Self-Transformation Series:
Issue No. 22

Tolerance and Religious Understanding

Table of Contents

  1. Why Important
  2. Five Reasons for Tolerance and Appreciation
  3. World Peace
  4. Learning from each other
  5. Essential Unity of World Religions
  6. Universal Brotherhood and Unity of Life
  7. Unity of Truth
  8. Teaching Children Tolerance and Appreciation

I. Why Important

So much bloodshed and hatred in the world are caused by religious intolerance and lack of appreciation of the positive qualities of other faiths and cultures. It is a cause of divisions among many nations in the world today. We must all work together to diminish intolerance in its many forms.

II. Five Reasons for Tolerance and Appreciation

  1. World Peace
  2. Learning from each other
  3. Unity of World Peace
  4. Universal Brotherhood and Unity of Life
  5. Unity of Truth

III. World Peace

In many places in the world, there is war and violence because of religious and racial intolerance: Ireland, Middle East, India, Mindanao, etc. This is paradoxical because all the great religions preach love and compassion, and yet at the same time its advocates are ready to kill and sow hatred.

No evil hath so afflicted the world as intolerance of religious opinion. The human beings it has slain in various ways, if once and together brought back to life, would make a nation of people. - (A. Pike)
A serious threat to peace is posed by intolerance, which manifests itself in the denial of free of conscience to others. The excess to which intolerance can lead has been one of history's most painful lessons. . . . . Tolerance is not a passive virtue, but it is rooted in active love and is meant to be transformed into a positive commitment to ensuring freedom and peace for all. - Pope John Paul II

IV. Learning from each other

Every religion can learn much from each other. There are today so many books that demonstrate this. Christian Yoga, written by a priest. Zen and the Birds of Appetite, written by Thomas Merton. Sermon of the Mount, written by a Hindu Swami.

Pope John Paul II has endorsed the meeting between Zen monks and Benedictine monks because he said they can learn from each other about their respective meditative practices and spiritual experiences. The Pope said:
"May all of you -- partners in interreligious dialogue -- be encouraged and sustained by the knowledge that your endeavors are supported by the Catholic Church and appreciated by her as significant for strengthening the bonds which unite all people who honestly search for the truth." (Theosophical Digest, Dec. 1989)

V. Essential Unity of World Religions

We find that at the root of the great religious traditions of the world there is an essential unity, primarily in its spiritual and mystical teachings about how people can realize our unity with the divine, which is the most important aspect of religion. They may disagree about rituals, about theological interpretations (such as how many orders of angels there are), but they essentially agree on the path towards true spirituality. Some books written on the subject: The Essential Unity of Religions by Bhagavan Das; The Transcendent Unity of Religions by Frithjof Schuon; The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley; The Ancient Wisdom by Annie Besant.

VI. Universal Brotherhood and Unity of Life

Inspite of our diversity of views and beliefs, we must constantly remember that we are but one life, and that ultimately we ourselves suffer when we injure another brother or sister, whether through intolerance or other reasons.

Pope John Paul II: In doing so [receiving monks of other religions] you offer a setting wherein a meeting of mind and heart can take place, a meeting characterized by a shared sense of brotherhood in the one human family that opens the way of ever deeper spiritual dialogue. (Theos. Digest, Dec. 1989)

VII. Unity of Truth

Truth is one, and we will all inevitably arrive at it. It will persuade people simply because it is the truth, no need to forcibly proselytize or convert people. Truth has its own power of conversion. But we need to develop the faculty to see truth. St. Buenaventure has described as ascending faculties: The eye of sense: to see material truths; The eye of reason: to see logical truths; the eye of contemplation: to see transcendent truths which are beyond our rational faculties.

Those who have attained to this transcendent eye no longer quarrel with each other on religious grounds. They see essentially the same truths, from whatever religious backgrounds they come from. It is those who try to interpret the deeper truths with the eye of reason that tend to quarrel the most.

While we are unable to see the truth in its transcendent whole, let us give allowance to our own limitations and errors, and appreciate the sincere and genuine insights of others.

VIII. Teaching Children Tolerance and Appreciation

  1. The first step to developing tolerance and appreciation is always the example of the parents and teachers. The opinions expressed by the elders are inevitably absorbed by children. They grow up forming the same prejudices as the parents. Parents must therefore be conscious of their own biases.
  2. Expose children to the views and customs of other religions and culture, emphasizing that these people are seeking truths in their own ways and that we must respect their approaches. In school, ask them to report on these.

For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate error so long as reason is free to combat it. - Thomas Jefferson

The devil loves nothing better than the intolerance of reformers, and dreads nothing so much as their charity and patience. - Russell Lowell

Tolerance is the positive and cordial effort to understand another's beliefs, practices, and habits without necessarily sharing or accepting them. - Joshua Liebman

I consider myself a Hindu, Christian, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist and Confucian. -- Mohandas Gandhi

All religions must be tolerated, for every man must get to heaven his own way. -- Frederick the Great

Toleration . . . is the greatest gift of the mind; it requires the same effort of the brain that it takes to balance oneself on a bicycle. - Helen Keller

Be tolerant to others, respect the religious views of others if you would have your own respected. - K.H. Once unfettered and delivered from their deadweight of dogmatic interpretations, personal names, anthropomorphic conceptions and salaried priests, the fundamental doctrines of all religions will be proved to be identical in their esoteric meaning. Osiris, Chrisna, Buddha, Christ, will be shown as different names for one and the same royal highway to final bliss, Nirvana. - The Maha Chohan

St. Paul: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before god, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. (Romans 2: 13-15)

Pope John Paul II: The individual person, despite human frailty, has the ability to seek and freely know what is good, to recognize and reject evil, to choose truth and to oppose error. In creating the person, God wrote on the human heart a law which everyone can discover (cf. Rom 2:15). Conscience for its part is the ability to judge and act according to that law: to obey is the very dignity of man.

No human authority has the right to interfere with a person's conscience. Conscience bears witness to the transcendence of the person.

[This is the view of Jose Rizal as to human conscience, cf. Letter with Fr. Pastell]

I believe it was Thomas Merton who said that the mysticisms of Christianity is closer to the mysticism of Hinduism and Buddhism than to the external belief systems of Christianity itself.

This I submit is the basis of genuine religious appreciation. It is not negative tolerance, but sincerely seeing the validity and truth of the other person's tradition, but at the same time recognizing the inevitable errors and narrow sectarian viewpoints of every tradition including one's own. One is not bothered by those outer disagreements because one sees the more important essential agreement. (vhc)

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Copyright 1995. Permission to reprint is granted provided acknowledgment is made to:
Peace Center
Theosophical Society in the Philippines, 1 Iba St., Quezon City, Philippines

"If five percent of the people work for peace, there will be peace."