Why is religion so often a source of conflict?

In this interview series we asked Radhanath Swami universal foundational questions about life and spirituality. Here is a transcript of the answer to this question:

“Why is Religion so Often a Source of Conflict?

Such a sad reality.

The basis of every religion is to love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself; and ultimately everyone is our neighbor.

The Srimad Bhagavatam tells that the greatest service that gives pleasure to God is to show compassion to other living beings.

The purpose of all religion is to teach universal selfless love.

sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhokshaje
ahaituky apratihata
yayatma suprasidati
(Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.6)

The supreme dharma, or the supreme religion for all humanity, is not to be a Hindu or a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or a Jain or a Zoroastrian or a Buddhist. The supreme religion for all humanity is that which awakens from ones heart, love, love for God, compassion for all living beings.

And that love must be unconditional and unmotivated to actually satisfy our self, because that is our nature.

So if this is the purpose and the basis of every religion, how is it that we find.. and it’s been there through history.. that religion is provoking bigotry, sectarianism, division, hatred, violence?

Because various religions manifest to teach the same principles in different times and different places, they have different rituals, sometimes different ways of explaining..

..and when people identify and attach themselves with the external, superficial aspects of religion, then they will see so many differences..

..and it can provoke such type of arrogance, ego, and even hatred and violence.

The violence in the name of religion is really in the name of the false ego, it’s not in the name of religion.

People extend their egos through nationalism, through racism, and even through religion.

We want to be the greatest. We want to be right, and everyone else is wrong.

What that means is we are not understanding the essence of religion.

In Sanskrit there is a word “Bhava-grahi”; a truly spiritual person is one who is always seeking the essence.

When we understand the essence, then we can understand the real purpose of the ritual and the forms that are meant to facilitate and accommodate knowing the essence.

But all too often we have a very superficial, external, unrealistic conception of our own religion.

Long ago when I was living in India I had a very dear friend who was an 85 year old man. He was a Hindu, devotee of Lord Rama, and his best friend was a Muslim.

And they used to have inter-religious dialogues between themselves every few days and I would go and discuss with them.

And one day while sitting on the bank of the Ganges I asked him “In a country where there is so much conflict, and so much suspicion between Islam and Hinduism, how is it that the two of you are such good friends?”

And he gave me an answer which I’ve never forgotten.

He said “If a person has a dog, if that person stands before the dog in a three-piece suit, or in a t-shirt, or in pajamas, or in underwear, or if he stands before the dog naked, the dog will always recognize his master… even in different clothes, in different settings.”

He said “If we cannot recognize our God when He comes in different dresses, in different forms, in different ways, and teaches through different traditions..

..if we can’t recognize our God in these different ways, then we have so much to learn from a dog.”

Thank you very much.

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