These days I play Hiawatha on the stage of life, though I don't go by that name, wear face paint or perform in front of an audience. Nope, it's just me alone in front of the computer screen, writing words that nobody reads. But I imagine that I am a great peacemaker of my own, unifying not the great tribes of the plain but the denizens of the world - humanity, that means you - under a universal religion of the Self.
Let's take a look at the world's major "tribes," the 5 major religions.
The founders of this oldest of religions were the Rishis, the great mystics who walked the earth thousands of years before Christ and from whom we have the inspired writings that make up Vedanta, on which Hinduism is based. Because these men lived before most of written history was compiled, their identities and therefore biographies are lost to the ages.
But thankfully we have modern representatives of the mystic spirit in individuals such as Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, about whom a great deal is known. For as one book on the subject states, "the true starting point of the present Hindu Renaissance may be said to be Sri Ramakrishna," whose life represents the entire orbit of Hinduism. He was both wise and devoted, and God was both personal and impersonal. Both the life of the householder and that of a renunciate were given equal standing in his eyes. What's more, his sayings can be read with profit by a philosopher as well as by a child. His mission was to awaken people from their spiritual slumber and tell them of the wonders of the kingdom of God which he had experienced personally and to which the scriptures of all the world bear witness.
There is nothing new in his teachings, which are personal testimony and support the eternal truths of Hinduism. Born in 1830 he drew his materials from the well-known tales of Indian folklore, which he freely moulded to suit his didactic purposes. A favorite saying of his: "Evil exists in God as poison in a serpent." In other words, evil is evil only from the point of view of humans. From the absolute standpoint, there is no evil. A disciple once asked him, "When shall I be free?" His answer: "When 'I' shall cease to be."
Ramakrishna often emphasized that realization of God is the essence of religion and the end and aim of human existence. While religion is a means of preparing the mind and directing its focus to the spirit, all religious works, discussions and discources end when realization begins, and thus the ego-based self sinks back into the Self, source of all. An example: three men speaking different languages take water out of a jar. One calls it water, the other agua, and the third l'eau. All different names for the same thing. Truth is one, teachers speak of it in various ways.
Siddhartha Gautama was of a noble birth circa 562 BC. Married as a teenager and a father ten years later, he forsook his home to devote himself entirely to the study of philosophy. He was then 28. After six years of extreme self-mortification he abandoned asceticism as vain and leading to nothing, and thereafter attained illumination under the Bo tree. This occurred when he was 35.
Known as Buddha, he began preaching at the age of 30, and his words echoed the Upanishads of ancient Hinduism. "And he who beholds all beings in the self and the self in all beings, he never turns away from it. When to a man who understands, the self has become all things, what sorrow, what trouble can there be to him who once beheld that unity?" For Buddha was indeed a Hindu, and the ethical ideals of the religion he founded are not different from Vedanta. His teachings a restatement of the Upanishads with a new emphasis, and as Dr. Radhakrishnan has shown, the following points are common to the teaching of the Upanishads and the teaching of Buddha:
Both are indifferent to authority and insist on personal experience.
Both have contempt for ritualism and sacrifices.
Both admit that the absolute Reality cannot be comprehended by the intellect.
Both assert that there is no peace of mind till the state of changeless reality, called moksha or nirvana, is reached.
Both teach that this Reality can be reached only through renunciation, meditation and the realization of the oneness of all life.
Both regard the world and the individual self as impermanent.
Moreover, Buddha uses in his discourses many phrases and expressions found in the Upanishads.
However, the religious canon of Buddhism took shape two centuries after Buddha's death and was modified by disciples, who taking advantage of their teacher's reticence on metaphysical questions over-emphasized the negative side, making nirvana synonymous with a void where all is extinguished. But in this void, the Self is not extinguished, only the concept of God, the worship of this God by an individual who is illusory, and the world in which this worship takes place. What you are left with is Oneness. The Self. Absolute Reality. Since this is everything, it is hardly a void.
Nevertheless the negative doctrines of Buddhism - without their positive counterparts, which Buddha most probably had in his mind like the seers of the Upanishads, made explicit in Hinduism - widened the gulf arising existing between the two religions with Buddha's rejection of the authority of the ritual-heavy Veda. A gulf it is now time to bridge.
Zen Buddhism, which developed in China during the Tang Dynasty (700 AD), became itself a bit of a bridge between the two ancient religions. Zen has been described as Buddhism colored by the teachings put forth in the Tao Te Ching, which was written by the Chinese poet Laozi in the 5th or 4th century BC. If you translate Tao (literally, the way) as the Self, which is the English equivalent of the atman or Brahman of the Vedas, you find this beautiful and short Chinese classic text to be very much a mirror image of some of the Upanishads more mystical passages.
Some of my favorite lines from the Tao are these:
"Hold on to the center."
"Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity." Itself reminiscent of nishkama karma, or dispassionate action of the Hindu Gita.
"Can you coax your mind from its wandering and keep to the original oneness."
"Can you step back from your own mind and thus understand all things?"
"Thoughts weaken the mind. Desires wither the heart."
"Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things."
"You can't know it, but you can be it, at ease in your own life."
"Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?"
"Stop thinking, and end your problems."
"I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty."
"Since before time and space were, the Tao is." Compare with Christ's "Before Abraham was, I am."
"The Tao is beyond is and is not." Beyond duality, beyond the concepts of being and non-being.
"Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself."
"The Tao is serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present."
"The Master travels all day without leaving home. However splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself."
"Accept the world as it is."
"The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them. She lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle."
Although Jews can trace their history as far back as Abraham, Moses is considered the main founder of this religion. The Bible tells us that he lived during the Jews' exit from Egypt, called the Exodus, c. 1446 BC. Moses is said to have spoken directly with God, and to have descended from Mount Sinai with the commandments which these good people profess to live by today, and which are basically things NOT to do, such as steal or kill, and which were later updated by Jesus, himself a Jew, and summed up in the twin directive to Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. The Hebrew mystics, particularly the followers of the ecstatic strain of Kabbalah, have emphasized some of the more esoteric aspects of Judaism in their attempt to achieve a union with God.
It can be said that the Bible places strenuous emphasis on the nature of the Divine to be existence. Thus the Lord refers to himself simply as I Am. The entire Old Testament can be summarized by the words, "I am God."
Seen as a historical figure rather than a godman, Christ was born around BC 4 as Bucke tells us in his book on Cosmic Consciousness (itself another name for mysticism), and that he was thirty-four or thirty-five when he began to teach. The gist of the New Testament can be found not merely in the twin commandment sited above but in Christ's pronouncement that "I and the Father (God) are one." Crossing the boundary between self (individual) and other (God), realizing one's identity with the Divine seems to be the ultimate message of this great personage.
Muhammad, who was born in 570 and died in 632, provides a detailed and complete case of mysticism. Palmer, in his Introduction to Quran, tells us that Muhammad was a man "of highly-nervous organization, thoughtful, restless, inclined to melancholy and possessing an extreme sensibility . . . simple in his habits, kind and courteous in his demeanor and agreeable in conversation."
Before his experiences on Mount Hara, where he was divinely inspired to write the Koran, he was devout, earnest and deeply religious. He gradually absented himself from society, seeking the solitude the Mount provided in the environs of Mecca, and in his fortieth year experienced the revelations which gave birth to the world's second most popular religion, Islam.
The Quran itself, though believed by Thomas Carlyle to be "as toilsome reading as ever I undertook. A wearisome confused jumble, crude, incondite, endless iterations, longwindedness, entanglement, insupportable stupidity in short," has contributed to the spiritual elevation of many millions of individuals for many generations, its impact enormous. This impact should not be diminished by the acts of a few militant and extremist individuals who kill in Allah's name, which would be tantamount to judging the merit of Christ's words by the barbarisms perpetrated by the Crusaders in the Middle Ages. To do such a thing would be to miss the point. Let us consider just a few lovely phrases by one of Islam's most prolific and popular mystics, the Persian poet Hafiz (c. 1320 - 1389 AD).
Speaking as a representative of the human race, Hafiz writes: "For we have not come here to take prisoners or to confine our wondrous spirits, but to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine . . . Light!" For Hafiz the Self was represented as lover and friend, the desire to unite and become One again.
"Effacement (of the self) is the emerald dagger you need to plunge deep into yourself upon this path to divine Recovery, upon this path to God (the Self).
And this: "What else can Hafiz do tonight to celebrate the madness, the joy, of seeing (the Self) everywhere!"
And my favorite: "This Sufi (mystic) path of love is so astoundingly glorious that one day each wayfarer upon it will become the Inconceivable - the Creator of God Himself."
And so you see, the single strand, of Oneness, like a wreath stringing together the fragrant flowers of all the world's religions. These religions which are so like many beautiful statues, but the underlying substance is the same. Ignore the differences in form, of race and creed, and focus on the goal: gold. We are all gold!
Haven't we lived in Babel long enough? It is time we unite and speak the same language which is love, and follow the same Lord, seated in the depth of the heart, and omnipresent.
Ramakrishna showed how it was possible, in the words of Bucke, to "unify all the religions of the world by seeing only what is good in each one of them, and by sincere reverence for every one who has suffered for the truth, for their faith in God and for their love of men. He left nothing in writing."
I'll take this as a sign for me to stop here. I guess as the great peacemaker I'm not alone or unique, only once again playing the part of a great one who came before, with maybe a little ad-libbing of my own.
Follow the path of love. There is no evil. Hold on to the center.
And remember, that old book established the existence of God. The newer version man’s identity with God. Now it is time for you to recognize the godman that dwells within you. You write your testament with your life.
Blessed are the peacemakers.