by Thich nu Minh Tam
“You can’t say that one is better than another,” this statement of Knitter is really and exactly right and opened-mind.Every religion, every doctrine, every philosophy has its own qualities and limits.We cannot and should never say that Christianity is better than Buddhism or Hinduism is more altruistic than Islam; it depends on one’s level of knowledge and opinion to follow or believe what’s appropriate for him or her.Therefore, Christianity is the best religion only for Christians, Hinduism is the best only for Hindus.
In this part, we try to understand the opinions about The Oneness of Troeltsch, Toynbee and James through their passages in “All are relative, All are essential the same, and Common pyschic origin.”
Troeltsch was a professor of theology and philosophy at the universities of Bonn, Heidelberg, and Berlin, he was a deeply committed Christian and certainly was in strong connection with the concept “the signs of the times.”
He said that Christianity must listen and responds to the “signs of the times.”If it did not, it would be sink into the sand of blind faith.The “signs of the times” which Troeltsch meant were historical consciousness and cultural radical relativity of all cultures.He revealed that the human being was not just a rational and a social being but also a historical being.This means that everything humans are and produce is limited by their historical content and is subject to the law of historical development. But clearly understanding, historical contexts are not fixed, they are changing and processing, therefore, in other words, historical consciousness seems to imply a radical relativity of all cultures, and because all is relative, it seems that everything changes and goes.And that is the conflict in Troeltsch.
As we know, Troeltsch is a true believer of Christianity.He believes in the absoluteness of the Trinity and the relationship between God and the world.God is, for Troeltsch, an immanent transcendence, God is both beyond and within the world and human’s soul.God is the Supreme Power and Troeltsch begins with a particular view of how divinely reveals itself within human history and for Troeltsch, God is coterminous with history. He admitted that religion is a means of the Divine and all religions, as bearers of the Divine, are also relative and limited. This is a mutual dependence between religions and human’s life and man cannot live without religion.Troelstch tried to suggest that all religions have something in common that is the divine presence or revelation and how the Absolute transforms into the central life of religions in the world. However, Troelstch has confused about the fact that although each religion is a manifestation of the absolute, there can be no absolute religion.No religion can affirm that it stands above this all-embracing relativity; no religion can claim to be the full and final realization of the divine presence.No religion can entirely step outside history and the path to the final goal is to be followed by relative step. So, Troeltsch has to rethink about the pluralism of religions that modern scholars and philosophers have argued before.And toward the end of his life, Troelstch has to admit that he has wrongly thought about the superiority of Christianity over other religions.
Troelstch has made a big mistake when declaring Christianity is superior than other religions because that statement is the same meaning of judgement that Western culture is superior to all others.And really, it is impossible to make any kind of judgement like that. To understand deeply and correctly about one culture, one religion, we have to engage and live into the bones of this culture or religion.We can say that we have traveled around one country, we have lived there many years but we can never enter into its soul if we don’t leave our own behind. Really, to understand and judge another culture and religion, we would have to join it, to breathe it, to absorb into it.
Realizing the law of relativity influencing upon everything in the world, notifying that nothing in this world can stand alone without dependent on another factor, Troelstch spoke about the unity of religions as a kind of heavenly kingdom and offered an inspiring commentary that “In our eartly experience Divine life is not one, but Many; but to understand teh One in the Many, it requires us a character and capacity of love and to love.”
From Troelstch’s point of Relativity, we look toward the religious opinion of Toynbee.
Toynbee was one of the strongest and most eloquent historians who raise their voices for the common essence of God.According to him, all religions, deep down, are the same oneness although there are different paths.That image makes us imagine that there are many rivers which stream down into the ocean or many ways to climb up to the peak of the Himalayas.The same there are lots of religions with different doctrine, practice, even many symbols of worship, but all of them have a common essence, a common purpose that is “there is no god but God, and the final goal of religions is leading persons to salvation form suffering.”
Toynbee, as other Christians, in old times, believed in human’s original sin from Adam and Eve and that human predicament is only cured by “man worship.”Christianity declared that the cause of the original sin is Ignorance or Fall so that enlightenment is required to overcome the situation.In any case the human predicament is neither as it should be nor as it could be.A human being has to transcend man’s present condition in order to be freed from this cycle of unhappiness. It is salvation from death, through Christ, and only Jesus is the savior, he saves the people from their sins, and there is salvation in no one else.
But by the 60s, like Troelstch, Toynbee had changed his mind and went farther to declare that the essence of Christianity consists in the experience of and belief in a God whose name is love, who therefore “is not self-centered, but just the opposite: self-sacrificing.”Therefore, Christians not only can but must sacrifice themselves and give up their self-centered claims of superiority and exclusiveness.It means, to Toynbee, fully open to our own religion is the same time open to other religions to realize the truth that all are essential the same in essence of the Divine Spirit and purpose of salvation from suffering. He came to endorse the oneness or radical sameness of religions. He said that all will learn from and change with each other.He agreed with Troelstch about the relationship among religions because he thought that “if we can share culturally with our neighbors, we will also be spiritually.” And no neighbor will be better than another, no religion is better than another.Everything is interrelating together, everything is depended on each other, everything is absorbing into each other.
Let’s read a brief passage from The Intra-Religious Dialogue about Buddhist salvation’s point of view: “The human predicament seen by the Buddhist tradition could be summarized: 1) in a philosophical presupposition, the No-Self; 2) in a theological stattement, the Four Noble Truths, and 3) in a moral injunction best rendered by the last words of the Buddha: “Work out your salvation with diligence.”
We can see in this passage that the cause of suffering and unhappiness of living beings which the Buddhist tradition points out is as craving, lust or sensual desires in the second Noble Truth as in Christianity.So, we notice that the two religions express an universal human experience.Both are convinced that Man is a being not yet finished, a reality achieved, growing, and becoming.Both Buddhism and Christianity stand for human liberation that is to reach Nirvana in Buddism it means “the extinction of the human condition” and Soteria in Christianity “the freeing from sin.”
In other words, Toynbee tried to alert to us that “open truly and realize the connection, the interrelation of all religions is to improve spiritual knowledge, to reach soteria, to cut off all attachments of the self, and to attain the Truth of universe and beings.”
About William James, we focus on a different angle.James concentrates on human’s consciousness and analyses religious beliefs through his scientific recognition and experience.His book “Varieties of Religious Experience” is the first thought of many when the psychology of religion is mentioned, constructed his view of the pyschological structure of religion at the same time as Jung (1902) but quite independently (Knitter).
James agrees with Jung that “all religions flow from a kind of sixth sense, an intuitive perception or feeling of a greater reality that pervades us and all creation.” (Knitter), however James also wonders where this sixth sense, this Supreme Divine Power resides.
We, the Buddhists, are quite familiar about that issue through the Buddha’s teachings in the Yogacara school’s doctrine.
According to the Yogacara’s doctrine, human’s mind consists of eight senses. The sixth sense is Vijnana (Sanskrit term usually translated as “consciousness”).Traditionally, six types of consciousness are identified, each reflecting the contact of a specific sense organ with an object in the external world.Consequently, we can identify eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind consciousness.Consciousness is also listed as the fifth aggregate in the skandhas and as the third link in the chain of dependent origination.
When those five senses get in touch with five external objects: form, sound, smell, taste, and touch, they are undistinguished, but because of the sixth sense, the mind of consciousness begins to distinguish what’s good, what’s bad, what’s wrong, what’s right, what’s evil, what’s saint etc.This function of the sixth sense connects with the seventh sense Manas (Sanskrit term) which is generally translated as “mind.”Manas was considered a subtle mental element, seventh of the eight consciousness, that functioned by receiving and disposing of data from the six prior consciousness; it represented the surface of the mind, and all of the receiving from the sixth senses, it attaches to be the self and grasps them.All of the seven senses are stored in the eighth consciousness, known as the “storehouse consciousness” (Alaya -vijnana) which functioned as the basis of all other mind activity. These eight senses relate to each other and co-function tofether in the cycle of human’s mind and through that consciousness’ process, the universe is created.Therefore, the sixth sense or Vijnana is very important, it is the code of the eight senses, it is the innermost core of transformation.When the sixth sense can transform into the sublime observant divine mind by meditation to realize the cause of defilements, the truth of universe, human will be released from the self-attachment and freed from all suffering and unhappiness.
Generally understanding, the sixth sense is a part of the non-rational, the subconsciousness of living beings and by Christianity explanation, it is a symbol of the existence of God, the invisible, the harmony of soul.
To James, it is necessary to catch the deep and subtle meaning of the sixth sense, to penetrate into it, to dissolve into it in order to recognize the spiritual dimension of the human beings’ quest for wholeness and the God-likeness of the most human aspirations: love, creativity, beauty, and selflessness.
In short, by a glimpse through the uniqueness’ point of view of Troelstch, Toynbee, and James, we can summarize that they affirm about the omnipotence, the omniscience, the power and invisible living of the existence of the Supreme Divine above and beyond ordinary and limited knowledge of humans.