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Religion is an outstanding feature of virtually every society in every country

throughout the world today. Religion is the primary driving force in many cultures,

defining and dictating laws, customs, social norms, births, deaths, marriages, meals, and

more. Though religions around the world vary greatly in practices and specific beliefs, I

believe strongly, as I will demonstrate in this essay, that there are no “right” or “wrong”

religions. I also feel that a single factor unites all religions and that the antagonism of the

varied disciplines can be reconciled through recognition of this unity. However, like those

religions, I will be unable to define specifically what this field of unity is. I can only point

to it, like a “finger pointing to the moon,” as the old Zen masters used to say.

Webster’s offers the following definition of religion:

Religion (ri-lij’-an) n. belief in supernatural power which governs

universe; recognition of God as object of worship; practical piety;

any system of faith and worship.1

While Webster generally does a good job of outlining the bulk of disciplines

worldwide, this definition still doesn’t account for “nontheistic” religions, such as

Buddhism and Taoism. Buddhism is called nontheistic because, although Buddha is

recognized as the founder of the religion and a prominent teacher of its ideas, there is no

central entity that Buddhists actually “worship” the way followers of some religions do.

The vast diversity of spiritual expression tends to defy any attempt to box it up in a nice,

neat package. Although this diversity must have originated at some common point in the

past, its very difficult to pin down exactly when or why religion first appeared, but it

seems to be much older than most people imagine. In 1001 Things Everyone Should

Know About Science, James Trefil notes that neanderthal man, appearing about 300,000
years ago, had an advanced religion, buried their dead, and made ornaments and other

artifacts that we associate with human civilization.2 This demonstrates that it is virtually

impossible to determine a precise time of origination of organized religion. As for the

“why,” it seems that religion serves to unite man under a common cause. Paul Tillich

(1886) described religion as the “ultimate concern” of man and Emile Durkheim, (1858),

a founder of modern sociology, insisted that religion was a social function of humanity.

Durkheim considered religion as emerging from the “collective spirit of society.” He

believed that religion is necessary as a “cohesive force.”3 It appears that spirituality is

almost programmed into the psyche of man and that it may have definite functions as a

survival technique, fostering unity and teamwork in large groups of people.

Despite the obvious common origins of all religious and spiritual disciplines, a

disease of the mind has plagued mankind for hundreds of years, manifesting as the belief

that certain religions are “correct” while others are “incorrect.” This disastrous fallacy of

logic has resulted in incalculable human suffering throughout history, from the Crusades

of ancient times, to the slaughter of Native Americans by explorers and settlers, to

modern jihad, “holy wars” waged by radical fanatics. To a lesser extent, a constant

tension between different religious sects simmers daily in the United States. Southern

Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and countless others insist on theirs as the only “right”

way of worship, and assert that those who follow other ways are condemned to eternal

damnation, regardless of their knowledge (or ignorance) of other disciplines. I once asked

a man who wholeheartedly claimed that Buddhism is a “wrong” religion, what he knew

about the Buddhist practice. He replied, “I know that it’s wrong.” One of the most glaring

oppositions of religious view today, however, is between followers of Christianity in the


West and those of Islam in the East. Surprisingly, after some research I have found what

seems to be a unitive effort between the two disciplines which the general populations of

both cultures seem to be unaware of. Charles Kimball, in When Religion Becomes Evil,

points out:

In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedies several prominent,


media-savvy Christian clergy felt compelled to expose publicly the
evil nature of Islam. Not content simply to proclaim the truth of
their understanding of Christianity, each man attacked Islam as a
false religion and declared that Allah was a false God. Allah is
simply the Arabic word for God. People who speak Arabic-
including the more than fifteen million Christians who live in the
Middle East today- pray to Allah; people who speak French pray to
Dieu; people who speak German pray to Gott. Taking to the
airwaves to claim that Muslims are worshipping a false god is
irresponsible. It reveals both how woefully uninformed prominent
leaders can be and how easy it is to become enslaved to inflexible
truth claims about God.4
However, a quick glance at some of the teachings of Islam reveals that this hateful

antagonism is unfounded, and that the idea of a fundamental rift between Christianity and

Islam is false. In fact, a sense of brotherhood is felt after considering the findings of

William Stoddart after studying the Qur’an, the fundamental text of the Muslims:

From the time of the Crusades many Christians have considered


Islam, bordering as it does on Christendom, to be a threat and rival
to the latter. And yet Islam’s record towards Christianity is a good
one, and its age-old tolerance of Christian and Jewish communities
(“People of the Book,” ahl al-Kitab) living in its midst is well
known. Islam’s attitude to Christianity has its root in the Qur’an:
“You will find that the best friends of believers are those who say:
‘We are Christians.’ This is because there are priests and monks
amongst them, and because they are not proud.5
Not only does this attest to the original, amicable relationship between East and

West, it suggests a forgotten friendship that may be reborn through understanding of the

true origins of both religions. They seem to be far more similar than most realize. In fact,

Kimball goes on to note:

Jesus is one of the most important and prominent figures in the


Qur’an; he is mentioned ninety-three times by name in the sacred
scripture of Islam. There is simply no ambiguity here. Jews,
Christians, and Muslims are talking about the same deity.4
I feel the future of modern civilization, and especially the happiness and

prosperity of our children, is dependent on our recognition of this cultural unity and

setting to rest the ancient feud between Christianity and Islam. The effort has been made

by Islamic leaders in the Middle East who were quick to point out, immediately after the

September 11 attacks, that such actions are undertaken by misguided individuals ignorant

of the true message of Islam and that such actions are certainly not representative of the

attitude of the Muslim world as a whole. My impression of Christian America, however,

is that it seems not to want to listen to this message of peace, as it undermines the

American way of seeking to blame and punish many for the actions of a few, an attitude

evident in our government and media. If this issue is not resolved in the near future, we

will undoubtedly see continuing and escalating hostility and violence throughout the

world.

In truth, when one begins to gain a greater understanding of the central meaning

of the various religious disciplines worldwide, one starts to see a distinct resemblance

between all of them. Although the methods of worship of the divine take hundreds or
thousands of different forms, they all serve to open the practitioner to actual reality- that

is, the way things really are, or the way life actually is, minus how we think it is or want

it to be. I have been exposed to a variety of religious practices and believe that

contemplative Christian prayer, intensive shikantaza Zen meditation, recitation of

Buddhist sutras, chanting of mantras, whirling of dervishes, singing, working, kneeling,

bowing, all of these practices, undertaken in a spiritual context, serve to arrest the

discursive tendency of the mind to distort reality into a form that suits the illusory ego.

My experiences with world religions have helped me understand that all disciplines

acknowledge the “self,” to a greater or lesser degree, to be secondary in priority of the

spiritual life. In fact, most far Eastern religious systems flatly deny the idea of the self as

having any substance or reality whatsoever, and point out the self, (and I believe rightly

so,) as the source of all the suffering in all the world in all of history. The “entity,” which

all religions cite as the ground of actual reality, takes many names but is ultimately the

same thing. Brother Wayne Teasdale, in The Mystic Heart, eloquently states:

The divine…is infinite consciousness: the totality, the source, the


Tao, God, the ground of being, the ultimate reality, the ultimate
mystery, the nameless one, Yahweh, Allah… there are countless
other names for this being. This infinite awareness has a nature, an
inner reality that expresses the unlimited mystery of the divine.6
It is exactly the task of labeling that which cannot be labeled that accounts for

much of the antagonism between religions. No one can seem to agree on a “correct”

name for a “thing” that defies all names. How ironic it is that Lao-tzu acknowledged this

problem some 2,500 years ago in the Tao Te Ching, but still no one seems to listen:

The tao that can be told


Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.


Naming is the origin
Of all particular things.7
Although this doesn’t mean that every religion needs to abandon its names, it does

suggest that we accept the fact that all of our languages and labels are inherently dualistic

and therefore limited. The reality of the divine simply cannot be written down in words,

but merely hinted at. We must also realize the great danger in strictly adhering to specific

names and rejecting others, and rather accept all names as an attempt to communicate the

ineffable. This, however, will be a huge hurdle for most of the world due to our incredible

dependency on language. Most feel that if it can’t be spoken of, it doesn’t exist. Modern

Sociology supports a notion called the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis” which states that “we

see the world through the eyes of our language,”8 a concept with which I couldn’t

disagree more. I would say, “we see the world through the eyes in our skull,” but we

communicate to others how we see that world through our language. If we encounter

something that we cannot communicate, such as “God,” it frustrates us terribly. When we

understand the basic flaw of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, we see what Alan Watts meant

when he said, “the thing’s the thing.”

Aside from the difficulty in going beyond words to realize the unity of religion,

we can find evidence in the words of various practitioners and in their practices the

obvious similarities of all of them. While the view is different, we see that the basic

understanding is the same. Brother Teasdale again notes:


Bede Griffiths was fond of telling a story that illustrates how
differently East and West approach the spiritual journey. During his
life in India, he would often ask Hindus from all walks of life,
“where is God?” They immediately pointed to their heart because
they knew that Atman dwells within the depths of their inner being.
In contrast, when Bede questioned Jews, Christians, or Moslems,
they would invariably point upward or outward because they
conceived of God as external to themselves. Clearly, Hindus also
understand that the divine is beyond us and around us, just as
Christians, Jews, and Moslems know that God dwells in their
heart. The East and West simply have a different emphasis.6
Further, when we investigate some of the core principals of disciplines that may

appear worlds apart, we find similarities that are downright uncanny. For instance, most

would doubt any but the most remote similarities between Christianity and Buddhism.

After some research of the basic tenets of both, however, I found aspects of each that are

too alike to be coincidental. The Ten Commandments of Christianity is regarded by many

as the core set of values representative of the religion. Likewise, thirteenth century Zen

master Eihei Dogen, founder of the Soto school, listed what he called the “Ten

Unwholesome Actions” of Buddhism. Surprisingly, most of the items on each list of

unwise actions are virtually identical. The first commandment Moses brought down from

the mountain was “thou shalt have no false gods.” Dogen says the first unwholesome

action is “having false views.” The sixth of Moses’ commandments is “thou shalt not

kill.” Dogen lists simply “killing” as another unwise action. Moses reported “do not

commit adultery.” Dogen similarly cites “sexual misconduct.” Moses says “do not steal.”

Dogen, “stealing.” Moses, “do not bear false witness against a neighbor.” Dogen,

“slander.” Moses, “do not covet a neighbor’s possessions.” Dogen, “covetousness.”9,10


The similarity is too striking to ignore. Obviously both disciplines have a very similar

picture of the ideal follower of the divine.

In the future, the differences between all religions may be reconciled and

humankind can move forward as a single race into spiritual evolution. We are already

seeing this in the spread of many different religious practices throughout the world, as

hybrids of religions such as the popular “Christian Zen,” which, to my understanding,

incorporates Buddhist zazen meditation as a means to commune with Christ, to the “new

age” practices, involving centuries old methods of mind-body “unification” with a

modern rhythm. (I use “unification” in quotes when speaking of mind and body because I

find something funny about the idea of trying to unify two things that are inseparable to

begin with!) Brother Teasdale beautifully sums up the ideal integration of religious

practices throughout the world with his concept of interspirituality:

The real religion of humankind can be said to be spirituality itself,


because mystical spirituality is the origin of all the world religions.
If this is so, and I believe it is, we might say that interspirituality-
the sharing of ultimate experiences across traditions- is the religion
of the third millennium. Interspirituality is the foundation that can
prepare the way for a planet-wide enlightened culture, and a
continuing community among the religions that is substantial, vital,
and creative. Interspirituality is not about eliminating the world’s
rich diversity of spiritual expression. It is not an attempt to create a
new form of spiritual culture. Rather, it is an attempt to make
available to everyone all the forms the spiritual journey assumes.6
As we can see from the evidence presented here, all religions are simply a “finger

pointing to the moon,” each a slightly different view of the same incommunicable, divine

reality. The idea of one religion being “right” or “wrong” is absurd. The vast diversity of
cultures worldwide rules out the possibility of every man and woman agreeing on the

same spiritual path. Lasting, worldwide peace depends upon our realization and

acceptance of the differences of religious expression in societies throughout the world.

Once the individual has reconciled, in his mind, the diversity of spirituality on

Earth, the unheard of possibility yet remains of setting to rest the incompatibility of

religion and the other dominant discipline on Earth, science. Until recently, the merging

of spirituality and science has been scoffed at and previously thought utterly impossible.

How can a system, which depends on observing repeatable phenomena and using the

results of such observation to define the parameters of existence, reconcile itself with an

“entity” that cannot be proven because it cannot be communicated? And yet, it seems that

the dependent factor of all scientific research seems also to be the dependent factor of all

spiritual experience: consciousness. With a closer look, we also see that both disciplines

are attempting to answer that one insoluble question: why is there something rather than

nothing? Again, the solution obviously lies intimately connected with consciousness. On

the basis of Amit Goswami’s theory of monistic idealism, science and spirituality can be

integrated through consciousness itself, and the paradoxes of quantum mechanics can be

reconciled. He is convinced that only through an emphasis on consciousness can we

present a coherent picture of reality and heal the old antagonism between science and

religion.6 Man’s higher consciousness is believed by many great thinkers and

philosophers to be our direct link to the divine, that which separates humans from

animals. With the advent of quantum physics, many researchers have already begun to

encounter problems in situations where consciousness, as a factor, needs to be ignored in

order to maintain scientific sterility. In The Mystic Heart, we learn:


Physicists have discovered, in the quantum situation, that there is
no such thing as pure objectivity, and that this may account for
why the uncertainty principle holds true: because the mediating
role of consciousness negates precise prediction. The objective
ideal of science is just not possible. Inherent limitations on
objectivity are imposed by our subjective, or conscious-bound
identity. Subjectivity is intimately part of the theoretical and
experimental phases of quantum research. The researcher is part of
the quantum phenomena observed or predicted by probability. The
observer affects the results of what is observed, and intentionality
appears to be at work in particles, waves, and atomic structures. It
is more and more evident that consciousness is at work on even on
every level of phenomena.6
The infamous “double slit experiment” is a prime example of the influence of

consciousness on the Universe. Believed to be first performed by English scientist

Thomas Young in 1801, the experiment consists of a barrier with two vertical, parallel

slits through which electrons are fired, and then strike a receiving plate behind the slits.

As can be imagined, if particles are fired, the pattern on the plate consists of two vertical,

parallel bands, consistent with the position and shape of the slits. If, however, waves are

passed through the slits, an “interference pattern” is formed on the plate, showing many

bands, a result of the waves emanating from the two slits interfering with each other and

canceling each other out in certain areas. The experiment was designed to deduce

whether electrons were actually particles or waves.

Surprisingly, the first time the experiment was run, the electrons exhibited the

interference pattern of a wave, even though electrons were previously thought of to be

particles. The researchers decided to place a measuring device at one of the slits to

determine which slit the electron actually went through. To their great surprise, the
electrons switched to exhibiting a pattern of two bands, characteristic of particles. As

bizarre as it may seem, the actual act of observing, or the presence of consciousness,

collapsed the wave function and caused the electron to behave as a particle.

It gets weirder. Sometime later, physicists decided to recreate the experiment, but

added a twist. They ran the double slit experiment with the measuring device, collected

the data, and then went away. They let the information sit for some time, say a day, and

then returned. At this point they decided whether or not to view the data, or the

information regarding which slit the electron had passed through or instead to simply

discard it and view the plate. As it turned out, if they decided to view the data, the plate

would show the two bands of a particle, and if they decided to discard the data, the plate

would show the interference pattern of a wave. A decision they made today affected

events that occurred yesterday. The inescapable conclusion is that consciousness has a

profound impact on the nature of the Universe, and that not even time or space is exempt

from its influence.

I have come to a conclusion concerning a similar debate, this time in philosophy.

It is the debate of free will versus predestination. My thesis is this: “free will vs.

predestination is to action as wave vs. particle is to electrons.” Let me explain. In any

moment, you can decide on a particular path of action. You can decide to do, or not to do,

any particular thing. This is undeniable. We call this free will. However, on surveying the

past, and our actions in it, we can deduce (theoretically) the motives and reasons behind

every action you have taken. We can say, with evidence to back us up, that you had no

choice but to perform a certain action. We call this predestination. As in the double slit

experiment, it is the presence of consciousness that changes things. It appears once again,
that two subjects which appear diametrically opposed are in fact, not mutually exclusive.

As it turns out, electrons occur as both particles and waves simultaneously, and action

occurs as both freely willed and predestined simultaneously. The difference is the

presence of consciousness. As an area of further inquiry, I wonder if there are other sets

of two subjects that appear superficially to be polar opposites, but which turn out to be

two sides of the same coin when the influence of consciousness is considered.

Strides have been made, however, since the earlier sciences which attempted to

flatly ignore the possibility of eternal unknowns in the universe. As science grows closer

to consciousness, the source of phenomena, we begin to see that our old, clockwork view

of the cosmos simply doesn’t fit. Einstein and Hawking approached the integration, but

the rigors of science and its subsequent unwillingness to allow for any reference to any

remotely spiritual concept perpetuates the rift between the two. Again, from The Mystic

Heart:

The thinkers who shaped the Western scientific approach locked it


into a mechanistic straightjacket without room for the divine. They
saw the cosmos as a vast space occupied by heavenly bodies in
motion. These bodies related in an external way, mindlessly and
without purpose. But like an immense machine, it worked
perfectly. This view lasted about three hundred years and was
shattered by the advent of quantum mechanics and relativity
theory. Einstein and other physicists and cosmologists have
searched for a unified field theory, which would prove the unity of
the cosmos as a system by integrating, or discovering the point of
integration of the four forces: gravity, electromagnetism, and the
strong and weak nuclear forces. Mystics would say that the reason
the unified field has eluded the grasp of Einstein and others is that
it is not something outside or beyond, not some other force, but
consciousness itself! Consciousness is the unified field that brings
everything together in itself, in the cosmic totality that grounds all
creation. They didn’t see it because they were inside it.6
If science and spirituality should happen to merge, (which I doubt it will in the

foreseeable future), the advances in science and technology, especially in the fields of

quantum physics, genetics, medicine, and artificial intelligence will increase

exponentially. Though this integration is highly unlikely, it would make for some great

science fiction. We can hope, however, that researchers will continue to gain greater

understanding of the role the mind plays in all aspects of physical phenomena and

incorporate this knowledge into technology that may benefit mankind and serve to ease

suffering worldwide.