by Swami Adiswarananda
Vedanta designates the individual ego as maya. The role of maya is to soften the glare of Reality and to create a dream world where fact is diluted by fiction. Maya is not a peculiar concept of Vedanta. The Buddhistic tradition calls it Mara; the Taoist tradition says it is being "out of harmony with Tao;" the Judeo-Christian, Islamic and Zoroastrian traditions personify maya, calling it Satan, Iblis, and Ahriman; the Platonists refer to it simply as delusion. Things and beings in the realm of maya are not non-existent, though they are illusory. They are relatively real, that is, real for a short time. God as Pure Spirit is the Absolute Reality. The beings and things of the relative universe appear real because they reflect the light of the Absolute. The message of Vedanta has two rhythms: "All this is verily Brahman" and "That thou art;" that is, God is both the Absolute and the relative Reality. One represents the dizzy height of mystical realization, the other its counter part, its humanistic expression. One is Knowledge, the other intimate Knowledge.
Harmony of religions is the natural corollary to the first three cardinal principles. Different religions are only different pathways to the same common goal - God. All roads lead to Rome, provided Rome is our destination. Vedanta repudiates the idea of proselytisation. Proselytisation seeks to wipe out the social meaning of a person, which would be psychologically disruptive and morally reprehensible. According to Vedanta, all are proceeding toward God-realization, consciously or unconsciously, and all will reach the goal eventually. When we move toward this goal voluntarily and consciously, we call it spiritual quest; when this move is involuntary and forced by nature, we call it an evolutionary process. Harmony of religions is not uniformity. It is neither eclectic nor sectarian. It is not the brotherhood of man based on the fatherhood of God. Harmony is unity in diversity. This harmony is something that is not to be attained by mere intellectual understanding and interfaith deliberations, nor can it be enacted by law. It is to be discovered and realized by deepening our individual God-consciousness. Essentially there is only one religion, which is the religion of God-consciousness, one salvation, which is communion or union with God, and the way to salvation is one, that is, the way of purity and holiness. It is not the literal and meticulous observance of ceremonials but the depth of spirituality that counts most. The depth of a person's God-consciousness is measured by his spiritual transformation. A tree is known by its fruit.
Vedanta's contributions to world religious thought may be said to be the following: upholding spiritual democracy, promoting spiritual humanism, and providing a basis for world unity. Vedanta advocates spiritual democracy. While each of the other systems presents only one ideal and path to its followers, Vedanta offers an infinite variety of ideals and paths to choose from in order to reach the same ultimate goal. An ancient Sanskrit verse says that the Supreme Brahman assumes many forms for the welfare of the seekers. Lacking in this freedom, religion becomes authoritarian and oppressive, insisting upon unthinking obedience to rigid traditions and dogmas and unquestioning belief in ceremonials and creeds. Such religion relies more on assent to given propositions than on certainty of conviction based on personal experience. Democracy is considered the best form of government because all the members freely participate in its process and take responsibility for governing. in the same way, religious freedom ensures spiritual individuality, critical enquiry, honest doubts, choice of the path, and verification of truth through personal experience. The ideas of "exclusive salvation," "a jealous God," "chosen people," and "the only way" are repugnant to Vedanta.
The second major contribution of Vedanta is spiritual humanism, as opposed to secular humanism. Secular humanism without a spiritual basis soon degenerates into enlightened self-interest. It seeks to make our life rich and meaningful without defining life's goal and purpose. Mere morality without spirituality is neither sure of itself nor self-sufficient. Vedanta, on the other hand, presents spiritual humanism, which is not so much doing good to others as it is rendering loving service to God, seeing His presence in all. Spiritual humanism embraces the whole of humanity, irrespective of race, culture, country, religion or social affiliation.