"Who made me a divider?"
It is obvious from all this that one of the hallmarks of the esoteric tradition is inclusiveness or universality: the schools, paths, and Masters mentioned above come from all religious systems, organized or otherwise, and this is intentional. Sant Kirpal Singh Ji, addressing the Third World Religions Conference (of which he was President) in Delhi in 1965 makes it very clear:
Without taking any more of your time, I would like to emphasize one thing: that all religions are profoundly good, truly worthy of our love and respect. The object of this Conference is not to found any new religion as we have already enough of them, nor to evaluate the extant religions we have with us.... The most pressing need of the time, therefore, is to study our religious scriptures thoughtfully and to reclaim our lost heritage. "Everone has in him," says a Saint, a pearl of priceless value, but as he does not know how to unearth it, he is going about with a beggar's bowl." (The Way of the Saints, pp.198-199)
Representatives of exoteric religious bodies have often scoffed at the idea that the great mystics in their traditions would have agreed with this understanding; and it is true that until fairly recent times, when most religions were more or less isolated from each other, this is not a major theme in spiritual writing. There have always been pointers in this direction, however. The Bible, for example, shows us Abraham and Moses sitting at the feet of Melchizedek and Jethro respectively, both of whom were non-Hebrews (Genesis 14:18-20; Exodus 18:1-27); calls Cyrus, the Persian Emperor and a member of the Zoroastrian religion, a messiah (Isaiah 45:1); makes a non-Jew, Job, the protagonist of one of its most spiritual books; refers to the Temple in Jerusalem as "a house of prayer for all peoples" (Isaiah 56:7)-a prophecy quoted by Jesus (Mark 11:17) and already partially fulfilled in our time as Jews, Christians, and Muslims all consider the site of the Temple a very holy place of pilgrimage; shows God turning the prophet Jonah's life upside-down in order to save the (non-Jewish) Ninevites (Jonah 1-4); and not only commands, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:17), which everyone knows, but extends the very same command, using the very same words, on the very same page, to the foreigner, the alien, the stranger, the one not like us:
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33)
Certainly the Bible contains points of view which are very different from this, also; that is part of the problem of relying too heavily on any scripture, a problem we examine in more detail below. But it should never be forgotten that the inclusiveness cited above reflects the esoteric tradition, and it too is there; as Rabbi Johanan (died 279 C.E.) says so beautifully:
The ministering angels wanted to sing a hymn at the destruction of the Egyptians, but God said: "My children lie drowned in the sea, and you would sing?" (Quoted in Victor Gollancz, Man and God, p.34)
In more recent times, Muslims like Kabir, Sikhs like Nanak and his successors, and Hindus like Ramakrishna and Gandhi have made the spiritual validity and worth of all religions a major part of their focus. And this point of view has also found its way back into Christianity, where it was in the very beginning: in addition to the well-known inclusive sayings of Christ (e.g., Matthew 5:44-48) included in the New Testament, there is this heartfelt plea and prophecy from the Gospel of Thomas:
A [person said] to him, "Tell my brothers to divide my father's possessions with me."
He said to the person, "Mister, who made me a divider?"
He turned to his disciples and said to them, "I am not a divider, am I?" (Thomas 72)
This is the spirit in which the great twentieth-century Bavarian Catholic stigmatist and mystic Therese Neumann responded to the visit in 1935 by the Hindu mystic Paramhansa Yogananda, who tells the story:
Dr. Wurz greeted us cordially at his home: "Yes, Therese is here." He sent her word of the visitors. A messenger soon appeared with her reply.
"Though the bishop has asked me to see no one without his permission, I will receive the man of God from India."
Deeply touched at these words, I followed Dr. Wurz upstairs to the sitting room. Therese entered immediately, radiating an aura of peace and joy. She wore a black gown and spotless white headdress. Although her age was thirty-seven at this time, she seemed much younger, possessing indeed a childlike freshness and charm....
Therese greeted me with a very gentle handshaking. We both beamed in silent communion, each knowing the other to be a lover of God. (Autobiography of a Yogi, p.369)
He goes on to describe her weekly stigmata and vision of the crucifixion of Christ, which he was able to share.
Even more recently, the Virgin Mary, appearing to a group of Croatian (Roman Catholic) young people in Medjugorje, a village near Mostar in what was soon to become war-torn Bosnia, had a very interesting message. One of the visionaries, Mirjana, is being interviewed by Father Vlasic, a local priest, about 1985:
Mirjana:... She [the Blessed Virgin] also emphasized the failings of religious people, especially in small villages- for example, here in Medjugorje, where there is separation from Serbians (i.e., Serb ian Orthodox) and Moslems. This separation is not good. The Madonna always stresses that there is but one God, and that people have enforced unnatural separation. One cannot truly believe, be a true Christian, if he does not respect other religions as well. You do not really believe in God if you make fun of other religions.
Father Vlasic: What, then, is the role of Jesus Christ, if the Moslem religion is a good religion?
Mirjana: We did not discuss that. She merely explained, and deplored, the lack of religious unity, "especially in the villages." She said that everybody's religion should be respected, and, of course, one's own. (Quoted in Wayne Weible, Medjugorje: The Message, p.59)
Compare this with Kirpal Singh's citing of the Indian Buddhist Emperor Ashoka (third century B.C.):
The royal monk, Ashoka, in one of his rock edicts, tells us: "He who reveres his own sect but disparages the sects of others, does great injury to his own for he lacks the essentials of a religion." (The Way of the Saints, p.258)
The fact is that in this twentieth-century hell that we call the world, this is a message that we need to hear. As long as we are convinced of our own spiritual, ethnic, social, or gender superiority, we are imprisoned in our own self-righteousness. But the great mystics of all traditions, both past and present, do show us a different way. Kirpal Singh has said:
Dear brothers and sisters, the people are crying for peace. How can we have it? Peace should start from our hearts. We should give out peace as prayed by Guru Nanak: "Peace be unto all the world over under Thy Will, 0 God." And for this, naturally, there must be a spiritual revolution.
The world is already in revolution; but this revolution should be different This revolution should not be of the body, but against the evil propensities of the mind which keep us away from God. This will be achieved if we give right understanding to the people at large, which will result in right thoughts. First comes understanding; then come right thoughts, which result in right speech, and right speech will result in right actions. The whole thing starts from right understanding....
So this is the first right understanding: We are living in Him, have our being in Him, He is in us, outside us, above us, below us.... So this is right understanding: that we have this thing-God resides in every heart-and that all is holy where devotion kneels, all are born with the same privileges from God-no high, no low, no East, no West. And this will result in right thoughts. ("The Coming Spiritual Revolution," Sat Sandesh, March 1973, Vol. VI, No.3, pp.4-5)
It is the fake ego-self that gives rise to the sense of discord and separation. When the illusion of ego is broken, one feels, "I am not apart from others, but others are parts of the One ... and all of us are engaged in the same service of God."
Each one of us is unique in his own way. There is a divine purpose behind the life of everyone who comes into the world; no one has been created for nothing. We have something to learn from everyone. This is the mystery of humility. (The Way of the Saints, p.344)
( Continued... ) The role of the Masters: