Perhaps the three most influential and adored personalities in recorded human history are Lord Krishna, Jesus Christ, and the Prophet Mohammed. Even today thousands of pilgrims travel to Jerusalem in Israel, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and Vrindaban in India to remember and venerate these great souls.
Does the fact that most of the followers of Lord Krishna are in the East, those of Lord Jesus in the West, and those of the Prophet Mohammed in between, mean that they have “spheres of influence,” and represent the Divine only in their respective spheres of influence? Do they represent the same Absolute Truth, or are they contending antagonists for the hearts and souls of mankind?
Actually, of course, as God is One, His message is one – no matter who preaches it! That message is Love – Love of God and love for all God’s separated particles, which include all living beings and even things inanimate. Speaking for the Absolute, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita 10:8: “I am the Source of everything. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” Lord Jesus proclaimed the same universal message of love: “A new commandment I give you – that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”
The philosophical basis for this universal love was spoken very explicitly by the Supreme Lord to Lord Brahma, the material Creator of this universe, in Srimad Bhagavatam 2.9.33: “Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, Who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material Nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains is also I, the Personality of Godhead.”
This supreme undying truth is not always understood or seen so clearly by imperfect human beings, who always see through eyes of duality and division. This is because we see through eyes of ignorance that see ourselves as a material body, and thereby transform God’s perfect unity into disunity and competition.
Over a century ago, the great W.E.B. DuBois, himself an American of African descent, observed, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line.” It appears that the problem of the 21st century may be determined by the “Faith line.” On one side stand those who we may call the “religious totalitarians,” who believe that only their interpretation of their particular religious ideology is right and bonafide, and an acceptable way of believing and living on the Earth. Anyone else should be converted, or condemned and killed.
Fortunately, there is another side of the Faith line composed of those who we may call the “religious pluralists” who, while following their own particular tradition, maintain that faith in and obedience to the Supreme Being according to any religious tradition is always good, and that persons believing in different religious creeds should live together in peace and harmony, trying to inspire each other to even higher levels of Faith and Love for the One Supreme Being, Whom we all adore. The pluralists advocate neither mere toleration nor an artificial consensus. Rather, they encourage proactive cooperation between each and every soul that simultaneously preserves individual identity while working for the health and wellbeing of all. This is indeed perhaps the only way we may survive the rampant godlessness of the present civilisation. Pluralists believe that each religious community should be allowed to make its unique contribution for the good of all.
The outcome of this great Faith line struggle between the religious totalitarians and the religious pluralists depends on young people. The young and impressionable have always played a significant role in social movements. They did against apartheid in South Africa, and they did for the rise and success of the Nazis in Germany. Today, the demographics of the world’s religiously volatile areas are strikingly young. Thirty-two percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion people are under the age of 25. Forty-two percent of the residents of the Palestinian territories are below 15 years. Nearly one fourth of Iran’s population is under the age of 15, and the median age is 26.4. They are all standing on the Faith line. Which side they choose depends on whose message reaches them first. Will it be the message of love and toleration, or the message of hate and conflict?
We who believe in love and toleration must make sure our message of freedom, cooperation, and acceptance reaches them first. Speak out! It’s your duty!
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SRILA BHAKTIPADA was born on September 6, 1937, the son of a Southern Baptist minister. He imbibed his father’s missionary spirit and attempted to convert classmates to his family’s faith. Despite an acute case of poliomyelitis which he contracted around his 17th birthday, he graduated with honors from Peekskill, New York, high school in 1955. In high school and college he excelled at debate. Maharaja received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee on May 20, 1959 and graduated magna cum laude, first in his class of 117. He then received a Woodrow Wilson fellowship to study American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he remained for three years. Kirtanananda was among the first of Srila Prabhupadai’s western disciples to shave his head , don dhoti and kurta, and move into the temple. During March 1967, on the order of Prabhupada, Kirtanananda established the Montreal ISKCON temple. On August 28, 1967, while travelling with Prabhupada in India, Kirtanananda das became Prabhupada’s first disciple to be initiated into the Vaishnava order of renunciation, (sannyasa: a lifelong vow of celibacy in mind, word and body), and received the name Kirtanananda Swami. In 1968, Kirtanananda Swami founded the New Vrindaban community in West Virginia. Over the following years, a Palace of Gold, Radha Vrindaban Candra temple and large guest house manifested. New Vrindaban became the most visited temple in America with many thousands of visitors a year. Bhaktipada attracted millions of people, toured and taught non-stop and authored the best selling Christ and Krishna along with over a dozen other books. Kirtanananda died on October 24, 2011 at a hospital in Thane, near Mumbai, India, aged 74.
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 111 (November-December 2008).
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