Bridge of Understanding

James A. Long

All the great religions, Christianity, Confucianism, Buddhism, Brahmanism, Mohammedanism, spring from one source, and everything that springs from this source encourages unselfish development. Other sources that encourage soul development only, with no consideration for the other fellow, whether they concentrate on psychic powers or the ability to reach the stars, have a selfish foundation.

Originally these various religions were not intended to be great and powerful organizations. In the primitive presentation of the age-old doctrines of cosmology and the laws of man and his life, neither the Christ nor the Buddha, nor Lao-Tse nor any of the other teachers, had in mind the founding of an organized religion. The teachings they gave were fresh from the source — not as a religion or prescribed set of dogmas, but a living philosophy for the simple man, workable in the daily affairs of the round of life. It was only in the course of hundreds of years, partly because of the translations (and mistranslations often) that all the world-scriptures have gone through, and partly because of the deliberate efforts in the case of the Christian religion by early Church Fathers and priests, that many of the fundamental keys were hidden, if not lost. Nevertheless, in spite of all this, we can recognize with unbiased understanding that the keys pointing to these universal doctrines are there, not only in the Christian Scriptures, but likewise in all Sacred writings. While many of the dogmas taught in the temples and churches of both East and West are accepted by their devotees, and literally so, there are thousands of individuals who are seeking beneath that outer form, seeking for the kernel of the original truth. For there is not a dogma, not a creed, that does not have as basis and background a fundamental spiritual principle.

That is why it is so vital to pursue an intelligent study of Comparative Religions — not simply as an intellectual pursuit, however fascinating, but primarily to form a bridge of understanding between the peoples of all faiths. Much effort is being expended today in various countries toward economic and political cooperation, and a certain amount toward a recognition of spiritual foundations. But it is a fact not lightly to be tossed aside, that unless man recognizes that his brother, regardless of the color of his skin or the nation or continent in which he found birth, has as much right to truth as he, and that his religion at heart may be just as broad and as universal as his own, we will never bridge the gap between the national and the international.

Our interest must start with the individual: to try to help him to help himself. We all need to develop discrimination in recognizing the qualities that are being expressed through the consciousness of another, regardless of the background, religious or social, he or she may have. If we understand the fundamental basis of his religion, we then can talk to him in his own language. That in itself immediately makes a bridge of understanding between his heart and ours. With understanding comes confidence, and once mutual confidence is established, there will be born a trust. And when trust comes, the solution of our most difficult problems is made easy.

These things do not happen overnight. One person may receive genuine inspiration from Church services, while another may not. But whether we go to church or not, whether we are Christian, Buddhist or Mohammedan, or whether we belong to that great number of the "unchurched," the fact remains that truth is to be had. The more we can study the ancient religions and think about them, the more we will expand our consciousness, and the more we will find that basically they teach the same underlying truths, because all of these great religions were born from the one Source, and each had and has today its esoteric as well as its exoteric background.

When we speak of the church, or any other organized spiritual effort, we must be careful to distinguish between the organization itself and its members. Whatever their belief, most of these individuals are sincere and honest. But sincerity and honesty alone do not make a thing spiritual. One can be a hundred percent sincere in his heart, truly devoted and honest, but still not be on the right track. The Inquisition of our European history is witness to devotion and honesty prostituted to selfishness and intrigue.

The world is being offered many short-cuts to spiritual progress. Every kind of organization is sponsoring panaceas to quick salvations. Even in some churches, whether wilfully or ignorantly, scarcely any spiritual vitality is flowing forth to the people, so dogmatic have their teachings become that the very breath of the "spirit of God" has been snuffed out. In others, a liberalism of thinking, and an emancipation from the old credal forms, have let in a fresh breeze of the spirit, and one can sense their spiritualizing force in the community.

What then is the common denominator in spiritual issues? Certainly not the outer forms, the creeds or dogmas that have been grafted like barnacles onto world thought. Is it not that fundamental belief in some form of God, or Divine Power, that governs and is the mainspring of our universe, and all that in it lives? Whether we worship Christ or Allah, Brahma, Buddha or Siva, Tao, Elohim or Jehovah, we instinctively recognize Deity as our fount and origin, and hopefully as our ultimate goal.

Most certainly God resides within the heart of each one of us. Not that we are now God, but within the very deepest parts of the human soul, which goes far beyond the physical body, there is what is called a god-spark, a spark of that Divinity which rules and governs the whole universe. When this universe came into being, each one of us, in order that this very universe could be, came originally with a spark of that Divinity within us. The entire purpose of evolution is to unfold that god-spark so that in the natural process of time and experience it will affect and transmute our whole constitution; and if we are successful, then by the end of the great age of this universe we will have become entirely like that god-spark, because we will have unfolded the powers of our own God-force.

Now, if we can conceive of the essence of Deity, of the tremendous Divinity that pervades not only this solar universe during its life, but all the other solar universes that the astronomers tell us are within our own Milky Way, and within all the millions of Milky Ways, we will begin to see what this concept of God is, how undefinable, how illimitable.

"It is not I that do these things, but the Father that worketh within me. All these things that I do, ye shall do also, and even greater things." Did not the Master Jesus there summarize the true universal concept of God? Did he not point to man and his innate possibilities? Yet the Divinity which rules the universe cannot be considered as a Being, a personal God. Rather is it a spiritual essence that pervades the whole. Everything is in God, and God is in everything, yet it is not any thing. Nowhere in the Christian Scriptures, properly interpreted, do we find God mentioned in a limiting personal sense. The Scriptures speak of Gods, Elohim, but not of God. At no time did the ancient Hebrews endeavor to define Deity. They mention seventy-seven names of God, but they never define what God is. They go all around the subject to draw out the spiritual force of what they felt God was, but they never name Him. The truth of the matter is that they did not want to name God, because they knew if they could they would be attempting to confine the spirit of the Illimitable within the boundary of a name.

"He who seeks shall find. Ask and it shall be opened unto you." There is not an individual on the face of the earth who will not find the answer to life's riddle if he honestly wants to. One cannot do it for another. We can, however, help others to see the bridge over which they can cross. But we must be able to meet each individual on his own ground, meet him where he is engulfed in his own setting, and hopefully by example encourage him with the right attitude in our own hearts. Every real step of progress for the race must begin with each one of us, from the point where we stand, because the Law would be operating upside down if we expected others to follow us across the bridge of understanding before we ourselves had found that bridge. Here again we don't have to sit down and wait and do nothing until we ourselves have become perfect, because each day of our lives will bring its own combination of successes and failures. It is never difficult to see where we need to work on ourselves, and where we have a natural opportunity to help our fellow man — how to help him find the courage and strength and the spiritual understanding of what life is all about. For when a man turns inward for strength and guidance, the god-spark within will give him the pointers he needs. The results that follow then will be truly beneficial, because they will come from the strengthening and awakening of his own soul.

Once we recognize that each man's concept of Deity is different, but that the quality of Deity is the same, whether that Deity be named Christ, Buddha, Krishna or Allah, and that the Divine essence that these names represent resides in the core of all that lives, even of you and of me, then we have laid the foundation upon which to build a bridge of brotherhood over which man can travel from the darkness of past ages to the light of the future.

(From Sunrise magazine, December 1953; copyright © 1953 Theosophical University Press)

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