Why Are There So Many Religions?
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Why Are There So Many Religions?

Keshava dhrita nara hari rupa jaya jagadisha hare! jaya jagadisha hare!

Buddha the Teacher
Jagat + isha. Jagat means "universe," and isha, or ishwara means "controller." Jaya jagadisha hare! Hare means Krishna. Krishna is the jagat-ishwara. Jaya means "all victory, all glory to Jagat-ishwara Hare!"

This Dasavatara Stotra is a very old prayer, composed and sung by Jayadeva Goswami, who was one of the great devotees in the line of devotional service in the Vedic culture. He is singing his obeisances: "O Keshava! O Lord of the universe! O Hari! You have assumed the form of a fish (mina sharira)." Mina means fish. Once upon a time, the Lord appeared as a fish incarnation to save the Vedic literature, because there was a flood. The song begins with the first incarnation of the Lord as a fish, then the Lord's incarnation as a tortoise or turtle, then as a boar, then as Narasinghadeva (half-man, half-lion), then as Vamanadeva (dwarf), then as Lord Parasurama, and then as Lord Balarama and next as Lord Buddha. Nindasi yajña-vidherahaha shruti-jatam/ sadaya-hridaya darshita-pashu-ghatam/ keshava dhrita-buddha-sharira jaya jagadisha hare:"O Keshava! O Lord of the universe! O Lord Hari!Who have assumed the form of Lord Buddha! All glories to You! O Buddha, of compassionate heart, You denounced the slaughtering of poor animals performed according to the rules of Vedic sacrifice." Here is the ninth incarnation of the Lord, Lord Buddha.

I especially sang this song, because someone requested me to explain about Lord Buddha--who is Lord Buddha and how He is related to the Vedic culture, the Vedic religion.

In this connection, there is another important statement in the Bhagavat Purana or Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is the most important of 18 Puranas. It is also called the Maha-Purana. In the very first Canto there is a list of incarnations of the Lord, and Lord Buddha is also described in this book.

This Srimad-Bhagavatam or Bhagavat Purana was spoken by Shukadeva Goswami five thousand years ago, and it was recorded by Vyasadeva, who is not the author, but the secretary. Vyasadeva is the person who recorded all the Vedic wisdom at that time, about five thousand years ago. This age, as you know, is known as the Kali-yuga, or the age of darkness, the age of quarrel,the age of dissension or the Iron Age. And here it is said [reading from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 1, Chapter 3, Text 24]:

Then, in the beginning of Kali-yuga, the Lord will appear as Lord Buddha,the son of Añjana in the province of Gaya, just for the purpose of deluding those who are envious of the faithful theist.

In the purport it is explained about Lord Buddha:

Lord Buddha, a powerful incarnation of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, appeared in the province of Gaya (Bihar) as the son of Añjana, and He preached His own conception of non-violence and deprecated even the animal sacrifices sanctioned in the Vedas. At the time when Lord Buddha appeared,the people in general were atheistic and preferred animal flesh to anything else. On the plea or excuse of Vedic sacrifice, every place was practically turned into a slaughterhouse, and animal-killing was indulged in unrestrictedly. Lord Buddha preached non-violence, taking pity on the poor animals. He preached that He did not believe in the tenets of the Vedas and stressed the adverse psychological effects incurred by animal-killing. Less intelligent men of the age of Kali, who had no faith in God, followed His principle, and for the time being they were trained in moral discipline and non-violence, which are the preliminary steps for proceeding further on the path of God realization. He deluded the atheists, because such atheists who followed His principles did not believe in God, but they kept their absolute faith in Lord Buddha, who Himself was the incarnation of God Thus the faithless people were made to believe inGod in the form of Lord Buddha. That was the mercy of Lord Buddha: He made the faithless faithful to Him.

Killing of animals before the advent of Lord Buddha was the most prominent feature of the society. People claimed that these were Vedic sacrifices. When the Vedas are not accepted through the authoritative disciplic succession, the casual or foolish readers of the Vedas are misled by the flowery language of that system of knowledge. ...The foolish scholars of Vedic literature who do not care to receive the transcendental message through the transcendental realized sources of disciplic succession (guru parampara) are sure to be bewildered. To them, the ritualistic ceremonies are consideredto be all in all. They have no depth of knowledge. According to the Bhagavad-gita (15.15) ...the whole system of the Vedas is to lead one gradually to the path of the Supreme Lord. The whole theme of Vedic literature is to know the Supreme Lord (Krishna), the individual soul, the cosmic situation and the relation between all these items....

Lord Buddha is the incarnation of the Lord for a very specific purpose: to bring people away from animal-killing, which was very prominent in the time of His appearance. And this animal-killing was performed in the name of Vedic literature. People took support from the Vedas to kill animals for sense gratification, on the level of slaughterhouse, just as they are doing today all over the world. So Lord Buddha therefore said, "Okay, then I reject Vedas. I don't accept them. My teaching is ahimsa, non-violence, right speech, right action, right thought, and so on." He taught the eightfold path, the middle way.

And Lord Buddha was also a great logician. Actually, the word buddha means intelligence. He was the most brilliant logician of His time. He was capable of refuting any argument, and then He could refute His own argument, and again He could refute, and again. He was so brilliant that the pandits and scholars and Vedantists who had misconstrued the Vedic conclusions, were enchanted with Lord Buddha, and they became His followers.

Different Religious Communities
Spiritual life or religious understanding develops from the most elementary platform to the highest stage. Just like education. Education begins from the most elementary kindergarten class and progresses through grammar school, then high school, university, on up to post-graduate.

What is necessary for the grammar school student may not be necessary for the high school student. Making mud pies in kindergarten is an essential part of the whole process of education. It is not that one who is in high school is better than one who is in kindergarten. No. Whatever is required, whatever stage of understanding, whatever level the student is on, he must take lessons from that stage.

In the same way, religion develops from the most basic, elementary moral teachings all the way up to the highest stage of love of Godhead, where we realize our individual, eternal relationship with God. Just like a seed. All the ingredients for a mature tree are present within the seed, and in due course of time, the tree manifests itself. First a small shoot comes. Then comes the trunk. Then come branches and leaves. After some time, flowers, and then only, fruit. It takes years.

Similarly, at the beginning of this material creation, all the spiritual truths of religion were delivered to the first living being. The first created being within this universe is Lord Brahma. So to him, the truths of the Vedic wisdom were delivered. From that time on, as human society developed, religion also unfolded in different stages.

Throughout time, as society becomes either progressive or regressive, various incarnations appear to give stress to one aspect of religious understanding or another. Just like children going to school. Sometimes the child does not make progress. He has to repeat the class. Sometimes he goes backward. He is demoted. He's such a nonsense that he has to repeat a different lesson. Similarly, we have different religious communities, which were apparently inaugurated or initiated by different religious teachers, reformers, incarnations, prophets or son of God (Lord Jesus). Mohammed was called a prophet. Lord Buddha was an incarnation of Krishna. If we see the different religious communities in this way, their common aim becomes clear.

Progressive Realisation
For example, we find Lord Buddha came to India at a certain time and taught people simple moral behaviour--right speech, right thought, right action. His basic tenet was ahimsa, non-violence. Whatever you do to any creature will come back to you as a reaction. When Lord Buddha was asked about the eternality of the soul and whether there was a Supreme God, He put the matter aside. He did not entertain this question, just as when children are in grammar school learning ABCs, if a child brings in a book of Shakespeare, then the teacher will put it aside--"Not now. Later." The child is not capable of understanding Shakespeare. He is at a stage where he does not have the capacity to understand the subject matter of that book. He must first master the ABCs. In this way, Lord Buddha's teachings are: First you behave properly, think right, act right, speak right, and try to come to nirvana. Try to come to the plane where there is no pain, no pleasure (nirvana).

Everyone wants no pain. Everyone wants. But He also said no pleasure either. He meant material pleasure. Material pleasure always brings material pain, just as wherever there is light there is shadow. So wherever there is happiness, inevitably we will get the opposite: pain. We cannot have happiness without pain. And after pain we get happiness. In this way, we experience happiness and pain, heat and cold, day and night, up and down. So Lord Buddha taught: you just try to get to nirvana, where there is neither happiness nor pain.

After Lord Buddha, Shankaracharya appeared in India. His teaching was, "That's all right--nirvana, no happiness, no pain." But he introduced brahma-nirvana. No happiness, no pain, but in brahman. Aham brahmasmi: I am not matter, which is full of pleasures and pains. Aham brahmasmi: I am spirit. Beyond this world of duality of happiness and distress, heat and cold, there is another world. Beyond this environment there is another environment: brahman, spirit. It is sat, eternal. He taught: try to enter that aham brahmasmi: I am spirit.

After Shankaracharya, then Lord Chaitanya appeared, and He presented the mature, full-blown understanding of spiritual truths. What is that? He taught that not only is there brahman, or the spiritual sky, but in that spiritual sky there are innumerable spiritual planets, just as in this material sky there are innumerable material planets. Beyond this material sky, there is the spiritual sky: brahmajyoti, and in that brahmajyoti, or eternal spiritual sky, there are innumerable spiritual planets. Not only innumerable spiritual planets, but innumerable spiritual entities, and we--each and every one of us--are originally residents of that eternal spiritual sky. And Krishna is the supreme spiritual being amongst all other spiritual entities. Nityo nityanam chetanash chetananam/ eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman.

Our Relationship with God
Vedic literature says that all of us are nitya, eternal. You are eternal, I am eternal, as living spirit souls--not as this body. This body is temporary. Lord Buddha said, "This body is just a bag of skin with nine holes--two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, mouth, anus and genitals--from which pus, urine and stool ooze out. How can I love such a thing?" Lord Buddha also said, "No, I'm not this body." We don't care for this body. Try to become detached from this body. All great spiritual teachers teach this: we're not this body; we are something else. We are living spirit soul within this body.

So nityo nityanam chetanash chetananam/ eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman (Katha Upanishad 2.2.13). The understanding is that we are all eternal, living spirit sparks, and amongst all of us, one spirit is supreme. He's the master. He maintains all the others, and He fulfils their desires. That is God. This is a definition of God, Krishna. All of us are eternal, and in that sense we are of the same quality as God. He is eternal, and we are eternal. The difference is, He is the leader. He is the boss, and we are the servants. Just like here in Malaysia...all of you are Malaysian citizens, but one Malaysian is the boss: the prime minister. This principle is perfectly applicable on the transcendental platform. We are all eternal, and God is eternal, but He is the leader, and we are the servants. He is maintaining all of us, and He fulfils all our desires.

Lord Chaitanya's teaching is that a human being should try to understand his spiritual identity and his relationship with God. By practicing devotional service to Krishna even in this material atmosphere, using our body, mind, intelligence and everything to please Krishna, we should try to understand our relationship with Krishna and go back home, back to Godhead, back to Krishna and regain thereby our original spiritual identity as eternal part and parcel of Krishna, full of knowledge and full of pleasure.

The soul is naturally blissful. Just as sugar is sweet by nature, we are joyful by nature. No one adds sweetness to sugar. The sweetness is inherent. That is the characteristic of sugar. And the characteristic of the spirit soul is threefold: he is eternal, he is full of knowledge, and he is full of pleasure.

False Identity
"Then why we are so miserable and unhappy?" you ask. Yes, because we are covered by this temporary material body--Indian body, American body, Chinese body, woman's body, man's body, beast, bird, tree. The body is a combination of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego only. It is a kind of dress covering the eternal living spirit soul. As soon as the soul leaves this body, it is a dead body. A dead body has no value. The body is beautiful as long as the living spirit soul is in contact with the body. Just as the lamp light is shining as long as the electric spark is in touch with the lamp. As soon as the spark is withdrawn, the lamp light goes out, and it becomes dark.

This material world is a combination of two energies: paraprakriti and aparaprakriti. The lower, inferior energy is known as matter--earth, water, fire, air, ether, or atoms, enzymes or call it skin, muscle, bone, blood, stool, urine. These are the material ingredients which make up this material body in which we are now trapped. And the whole purpose of religion--be it Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or the Vedic religion--is how to get out of this temporary material body, how to become free from our unnecessary absorption in and attachment to this temporary material body and the bodies of so many friends and relatives and countrymen and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, such as car, house, money and so on.

Material existence means simply that I have accepted this material body as my self. If we ask someone, "Sir, who are you?" He will say, "I'm Mr. Gupta. I'm from India" or "I'm Mr. Smith. I'm American."What he is saying is "I'm this body. I'm this bag of stool and urine and flesh and blood and hairs and mucus and bile." This is called ignorance, maya. Maya means "that which is not." It is not actually a fact that I am this body. Everyone knows this. It is not a new idea. This is common knowledge. And yet we ignore it every day. I know that I'm not this body, and I say it. I say, "my head, my hand, my leg, my body, my shirt, my book, my car." So I'm not this body. I say so every day--" My head hurts. My leg hurts." We never say, "I hurt." We say, "My head, my leg, my arm, my body." And when death takes place, we say, "Oh, Mr. Gupta has gone." And he has indeed gone, but he has left his body for you to bury or burn or to be eaten by the vultures. We ignore this elementary yet essential truth. Every day we ignore the fact that we're not this body. We relate to each other, based on this body, we work for this body, and we love this body. In this way, we are absorbed in the bodily concept of life. Day and night, week after week, month after month, year after year, lifetime after lifetime, we are trying to enjoy this material body. But we are not this body, so we are never happy, and we never enjoy anything. We work hard day and night, creating a bombastic civilization of economic development and technological advancement, and the result is we are just running hither and thither. Meanwhile we become old. The body becomes diseased, and inevitably we die. Actually, we don't die--we simply leave this body when it is no longer workable. "Just as a man gives up an old and useless dress and gets a new dress, the soul gives up an old and useless body and gets a new body." ( Bhagavad-gita 2.22) This is the whole process of material existence. As long as we remain in ignorance, in darkness about our actual spiritual identity, we shall continue to repeat the cycle of birth, old age, disease and death.

Adopting Religion
This is not new. The Buddhists are teaching. The Vedantists are teaching. The Christians are teaching. All teachers are teaching the same thing.

What does it mean--ignorance? The word ignorance means to ignore. When we're driving on the road...at least, in America we have a very sophisticated system of traffic laws, so when the light is red, that means you have to stop. But if I ignore, look about and don't see anyone, no policeman, and I go, that is called ignorance. I am ignoring. I know that I should stop, but I ignore, and I go. When I repeat this, and it becomes a habit, we call it ignorance. So we are living in ignorance. We deliberately, continuously, repeatedly, habitually ignore the fact that we're not this body, but are the living force, the spirit soul within this body, and our business is to practice or conduct our life insuch a way that when this body is worn out by disease and old age and we can no longer utilise it, then we can go home, back to Godhead, where life is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. We are simply ignoring that.

This is actually the purpose of human life. This is what religion means. Religion is not something we believe--"I believe in Buddha" or "I believe in Jesus" or "I believe in Krishna." This has no value. We must actually understand what Lord Buddha is teaching. We must not only understand,but we must practice what Lord Jesus has taught, what Lord Chaitanya has taught, what Lord Krishna has taught, and we must actually practice. Practice makes perfect. To believe something is not enough. The chances of going home back to Godhead for someone who simply believes in Lord Buddha or Lord Jesus or Lord Krishna or Mohammed are about as great as winning the lottery by simply believing that maybe I will win the lottery. It is not a matter of believing; it is a matter of understanding. The very word buddha means intelligence. In Bhagavad-gita we find buddhi-yoga, the yoga of intelligence, the yoga of understanding. Yoga means linking, connecting. By intelligence and understanding, we shall make progress. And by practice. We must practice spiritual life, not simply believe it wishfully. That will not help us. Children practice writing ABC every day, day after day for weeks and months, and in due course of time, they perfect their practice. They read and write, they do arithmetic. Everything comes. And today, all of us read and write. It appears to be automatic, but it is not automatic; it is the perfection of practice. So spiritual life is something to be practiced every day. It is not something to do as a hobby or once a week, once a month, or when we are in difficultywe pray to God--"Oh, my God! Help me! I lost my job, what should I do? I promise, if you give me another job, I will be a good boy." This kind of spiritual life is not very...it's better than nothing, but it's not very mature. It is immature. It is like the student who does no homework all term, and when the exam comes, he simply guesses, thinking maybe he is going to hit upon the right answer. That is not very good. We must practice Krishna consciousness.

It doesn't matter...my point is, one may be a follower of Buddha, or one may be a follower of Mohammed, or one may be a follower of Jesus Christ, or you may be a follower of Lord Krishna. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you actually follow. Don't just give lip service. Actually follow and practice, because you will make progress.

Divine Destiny of Every Man
In the lower stages, in the elementary stages of spiritual understanding, the students sometimes think, "Only our religion is good; all others are no good." We hear this all the time. People say "only Jesus" or "only Mohammed" or "only Krishna." That is a neophyte understanding. Actually, every spiritual teacher--Lord Buddha, Chaitanya, Krishna, Jesus--personally knowsthe complete picture. They know all the spiritual truths, but they teach only what their particular time, place and circumstance require. Just like in grammar school the teacher is showing the students ABC. Does it mean the teacher only knows ABC? No. The teacher knows everything, but for this particular class of student, only ABC is possible. If the student thinks, "Oh, only ABC is correct; everything else is foolishness," that is his foolishness. For example, arithmetic begins with simple sums--2+2=4. After simple sums comes algebra, and then geometry, trigonometry and physics. When the student of simple arithmetic sees algebra or trigonometry, he thinks, "This is wrong," but those who are in the higher class of algebra, trigonometry or physics can understand, "Oh yes, this is very nice--2+2=4. Very good." In Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, "Let not the wise disrupt the minds of those who are in the lesser stages, but they should be encouraged to act in the spirit of devotion." (Bhagavad-gita 3.26)

I hope that by this simple presentation I have shed some light on this question: why there are so many religions in this world. The answer is there are not many religions. Religion is one, just as education is one thrust, one program to turn the simple child into a learned gentleman, beginning from kindergarten on through grammar school, high school, university and post graduate studies. Religion is one subject matter, but presented by the different prophets, incarnations, representatives of the Lord according to time, place and circumstance, according to the necessity of the people, in order to turn a crude man into a divine man. A mundane man's destiny is to become divine, to become free from the sufferings of birth, old age, disease and death by understanding his actual spiritual nature, his eternal relationship with God and by being engaged in the devotional service of God, go back home, back to Godhead.

There is nothing more than this for human beings. Everything else is superfluous. Everything else is simply decoration on a dead body. Advancement of science, economics, technology--it is nothing more than decorating this dead body. You may have a very nice automobile. You may have a nice condominium or skyscraper building or big business. You may be the prime minister of a powerful country, but all these material assets are nothing more than decorating a dead body. This body is always dead, from beginning to end. It is only the living spirit soul which makes it appear to be a living thing. It is never living. It is only earth, water, fire, air, ether, or mucus, bile, blood, stool, urine. If we continue to ignore this simple fact, we will never be happy, in spite of all the material advancement and economic development. It will bring us to nothing.

I did want to add one thing. The chanting of the holy name of Krishna--Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare--is a very simple and happy or joyful method of sound vibration for reviving this consciousness, this Krishna consciousness.

All of us here are originally Krishna conscious. Our Krishna consciousness is only covered. It is not an artificial imposition, not something external that you artificially have to apply. It is already there. Krishna consciousness is there within your heart, as much as gold is there in the ground. You only have to uncover it; you do not manufacture it. So our joyful Krishna consciousness is there now, and by chanting the holy name of Krishna, this consciousness is revived.

Our only request is that every one of you please make it a practice to chant Hare Krishna. And don't take my word for it, but practice chanting, and see the result yourself in your own life. So please chant and clap your hands. Chant very loudly and joyfully and freely.

Hansadutta das
Rittvik Representative of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Why Are There So Many Religions?/ WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY
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