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What is the universal religion? by Understanding Hinduism


An essay in four parts:

1. An essay on Inter-religious Attitude

2. Why are there so many Religions?

3. Where do religions agree and disagree?

4. What is the universal religion?





By Swami Nikhilananda
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Centre,
New York




Attempts have been made in the past to create a universal religion. There are the instances of Christianity and Islam, some of whose zealous leaders hoped to make their own faith into a universal religion. In order to impose it upon others they employed not only force of character, but more often bribery, persuasion, the sword, or a combination of all these. This desire in one form or other still persists, though history shows that a universal religion can neither be created nor imposed upon others in this way. Then people tried to formulate a universal religion on an electic basis, by gathering together the non-conflicting ethical and other elements from the different faiths and eliminating those factors, which give rise to friction. This intellectual method met with no better success, because religion is not a product of the intellect, but rooted in the direct experience of God by prophets and seers. Devoid of any roots, an intellectual religion withers away quickly, though it may look beautiful, like a bouquet of flowers of different colours picked from various plants. Attempts are often made to promote religious goodwill by means of interfaith breakfasts and luncheons or by symposiums and discussions. All these functions stimulate the mind, but they do not go far.


As we have said, the universal religion already exists and needs only to be discovered. We do not see it because we emphasize rituals, mythology, and philosophy and ignore the basic truth. It is like universal brotherhood. We do not easily recognize this brotherhood because of our emphasis on racial and national prejudices. If we hold these in check we can see our brothers everywhere; but if we keep these prejudices intact and at the same time start organizing to promote human brotherhood, we only succeed in making confusion worse confounded. Human beings differ from one another in size, shape, and colour of skin, but an underlying humanity is common to all. One may not be able to lay one’s finger on it, yet it exists all the same. Likewise the universal religion, in the form of God-consciousness, runs through all faiths, whether primitive, ethical, or highly mystical.


The Lord says in the Bhagavad Gita: ‘I am the thread that runs through the pearls, as in a necklace.’ Each religion is one of the pearls. Through high philosophy or low, through the most exalted mythology or the most primitive and superstitious beliefs, through the most refined ritualism or the most stupid fetishism, every sect, every soul, every religion, consciously or unconsciously is struggling upward, toward God and freedom. Every vision of truth that a man has had is a vision of God and of none else. The Bible, the Vedas, the Koran, are so many pages in the scriptures of the universal religion, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded.


The universal religion does not imply a set of universal doctrines or disciplines, or a universal ritual. Such a religion would be impossibility, because of the diversity of human nature. The universal religion has no location in time or space. Its area is infinite, like the god it preaches. Krishna, Christ, Buddha, and Moses all have honoured places in it. Its sun shines upon all spiritual seekers: Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, or Moslem. In its catholicity this universal religion embraces in its infinite arms savages and civilized people, saints and sinners, philosophers and lovers of God, active men and contemplatives. There is no room in it for persecution or intolerance. Recognizing the potential divinity of all men and women it devotes its entire force to aiding men to realize their true divine nature. The real universal religion is not a creed or a doctrine; it is an experience. It is God-consciousness.


How are we to promote the universal religion? Let us recognize the fact that religions are complementary and not competitive. Saints and mystics have flourished in all religions; some such men have not belonged to any organized church. It is absurd to imagine that God is solely or even chiefly concerned with religion. Let us discard the idea of toleration, which carries with it a sense of superiority. Let us think of other religions in terms of respect and positive acceptance. A believer in the universal religion feels equally at home in a mosque, a church, a synagogue, or a temple. He sees his brother’s face in a Moslem, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, or a Hindu. He salutes all the prophets of the past, bows down before all godlike persons who are working today for the uplift of humanity, and keeps himself in readiness to show reverence to all the prophets of the future.


Let us encourage every man to dive deep into the mysteries of his own religion, and, provided he is sincere and earnest, he will one day discover for himself the universal religion.


In a circle with many radii, the farther we move from the centre, the greater will seem the distance between one radius and another. As we move toward the centre the distance will narrow down. At the centre all radii meet. The radii represent the different religions, and the centre is God. The farther we move from God, the greater will seem the difference between one religion and another. The nearer we are to God, the closer we shall feel toward other religions. In God we all meet. In order to promote religious harmony; let us deepen our religious consciousness. Let us come nearer to God by following our respective faiths, and not by jumping from one faith to another. Let the Hindu, the Moslem, the Christian, the Jew, emphasize the spirit and not the letter of their scriptures, and all religious quarrels will stop. Our religious edifice should keep all its windows open so as to permit fresh air from outside to come in; but we must not allow the wind to sweep the edifice off its foundation. The enemy of Islam is not Hinduism; the enemy of Christianity is not Judaism. All religions are challenged today by a common enemy: the rising tide of skepticism and secularism. If the religions do not hang together, they will hang separately. A Christian, to paraphrase the words of Arnold Toynbee, can believe in his own religion without having to feel that it is the sole repository of truth. He can love it without having to feel that it is the sole means of salvation. He can take Buddha’s words to heart without being disloyal to Christ. But he cannot harden his heart against Krishna without hardening it against Christ.


In order to promote the universal religion we must not destroy other faiths. When a so-called civilized religion destroys, in the name of enlightenment, the beliefs and practices of a primitive people, it destroys something of their soul; religion is a part of the soul. We must not exterminate any faith, however crude it may be, nor superimpose our beliefs upon others; there must be no proselytism. By our own ardour and sincerity we may try to deepen people's faith in their own religions. Take a man where he stands to give him a lift.


To be sure, there will always remain differences in the non-essentials of religion. The world is a complex machine with intricate wheels. Let us try to make it run smoothly; let us lessen the friction by greasing the wheels, as it were. How can this be done? By recognizing the natural necessity of variation. Truth can be expressed in a hundred thousand ways, and each of these ways is true as far as it goes. And this expression of truth need not always be through a conventional theological God, but may use the medium of science, or art, or philosophy, or consecration to duty.


The preachers and ministers of religion have a tremendous responsibility in the promotion of world peace through the harmony of religions. It is to them that people look for guidance. How uplifting it will be if every church observes the holy days of other faiths! How effectively respect for other religions can be created if, for the scriptural reading, a minister selects passages from scriptures other than his own! How impressive it will be for the congregation if he tries to prove a point in his sermon by quoting from the words of prophets other than his own! People will then realize that religious experiences are universal phenomena and not the exclusive property of any one faith.


This idea of exclusiveness always creates suspicion. A man with a sixth toe may be unique, but he is certainly not normal. When we begin by claiming superiority for our own religion, we end by asserting the superiority of our own interpretation of it. As Dr.Radhakrishnan has said, we start with the statement that Christianity is the best of all religions. Next we say that Protestantism is the best form of Christianity. Next, that the High Church is the true Protestant church. And lastly, that our own interpretation of the High Church is the best interpretation of the Christian religion.


Humanity is stricken today with a serious malady. This malady is essentially spiritual; political friction, economic unrest, and moral confusion are only its outer symptoms. Man is not at peace with his neighbours, with nature, with himself, or with his Creator. Greed, lust for power, and anger are abroad. Ill will and suspicion are poisoning the very source of inter-racial and international relationships. The challenge of aggressive evil, which is undermining human society, can be met only by aggressive good. A drastic change in our thinking is imperative. Human nature shall have to be transformed. But this transformation can come neither through psychotherapy nor through science and technology, nor through military, political, or economic pacts. It is religion that can contribute in a large measure to bringing about the change. The great faiths of the world owe it to humanity to rise to the occasion.


As there are many dangers ready to engulf humanity, so also there are infinite possibilities to create a glorious world. Distance has been annihilated and men are now in a better position than ever before to compare notes with one another regarding their achievements and failures. Everyone has access to right knowledge and everyone can learn to make free use of it. In this fateful hour it is the duty of the religions to act as pointers to the goal of peace and freedom. Let them give tired humanity a song to sing. And let these mottoes be emblazoned on their banners: ‘Not destruction, but fulfillment,’ ‘Not condemnation, but acceptance,’ ‘Not dissension, but harmony.’



An essay in four parts:

1. An essay on Inter-religious Attitude

2. Why are there so many Religions?

3. Where do religions agree and disagree?

4. What is the universal religion?






Published with the kind permission of


Their ‘Understanding Hinduism’ website is an award winning site featuring a whole host of various articles promoting Hinduism. It truly is a wonderful, thoughtful and thought provoking work and a true beacon for the promotion of Hinduism and Vedic culture in the world today.


Please visit their enlightening website at


Copyright reserved by the author.




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This article was published on Thursday 28 May, 2009.
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