Each religion has both positive and negative aspects, as they change over time and are added to and interpreted by innumerable people. Even those immersed in faith, belief and spirituality, may like to also trace the history of their own religion, to understand how it developed.
The sources for the study of the history of religion are immense. Apart from texts, sources include artefacts and material remains discovered through archaeological explorations and excavations; coins, seals and inscriptions; sculptures, images, and various extant structures.
There are several different approaches to the history of religion, including the sociological, Marxist, and psychoanalytical approaches, as well as the anthropological, historical and phenomenological approaches.
One can either ignore religion entirely, or maintain some beliefs and practices. For people who believe in or practice religion and move from outer beliefs to an inner spirituality, tolerance, understanding and knowledge, expand and grow. From the sages of the Upanishads, to the Bhakti saints, the Sufi mystics, and the spiritual gurus of more recent times, all religions emphasise the Oneness of life and the sense of universal love that underlies every spiritual experience.
The quotes given below are a few examples of thousands of similar sayings:
‘God has no country, dress, form, limit or hue. God is omnipresent, his universal love is everywhere.’ (Guru Gobind Singh, Jap Sahib)
‘In every age and dispensation all Divine Ordinances are changed and transformed according to the requirements of time, except the law of love.’ (Bahaullah).
‘I have come to light the lamp of Love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added lustre. I have not come on behalf of any religion.’ (Sathya Sai Baba, 4 July 1968).
However, there is no one religion that is the sole representative of Truth, or that has all the answers.
‘Truth cannot be shut up in a single book, Bible or Veda or Quran, or in a single religion. The Divine Being is eternal and universal and infinite’, says Sri Aurobindo, and adds, ‘All religions have some truth in them, but none has the whole truth; all are created in time and finally decline and perish.’ (The Integral Yoga, Selected letters p.352). This can clearly be seen in India, where so many religious beliefs coalesce, and where religions change over time, and are re-created, emerging in different forms.
Long ago the emperor Ashoka [ruled 269-232 BCE] wrote in his Twelfth Major Rock Edict: ‘One should honour another man’s sect, for by doing so one increases the influence of one’s own sect and benefits that of the other…Concord is to be commended, so than men may hear one another’s principles and obey them’.
[This is based on extracts from my book,
Religions of India: A Concise Guide to Nine Major Faiths [Penguin India, 2006, 2010, 2014]].