Those who study religious pluralism – especially in recent years – talk about the necessity to honor the fact that some religions have very different “ultimates,” or core ideas about ultimate reality. Though there has historically been a tendency to try to boil different religions down to the same basic truths – such as loving one’s neighbor as oneself or fostering compassion – many scholars today feel strongly that this approach does a great disservice to all religions.
In a text edited by David Ray Griffin entitled Deep Religious Pluralism, Jeffery D. Long describes three basic types of religion that differ in these ways: their ultimate religious objects, their descriptions of salvation, and their worldviews. As he describes them,
- Theistic religions are oriented towards a Supreme Being, a personal God, and are productive of salvation, or a right relationship between God and the practitioner…
- Acosmic religions are oriented towards an impersonal Absolute, or Ground of Being, and are productive of realization or enlightenment…
- Cosmic religions are oriented towards the cosmos itself, the cosmic order, and the spiritual beings that inhabit it, and productive of harmony within this cosmos and right relations with these beings. (131-2)
I could feel the storm of protest arising in me before I even got to the next paragraph where Long then acknowledges that “some element of each category is present in nearly every world religion.” My protest would have been based on the fact that I’ve perceived for a long time that all three perspectives are ultimately true. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950, who Long describes as a “Bengali sage,” was one who experienced all three religious perspectives, incorporating all three equally in his system of “Integral Yoga.” (145)
Pure Being is the affirmation by the Unknowable of Itself as the free base of all cosmic existence. We give the name of Non-Being to a contrary affirmation of Its freedom from all cosmic existence – freedom, that is to say, from all positive terms of actual existence which consciousness in the universe can formulate to itself, even from the most abstract, even from the most transcendent. It does not deny them as a real expression of Itself, but It denies Its limitation by all expression or any expression whatsoever. The Non-Being permits the Being, even as the Silence permits the Activity. By this simultaneous negation and affirmation, not mutually destructive, but complementary to each other like all contraries, the simultaneous awareness of conscious Self-being as a reality and the Unknowable beyond as the same Reality becomes realisable to the awakened human soul. (Life Divine, 28-9)
I’m especially intrigued by his understanding of these opposite ultimates – Pure Being and Non-Being, Silence and Activity – as complementary. This idea of complementariness of seemingly opposing religions has been knocking around in my brain for months now, and I’m eager to read more of Aurobindo’s perspective.