People are always talking (and arguing) about the differences between various religious beliefs, but, when looked at closely, all of the world’s great religious traditions have an underlying unity to them. This is one of the central themes in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, the Indian sage who brought yoga and meditation to the West in 1920.
When I set out to write my book, Meditate and Experience God: Saints, Scriptures, and Science Point the Way, I wanted to emphasize a multi-denominational approach to both God and meditation, and in doing my research, I discovered the following commonalities amongst all the great religious traditions:
There is one God who has always existed and is eternal
- God created man
- God resides within man
- It is right and beneficial to love God
- God provides the supreme happiness, greater than what the world provides
Of course different religions use varying language to describe these common themes, yet even Buddhism, which tends to use terms such as “Ground of Being” and “Reality-Limit,” rather than “God,” addresses most of them.
To take just one of these points—the point of God residing in man—consider the following quotes taken from scripture:
Per The New Testament (Christianity):
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [1 Corinthians 3:16]
…the kingdom of God is within you. [Luke 17:20-21]
Per The Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism):
‘Thus in the body of man dwells the Supreme God; He who sees and permits, upholds and enjoys; the Highest God and the Highest Self. [XIII:16-17, 23]
Per Buddhism, in speaking of “the Great Bliss”:
It abides always in all things … It is called the Great Bliss, for it consists of bliss unending; it is the supreme One, the Universal Good, the producer of Perfect Enlightenment. [Prajnopayaviniscayasiddhi, ch. 1]
Per The Torah (Judaism):
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him... [Genesis 1:26-27]
Thus saith the Lord: Ye are gods and children of the Most High. [Psalms 82:6]
And lastly, per The Qur’an (Islam):
He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of Forms. [Surah 59:22-24]
He it is Who created the heavens and the earth… And He is with you... [Surah 57:3-4]
Paramahansa Yogananda has said this regarding the underlying unity of all religions: “The great religions of the world all preach the necessity of finding God, of brotherhood among men; and all have a moral code such as the Ten Commandments. What then creates the differences? It is bigotry in men’s minds. Not by concentrating on dogma may we reach God, but by actual soul knowledge. When men perceive the universal truths underlying various religions, there will be no more difficulties over dogma.”
So what Yogananda is telling us here is that rather than focusing on all of the differences among religions (which do indeed exist), we should find out the truth about God for ourselves by attaining “soul knowledge.” This sounds great, but how do we attain this “soul knowledge”?
According to Yogananda and many other revered saints and sages from all of the world’s great religious traditions, the way to go about this is through the science of Yoga: by sitting quietly, stilling the mind, and meditating. For, although various religious scriptures can give us an idea of what God is, until we experience God for ourselves, we will never be convinced. And once we do experience God for ourselves, there will be no further need for debate regarding religious dogma.
Again per Yogananda:
“Yoga enables man to perceive the truth in all religions.”
“Attaining Self-realization through Yoga, men will come to know that they are all children of the one Father.”
“The true practice of religion is to sit still in meditation and talk to God.”
In his book, Man’s Eternal Quest, Yogananda explains how he decided that he needed to experience God for himself and not allow religious doctrine to be his dictator. “Very early in life I saw that theological and even scriptural answers to certain questions could never fully satisfy the soul, unless their truth were experienced through realization and God-communion. For example, when my mother died… I rebelled inwardly against it; but no one could give me an explanation that satisfied me. I decided I had to find the answer myself through my own effort. ‘I am not going to accept this blindly,’ I vowed. ‘I am going to find the answer from Him who is the Maker of this universe.’ ” And so Yogananda set about meditating, experiencing God himself through meditation, and dedicating his life to enabling others to also do this.
Science teaches us the same: to look for proof of a theory, not to blindly accept a theory on faith. Per Yogananda: “Dogmatic religionists are convinced that if you do not believe in a certain way you are doomed. Science does not teach you in that way; it proves its points. And true religion satisfies the demands of your soul, not by words, but by proof.”
“Without realization through meditation, religion is the most mysterious book of all,” Yogananda tells us. “But by meditation, you have the proof of God’s existence.”
Charlotte Hebert is the author of Meditate and Experience God: Saints, Scriptures, and Science Point the Way.
Follow her on Twitter: @LetsAllMeditate
All Paramahansa Yogananda quotations in this article come from his anthology, Man’s Eternal Quest, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, Calif.