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it."
De is constant and eternal, and one who exercises it leads others by example. Because Virtue’s infinitely greater than even the strongest of material forces, all creation must genuflect to its will. As with all expressions of the Divine ideal, Virtue is both ageless and cannot be harmed by any material objects or conditions. Although Confucius focused his mission more on human society than metaphysical mysteries, his teachings on what is eternal, all-powerful and the originator of the material world coincide with and reinforce the teachings of the more deity-centered world religions. Heaven is the name used for the source of all creation. Virtue, as the Divine ideal expressed in human action, allows for one to harness the omnipresent and omnipotent nature of the Ultimate Divine. The words of Confucius are entirely harmonious with the elemental assumptions of all sincere religious thought.
The descriptions of the Ultimate Divine found in all of these holy texts are fundamentally congruent. This Force is the all-powerful, ever-present, eternal, and all-knowing Source and Destination of material creation. These theological constants may even be interpreted outside the lens of faith. Indeed, these universal descriptions could be thought of philosophically or even scientifically. Many quantum physicists, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, believe that nothing exists without an observer. As stated by the eminent Stanford University physicist Andrei Linde (DISCOVER Magazine, June 1, 2002):
"You can say that the universe is there only when there is an observer who can say, Yes, I see the universe there. These small words— it looks like it was here— for practical purposes it may not matter much, but for me as a human being, I do not know any sense in which I could claim that the universe is here in the absence of observers. We are together, the universe and us. The moment you say that the universe exists without any observers, I cannot make any sense out of that. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness.”
The brightest minds of our planet cannot account for the existence of anything in this universe in the absence of a self-aware observer. However, most of humanity will take it for granted that there are vast tracts of space-time that have, as far as our material knowledge can discern, no sentient witness. It would have been physically impossible for a corporeal observer to have been present at the formation of the universe. The very existence of the cosmos beyond the reach of our observational instruments attests the existence of the all-knowing and eternal Ultimate Divine. It seems that humanity’s contemporary science is in search of the ancient fundamental truths taught by our oldest traditions.
As seen throughout this chapter, all of the six holy texts hold nearly identical views on the nature of the Ultimate Divine (even those scriptures which do not place the emphasis on their teachings on such a Deity). This Force is the all-knowing, ever-present, and omnipotent source and refuge of created existence. "God", "Heaven" "Brahman" "the Tao"- this Force is always formulated as all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent. From a philosophical or logical viewpoint, these traits of the Divine are mutually necessary. Only a Being that is all-knowing could be all-powerful, and such an entity would have to be eternal and omnipresent. Conversely, only an Entity which is all-knowing would be capable of omnipotence, eternalness, and omnipresence. Indeed, these characteristics point to a unity of purpose which is impossible for our minds to fully grasp.
The parallels of the descriptions of the Ultimate Divine amongst the six religions detailed in this chapter are unmistakable. It is an essential truth to say that these texts are simply giving a different name to the same concept. When people say “aqua” in Mexico, they are speaking of the same life-giving substance as those who say of “paani” in India or“nam” in Thailand. It is an act of extreme ignorance to dismiss another’s religion simply because one uses an unfamiliar name to call upon the Eternal Spirit. The minor differences in the beliefs relating to the Ultimate Divine (an assignment of gender, for example) can be explained as a problem in translation and the naturally imperfect realities of human perception. Regardless of these superficial differences, there are unmistakable and essential similarities in the teachings of these texts on nature of the Ultimate Divine. These parallels provide a foundation for the study of the inherent unity and truth of all sincere religious teachings.