Theosophy Northwest View

The Newsletter of the Northwest Branch of the Theosophical Society

December 2008 -- Vol. 11 Issue 10

Reflections on Religion

There is only one religion, though there are a hundred versions of it. – George Bernard Shaw

Religion can be defined as a system of beliefs and practices by means of which a group of people struggles with the ultimate problems of human life. – Milton Yinger

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by . . . religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need. – Harvey Cox

Wherein does religion consist? It consists in doing as little harm as possible, in doing good in abundance, in the practice of love, of compassion, of truthfulness and purity, in all the walks of life. – Asoka's Edicts

In the matter of religion, people eagerly fasten their eyes on the difference between their own creed and yours; whilst the charm of the study is in finding the agreements and identities in all the religions of humanity. – Ralph W. Emerson


We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the greatness of our existence.  We hear the voice of that depth; but our ears are closed. – Paul Tillich

Every dogma, every philosophic or theological creed, was at its inception a statement in terms of the intellect of a certain inner experience. – Felix Adler

Both the myths of religion and the laws of science, it is now becoming apparent, are not so much descriptions of facts as symbolic expressions of cosmic truths. – René Dubos

A religion is true in proportion as it supplies the spiritual, moral and intellectual needs of the time, and helps the development of mankind in these respects. It is false in proportion as it hinders that development, and offends the spiritual, moral and intellectual portion of man’s nature. – H. P. Blavatsky

Why not let people differ about their answers to the great mysteries of the Universe? Let each seek one's own way to the highest, to one's own sense of supreme loyalty in life, one's ideal of life. Let each philosophy, each worldview bring forth its truth and beauty to a larger perspective, that people may grow in vision, stature and dedication. – Algernon Black

Out of the heart come the issues of life, and when men and women everywhere seriously try to penetrate to the roots of spiritual issues, the quality of their faith will outdistance the patterned "faith" of creeds. – James A. Long

Like the bee, gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different Scriptures and sees only the good in all religions. – Srimad-Bhagvatam

Is it really too much to ask and hope for a religion whose content is perennial but not archaic, which provides ethical guidance, teaches the lost art of contemplation, and restores contact with the supernatural without requiring reason to abdicate? – Arthur Koestler

Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development. – Alfred North Whitehead

Any religion or science that separates mankind from the universe, that neglects to recognize human responsibility to our surroundings, and that considers its own pronouncements superior to or independent of ethical questions, lacks the cosmic basis for ethics so urgently needed and now sought by serious thinkers who will find it in nature only when they have recognized it in themselves. – Oluf Tyberg

In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners . . . – Mark Twain

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy.  Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. – The Dalai Lama

There will be peace on earth when there is peace among the world religions. – Hans Küng

Monthly Discussion Group

This month "Agreement among Religions” is our subject. We will be discussing such questions as: What do religions agree on? What needs and concerns do they address, and what do their solutions for the human condition have in common?  Do religions come from the same source?  How far can truth be contained or expressed?  How can we distinguish between universal truths and human invention?  What is the relation between spirituality and religion?  What might lead people to feel and act more positively toward faiths and people whose beliefs differ from theirs?  How can religions and individuals encourage more love, kindness and mutual understanding in the world? Come and share your ideas!!

  • When: Thursday, December 11, 7:30 to 8:45 pm
  • Where: Bellevue Library, 1111 - 110th Ave NE, Bellevue

Open to the public, unsectarian, non-political, no charge

Upcoming Topics

These subjects are currently being considered for the Monthly Discussion group. As always, those who have a particular topic they would like to have featured are encouraged to contact us.

January 22: The Mysteries of Birth
February 12: What Is Inspiration?
March: Solstices and Equinoxes
April: How Are We Connected?

Theosophical Views

What Do Religions Have in Common?

By Sally Dougherty

Why are religions so central to human life? Traditionally they have provided explanations for cosmic and human existence, our relation to the rest of the universe, what kind of beings we are, how we should live, how society should be organized, and what happens after we die. Their rituals mark significant events of life and the passage of the year, and bring people together in reverence, celebration, and mourning.

While their expression and content vary widely, religions have much in common. Dr. Mrinal Roy in an unpublished manuscript examined eight major religions to find what each considered the fundamental problem of human life, what it proposed as the solution, and the means recommended to achieve this goal. He concluded that all saw the most basic problem as separation or estrangement of the individual from the fundamental principle or essence of the cosmos. This essence might be pictured theistically as a divinity or group of divinities, or as transcending personality, form, and human conception. We see this last in the Hindu Tad (That) and Parabrahman (beyond Brahman), in the Chinese Dao, in Buddhist and Jain conceptions, or in terms like the Ineffable, Unknowable, etc. Whatever way this reality is described, an essential purpose of religion is to mend the breach between human beings and the ground of their existence. Religions differ in how they portray the origin and history of the human situation and therefore in their explanations of the needed correction. But Dr. Roy’s research led him to conclude that each great faith requires those wishing to reach the goal of spiritual life to strip away the limited, egoistic aspects of themselves in order to reunite with the source of all being.

The means that religions offer to achieve this objective are quite similar. Among the most popular are devotional practices. These harness and elevate the powerful emotion of love through a one-pointed devotion to a worthy object. Believers fill their consciousness with intense love for a spiritual being or holy person to whom they dedicate their lives.

Another approach is through knowledge and understanding, where consciousness may enlarge to encompass the universe. Though seeming opposite, these two paths have the same result, as Swami Ramdas says: “There are two ways: One is to expand your ego to infinity, and the other is to reduce it to nothing, the former by knowledge, and the latter by devotion. The Knower says: ‘I am God  –  the Universal Truth.’ The devotee says: ‘I am nothing, O God, You are everything.’ In both cases, the ego-sense disappears.”

A third path is that of action or works. Selfless service dissolves our chronic restrictive self-focus and can eventually bridge the gap between the human and the universal. Tibetan teacher Shantideva expresses this compassionate path thus: “As long as the sky exists, and as long as there are sentient beings, may I remain to help relieve them of all their pain.”

There are many other means, but one found everywhere is meditation. Such contemplation or prayer brings conscious control over awareness. By quieting our chattering, anxious minds and not identifying with their habitual and incessant activity, we become open to other modes of being and awareness lost in the psychological noise. We are able to stay in the present moment where life is actually lived, where all action takes place, all experience occurs. Past and future are mental constructs that separate us from immediate experience and prevent us from knowing things as they actually are.

All these paths, however, involve a great deal of work, and most of us are not motivated to put forth this effort. We are caught up in the details, desires, and drama of our human lives. If we weren’t content on a fundamental level to be human beings here on earth, I believe we would find a way to exist in a different condition. We don’t want to move on to a more complete view of things if it requires giving up current habits of thought, action, and emotional response. Most aspects of religion target people in this typical state of mind. Here abuses of religion develop, as the powerful and ambitious use it to control and console the mass of people by manipulating their desires, fears, and ignorance. Unfortunately, there is much agreement among religions in this area as well.

Nonetheless, all religions include means that allow us, if we wish, to harmonize ourselves and overcome our perceived separation from the source of being. Perhaps this is because each of us has these potentials within us, innate inalienable resources unconnected to religious affiliation. Religion can be one way of awaking us to these possibilities. For the core of our being is one with everything everywhere. Our limited self must evolve, but our essence is already there.

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