As if religious divisiveness were not already rife with strife, do we dare ask if all religions are equal in their spiritual stature or degree of elevation (or revelation)? And, who are we to even ask such a question?
Paramhansa Yogananda was asked this question and said simply, “No, not all religions descend from the same heights of divine vision.” (I am paraphrasing.) He would sometimes tell the story of how one religion of recent vintage, and now exceedingly popular with millions of followers, was created by its founder with the ruse of burying writings underground, waiting a few years, and then miraculously finding them.
I was once received a letter from a friend who chided me for an article I wrote around Easter time comparing the sacrifice of Jesus in his crucifixion with the concept in the Bhagavad Gita (and the Vedas) of yagya (and also tapasya): self-sacrifice. The writer wanted to know why I didn’t include examples from the teachings of the Koran.
Part of my reply to the writer included a question asked of Paramhansa Yogananda: “Why do you (Paramhansa Yogananda) emphasize the teachings of Jesus Christ and those of Krishna (rather than including other teachings)?” Yogananda’s curt reply was: “It was Babaji’s wish that I do so.” In other words, he essentially refused to elaborate.
That there is a special connection between Paramhansa Yogananda and Jesus Christ is amply demonstrated in his own story, "Autobiography of a Yogi.” But no explanation of it is given.
Let us turn now to metaphysics and to the core teachings of Sanaatan Dharma. (Sanaatan Dharma is the indigenous name for Hinduism. The term means, simply, the "Eternal Religion." Its existence pre-dates much of what is recognizable to us as Hinduism. Its origins go far back in time to the Vedas and other writings which followed the Vedas in time.)
There is the core teaching that we, “man,” are made in the image of God. We find this stated plainly in the Old Testament, for example. We are thus, as many religions and saints aver, “God’s children.” We are taught, east and west, that “God” (whoever or whatever “God” is) made the universe. But in most traditions we are not given to understand exactly how God made “something from nothing.” We are told, only, that He did so.
In the traditions of India, however, it is taught that God made the universe by becoming the universe. Put more starkly, there is NO other core or fundamental reality than God alone! God is all there is! The teachings further aver the core concept of the Christian trinity: God is beyond and untouched by His creation, while at the same time IS his creation, and at the same time God, as God, resides silently in the still heart of every atom of creation! Father, Mother, son!
By extension, therefore, if indeed logic can be expected to kick in here, at this point, WE are aspects of God. Could then the purpose of our creation and existence be to re-discover, to re-inherit our Oneness with the only Reality there is? To unite, in other words, what only appears to be our separate consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness?
Well, surprise, surprise: this is precisely the teaching of Sanaatan Dharma!
Thus, now let us return to our challenge question: are all religions equal (spiritually speaking)? The core teachings averred above might then be the yardstick by which this question can be answered.
I do not wish to represent the teachings of the basic main faiths but I will dip my toe into the waters. First let me add something VERY VERY important: we must distinguish between orthodox theology and the lives and teachings of the most spiritually advanced saints. For it has been said and makes sense that in every religion, time and place, there have been those individual souls who have achieved the realization described by Sanaatan Dharma. This must be so if Sanaatan Dharma be true.
Putting aside then that the true “custodians” of religion (the saints, whose testimony would surely be, upon close inspection, unanimous), we now might have our yardstick hovering over our inquiry.
Christianity and Islam speak of heaven as a place where our separateness resides eternally: strumming harps, being catered to by virgins, or praising God or whatever. Buddhism and Judaism seem unsure of the whole after-death thing. Buddhism inclines to saying “nothing” and Judaism argues about it. None of these however speak of union (or Oneness) with God. Judaism has the great mantra “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE!” So far as I understand it, however, the One isn’t really one; it’s two: the Lord and me. They don’t take the mantra all the way to the goal line, in other words.
I readily admit my tongue is in my cheek and my analysis in the above paragraph is about as superficial as one could concoct but most orthodox religionists are pretty superficial when it comes to their own beliefs, aren’t they? In one religion, they don’t drink; in another, don’t smoke or dance; in another, don’t eat meat and blah blah blah! Imagine they even kill each other over these things!
It gets worse because if God is the sole Reality behind all appearances and if the goal of the soul’s existence to achieve reunion with the Oversoul, this surely must mean there exists at least one soul who has achieved this!!!!! Sanaatan Dharma says many souls have achieved this. Christianity, at least, says there’s just one: Jesus Christ.
Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are all very conflicted about the spiritual stature of their respective founders or prophets, some of whom seem all too human (like the Roman, Greek, Hindu or other gods). The teaching of the true guru, or savior, is a teaching that essentially says that the triune God incarnates in human form even as God already IS all forms. (How else would the stated goal of creation be demonstrated?)
Even if Christianity and some Hindu believers say that God himself has incarnated, the more subtle and nuanced approach as clarified by Paramhansa Yogananda (and others) explains that Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and other true saviors are just like you and me but have in a prior lifetime achieved Oneness with God. They are sent back to human incarnation to help others. They are not divine puppets. Like each of us, they too have unique qualities and aspects. They, too, teach in the context of the times and culture in which they find themselves.
Though Christianity comes very close, only Sanaatan Dharma expresses this teaching clearly and universally (even if devout and orthodox Hindus limit this teaching to specific “avatars” as divine incarnations). When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say I am?” he asked the deepest and most important question any human can ask of himself.
It is intellectually more satisfying to say Jesus or Buddha (etc.) are EITHER God or merely HUMAN! It takes a subtler consciousness (of BOTH-AND) to see that both natures dwell in us (and in all creation) and that uniting the two is our goal and ultimate destiny (even if it take millions of lifetimes owing to other choices we make).
None of this makes one religion, as such, better than another. As the saying goes, “There’s something for everyone.” We must each walk our path on our own and, by extension, honor the right and the need for others to do so. Each faith offers and emphasizes certain qualities such as compassion, self-discipline, love, joy, or wisdom. Each faith has nurtured and infused entire nations and cultures with its particular qualities.
Joy to you!
 The nature of evil and suffering is a ubiquitous and necessary question. Essential though it is, it goes beyond the scope of this article. Maybe another time, eh?