If you’re like me, some nights before you drift off to sleep you ponder questions like is there a God, is there really an afterlife, why do we suffer, and how did creation begin. These questions have engaged and intrigued people of all times and places. Different faith traditions have wrestled with them and ventured to offer answers. For the past two years, I’ve been focused on them. It all began one day when I went to our Provincial Center for a funeral. In the hall Sister Karita met me and declared, “God has sent you to me!” She and another college professor had arranged to write a book for a publisher about the ultimate questions.* The other professor realized she had too much on her plate and backed out of the project, leaving Sister in the lurch. Desperate, Sister prayed for help, and my name floated into her mind. That morning she unexpectedly met me! Working on the book enlightened me about different religions and my own. I found that we human beings have much in common.
Most of us have an innate sense that there is a Power greater than ourselves that orders the universe. Our ancestors the Jews believe in a personal God called Yahweh, as do we Christians. Muslims whose faith is also rooted in Abraham refer to God as Allah. Hindus, who belong to the oldest organized religion, believe in one Supreme Being whom they call Brahman. (However, they also hold that Brahman’s qualities are manifested in many deities.) The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (now called Buddha), did not teach the existence of God or deny it. Buddhists are focused on Nirvana, the bliss that ends the cycle of deaths and rebirths. Daoists do not accept a personal supreme God. For them, the Dao (the Way) is the ultimate reality. Nevertheless, they believe in several deities.
Interestingly, where Christians believe in a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Hindus believe in the trinity of Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver), and Shiva (destroyer). Also, the highest gods for Daoists are known as the Three Purities.
The common thread woven through all major religions is the primacy of love. You may have seen the poster that contains the Golden Rule as stated by different religions. Everyone agrees that love, compassion, and mercy are extremely important and have an impact on our future life. Imagine what a different world we’d have if all people followed that rule!
Each faith tradition has some wisdom to offer. As St. Clement of Alexandria noted, “There is but one river of truth, but many streams pour into it from this side and from that.” How enriched we are then when we enter into dialogue with members of another faith!
Last week I visited an ordained Buddhist and toured CloudWater Zendo. What experiences have you had with someone from a faith tradition different from yours?
* To Order Ultimate Questions: How Major Religions Respond
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