The broadened scope of interest in spiritual affairs by our universities during recent decades is significant of our times. Except for the strictly sectarian schools, the curriculum is today not limited to a study of the Christian Scriptures, but includes in its courses on Comparative Religions a careful perusal of all the world-scriptures in an effort to find that common thread of truth and practical theology which is the basis of them all.
What is more significant is the increasing number of laymen the world over who are pursuing a lively interest in this study. No longer accepting as final authority the expositions of one faith as being the last word of truth and the only avenue of salvation, they have begun to demand, at least for themselves, a universal approach. In their researches they are discovering that every religious scripture offers something of essential spiritual value. They are finding equivalents to the Proverbs, the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, as well as counterparts to the tenets of the old Mosaic laws; and what is more, that some of these other scriptures not only indicate what we should do, and why we should do it, but also contain graphic outlines as to how we should approach the fuller understanding of a proper conduct — the modus operandi of truth in action.
An example of this is the Katha-Upanishad*, one of the sacred writings of the East, in which the analogy is drawn between man's evolutionary strivings and the driving of a chariot. Simply put, and laying aside the technical and Sanskrit terms, it amounts to this: The divine will is the master of the chariot; the spiritual will in man is the charioteer, and the chariot itself is our physical vehicle or body. The reins in the hands of the charioteer are the mind or human will; the horses which the mind directs are our senses, and the roads on which the horses draw the chariot are the objects toward which our desires and senses lead us.
* The Katha-Upanishad is one of the Thirteen Principal Upanishads (there are numerous minor ones) which have been translated from the Sanskrit into English by Western scholars during the past century. They represent discourses on the ancient traditions handed down through the ages for the guidance of the generations of mankind. The word Upanishad literally translated means "to sit down near" — in other words, to have one's ear close to the narrator.
This analogy appeals to the lay mind because it gives man a practical basis upon which to develop an understanding of the conflicting and turbulent impulses that he experiences. He has recognized from his youth, however deeply buried and faint the impulse, an inclination toward goodness. He has also recognized, probably less faintly, the impulse to give free rein to desires that did not spring from the divine or spiritual aspects of his nature. But here in the verses of this Upanishad, he can see that there is a divine self, the master of the chariot, inspiring the discriminative or intuitive faculty, the spiritual will of his constitution, which in turn is implemented or brought into objective action by the human will or by the mind, the reins, which themselves guide the senses in the direction of higher and more wholesome desires.
He who is ever of unrestrained mind,
devoid of true understanding,
His sense-desires then become uncontrollable
like the wild horses of a charioteer.
But he who is ever of controlled mind,
and has true understanding,
His sense-desires then are controllable like
the good horses of a charioteer.
The desires are superior to the senses,
the mind is superior to the desires,
The intuition is superior to the mind,
the Self (or divine) is superior to the intuition.
— Chapter III, verses 5, 6, 9
In other words, the enlightened man, the charioteer, restrains the horses or sense-desires by intelligent manipulation of the reins, the mind, bringing the senses under the guidance of the intuition or spiritual self, and keeping the chariot on the course desired by the master of the chariot, the divine self.
The formula of thought presented in the Katha-Upanishad is an invaluable contribution to the sincere individual. He need no longer flounder back and forth between a series of "do's" and "don'ts," relying on a credal faith for guidance. Here he finds a wider field for his faith, fortified by a simple yet practical approach to the method by which he may wisely and self-consciously direct his thoughts and acts.
This is but one example of the value of the study of Comparative Religions. Such study does not depreciate the Christian Scriptures, but strengthens rather our understanding of them, because it helps to present the true foundation of that inner philosophy of life that brought not only Christianity into being, but all the great religions. Each one has attempted in its time and place to give to man a deeper understanding of his inner nature so that the divine and spiritual in him could find expression in his outer works.
Without doubt the expanding interest by men in all walks of life in religions and philosophies other than their own marks a forward step in the progress of our civilization — a step which will lead us out of the morass of limited and conflicting concepts into an era of universal understanding.
Back Issues Menu
There is no prominent character in all the annals of sacred or profane history whose prototype we cannot find in the half-fictitious and half-real traditions of bygone religions and mythologies. As the star, glimmering at an immeasurable distance above our heads, in the boundless immensity of the sky, reflects itself in the smooth waters of a lake, so does the imagery of men of the antediluvian ages reflect itself in the periods we can embrace in an historical retrospect. — H. P. B.