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Where do religions agree and disagree? 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



Where do religions agree?


In so far as religions belong to the realm of men’s inmost soul, there are many remarkable similarities between them. The inner experience is the same everywhere; only the outer expressions are different, as determined by time and place. The end and aim of all religions is the realization of God, though the methods of realization may differ. The scriptures of the different religions merely point out different means to the attainment of freedom and universal love. All religions, in the words of Vivekananda, from the lowest fetish-worship to the contemplation of the Absolute, are so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realize the infinite, each determined by the conditions of its birth and association- and each of these marks a stage of progress; every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more strength, till it reaches the glorious sun.


All the great religions, whether evolved in the regions of the Arabian Desert or on the fertile banks of the Ganges, are founded on strikingly similar principles. They all believe in the existence of a soul which does not die with the destruction of the body, and in the reality of a God who is above nature and without beginning or end. Both Hinduism and the religions of Semitic origin believe in the original perfection of the soul; they also believe that men, by their own actions, have made themselves imperfect. But they all admit that souls will regain their perfection through knowing God. Saints and holy persons are objects of worship and veneration in all religions, and the Golden Rule is both implicit and explicit in all. All religions consciously or unconsciously exalt God’s holy name and all claim to show the way out of the prison-house of this world. All exhort their followers to practise such spiritual disciplines as faith, prayer, self-control, and contemplation. The idea is implicit in the teachings of all prophets that the human mind can, at certain moments, transcend the limitations of the senses and of reasoning based upon sense data, and come face to face with truth, so in many fundamental matters religions show striking similarity.



Where, then, do religions disagree?


Here we must take into consideration certain fundamental factors, which constitute an organized religion. Though the realization of God, or the attainment of perfection or freedom, is the ultimate goal, yet this can be achieved only by stages. At one stage religion emphasizes ritual, at another stage mythology, and at a third stage the doctrines and disciplines which constitute its philosophy. Ritual, mythology, and philosophy may be considered the three important constituents of a well-organized religion. Mythology is the concretisation of philosophy. It seeks to explain philosophy by means of the legendary lives of men or supernatural beings. Ritual is still more concrete. Bells, music, flowers, lights, images, and other concrete objects are freely used in ritual. But no agreement among religions can be established with respect to philosophy, mythology, or ritual.


Ritual has often been condemned by Protestant Christianity and Islam. Hinduism, the Mahayana Buddhism, and Roman Catholic Christianity recognize its importance, especially for beginners. A symbol, by the law of association, brings to mind the abstract ideal for which it stands. Music, it is well known, helps to concentrate the mind. Ritualistic worship, as described in the preceding chapter, helps to develop a devotional attitude. Some of the greatest saints of the world have been produced by religions rich in ritual and mythology- both of which have also contributed to the development of art, literature, and music. The stories of the fall of Adam and Eve, and of the Deluge, have important philosophical implications. Through various myths the scriptures try to explain abstruse truths. God’s omnipresence, infinitude, or omniscience can scarcely be grasped by beginners in religion. And in spite of our intellectual attainments, most of us are only beginners.


Ritual, mythology, and philosophy, are necessary factors in religious growth. Like husks, they protect the kernel of religious truth. The kernel is the essential part of a seed, but without the husk it cannot germinate. When the sprout appears the husk drops away. As one begins to dive deep in search of God, the non-essentials of ritual, mythology, and philosophy are discarded.


There is, however, no such thing as pure religion. All faiths are conditioned by the three factors already mentioned, and all religious disagreements arise in these three fields. There cannot be any universal philosophy acceptable to all religions. When the followers of a religion regard its doctrines and disciplines as universal and desire others to accept them, a refusal on the part of the latter arouses ill feeling, and sometimes human beings act like wild beasts. The same is true of mythology: when a religion claims that its myths alone are historical fact while those of others are pure superstition, misunderstanding and friction arise. In the field of ritual, the disagreement is just as pronounced: the followers of one religion may regard its own ritual as particularly holy, while declaring those of others to be arrant nonsense. Thus religious fanatics quarrel about non-essentials, fighting as it were, over empty baskets while the contents have slipped into the ditch. Yet these non-essentials are necessary and must remain until men are firmly grounded in religious experience. As long as these exist different temperaments and needs, it will be impossible to find a universal philosophy, a universal mythology, or a universal ritual. Yet a universal religion is the dream of people who want to eliminate religious friction. What is this universal religion? Where does one find it?



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


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This article was published on Thursday 28 May, 2009.
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