return to religion-online

The History of Religions: Essays in Methodology by Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa (eds.)


Mircea Eliade was born in Bucharest in 1907 and began teaching in the field the history of religions in 1946 at the Sorbonne in Paris. He was a member of the University of Chicago faculty from 1957 until his death in 1986. His many books include: Cosmos and History (1959), The Sacred and the Profane (1959), Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1960), Images and Symbols (1969), and Myths and Reality (1963). Published by University of Chicago Press, 1959. The material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


The History of Religions as a Preparation for the Co-operation of Religions by Friedrich Heiler


"Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another?" These words of the prophet Malachi (2 :10) were repeated several decades ago by a Jewish rabbi as he extended his congratulations to a Catholic bishop on the occasion of his consecration. The belief in one God should indeed awaken in the faithful among all the high religions the consciousness of belonging together in one family and their obligation to stand together fraternally. It is understandable that those who profess a divisive form of national polytheism should think of themselves as enemies not only for political reasons but for religious ones as well. National strife is for them also a war of their gods. But at first glance it seems inconceivable that those who profess faith in one God or one divine essence can combine with it a spirit of mutual estrangement and hostility.

But thus it has been in the history of religions. The faithful among the higher religions have opposed one another again and again, indeed if not engaging in bloody persecution, then despising the followers of other religions as deplorably ignorant persons who must be led with all possible speed to the true church and religion. How many human beings have become the victims of religious wars, how frequent the oppression of other religious consciences, how numerous are the martyrdoms suffered in courageous confession of individual faith! Think of the repeated instances of cruel persecutions of Buddhism by Confucianism in China and of Islam in India! Or of the outlawing of the Jews and their segregation into ghettos in the Christian Middle Ages, the ecclesiastical enforcement upon them of baptism and the attendance at sermons! Think of the Christian Crusades against Islam with all their brutalities, and in turn, the pressure of Muslim rulers upon Christian nations. Even in the religions familiar with the concept of tolerance, such as Hinduism, the converts to Christianity have been expelled from their families and castes and treated worse than pariahs!

Although in more modern times religious persecution has passed from the hands of religious to totalitarian political powers, the deeply irrational contempt for other religions is still widespread. Indeed in Western Christendom today it has in certain respects become more widespread than in the eras of the Enlightenment, Classicism, and Romanticism. When we think of the openness with which the enlightenment philosophers welcomed Chinese philosophy (Schopenhauer’s interest in Indian philosophy; Goethe’s, Herder’s, and Rückert’s interest in Indian wisdom; Richard Wagner’s and Friedrich Max Müller’s interest in Indian wisdom), (Citations of Heiler: Buddhistische Versenkung [Munich, 1922], p. 68; "Um die Zusammenarbeit der Christenheit mit den nichtchristlichen Religionsgemeinschaften," Schweizerische theologische Umschau, XXII [1952], 3f.; Mitteilungen des Instituts für Auslandsbeziehungen, V, Vols. I, II, "How Can Christian and Non-Christian Religions Cooperate?" Hibbert Journal, LII [January, 1952], 110. Cf. Ludwig Alsdorf, Die deutsch-indischen Geistesbeziehungen [Indian ed.; H. Vowinekel], 1942; Raymond Schwab, Renaissance orientale [Paris, 1950]). we can understand Albert Schweitzer’s lament of the present regression into narrow dogmatism, "We have a rich heritage from the past. This heritage has been squandered." (Interview with Rudolf Grabs, Albert Schweitzer, Denken und Tat [Hamburg, 1952], p. 242). Those words appear increasingly appropriate when we think further of the progress of the study of the history of pre-Christian and non-Christian religions in the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries. Evidence for this is Friedrich Meyner’s Allgemeine kritische Geschichte der Religionen of 1807. Schweitzer’s lament applies when we think of the enthusiasm with which a theologian like Friedrich Schleiermacher embraced the full diversity of the religious life of the non-Christian world in his Reden. Churchmen and theologians today are far behind that strong sense of unity that permeates the cultural work of UNESCO. If we ask why this sense of unity should be most hindered from that quarter where it ought be most vitally fostered, we will find the reason for this paradox in the sense of absoluteness characteristic of one segment of the higher religions.

In An Historian’s Approach to Religion (Oxford University Press, 1956.) (the best theological book of the last ten years, though not written by a theologian), Arnold Toynbee suggests that those three religions of revelation which spring from a common historical root -- Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have a tendency toward exclusivism and intolerance. They ascribe to themselves an ultimate validity. While the faithful among the Indian religions recognize the other religions insofar as they discern in them another manifestation of the essentials of their own religion, the three religions mentioned above (especially Christianity) are so exclusive that their followers often enough look upon other religions as the outgrowth of error, sin, and malice. Thereby they transfer the absoluteness which is an attribute alone of the divine and eternal to their own system of faith without seeing that this divine absolute can also be comprehended in entirely different forms of thought and devotion.

There is indeed something essentially correct in Toynbee’s objection. The Indian religions are a treasure of more than two thousand years of tolerance. Two hundred and fifty years before Christ, King Asoka, one of the noblest figures in world history and the great promulgator of Buddhism, proclaimed to his subjects not only tolerance but also love for other religions. He states in one of his famous edicts carved in rock:

The divinely favored King Piyadasi honors all sects, the ascetic as well as the local. He honors them with gifts and tributes of all kinds. But the divinely favored one does not lay so much weight upon gifts and tributes, but rather that in all religions there might be a growth in essence. The reason for this is that no praise for one’s own religion or reproach of other religions should take place on unsuitable occasions. On the contrary, every opportunity ought to be taken to honor other religions. If one proceeds in this way, he furthers his own religion and renders good to other religions. Otherwise he does harm to his own religion and reproaches other religions, and all of this out of admiration for his own religion When he would magnify his own cause, he rather does all the more harm to his own religion. Unity alone profits, so that everyone will listen to and join the other religion. (Felsenedikt von Kalsi (Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, Vol. I), Inscriptions of Asoka, ed. E. Hulzsch (Oxford, 1925), Vol. XIII; Moritz Winternitz, "Der ältere Buddhismus,,’ in Religionsgeschichtliches Lesebuch, ed. Bertholet (Tübingen, 1929), pp. 151 f.)

One will not find too many such admonitions in the history of the Christian religion. Yet among Christian theologians of all periods there have also been those who have noted the revelation of God in the non-Christian world. Thus Justin, the martyr-philosopher of the second century, stated: "All those who have lived by the Logos, i.e., by the eternal, divine World-Reason, are Christians, even if they have been taken as atheists, like Socrates and Heraclitus." (Apology i. 46) Thus Origen, who not only held the view that God had sent prophets to all peoples in all times but also admonished his fellow Christians to respect heathen forms of worship and sacred images. Thus Nicolas of Cusa, a cardinal of the Roman church, who perceived in all religions a longing for the one God. (De pace seu concordantia fidei (1453), ed. Faber Stapulensis (Paris, 1514), I, fol. CXIV b.) Thus the Swiss reformer Huldreich Zwingli, ("Expositio Christianae fidei," in Werke, ed. Schuler and Schulthess, IV, 65.) who believed all great heathens to be found in heaven -- to Luther’s consternation! (Kurzes Bekenntnis vom heiligen Sakrament (1545, Erlangen ed.), Thus the spiritualists of the sixteenth century, above all, Sebastian Franck, (Chronika, Zeitbuch und Geschichtsbibel (1531); Paradoxa (1533), ed. Heinrich Ziegler (Jena, 1909); W. E. Peuckert, Sebastian Franck (1943) who confessed that God had spoken more clearly in such heathen personalities as Plato and Plotinus than through Moses. Thus Friedrich Schleiermacher, who glorified the great unity of all religions in his Reden (Reden über die Religion, Rede 5, p. 241, Centennial ed. of the original (1899), ed. Rudolf Otto (Göttingen, 1913), p. 123.) and affirmed that true Christianity is free of that drive toward exclusive rule and despotism. (Ibid., p. 155) Thus the Swedish Lutheran Archbishop Nathan Soderblom, who declared on his deathbed: "God lives, I can prove it by the history of religions." His posthumous work, treating the principal types of the higher religions, bears the German title, Der lebendige Gott im Zeugnis der Religionspeschichte. (German ed. by Friedrich Heiler [Munich: C. Kaiser, 1932] I, 356 ff.) And as there are such examples in Christendom, so also in Judaism and Islam there are pious men of thought who are free of exclusivism and who succeed in understanding the revelation of God in other religions. We may find examples among the Jewish Chassidim and the representatives of Reformed Judaism and also the Muslim Sufi of Arabia, Persia, and Turkey.

But Toynbee’s reproach remains correct, that the majority of the representatives of the Christian church and theology are exclusivists and that many indeed look upon intolerance as a necessity and glory of Christian doctrine. The reigning tendency of current Protestantism, the so-called dialectical theology, denies every revelation of God outside the Christian Bible and looks upon the non-Christian religions as mere attempts at self-apotheosis which are under the judgment of God. One can hear such exclusivist theologians say over and over again that there is no communion between Christ and Belial, light and darkness, truth and deceit. They say there is no unity of gospel and religions, and a unity of religions is conceivable only in the sense of a perversion of all forms of extra-biblical piety, whether Christian or non-Christian. (Cf. Karl Barth, Kirchliche Dogmatik [Munich: C. Kaiser, 1932], I, 356 ff.)

This gloomy picture of religions, however, does not correspond to the truth. Modern science of religion, analyzing the totality of the religions from their immediate living expressions in word, text, and art, shows us an entirely different perspective. Through the corporate efforts of various modern scientific disciplines such as philosophy, ethnology, prehistory and history, archeology, psychology, sociology, and philosophy, the methods of the science of religion have become increasingly broadened and refined. In this manner we are brought to a more comprehensive and profound view of religion and the religions than was possible in past generations, particularly those of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, which advanced so far in the science of religion. This study, in which scholars of greatest stature participated --men like Friedrich Max Müller, Nathan Söderblom, Rudolf Otto, Tor Andrae, Alfred Loisy, Gerardus van der Leeuw, Raffaele Pettazzoni -- has given us a host of insights by which centuries-old prejudices have been removed.

The first impression conveyed by the study of the history of religions is that of the wondrous wealth of religions. That ancient saying, that awe is the beginning of philosophy, applies also to the science of religion. This sense of awe in the presence of the vast many-sidedness of religious phenomena permeates Schleiermacher’s immortal Reden über die Religion, re-edited in its original form by Rudolf Otto in 1899 on the occasion of its centennial. (Reden, Rede 10) This sense of awe, however, is related not only to the fullness of religious forms, ideas, and experiences, which Schleiermacher described as "having developed out of the eternally provident bosom of the universe." (Ibid., Rede 5, p. 241) It is also related to the individual phenomena of the high religions now open to our spiritual world. Consider the enthusiasm with which Leibniz praised Chinese religion and philosophy, (Quoted in N. Söderblom, Das Werden des Gottesglaubens [Leipzig, 1916], pp. 335 ff.; R. F. Merkel, "Leibniz und China" in Leibniz zu seinem 300 Geburtstag, ed. E. Hochstetter [Lief. 8, Berlin, 1952]; also G. W. von Leibniz und die China-Mission [Leipzig, 1920]). the boundless accolade Schopenhauer heaped upon the mysticism of the Vedic Upanishads, (Parerge und Parilipomena, chap. 16, par. 184, Reclam V, pp. 418 ff.) and the soaring hymn which August Wilhelm Schlegel (Bhagavadgita [Bonn, 1823],pp. xxv ff.)and Wilhelm von Humboldt (Schriften von Friedrich Gentz, ed. Gustav Schlesier [Mannheim, 1840], V, 291, 300 sang of that great mystic poem of Indian teaching, the Bhagavad-gita! With what devotion did Max Müller reveal to the West the beauties of the oldest bible of man, the Rig-veda, ("Lectures on the Vedas" (1865) in Chips from a German Workshop [London, 1867], I, 1-49; Physical Religion [Gifford Lectures) (London, 1890) (Leipsig: E. O. Franke, 1892). and with what wonderment did Richard Wagner ("Richard Wagner an Mathilde Wesendonck," in R. Wagners Briefe in Originalausgaben (Leipzig, 1913), V, 161; Pero Slepcevic, Der Buddhismus in der deutschen Literatur (Diss., Vienna,1920), pp.40 ff.; Günter Lanczkowski, Die Bedeutung des indischen Denkens für Richard Wagner und seinen Freundeshreis (Phil. Diss., Marburg, 1947) and Anatole France speak of Gotama Buddha! And with what enthusiasm has Walter Eitlitz lately disclosed the miraculous world of Hindu Bhakti, i.e., love mysticism, to the Western world! (Die indische Gottesliebe [Frieburg, 1955]).

The second fruit of the religious quest is esteem for other religions. Hindus and Buddhists, Muslims and Mazdeans, Jews and Christians are filled with the same earnestness, sincerity, ardent love, obedience, and readiness to sacrifice. I shall ever keep before my eyes the deeply pious look of perfect devotion of two Muslim boys whom I watched at prayer in a Turkish mosque some years ago. Often enough Christians are put to shame by the deep piety, courageous confession, and active love for one’s brother demonstrated in other religions. Thus did the fiery Florentine prophet Savonarola declare to his countrymen: "Jews and Turks observe their religion much better than Christians, who ought to take a lesson from the way the Turks bear witness to the Name of God. They would have long ago been converted, if they had not rightly been offended by the evil lives of Christians." (Joseph Schnitzer, Savonarola [Munich, 1923], pp. 115 ff.) And in Lessing’s Nathan we read the exclamation, "Nathan, Nathan, you are a Christian; by God, a better Christian there never was!"

More important than these initially direct and rather emotional impressions of other religions is the insight into the falsity of numerous polemical judgments of past times. Throughout many centuries the Christian polemic made Muhammad out to be a deceiver and paragon of baseness, until philological and historical inquiry moved him back into proper perspective and did justice to his religious genius. (Hans Haas, "Das Bild Mohammeds im Wandel der Zeiten," Zeitschrift für Missionskunde und :Religionswissenschaft, Vol. XXXI (1916); Gustav Pfannmüller, Handbuch der Islam-Literatur (Berlin, 1923), pp. 115 ff.) The climax of several centuries of Islamic study is the work of a Swedish Lutheran bishop, Tor Andrae, (Mohammed, sein Leben und sein Glaube (Göttingen, 1932). who clarifies with profound and devoted understanding even those features of the prophet which time and again had been the occasion of harsh judgment upon him. Hinduism had long been regarded as a confused and bizarre polytheism until study of the texts clarified the energy with which Indian theology comprehended the significant absence of duality, the unity of the divine beings, and the inwardness with which Indian Bhakti mysticism embraced the redeeming favor of the one savior-god. (Cf. esp. R. Otto, West-östliche Mystik, Vergleich und Unterscheidung [Gotha, 1926] (English translation: Mysticism East and West); "Vishnu-Narayana," in Texte zur indisehen Gottesmystik [Jena, 1917, 1923], Vol. I, Siddhanta des Ramanuja [2d ed.; Jena, 1917, 1923]; Eitlitz, op. cit.) For decades Western theology was represented by the opinion that ancient Buddhism was nothing more than an atheistic world view and ethic which led to the nothingness of Nirvana, (Heiler, op. cit., p.4) until penetrating studies established that Gotama Buddha taught a mystic way of salvation leading up to the same supreme value which is the goal of all mysticism. (Cf. esp. Hermann Beckh, Buddhismus [Berlin:Goschen, 1919], Vol. II) The great majority of arguments with which Christian apologetics thought to substantiate the falsity and inferiority of Eastern religions have been rendered untenable by scientific inquiry into the direct sources of these religions.

In displacing deep-rooted prejudices, scientific inquiry into religion has discovered more and more of the close relationship existing among outwardly differing religions. Innumerable parallels between Christianity and other religions have been discovered in recent decades by historians of religions. One really must say that there is no religious concept, no dogmatic teaching, no ethical demand, no churchly institution, no cultic form and practice of piety in Christianity which does not have diverse parallels in the non-Christian religions. Examples are the belief in the Trinity, in Creation, in Incarnation; the concepts of a virgin birth, vicarious suffering, the death and resurrection of the redeemer god; the inspiration of sacred scripture; the sole efficacy of grace; the forgiveness of sin; infused prayer; the imitation of God; the glory of paradise; the fulfilled kingdom of God; the priesthood and monasticism; sacraments and liturgical ceremonies, including the rosary. All these not only are Christian but are universally religious and universally human. (29 Cf. Heiler, "Die Frage der ‘Absolutheit’ des Christentums im Lichte der Religionsgeschichte," Eine heilige Kirche, XX [1938], 318 ff.) One needs only to consider the picture of the divine mother with her child as it appears to us from the dawn of time throughout the entire history of religions to the Madonna of the Far East -- Kwan Yin, the Buddhist incarnation of mercy and compare these with the Christian pictures of the Mother Mary and her child to realize that Christian and non-Christian humanity alike have knelt before one and the same image.

Non-Christian religions provide the student of religion with countless analogies to the central concepts of Christian faith and ethics; furthermore, the pre-Christian world of religion reveals itself to the student as the source and origin of definite Christian ideas, forms of doctrine, cultus, and organization. It is beyond dispute that postbiblical Christianity took over many elements from ancient metaphysics and ethics, the oriental-Hellenistic mystery religions, and the hermetic and neo-Platonic mysticism, and even from popular pagan piety and legal wisdom. This is precisely the great objection which Protestant theology has always had to Catholicism, that it has taken over so many pagan elements into Christianity. The Reformed theologian, Souverain, thought he had accomplished something great when in his work Le Platonisme dévoilé, (Published posthumously [1700]; German edition [Loeffler, 1781, 1792]; ef. Walter Glawe, Die Hellenisierung in der Geschichte der Theologie [Berlin, 1912]). he unmasked the Platonic sources of patristic theology. But modern studies have shown that it is impossible, in view of the relationship of Christianity to the preChristian spiritual world, to make a sharp cleavage between the New Testament and later Christian literature. Historians of religions (Eichhorn, Alfred Jeremias, Gunkel, Gressmann, Bousset, Heitmilller, Clemen, Preisker, et al.) have revealed the intimate connection between the Old Testament and ancient oriental religion and between New Testament Christianity, late Judaism, and oriental-Hellenistic syncretism. Eissfeldt asserted: "The presuppositions and concepts of the history of religions have prevailed and become the common good of theological science.’’ (Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. Friedrich Michael Sohiele (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [P. Siebeck], 1914), Vol. IV.) A monumental witness to this assertion is the Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament by Kittel, in which the religious terminology of ancient Christian documents is interpreted through Jewish and Hellenistic literary sources. The two-volume work of the German theologian, Carl Schneider, which appeared recently, Geistesgeschichte des antiken Christentums, (33 (Munich, 1954), Vol. II.) shows that early Christianity was thoroughly absorbed in an oriental-Hellenistic environment and that the entire early Christian thought and life was penetrated by Hellenistic thought and expressed itself in Hellenistic forms.

These variegated insights increasingly illumine that unity of religions that Schleiermacher intuitively grasped when he stated in his Reden: "The deeper one progresses in religion, the more the whole religious world appears as an indivisible whole." (Reden, Rede 4, p. 186; ed. R. Otto. p.95.) And as the great Anglo-German scholar of religion, Max Müller, unceasingly proclaimed: "There is only one eternal and universal religion standing above, beneath, and beyond all religions to which they all belong or can belong." (Leben und Religion[Stuttgart, n.d.] p.153) Modern phenomenology of religion, represented primarily by the two Dutch scholars of religion, Van der Leeuw and Bleeker, (Gerardus van der Leeuw, Phänomenologie der Religion [Tübingen, 1933; 2d ed.; 1966]; C. J. Bleeker, Inleidning tot een phaenomenologie van den godsdienst [Assen, 1934]). has confirmed this comprehensive unity by pointing out the similarities in the world of religious phenomena. The same was done by the psychology of religion with respect to the realm of religious experience (Cf. Willi Hellpach, Grundriss der Religionspsychologie [Stuttgart, 1951]). and by the sociology of religion, for which Joachim Wach wrote the classic work on the forms of religious community. (Hass, op. cit.; Pfannmüller op.cit.) It is one bond that encompasses the lowest and highest religion. This unity becomes especially clear in religious language; the high forms of religion, the most subtle mystic, as well as the most vigorous prophetism, constantly speak the language of primitive magical religion without being conscious of it. Thus, for example, the primitive magical belief in blood and sacrifice, especially the belief in the atoning power of the sacrifice of a son, has become the form of expression for the deepest Christian mystery of redemption.

Within the great unity spanning all religious forms and levels, the higher religions represent a closer unity. Although quite considerable differences exist between the mystic religions of redemption and the prophetic religions of revelation (and even among the latter there are great differences between the closely related Judaism, Zoroastrian Mazdaism, Islam, and Christianity) -- important as these differences may be, they are overarched by an ultimate unity. There are seven principal areas of unity which the high religions of the earth manifest.

1. The first is the reality of the transcendent, the holy, the divine, the Other. Above and beneath the colorful world of phenomena is concealed the "true being": as Plato says; (Plato Republic vi. 490B) the "reality of all realities" (satyasya satyam), "the one without a counterpart" (Brhad-Aranyaka-Upanisad II, 3, 6; Chandogya-Upanisad VI, 2.) (ekam advifiyam) according to the Upanishads; "the eternal truth" (Reynold A. Nieholson, The Mystics of Islam [London, 1914], pp. 1, 81, 150ff) (alhaqq) in Islamic Sufism. Above all things transient rises the great cosmos, the eternal order, the Tao of ancient China, the rtam of ancient India, the Logos of ancient Greece. This reality is constantly personified in religious imagery as Yahweh, Varuna, Ahura Mazdah, Allah, Vishnu, Krishna, Buddha, Kali, Kwan Yin; it appears under the human imagery of the ruler, the father, the mother, the friend, the savior, the bridegroom, and the bride. The personal and rational elements in the concept of God, the "Thou" toward God, however, at no time exhaust the fully transcendent divine reality. They are only preparatory, in Rudolf Otto’s beautiful image, "the Cape of Good Hope," the foothills of a mountain range which is lost to our eyes in eternal darkness. (Das Heilige, pp. 276 f)

2. Second, this transcendent reality is immanent in human hearts. The divine spirit lives ill human souls. The human spirit is, as Paul says, the temple of the divine spirit; (I Cor. 3:16; II Cor. 6:16) "God is nearer than our very pulse," as is said in the Koran. (Koran, 50:16) He is interior intimo meo, "more inward than my innermost being," as Augustine said. (Confessions iii. 6) The ground of the human soul is identical with the all-pervading divine power; the atman is, according to the mysticism of ancient India, one with Brahman. (Heiler, Die Mystik in den Upanishaden [Munich, 1925], pp. 23 ff.) And the Christian mystics speak of the acies mentis, "the peak of the soul," with which it touches God; of "little sparks which issued forth from the Divine fire and glow within the human soul"; of the "birth of God in the ground of man’s soul."

3. This reality is for man the highest good, the highest truth, righteousness, goodness, and beauty, indeed, extending beyond goodness and beauty, the "supergood," the "superbeautiful," (Plotinus Enneadi i. 8.2; vi. 9.6) as the Neo-Platonic mystics say, the summum bonum, the "highest good." This phrase is common to all mystics. We find it equally good in Lao-tse, Tao-teh-king, in the Bhagavad-gita, in the old Buddhist canon, in Plato, Plotinus, and among the Christian mystics. (Cf. Heiler, Das Gebet [Munich, 1923], p. 260; "Der Gottesbegriff der Mystik," Numen, International Review for the History of Religions, I [1954], 161-83.) There is nothing in the world of nature and the spirit to compare with this Ultimate and Supreme, this absolutely Perfect untouched by all transiency and darkness. Therefore, this highest good is the ultimate goal of all longing and striving of the high religions. "What is not the eternal," said Gotama Buddha, "is not worthy of man’s rejoicing, not worthy that man should welcome it nor turn to it.’’ (Majjhima-Nikaya, II, 263; Beckh, op.cit., II. 123)

4. This reality of the Divine is ultimate love which reveals itself to men and in men. Mercy and grace are the attributes of Yahweh in the experience of the prophets of Israel. The God of the gospel is outgoing and forgiving love. "God is love" says the Johannine parable. (I John 4:16) Goodness and all-encompassing care make up the characteristic of the Tao of Lao-tse. (Tao-teh-king, 4, 25, 34, 52, 62.) "The great heart of compassion" (mahakaruna-cittam) is the inmost essence of the Divine in Mahayana Buddhism, (D. T. Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism (London, 1907), p. 292 and passim) and this heart is open to all men; just as the light of the moon is reflected in all kinds of water, the muddiest puddle as in the crystal-clear mountain lake and the endless ocean, so this divine heart of love reveals itself in all levels of mankind.

5. The way of man to God is universally the way of sacrifice. The path of salvation everywhere begins with sorrowful renunciation, resignation, the via purgativa, ethical self-discipline and asceticism. This path to God finds its continuation in meditation, contemplation, and prayer. Between contemplation and vocal prayer stands silent prayer. (Heiler, Prayer, trans. S. McComb [New York, 1932], pp. 176ff.)) In gesture and speech, prayer among the high religions compares to that of the primitive and ancient peoples. (Ibid., pp. 40 ff )The words of prayer in which human beings in need prayed to the Supreme Being thousands of years ago have survived to the present. But a change in content occurred in high religion. The exclusive, or at least central, object of prayer is God himself, according to Augustine, Nolite aliquid a Deo quaerere nisi Deum, (Sermons, 331.4) "you shall ask of God nothing other than God Himself," a saying quite similarly reiterated by the Persian-Islamic mystic, Sa’adi. (F. A. D. Tholuck, Blütenlese aus der morgenländischen Mystik [Berlin, 1825], p. 241). Insofar as human wishes were included in prayer, the object of the petition was liberation from all that separates from God, communion with God, and conformity of the human will with the Divine. (Heiler, Prayer, pp. 180 ff., 241 ff.) The prayerful cry, "Not mine, but thy will be done," has come from the lips of Christian as well as non-Christian men of prayer, ancient philosophers, and the pious men of Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim religions. (Ibid., pp. 97 ff., 187 ff., 265 ff,) And insofar as prayer is concerned with the whole world, it is the rule of God upon earth that is besought: ksathra vairya in Persian Mazdaism, malkuth Jahve in Judaism, the basileia tou theou in earliest Christendom. (Ibid. pp. 248 ff.) All pious men pray, partly in words, partly without words, partly in complete solitude, partly in the community of the faithful. And the great saints of all high religions "pray without ceasing," as Paul says. (I Thess. 5:17) Their whole life is, as Origen said, "one single, great continuing prayer." (De oratione I. 12. 1; ed. Koetschen, p. 325)

In the last analysis, however, the prayer of the faithful is manifest not as the ascent of man to God but as a revelation of God in the heart of man. The greatest Islamic mystic-poet, Dschelaled-din-Rumi, relates that a person who prayed almost came to doubt God because he received no answer from God to his prayer. Then came this message from God himself: "Your cry, ‘O God’ is my cry ‘I am here’-- in a single cry ‘O God’ are a hundred answers ‘Here am I." (Mesnevi III, 189 f. trans. Annemarie Schimmel) This faith reminds one of a word of God that Pascal believed he had heard: "You would not seek me if you had not already found me," (Œuvres complètes, I. 348) and of the confession in Romans, "We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words." (Rom. 8:26) Because the eternal God himself is present in the soul of man as its secret ground, spirit, and spark, the soul creates a bridge between the finite and infinite by prayer and meditation. In this, too, all high religions agree, that their saints and devotees together form one great invisible chorus of prayer.

6. All high religions teach not only the way to God, but always and at the same time the way to the neighbor as well. A neighbor is not merely every man without exception, but every living being. The mystic way of salvation is not completed in the via contemplativa, in the "flight of the alone to the alone," as Plotinus said. (Enneadi. vi. 9, 11) Rather it finds its necessary continuation in service to the brother, the vita activa. When Gotama Buddha had achieved perfect enlightenment under the bodhi tree, he withstood the temptation of remaining in undisturbed silence. Out of compassion for all beings perishing without his message of the way of salvation, he resolved to preach to all the sacred Truth disclosed to him. (Mahavagga, I, 5, 2f., Majjhima-Nikaya, I, 167f.; trans. Hermann Oldenberg, Buddha, sein Leben, seine Lehre, seine Gemeinde [Stuttgart, ] 914), pp. 139 f.) Meister Eckhart declared that if someone in his highest rapture notices a sick man in need of a bit of soup, it would be better for him to leave his rapture and serve the one in need. (Reden der Unterscheidung; Fr. Pfeiffer, Deutsche Mystiker des 14. Jahrhunderts (Göttingen, 1914), II, 553.) Confucianism, Taoism, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mazdaism, lslam, and Christianity all preach brotherly love. The Buddhist canon contains a hymn of brotherly love, even as does the Christian New Testament. According to the words of Buddha, all works of merit do not have one-sixteenth the value of love. (Ittivuttaka, 27; Winternitz, op. cit., p. 83) And we read in I Corinthians 13 that all the magnificent gifts of special grace are worthless and useless in comparison to the freely given, sacrificial, forgiving, and patient agape.

This love has no limitations. "As a mother protects her own child, her own son, with her love, so the disciples of Buddha have boundless love for all beings." (Sutta-nipata, 149; Winternitz, op. cit., p. 84) This universality of love finds its most wonderful expression in the formula of the Buddhist canon concerning the meditation on love, compassion, and mutual joy. The contemplative monk

lets the power of love, which fills his heart, spread throughout a heavenly realm, yea beyond a second, third and fourth realm, above, beyond, sideways, in all directions, in all completeness, he lets the power of love that fills his heart stretch out over all the earth. Such is the extent of that great, wide, and boundless love which is free from hate and malice. (Digha-Nikaya, XIII, 76 f., and other writings; Heiler, Buddhistische Versenkung, pp. 24 f., 79)

In like manner he radiates his compassion, joy, and holy equanimity throughout the entire cosmos. In its breadth and depth this meditation on love measures up to the universal intercessory prayer which is firmly rooted in Christian liturgies as well as in the individual prayer of the great Christian saints.

This love excludes no living being, it incloses even the subhuman creatures of the animal world. The Christian saints compete with Buddhist and Hindu saints in their love of animals. "St. Francis was a Buddhist," an Indian yogi once told me. One can just as well turn this around and say, "Buddha was a Franciscan." (On the parallelism between Buddha and Francis of Assisi, cf. Wolfgang Bohn, Der Buddhist in den Ländern des Westens [Leipzig, 1921]). The two currents of Christian love and Buddhist compassion for the cosmos flow together in the saying of one of the greatest Eastern Orthodox mystics, Isaac the Syrian, a saying that is at once entirely Buddhist and Christian:

What is a merciful heart? A heart inflamed for all creatures, men, birds, and animals, yea even for demons and all that is, so that by the recollection or sight of them tears fill the eyes because of the power of mercy which moves the heart in great compassion. (Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Ninive, trans. A. J. Wensinek ["Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam, Afdeeling Letterkunde," No. 23, 1], chap. 74, p. 341.)

In later Mahayana Buddhism this contemplative love takes on a strongly active character. Love becomes the selfless service to all beings. "As the element of water brings growth to all grass, shrubs, and herbs, so the pure Buddha novitiate gives bud to all beings through the testimony of his love. He makes the good qualities of all beings grow." (Kasyapa-parivarta; Winternitz, "Der Mahayana-Buddhismus," in Religionsgeschichtliches Lesebuch, ed. Bertholet (Tübingen, 1930), p. 36.) The task to which he has dedicated himself in a solemn vow is the conquest of all suffering in other living beings through his own vicarious suffering. "I take upon myself the burden of all suffering . . . the salvation of all living things is my vow. . . . I must take upon myself the whole load of suffering of all beings. . . . I must bring the roots of the Good to maturity, so that all beings attain infinite happiness, unimagined gladness." (Vajradhvaha-Sutra in Siksa-samuccaya, pp. 280 ff.; Winternitz, "Der Mahayana-Buddhismus," op. cit, p. 34.)

One who becomes familiar with Buddhist lore is constantly struck by the purity, breadth, and depth of this love. But more astonishing still, this Buddhist love includes the love of the enemy, as also among Brahmans and Sufists. The early Christian writer Tertullian asserted that the love of the enemy was an exclusive characteristic of Christianity. (Ad scapulam 1) In this he was profoundly mistaken. All high religions of the earth, not only the Eastern religions of redemption but the pre-Christian religions of the West, know the commandment to love the enemy. (Hans Haas, Idee und Ideal der Feindesliebe in der nichtchristlichen Welt ("Leipziger Universitätsschrift" [1927]) And the Chinese Li-ki (Book of Ceremonies) says, "By returning hatred with goodness, human concern is exercised towards one’s own person." (Li-ki, 29, 12. Cf. R. Wilhelm, Kungfutse Gespräche (1921), pp. 164 ff.) The wise Lao-tse emphatically demands the "reply to adversity with mercy and goodness." (Tao-teh-king, 63; cf. 49) Loving the enemy has been commanded in India since the earliest times. We read in the heroic epic Mahabharata: "Even an enemy must be afforded appropriate hospitality when he enters the house; a tree does not withhold its shade even from those who come to cut it down." (Mahabharata, 12, 5528; O. Bothlink, Indische Spruche, Sanskrit und Deutsch (Petersburg, 1870-73), p. 573.) In the other epic, Ramayana, we read: "The nobleman must protect with his life an enemy who is in distress or who out of fear has surrendered himself to the protection of the enemy." (Trans. A. Holtzmann, Indische Sagen, ed. M. Winternitz [new ed.; Jena, 1913,] p. 292) Buddha admonishes his disciples:

Even if, O monks, robbers and murderers would sever one’s members with a double-toothed saw, one by one, that person, if his spirit be filled with rage, would not be practicing my religion. Also in this case, then, you must beware: the mind must not be disturbed, we do not want to utter an evil word but remain kind and compassionate, well-intentioned, without inward hate; and we want to penetrate this human being with the spirit of goodness, with a boundless and immeasurable spirit free from hostility and ill-will. (Madjhima-Nikaya, 21; Karl Seidenstucker, Pali-Buddhismus in Uebersetzungen [2d ed.], p. 320; K. E. Neumann, Die Reden Gotamo Buddhos aus der Mittleren Sammlung [Munich, l921], I, 352.)

Buddhist literature contains wonderful examples of love for the enemy, as in the story of King Long-Sufferer, who, with his wife, was cut to pieces by the neighboring King Brahmadatta. Before his execution he admonished his son Long-Life: ":Enmity is not pacified by enmity; enmity is pacified by peaceableness." When the boy at last had an opportunity to take bloody revenge upon the king who had brought such evil to his parents, he conquered all hatred through the remembrance of this admonition of his father. (Mahavagga, X, 2; Hermann Oldenberg, Buddha [Stuttgart, 1914), pp. 337 ff.] Another example was Prince Kunala, whose eyes were torn out by order of one of the king’s wives because of rejected love. When he was told of the commandment, he cried: "May she who issued this command through which such a salvation is coming to me, enjoy long life, happiness, and power." When the king wished to have the wife tortured and killed, he interceded, "If she has acted ill, you act well; do not kill a woman. There is no higher reward than that of love. . . . O king, I feel no pain, and in spite of the cruelty which has befallen me, I do not feel the fire of wrath. My heart bears only love for her who had my eyes torn out." (Divyavandana, 405 f.; Oldenberg, op. cit., pp. 340 ff.)

The spreading of the concept of loving the enemy in preChristian times proves the validity of Lessing’s statement, "Christianity existed before evangelists and apostles had written." But also post-Christian saints, Jews as well as Muslims, have preached and lived the love of the enemy. The Sufist Ibn Imad says: "The perfect man shall render good to his enemies; for they do not know what they do. Thus he will be clothed with the qualities of God, for God always does good to his enemies even though they do not know him." (Tor Andrae Die Person Mohammeds in Lehre und Glauben seiner Gemeinde [Uppsala, 1918] p. 223) The Jewish Chassidim also demand:

In humility, the pious believer shall not return evil for evil, but forgive those who hate and persecute him, and also love sinners. He shall say to himself, that in the eyes of God the sinner counts as much as he himself. How can one hate him whom God loves? (Paul Levertoff, Die religiose Denkweise der Chassidim nach den Quellen dargestellt [Leipzig, 1918] p. 89.)

These Jewish sayings ring like an echo of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, "Love your enemies" (Matt. 5:44).

The faith that God is love and the commandment that men shall become like God in this all-embracing love, which includes enemies, constitute by themselves alone a strong sense of community among all high religions. The concept of humanity is basically no mere rational or purely ethical idea, but a deeply religious one. We of the West inherited this idea from the ethics of the Greek and Hellenistic religion, as well as from the prophetism of Israel whence came early Christianity. (Cf. Heiler, "Die Bedeutung der Religionen für die Entwicklung des Menschheits -- und Friedensgedankens," Oehumenische Einheit, II, No. 1, 1-29.) But the Eastern cultures, too, have arrived at the idea of humanity by way of their religions. Confucius said: "All men dwelling between the four oceans of the world are brothers of noble men." (Kung-tse, Gespräche [Lun yü], XII, 5; trans. Richard Wilhelm [Jena, 1921], p. 121). The corollary of the concept of humanity is the idea of universal peace. Lao-tse and his disciples appeared in China as mankind’s first apostles of peace. Of the latter, a saying traditionally attributed to Tswang-tse says: "Through burning love they sought to unite fraternally the people of the world . . . . They forbade aggression and ordered weapons to be laid aside so that mankind might be rescued from war. . . With this teaching they spread over the entire world." (The Texts of Taoism, trans. James Legge, Sacred Books of the East, XL, 222; Richard Wilhelm, Dschuang Dsi: Das Buch von südlichen Blütenland [Jena, 1940], pp. xix f) .

In a Mahayanist writing it is said of the Buddha novitiates:

During the time interval of the ages, while men battle with weapons, their minds are directed toward love, and they exhort the hundred million living things to peaceableness. And in the middle of a great battle, the strong Buddha novitiates are equal toward all parties and advocate only peace and concord. (Siksa-samuccaya, 325; Winternitz, "Der Mahayana-Buddhismus, op. cit.,p. 38.)

Love is God’s doing. It flows not from the small heart of man but from the eternal love of God. But as love flows forth from the heart of God, so it flows back to him again; the neighbor to whom man renders love is God himself in human disclosure. The ancient Greeks spoke of Zeus secretly approaching us in the stranger, the suppliant, the fugitive, and the companion, as Zeus xenios, physios, hikesios, and metoikios. (Martin P. Nilsson, Geschichte der griechischen Religion [Munich, 1941], I, 392.) Buddha taught his disciples to care for him even in the form of his sick companions. (Mahavagga, VIII, 26,4; Winternitz, Der ältere Buddhismus, p. 141) According to Jesus’ prophecy of judgment (Matt. 25:31 ff.) the messianic judge will count every act of charity rendered to the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned as done unto him and every such person neglected as the neglect of him, a thought briefly and concisely summarized by the extra-canonical saying of Jesus, "If you have seen your brother, you have seen your Lord.’’ (Clement of Alexandria Stromateis i. 19, 94; ii, 15, 70; Tertullian De oratione, p. 26). Great founders of Christian monastic orders, men like Benedict, Francis of Assisi, and Vincent DePaul, produced wonderful variations of this idea. (Heiler, "Der ganze Christus," in Im Ringen um die Kirche (Munich, 1931), pp. 34 f.; Mysterium caritatis (Munich, 1949), pp. 418 ff., 466 f). In his preaching, Luther never tires of having his listeners learn that Christ ceaselessly encounters us in all beggars and those seeking help. (Heiler, Im Ringen, p. 224; Mysterium caritatus, p. 418.) "The world is full, full of God, in every lane, at your door you find Christ." (Sermon on the 18th Sunday after Trinity, 1526 [Erlangen ed.] XVII, 260) Homo homini Deus -- man in need is God in disguise and his permanent incarnation. "Here is thy footstool, there do thy feet rest where the poorest and lowliest, where the lost do live," is the prayer of Rabindranath Tagore. (Gitanjali, 10; Gesammelte Werke, ed. Meyer-Benfey and Helene Meyer-Franck [Munich], I, 138) Where there is so great a love, the barriers between religions must fall, and if until now they have not fallen, the only reason is that they have not taken seriously the consequences of their most ultimate and profound principles. "Religion is love" (religion est 1’amour), the much condemned Ernest Renan has very rightly said. (Henriette Psichari, Renan d’après lui-même [Paris, 1937], p. 131). Love is the way of proving that there is a God, for God is visible in love. "No man has ever seen God," says John, "if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (I John 4 :12). The mutual love among men is nothing less than the visible manifestation of God.

7. Love is the most superior way to God. On this way all high religions reach out toward the ultimate goal of divine infinity in which all finiteness finds its fulfillment, even though this goal may be visualized in different images. The Kingdom of God, heaven, paradise, the land of happiness (sukhavati), Brahmanirvana, and Parinirvana -- these are all but various names for one reality, the "highest blessedness" (paranam sukham), as the Buddhists say. (Heiler, Buddhistische Versenkung, pp.40, 84) Though this blessedness now be imagined as a dissolving of the finite into the infinite (the Upanishads compare it to salt dissolving in water,

(Chandogya-Upanishad, VI, 9; Deussen, 60 Upanishads des Veda (Leipzig, 1921), p. 166.) and Buddha compares it to rivers flowing into the sea), (Anguttara-Nikaya, IV, p. 202; Udana, p. 55; Beekh, op. cit., II, 126) or as the vision of the divine countenance or as a uniting of the soul with the heavenly spouse, it is one and the same reality to which the pious soul keeps looking while in this state of finiteness and which it is already anticipating within this finiteness. The "daily entering into the heavenly realm," of which one Upanishad speaks, (Chandogya-Upanishad, VIII,3,3; Deussen, op. cit., p. 191) corresponds to "our commonwealth in heaven" spoken of by the Apostle Paul (Phil. 3:20). This bliss, however, is as the final existence for the lower spirits in the high religions a total and universal one. That is to say, it excludes the cruel and godless idea of the popular belief in an eternal punishment in hell. The merciful bodhisattva vows not to enter blessedness himself until all living things have found redemption. (| Sukhavati-vyuha-Sutra, Sacred Books of the East, Vol. XLIX; Hans Haas, Amida Buddha unsere Zuflucht [Leipzig, 1910]; also cf. Söderblom, Natürliche Theologie und aligemeine Religionageschichte [Leipzig, 1914], pp. 103, 3 ff). This doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism is contiguous with the Mazdean doctrine of the universe which is ultimately filled only by divine beings,

(La Vie future d’après le Mazdéisme ("Annales du Musée Guimet" [Paris, 1901]), p. 270.) and with the Christian doctrine of the restoration of all things (apokatastasis hapanton) advocated by Origen (following early Christian gnosticism) (I Cor. 15:28) and promulgated by the great Church Fathers of the East, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, and professed by many Christian saints in opposition to popular dogmatics. (Carl Schneider, Geistestgeschichte des antiken Christentums, I, 466)

Thus there is an ultimate and most profound unity of all high religions, including ancient Buddhism, which, in spite of its apparent antimetaphysical agnosticism, reveals a mystic religion of redemption equal to the noblest forms of mysticism of all times and all religions. This unity exists in spite of all differences in doctrine and cultus; one need not establish this unity artificially but, like a diver, simply lift up out of the deep that treasure which rests upon the ocean floor. Occasionally, however, such a precious treasure emerges on the surface of the water by itself and is visible to all. "One of the most astounding facts of the history of religions," Max Müller points out, (Will Hayes, How the Buddha Became a Christian Saint [Dublin, 1931] p.7) is the admission of Buddha to the Roman calendar of saints. (Selected Essays, I [1869], 546; cf. Chips from a German Workshop [London, 1875], IV, 179-89) One of the most widespread medieval legends of the saints was that of Barlaam and Joasaph; that is the legend of Buddha entering into the Eastern as well as the Roman church via Persia, Arabia, Syria, and Byzantium. (Ernst Kuhn "Barlaam und Joasaph," Eine bibliographisch-literargeschichtliche Studie [Munich, 1897]; ef. H. Gunter, Buddha in der abendändischen Legende? [Leipzig, 1922]; Hans Hass, Buddha in der abendländischen Legende? [Leipzig, 1923]). St. Joasaph, whose remembrance is annually observed in the calendar (Menaean) of the Greek Orthodox church as well as in the Martyrologium Romanum, is none other than the Bodhisattva. This occurrence has symbolic meaning; it proves the validity of the statement of the renowned traveler-explorer Marco Polo: "If Buddha had been a Christian, he would have been a great saint of our Lord Jesus Christ, so good and pure was the life that he led." (The Book of Sir Marco Polo, trans. and ed. Sir Henry Yule [London, 1903], II, 318. See also Max Müller, Chips, IV, 188: "If he lived the life which is there described, few saints have a better claim to the title than Buddha; and no one either in the Greek or in the Roman Church need be ashamed of having paid to Buddha’s memory the honor that was intended for St. Josaphat, the prince, the hermit, and the saint.") We find such saintly persons in great number in all high religions. And only because the living saints of the various religions are so similar to each other could it happen that the founder of the greatest Eastern religion of redemption was admitted to the throng of canonized Christian saints.

Within the great unity of all high religions, the four prophetic religions of revelation (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrian Mazdaism) find bonds of even closer unity. Historically they are all closely related to one another. All are monotheistic and ethical religions, and all require daily obligatory prayer of their believers as an act of adoration of Divine Majesty.

The triad of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is elevated out of this quartet as being one in their faith in God as creator and lawgiver, judge and pardoner, punisher and forgiver. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim piety circles around the poles of sin and grace. The system of parochial worship characteristic of these three religions has one common tradition, inasmuch as the Christian form of worship arose out of the Judaic and the Islamic arose out of both. This is true not only of the form of worship but also of the place of worship. Synagogue, church, and mosque are an architectural unity over against the temples of other religions. They all have a "holy of holies": in the synagogue it is the sacred ark with the Torah scrolls; in the church it is the altar and in the later Roman church the tabernacle; in the mosque it is the prayer niche facing Mecca. There is profound tragedy in the fact that in the history of Christians and Jews, on the one hand, and Christians and Muslims, on the other, there has been so much bitter struggle. And in view of the extremely close religious relationship, this mortal enmity makes no sense whatsoever as it still smolders today between the Jews of Palestine and the Muslim Arabs.

These three religions cherish belief in ecclesiastical institutions and laws, but the legal system in all three has been softened or entirely overcome by a profound and pure mysticism in which the highest goal is the unity of the soul with the eternal God. The history of the personal piety of these religions is largely a history of mysticism of the speculative-theological kind as well as the mysticism which expresses itself in simple prayers. The Jewish Kabbala and Chassidism, as well as Muslim Sufism, reveal a surprising similarity to Christian mysticism, and this mysticism in turn weaves a bond of unity around the related forms of mysticism which constitute the heart of the great Eastern religions of redemption -- Taoism, Brahmanism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (Cf. Heiler, Die Bedeutung der Mystik für die Weltreligionen [Munich, 1919])

Still closer than the trinity of these three prophetic religions of redemption is the unity of Christianity and its mother religion of Israel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the preaching of the prophets of Israel. The Christian community owes to Judaism not only the idea of a creation of the world from nothing, the prophetic faith in God’s revelation in history, the intensity of a knowledge of sin, the trust in God’s forgiving grace, the expectation of the Kingdom of God, and prayer as the "outpouring of the heart," but also its most sacred sacrament. The parting meal of Jesus in Jerusalem, from which emerged the mystery meal of the New Covenant, was a Jewish meal. Its designation as "eucharist" is only the Greek rendition of the Jewish term berakha, that is, blessing and thanksgiving over bread and wine. When in a Jewish service of worship on the Sabbath eve I see the elevated kiddusch-cup and hear the words, "Blessed art Thou who givest us the fruit of the vine," then I always see at the same time the chalice which is elevated by the Christian priest in the eucharistic liturgy. Though the navel cord may have been torn at the birth of Christianity, the church of the New Covenant is yet bound to the people of God of the Old Covenant in the same indissoluble unity as a child with its mother. For that reason the Christian church has never ceased to use the Jewish psalter as its foremost book of prayer. Indeed, the most sacred prayer of Christendom, the Lord’s Prayer, is but a summary and concentration of the prayers used by the Jews of the time of Jesus.

With respect to this great unity of the high religions, one can only repeat the prayer of Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa: "It is Thou, O God, who is being sought in the various religions in various ways, and named with various names, for Thou remainest as Thou art, to all incomprehensible and inexpressible. Be gracious and show Thy countenance. . . . When Thou wilt graciously perform it, then the sword, jealous hatred, and all evil will cease and all will come to know that there is but one religion in the variety of religious customs [una religio in rituum varietate].’’ (De pace seu concordantia fidei, loc. cit.)

One of the most important tasks of the science of religion is to bring to light this unity of all religions. It thereby pursues only one purpose, that of pure knowledge of the truth. But unintentionally there sprouts forth from the root of scientific inquiry into truth a tree not only with wondrous blossoms but also with glorious fruit. When Helmholz discovered the eye-mirror a century ago, he was pursuing no practical medical purpose but only a theoretical research purpose. But through his research zeal he brought help to millions who suffer with eye disease. The same is true of the scientific study of religion. Its inquiry into truth bears important consequences for the practical relationship of one religion to another. Whoever recognizes their unity must take it seriously by tolerance in word and deed. Thus scientific insight into this unity calls for a practical realization in friendly exchange and in common ethical and social endeavor which the British call "fellowship" and "co-operation."

This unity and this fellowship are as little a syncretistic mixing of religion as is a conversion from one system of religion to another. Schleiermacher’s Reden contains the sincere warning:

If you want to compare religion with religion as the eternally progressing work of the world spirit, you must give up the vain and futile wish that there ought to be only one; your antipathy against the variety of religions must be laid aside, and with as much impartiality as possible you must join all those which have developed from the eternally abundant bosom of the Universe through the changing forms and progressive traditions of man. (Reden, Rede 5, 241,p. 123)

Rabindranath Tagore agrees with this warning against antipathy toward the diversity of religions and the will of one religion to dominate. He states:

The attempt to make their own religion the ruling one everywhere and for all time is natural to men who incline toward a sectarianism. Therefore they do not want to hear that God is magnanimous in the dispensing of His love, or that His dealings with men are not limited to one blind alley which comes to a sudden halt at one point in history. If ever such a catastrophe should break in upon mankind that one religion should swamp everything, then God would have to provide a second Noah’s ark to save his creatures from spiritual destruction. ("Lebensweisheit," in Gesammelte Werke, VIII, 282)

Joy in the individuality of another religion is the ultimate joy in God Himself. Schleiermacher asked whether Christianity was destined to be the only religion of mankind. Evidently he held that Christianity was against this despotism. It is not a main tenet of Christianity to seek uniformity in religion by destroying other religious systems. Rather it honors all forms of religious expression because all have necessary ingredients for what Schleiermacher considers "the religion of all religions." However, Schleiermacher judged this too optimistically. Not many Christian theologians have followed him in this, but among them are to be found such men of renown as Nathan Soderblom and Rudolf Otto. Most Christian theologians fear nothing so much as "relativism." I have a way of answering such theologians that the greatest of all relativists is God himself, the Absolute, for he is fullness in itself and his fullness is revealed in the immeasurable diversity of nature and the spiritual life.

Toynbee, in the book mentioned above, recalls the wonderful statement that the defender of dying pagan religion, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, used against the church father, Ambrosius, "The heart of so great a mystery can never be reached by following only one way." (Relatio Symmachi, ed. Seeck, 6, 1, p. 282; under the works of Ambrose, in Migne, Patrologia Latina, XVI, 966 ff). To this Toynbee adds the comment:

We can take the statement of Symmachus to our hearts without being disloyal to Christianity, but we cannot harden our hearts against Symmachus without hardening them against Christ; for what Symmachus preached is Christian love of which the Apostle says that it will never cease. Though there be prophecies, they shall pass away, and though there be tongues they will cease, though there be knowledge, it will pass away. (An Historian’s Approach to Religion, p. 297.)

The deeper our reverence for God, the deeper also must our reverence for other religions be. More than two thousand years ago, King Asoka, Buddha’s zealous disciple, made it clear to his people that whoever honors another religion honors his own, and whoever disgraces another disgraces his own. His admonition still holds good for our day. He who has penetrated the mystery of religion will cease wanting simply to convert the believers among the other high religions; moreover, his desire is twofold, to give and to receive, to represent the purest form of Christianity to others and in turn to learn about the most intimate character of the belief of others. He does not want to conquer those religions, but unite with them at a higher level. He would not "destroy" them but "fulfill" them (Matt. 5 :17); he does not want their death, but (as Rudolf Otto said) he wants no religion to die before its ultimate and most profound meaning has been told. (Vishnu-Narayana, p. 224) The meaning of true mission is not propaganda or conversion or domination of others but brotherly exchange and brotherly competition. (H. Friek, Die evangelische Mission, Ursprung, Geschichte, Ziel [Bonn, 1922], pp. 449 ff.; and particularly the famous address on missions by Max Müller, "Westminster Lecture on Missions," 3, 12 [1872], in Chips from a German Workshop [London, 1875], IV, 251-80. Cf. Söderblom, Missionens Motiv och kulturvärde in ur religionens historia (Stockholm, 1915), p. l94: "Mission means that the encounter between the great human cultural types, that is the great povvers of human ideas, becomes as deep and central and manysided as possible." Heiler, "Die Mission des Christentums in Indien," in Rudolf Otto Festgruss, 5 [Gotha, 1931]). In this sense we must not only wish that Christian mission continue among the religions of the East (Max Müller said that for every missionary he would rather send out ten more), but also that the religions of the East send missionaries to us, (Chips from a German Workshop,IV,354) as Leibniz had already desired in the introduction to his Novissima Sinica. (Novissima Sinica, historiam nostri temporis illustratura in quibus de christianismo publica nunc primum autoritate propapato missa in Europam relatio exhibetur, deque favore scientiarum Europaearum, etc. [2d ed., 1699]. The first edition appeared anonymously in 1697.) Such a mission does not lead to syncretism and eclecticism but to "such growth in the essentials" as Asoka had demanded from the different religions, and that means nothing other than growth in love toward God and man.

On this basis there naturally follows a co-operation of religions in "life and work," to extend this expression which Soderblom used of the Christian ecumenical communion to the ecumenical union of all religions. (Cf. Heiler, "i zur Liebe," in Die Zusammenarbeit der Religionen im Dienste der ganzen Menschheit [Lecture in the "Week of Brotherhood"], Eine heilige Kirche [1953-54], pp. 18-33). In the last decades various organizations have grown up on this basis, such as the Universal Religious Alliance, International Religious Peace Conference, World Parliament of Religions, World Congress for Free Christianity and Religious Progress, Union of All Religions, World Congress of Faiths, and Fraternity of Religious Mankind, founded by Rudolf Otto. (R. Otto, "Religiöser Menschheitsbund neben politisehem Völkerbund," Christliche Welt, No. 9 [1920]; "Religiöser Mensehheitsbund," Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart [1929], III, 1222.) In 1956 this latter organization joined the World Congress of Faiths founded by Sir Francis Younghusband as the German branch. The World Harmony founded by Hossein Kazemzadeh Iranschähr (Weltharmonie: Wegweiser zur Lebensharmonie und zum Weltfrieden, Gründer und Redaktor, ed. K. H. Iranschäihr [Winterthur: W. Baltensberger, 1957], ninth Annual.) serves a similar purpose. None of these movements aims at an unorganic syncretism of religions. No, each religion shall continue to unfold its individuality. But through friendship and common co-operation among the religions we develop mankind more and more. All high religions are distinguished from the lower nationalistic religions of mankind. (Cf. Heiler, "Die Bedeutung der Religionen für die Entwicklung des Mensehheits -- und Friedensgedankens," Oekumenische Einheit, II, No. 1, 1-29.) They have realized only imperfectly, however, the concept of humanity toward which they strive because they have detached themselves from other religions striving for the same goal and because they have looked upon one another as competitors or even as enemies instead of brethren and children of the same family of God.

If the religions thus learn to understand one another and cooperate, they will contribute more to the realization of humanity and thereby to world peace than all the noteworthy efforts of politics. A torn humanity which has passed through so many catastrophes, which has ruined itself through so many wars, which is still bleeding from so many wounds, can be saved by one thing only, which is rooted in and proceeds from divine love as it lives in the high religions, primarily in their saints and martyrs. Co-operation in the conquest of racial, national, economic, and social problems will by itself lead to the securing and maintaining of world peace. Responsibility before the eternal God and selfless love for one’s brother, these alone warrant the greatest security. Satyagraha (the apprehension of truth), ahimsa (the inviolability of all life), paratma-samata (the identity of all alien spirits), paratma-nirvana (the self-transformation into an alien soul), mahamaitri (great, all-encompassing love), and maha-karuna (great compassion) are age-old religious ideals which Indian saints realized centuries before Christ and which Gandhi put into practice anew in our century. (Cf. Heiler, Christlicher Glaube und indisches Geistesleben [Munich, 1926], pp. 37-51; W. E. Mühlmann, Mahatma Gandhi, der Mann, sein Werk und seine Wirkung [Tübingen, 1950]). Gandhi is likewise an example for the unity of religions. He drew not only from the treasure store of his Indian forefathers, from the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-gita, but also from the Koran and the New Testament, mainly from the Sermon on the Mount. He believed in the mysterious unity of divine revelation in all high religions. Upon hearing the statement of a Christian missionary, the Rev. Anstein of Basel, "I take you also to be a disciple of Jesus," he answered, "That I am indeed, but in a sense other than you believe; for I regard myself as a disciple of Buddha, Muhammad, and Krishna as well. They all want one and the same thing, truth and love.’’ (Hans Anstein with Heiler, Die Wahrheit Sundar Singhs, Neue Dokumente zum Sadhustreit [Munich, 1927], p. 201). In his Ashram, a co-operation has been realized among the circle of his friends even in common worship among members of different religions. As earlier in the worship services of the Brahmosamaj, which emerged from Hinduism, and of the Bahai and Sufi groups, which emerged from Persian Islam, portions from the various bibles of mankind were read in these services of worship. The same occurred also in the worship services of the sessions of the World Congress of Faiths. First the believers of the various religions listened to the Word of God in the various sacred scriptures of mankind and then in holy silence hearkened to the inner Word of God. In the worship of the Sufi these sacred scriptures lie upon the altar on which stand seven candlesticks. At the beginning of the service the candles are lit one after the other, each a symbol of one of the high religions except the seventh, which is the symbol of those seekers after God who belong to no religion. That there can also be a liturgical fellowship of believers from different religions was shown at the conclusion of the World Congress for Free Christianity and Religious Progress in Berlin (1910), (World Congress for Free Christianity and Religious Progress, Protocol of Discussions [Berlin, 1910]) when Père Hyacinthe Loyson, a former Carmelite monk, led in the Lord’s Prayer, and Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists joined him, some with and some without words.

A new era will dawn upon mankind when the religions will rise to true tolerance and co-operation in behalf of mankind. To assist in preparing the way for this era is one of the finest hopes of the scientific study of religion. It was this hope that possessed one of its greatest pioneers, Friedrich Max Müller. Therefore, this essay will be concluded with the same words of the last hymn of the Rgveda to Agni (X, 191) with which Max Müller closed his inaugural address as president of the Arian section of the International Oriental Congress in London in 1874:

United come, united speak, let your spirits agree . . . !
Let your efforts united be; unite your hearts!
Let your spirit united be, by which you are firmly bound. . . .
Peace, peace, peace. (Chips from a German Workshop, IV, 371)

In the original language and in the solemn manner of recitation of ancient India this verse resounds yet more fully:

Sam gacchadhvam sam vadadhvam sam vah manamsi
janatam…
Samani vah akutih samana hrdayani vah,
Samanam astu vah manah, yatha vah. susaha asati.
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

 

 

 

 

Viewed 105759 times.