akāsāt patitantoyam yadā gacchadi sāgaram
sarvadeva namaskārah shrī keshavam pradigacchadi
Each day, all over the world billions of human beings go to places of worship: churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, gurudwaras, and more. They invoke the God of their respective tradition or cult in different languages and in different modes. They are convinced that their prayerful thoughts and words reach Christ or Krishna, Allah, Yahweh, or Whoever. Could it be that only one of these is the real God? Or could it be that these different Gods are located in different centers in a trans-physical world?
One Hindu view is that essentially the situation may be compared to rivers on land. The waters in the rivers are derived mostly from rains from clouds which picked it up from the oceans. The river waters, coursing along different routes, ultimately fall back into the oceans. This idea is expressed in the religious verse (shloka) above which I render into English as follows:
As waters falling from the sky return to the self-same sea
Prostrations to every God go back to the same Divinity.
Here then is another expression of the enlightened tolerance of some Hindu thinkers. It explains with a simile how different religious paths lead to the same spiritual goal. I have often felt that this be the motto of all inter-faith and inter-sect groups in the world.
This stanza is repeated by millions of Hindus every day, with or without knowing its meaning. It is sad to recall that there have been instances of sectarian fanaticism in Hindu history that are quite contrary to the grand idea conveyed by these lines. The great and noble visions of Hindu sages, as in other religions, are honored more in their repetition than in the observance.
It is fair to say that many inter-faith disagreements, conflicts, and even wars arise from a lack of understanding of this fundamental spiritual truth, or from not adopting this approach to prayer and pursuit of the divine. The opposite approach, namely that of worshiping with the conviction that one’s own path and God is the only right way to pray has led people to commit some atrocities in the name of (their) God.
Interestingly, the first stanza in Herman Hesse’s poem Allein says more or less the same thing as the Sanskrit shloka quoted above:
Es führen über die Erde
Strassen and Wege viel;
Aber alle haben
Which I translate as:
Many paths and ways on earth there are,
And all of them lead.
But the goal that they all have
Is one and the same indeed.
All religious roads lead to the same source which is our Hope in eternity.