"Behind the Scenes"
Its Revelation, Its Symbols: An Essential View of Religion
by Swami Kriyananda
A fundamental tenet of Hinduism is that all paths lead to the same goal. God is the one Source of everything in existence. Some people, however, have drawn from this tenet in Hinduism the conclusion that all paths, therefore, are equal. This is no more true than it would be to say that it makes no difference whether one wants to travel from Switzerland to France by going directly, or going in an eastward direction around the world, coming to France by way of the Atlantic. Both ways will get you there, yes. The eastern route may even have the advantage of affording you with broader experience in the process. It should not be said, however, that the two ways are equal.
Drunkenness may in fact take one to God, eventually, through lifetimes of suffering and disillusionment. As the part of a bone that has been broken becomes, once it heals, stronger than the original bone, so drunkenness may eventually give one a distaste for evading one's responsibilities (as alcoholics usually try to do), and make one more firmly devoted than most people to doing what is right. Thus, it may be said that while the fundamental truth of religionnamely, that God is one, and that it is man's duty to know Himis the same everywhere, it cannot be said truly that all religions, and all sects within those religions, are equal. There is, in fact, much error practiced everywhere in the name of religion: much bigotry, much intolerance, much hatred, and much persecution. "Ignorance," Paramhansa Yogananda used to say, "both East and West, is fifty-fifty."
Indeed, the eternal truth that the goal of soul evolution is oneness with God is nowhere taught so unequivocally or so definitely as in Hinduism. Jesus Christ taught it, to be sure, but almost no so-called Christians believe in that kind of liberation. Their idea of perfectionwhich Jesus counseled alsois eternal life amid heavenly surroundings.
Buddha taught that highest state, certainly, but almost no Buddhists believe that the state of oneness entails eternal, blissful, conscious awareness. They think of nirvana as nothingness. An official Buddhist document I read in Thailand many years ago equated nirvana with total cessation of consciousness. The document was written as an answer to the Hindu concept of Satchidananda: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. "It is true," the document conceded, "that there is, at first, a fleeting experience of bliss. After that, however, there ensues a state of absolute nothingness." Who would devote his whole lifeindeed, lifetimeswith full sincerity to achieving nothingness? Impossible! I can only imagine people, once that dread moment of truth arrives, exclaiming in dismay, "Hold off a little! I'm not quite ready for that!" Nirvana, when truly understood, means the cessation of everything except bliss. Divine Bliss is the only eternal reality. And blissful compassion is what the Buddha showed throughout his mission on earth.
I've been dismayed to see Hinduism either discounted altogether in Western thought, or else equated with Buddhism as the true flowering of ancient Hinduism. Buddha was, in fact, a Hindu, just as Jesus was a Jew. I learned from my great guru, however, how extraordinary is the legacy of India's ancient religionhow all-embracing, how thrillingly right and true. No other religion in the world, as understood by its own adherents, presents as the goal of life the state of moksha: liberation in oneness with Satchidananda.