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One truth, many expressions

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source: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2008/20080315/saturday/above.htm

One truth, many expressions

You must often wonder why every religion in the world is splintered into many factions. Christianity has three major branches — Catholics, Protestants and Greek Orthodox — all three are further divided into dozens of sub-divisions. Islam has two major divisions — Sunnis and Shias — both of which have many sub-divisions. Buddhism has its Mahayana, Himayanan, Zen and regional varieties. Hindus are split into innumerable castes and sub-castes. Even religions with smaller followings like Jainism and Sikhism are split. Jains have Digambars, Swetambars and Sthanakvasi. Sikhs are divided into Kesadhari Khalsa and Sahajdhari as well as Nirankaris (two factions) Namdharis and Radha Soamis.

What is baffling is that factionalism exists despite the fact that all religions accept the existence of one God, have one founder-father, messenger or messiah, and one major religious text. Christians believe in one God, Jehovah, one messiah, Jesus Christ, and one book, the Bible. Muslims believe in one Allah, his messenger, Muhammad, and one book, the Koran. Buddhists and Jains avoid questions about the existence of God but recognise Gautam Buddha and Mahavira as founders of their faiths. Hindus believe in the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Vedas and Upanishads are their holy books. Sikhs believe in one Waheguru, Nanak, as the founder of their religion, and Granth Sahib as their scripture.

While these factors are shared in common by all major religions, there should be no disputes between them. But there are. Why? I put the problem to my niece-in-law, who goes under the happy name of Happy. She is much into reading religious literature, and what she calls metaphysics. As it happened, she had put the same question to her religious mentor. His reply made good sense to me. He said: "In a class of 20 students, there is only one teacher. He uses only one textbook for teaching. However, when he sets out questions for the annual exam, he gets 20 different answers to the same question". Ekam sad bahuda vadanti. There is only one truth. There are many ways of expressing it.

- Khushwant Singh

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