Faith Q&A: What is the most important teaching in your faith?

December 15, 2012 

Syed E. Hasan, Ph.D., Midland Islamic Council: The Quran, the divine message that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) some 1,400 years ago, is full of passages that offer guidance for a perfect and peaceful way of life, both for individuals and societies. In addition to emphasizing the essential virtues of honesty, love, truth, justice and compassion, the Quran has also established the framework for a wholesome, just and peaceful society by exhorting its followers to respect and treat all human beings equitably, not forcing religion on others, continually striving for betterment of oneself and the society, taking care of the destitute and needy, fair and honest business dealings; taking care of animals, plants and other nonliving components of the environment, and always standing up for truth and justice.

The short sentence: “enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong” that appears in verse 41, chapter 22 of the Quran, comprehensively states the ultimate aim of a state and characteristics of its ruler. This concise phrase has captured the essence of a world order that ensures peace and harmony for one and all. Any society that frames its rules and regulations with the goal of enjoining what is good – not only for the humans, but also for the environment – and adopts measures to control anything that is evil, is sure to be successful and flourish. History tells us that whenever this principle was ignored, it resulted in the demise of the society.

A.M. Bhattacharyya, Hindu faith advisor of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council: In my mind the most important teaching of Hinduism is epitomized in a short sentence “Thou art That.” (Chandogya Upanishad) The sentence is short, but the message it carries is tremendous. “Thou” refers to the inherent substratum, the innermost soul and the luminous self of every being. It is called Atman. Atman is pure consciousness. Without Atman, life is non-existent. “That” refers to Brahman (God), the ultimate and the absolute reality. Brahman is both transcendent and immanent. Brahman is one without a second, the supreme self, the lord of all souls, the infinite ocean of consciousness and bliss, eternal, the creator and the sustainer of the universe. Without Brahman, the universe is non-existent.

The identity between Atman and Brahman is a cardinal principle of Hindu faith. As an individual wave is identical with the ocean, so the individual self is identical with the supreme self. Similar short messages exist in other Upanishads. Because of the prodigious depth of these messages, these are called “great declarations.”

Swami Vivekananda, who brought the message of Upanishads (Vedanta) to the West, explained the Brahman-Atman identity this way, “It is God within your own self that is impelling you to seek for him, to realize him.” We find a similar teaching preached by the Unity Church – “The true spirit of God to which we all should turn and listen, is within us.”

Send your questions for one of our panels of religion columnists to Helen Gray at The Star, 1729 Grand Blvd. Kansas City, MO 64108. Send email to hgray@kcstar.com.

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