A Soviet diplomat arrived in the capital of a democratic country on a commercial mission on behalf of his government. The mission was to continue for several months, and the hotel in which the diplomat had to stay immediately on his arrival was rather expensive by Soviet standards. Next day, the diplomat approached the enquiry counter of the hotel and asked the lady in attendance, "Where can I find your Housing Committee?"
The lady could not understand his question and asked him to elaborate. The diplomat explained, "You see, I cannot stay for long in this expensive place. I want to apply to the appropriate authority for allotment of adequate but cheaper accommodation."
The lady picked up the telephone directory, opened it at a particular page, and told the diplomat, "Sorry, we have no such committee in this city or anywhere else in this country. You have to go to an estate agent who will show you all kinds of accommodation and negotiate for the one you approve of finally. The leading estate agents are listed on this page. You may phone to any one of them for an appointment."
The diplomat was visibly annoyed. He shoved aside the telephone directory and shot his next question, "And where can I find your Food Committee?"
The lady informed him that there was no such committee either. The diplomat was now furious. He shouted, "How and where, then, do I buy the food which I will need everyday? I must have the necessary permit."
The lady assured him patiently that he needed no permit, and that he could go into any of the hundreds of stores to buy whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
By now the diplomat was in tantrums. He taunted, "I suppose you have no Transport Committee either?"
The lady kept her cool and said with a smile, "Why, there are all those taxies standing and cruising all over this city. You can hire any one of them at any time of the day or night and go wherever you please."
The diplomat gave up in utter disgust. There was sadness writ large on his face. He shook his head several times and said to himself, "Very bad! Very bad indeed! There is no system in this country. It is a chaos all around. I feel lost."
A follower of closed creeds like Christianity and Islam finds himself in a similar situation when faced with the spiritual freedom that is Sanãtana Dharma. He discovers very soon that Sanãtana Dharma does not fit into any of the mental moulds to which he is accustomed, and which he seeks in other systems of thought. He is most likely to shake his head in utter disgust and feel lost like our diplomat from a closed social system stationed in the metropolis of a free society. An encounter between a monotheist and an informed follower of Sanãtana Dharma is, therefore, sure to develop along similar lines.
The first point in which the followers of closed creeds take great pride is the historicity of the only saviour or the last prophet who was sent by or who received the "full and final revelation" from the "one and only true god." The first question which such a faithful will put to a student of Sanãtana Dharma, therefore, is bound to be as follows: "Who is your only saviour or your last prophet? Where was he born and brought up? Where and when and before which apostles or companions did he teach, preach, and reveal?"
A student of Sanãtana Dharma cannot but reply as follows: "The very concept of a historical saviour or prophet is foreign to Sanãtana Dharma. We do not concede the monopoly of spiritual truth or moral virtue to any historical person, howsoever great or highly honoured. Every one has to be one's own saviour, one's own prophet. One has to discover the spiritual truths for one's own self, if that truth has to have any meaning for one or any validity in one's life. A truth discovered by someone else cannot become my truth unless I rediscover it for myself. Scriptures and spiritual teachers can be my aids and guides, and may help me in my search for truth. But the truth of which the scriptures speak or which the teachers expound cannot become a truth for me unless it comes alive in my own consciousness, and starts transforming my own life. Moreover, the very historicity in which you take pride is for us the hallmark of the ephemeral and the false. We reject a historical religion as pauruSeya prasthãna, idiosyncrasies of a particular person, no matter how you hail him. That which was born in history has also died in history. You are showing devotion to what is dead and gone."
Next, the followers of closed creeds are mighty proud of being an Ahl-i-Kitãb or the People of the Book. They are sure that the "only true revelation" from the "one and only true god" is contained in the book (al-kitãb) which was compiled by the apostles of the only saviour or the companions of the last prophet, after the saviour or the prophet had passed away and could speak no more. They believe that nothing can be taken out from or added to this "book" which is supposed to contain the final truth for all time to come. Therefore, the second question which such a faithful will put to a follower of Sanãtana Dharma is as follows: "Which is the book in which you believe, or your al-kitãb?"
A student of Sanãtana Dharma is sure to reply as follows: "What for do we need a book? The whole spiritual truth, every shastra, is secret in the human heart. Any one, anywhere, at any time can have access to the spiritual realm provided one seeks for it sincerely, and prepares oneself for entering it. Many seers and saints have seen it in as many ways, spoken of it and in as many languages and by means of as many metaphors. The Vedas provide one version of it, the Jainãgama another, the TripiTaka yet another, and so on down to the latest Hindu saint such as Sri Ramakrishna, or the latest Hindu sage such as Ramana Maharshi. Different sects of Sanãtana Dharma have collected the sayings and songs of different sages and saints in as many books which these sects cherish as their shastras. But these shastras are not at all what you describe as the book or al-kitãb, even by distant definition. Your creed will get lost for good if your "the book" or al-kitãb gets lost. The book or al-kitãb cannot be recovered because the person who preached it or to whom it was revealed is dead and gone. But Sanãtana Dharma will lose nothing if all its shastras are lost. All old shastras and many more can be recovered from inside the human heart, where all of them are ultimately enshrined."
By now the follower of a closed creed is most likely to feel flabbergasted by what he has been brainwashed to regard as blasphemy. The third question which such a faithful will put to a student of Sanãtana Dharma is as follows: "You have no only saviour, no last prophet. You have no al-kitãb. How, then, do you know who is your one and only true god? How do you distinguish this one and only true god from the many false gods which abound all around you?"
At this stage the student of Sanãtana Dharma will have to smile and say, "According to our spiritual tradition, testified by a long line of spiritual seekers, the way to God-discovery is through Self-discovery. As one proceeds on that inner voyage one sees spiritual truths in many forms. None of these forms is false. It is only one's seeking which can falter and lead to one's fall from the path of spiritual progress by insisting that this or that form alone is true. Sanãtana Dharma stands squarely for a human becoming God in the process of Self-discovery-Ãtman becoming Parmãtman, PuruSa becoming PuruSottama. This is the path of world-discovery as well. The deeper one dives into oneself, the faster one's world gets divinised. One starts seeing God in every human being, in every animal, in every plant, in every stone. One feels free to worship God in any from or in all forms at the same time. One also feel's free not to worship God at all, and to dwell within oneself in spiritual self-delight.
Sanãtana Dharma, therefore, has no use for a God who makes himself known to mankind through the medium of a saviour or a prophet, or through the pages of al-kitãb or the book. Such a God must always remain external to us, and external to the world in which we live. Such a God does not permit humanhood to grow into Godhood, nor allows this world to get divinised. He has reserved all divinity for himself, and has nothing to spare for his creatures except an abject servitude to his arbitrary commandments conveyed through a saviour or a prophet chosen equally arbitrarily."
The follower of a closed creed now shoots the last arrow in his armoury with what he believes to be deadly effect. He is sure to shout, "You have failed to win the favour of the only saviour or the last prophet by not living a life according to the final commandments of the one and only true God as revealed to his only son or his last prophet in al-kitab or the book. How will the only saviour or the last prophet intercede for you on the Day of Judgement, and save you from God's wrath and eternal hell-fire? You cannot say in all seriousness that you are not interested in going to an eternal heaven full of fair maidens, flowing with milk and honey, and fanned by ever-fragrant breezes."
A student of Sanãtana Dharma will keep his cool and reply as follows: "Sanãtana Dharma is not so mean and miserly in deciding human destiny. It gives many lives to every creature. One can start anew from the point where one stopped in one's previous life. And the process does not cease till a creature has attained perfection and achieved Godhood. Every one is a bodhisattva destined to become the Buddha in the course of spiritual seeking. The journey is from darkness and bondage to light and freedom, and not from the sensual pleasures of this world to the sensual orgies of a high heaven. On the other hand, the only hell we know is neither situated outside ourselves, nor at the end of time. The hell is within us - in our greed and gluttony, in our hatreds and infatuations, in our self-righteousness and self-seeking, in our dark drives for power and domination, in our self-love and pursuit of pleasure. The only way out of this hell is through an awakening to the divinity within us, and through dispelling the darkness of ignorance in which we live our mundane lives. The favour or disfavour of a saviour or a prophet can neither catapult us into heaven nor drag us down into hell. A saviour or prophet is absolutely irrelevant to the realm of spiritual progress or retrogression."
At this point the follower of a closed creed is bound to give up in utter disgust. He is bound to exclaim, "Very bad! Very bad indeed! There is no system in your bewildered beliefs. It is a free for all. What is worse, it is blasphemy against the one and only true God, against the only saviour or the last prophet sent by Him, and against the only true revelation conveyed by Him through a mighty messenger."