What is a Christian? A Buddhist? A Muslim? A Hindu? A Jew?

Gandhi, when asked if he was Hindu, responded, “Yes. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.”

For the longest time I never considered what it meant to associate oneself with a particular religion.  Only recently did a better understanding of today’s religions finally click with me.

Rather than being about the specific teachings of a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue, today’s religions boil down to following the teachings of a very particular person.  The person each religion chooses to follow is someone who they consider to be an exemplary model of a human being, so exemplary in fact that many consider the founder of their faith Divine.  For example, Christian’s follow the teachings of Jesus, believing he was wholly human and wholly Divine.  Buddhists follow the teachings of Buddha, Muslim’s the teachings of Muhammad, Hindu’s those of Krishna and Arjuna, and Jews those of Moses, Abraham, and various other figures of the Old Testament.  The religions look to a hero of history as a role model for everyone to follow, so the essence of the religious practice is to emulate the hero who they consider superior to any other human being, not to idly follow the teachings of whatever school of thought followed after.

Considering that nearly all of the religious heroes preached an ascetic lifestyle, or at least one of simplicity, it amazes me how today’s religions have all found reason to erect massive shrines and establish intricate rituals to practice their faith.  If Jesus is all about helping the poor and storing up treasures in Heaven rather than on Earth, would he really want us to spend millions of dollars and man hours building exotic churches to worship in?  They are pretty cool, I will give you that, but they seem a bit excessive for practicing the principles of a man who wandered in the desert for 40 days.

As educated individuals, we have the power to discern the significance of the religious teachings by using our eyes to read, our minds to think, and our conscience to align.  It hardly seems necessary that we have to listen to “experts” to tell us exactly how to practice our faith and worship properly.  As children of the Creator, doesn’t it make sense that God would endow us each individually with the ability to understand the Word?  If we have questions, certainly we can always ask someone, but from my personal experience, at least for the first 18 or 19 years of my life, I found that I never even bothered to look at the text and instead received everything taught to me verbatim without questioning or thinking.  A tragedy, I know.  To not think, to squander the incredible gifts given to us at birth – what a shame!  Alas, I think now, and that is good.

More than even thinking about the texts of the religious heroes of the past, it seems that we can all arrive at similar conclusions just by looking at our own lives.  In this fast-paced western lifestyle, we rarely take the time to slow down and consider what it is we are actually doing, and why we do what we do.  When we ask ourselves questions and analyze our behavior, I believe we will all arrive at vital truths and discover pathways to higher means of living.

Just as an example, food!  In America, food probably suffers more than any other industry from the disease of taken-for-granted-ness.  Nearly all of us take our food for granted.  We fail to question where our food came from, who harvested our food, what processes it has been through, how it landed on our plates today, what is in the food, and is it healthy.  I’m probably leaving out many other questions too.  Perhaps we could also ask, “Is there an injustice being served on account of me eating this bread, or this chicken, or both?”  Well, if we allowed someone else to slaughter an innocent chicken, perhaps causing them emotional and mental distress, then yes – that sounds like an injustice.  If also the people who harvested the wheat survive off of less than $1 a day and are going to sleep hungry tonight, then there is probably something wrong with that too.

Sometimes it is difficult to know the origins of our food, yet it is definitely worth the effort.  As one of my homeboys Steve Pavlina says, Intelligence is Bliss.  When we ignore the factor of justice when it comes to eating food, our conscience still knows we are participating in an injustice.  Slaughtering innocent creatures has never aligned with anyone’s core, because at our core we all cherish life and wish life to keep on living.   If we take the time to inform ourselves about our food and slowly but surely tune our lives away from passively participating in injustice, we will begin to awaken to new frontiers of possibility and enjoyment in living a purer life.

The teachings of Jesus, Muhammad, Moses, Buddha, Arjuna, the Maharishi – my guess is they would all encourage us to think.  Think rather than mindlessly conform.  We are blessed with minds for a reason.  When we use our minds, we enable ourselves to take optimal care of body, control our emotions, and transcend rationalizations to realize our spiritual nature.  Let’s start using our God-given abilities and discover what this world is really about!

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