Q: Gurudev, in the Bible Christ says, ‘I am the only way’. The Koran says that it is the only way, and the Gita also says ‘Mam ekam sharanam vraja’? Is this the reason for all religious conflicts? How can we change this?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: This knowledge was given to people present at that time, to help focus their mind in the present. Now if you are listening to me, I will tell you, ‘This is the truth, just be here, now!’ This is because the mind has a tendency to glorify the past, or wait for the future, and discard the present; the now.
Lord Krishna said, ‘Mam ekam sharanam vraja’, meaning, 'Come to me alone'.
He said this to his dearest disciple Arjuna to make his mind totally be there to value the present.
Whenever this has been said (I am the only way), it has been said from the higher consciousness, not to make one a fanatic. It has been said to make one realize the truth, and the truth is only One, and so they said, 'It is the only way', to emphasize that (One truth). Otherwise the mind discards the present.
The same thing happened with Jesus. People at that time were only thinking about somebody in the future, or the past. That is why he said, 'Right now, right here, I am the only way'. He said this from the ‘I am’ consciousness.
The Bible was also written 70 years after Jesus Christ left His body. Just imagine how much His words could have been interpreted; or how these same few words could have been translated at that time, is a big question mark.
When Jesus said, ‘I am the son of God’, the church interpreted it as Jesus is the only son of God.
What Jesus said was, ‘I am the son of the only Father.’
There is only one father for everybody, and He said, ‘I am the son of the only one father’. Otherwise why would He say, ‘Let us pray to our father in heaven?’
He says, 'Our father', which means everyone’s father. Then how can he be the only son of God? Then what about everybody else? What about other people who were born before him; are they not the children of God?
How can we all pray, ‘Our father in heaven?' Then we should only pray, ‘Jesus’s father, you help me. You are not my father!’
This is a result of wrong interpretation. When Jesus said, ‘Our father in heaven’, he meant that He is the father of everybody.
He said, 'The son of the only father', but this got twisted to, ‘The only son of the father.’
Just shifting one word from here to there can make a big difference. This is the reason why, when interpreting the scriptures, one should always take into consideration when, where and how it was said, to whom it was said, and for what purpose.
Knowledge always is contextual, even though truth is timeless and universal. But there is always some context to knowledge.
Jesus once said, ‘I have come to put father against son, and mother against daughter. I have come to put fire and not make peace.’
If you take this out of context and say, 'Look at what Jesus said', then that would be wrong. You have to see where He said it, what he said and how He said it.
Jesus came to bring a revolution. Lord Krishna came to do the same thing, bring about a big revolution, and change the mindset of people.
Mohammad Paigambar also did the same. People were so lost in rituals that they would never go deep within and pray quietly. So He said, ‘Come on, enough of this. You are just going from one statue to another all the time. You are not closing your eyes and going within and meditating. Enough, now close your eyes and meditate!’
The rituals had become a business. People went to worship the idols out of fear. So he said, ‘Just go within and pray.’
Nirgun nirakar parabrahma, pray to the formless, unmanifest divinity.
This is the essence of Vedanta. It says, go from the form to the formless. And how? Through meditation.
There are three upayas (ways). First is Anva upaya, through prayer and worship. Second is Shakta Upaya, through meditation. And third is Shambava Upaya, through awareness, or effortless remembrance of the Lord (smaran).
Even though Mohammad said no forms are needed, He knew that people require some symbol, and so He put the Kaaba stone. Just like a lingam, a Kaaba Stone was kept, so one can go round it, and do namaz. So a symbol is essential to make the mind become one pointed.
In Vedic times, there were no idols; the Arya Samaj engaged in havans (sacrificial fire) with mantras (chanting). But not everyone could understand this philosophy, but anyone can relate to a form, or to idols.
See, if it is any great man’s birthday, people go and put garlands on their statues. On Gandhi Jayanti, people go to the Gandhi statues, put a ladder, climb up and garland the statue.
Without a picture it is impossible in the present age to pay homage to someone. A picture is needed. That is how a symbol became so essential in all religions. It is inevitable.
Our Rishis knew this and so they said, ‘Okay, you can begin with idols, symbols and forms. But only for a short time, and then go and do visarjan (immerse the idols in water).’
That is the tradition, for ten days you do Ganapati Pooja and then you immerse the idol in the water.
That is why temples were built everywhere. It was not necessary to go to temples every day. Only when you feel the need for a symbol, you can go, sit there and pray.
And temples are done with Mantra Shakti, not just with idols. Prana or life force energy is induced in the place (temple), that is how temples became powerhouses.
People were very intelligent in the ancient times, they understood human nature and knew the human consciousness.