Universalist spiritual views

“It is imperative that the people of a specific country give proper respect to their native saints, but no one, although they may hold a particular belief for their spiritual progress, should go to other places and preach that what their teachers have taught is superior to all other teachings. This gives no benefit at all to the world…Each country has its particular religious rules concerning proper dress, food, purity and impurity…it is only natural that the various religions will appear quite different. However, it is improper and detrimental to argue over these differences…Pure love is the eternal function of the soul. Although the above mentioned five differences may exist amongst the many religions, the only real religion is pure love.” (pp 8-10)

It appears that Bhaktivinode was a universalist in his views. He says as much in “The Bhagavat” also. I am an eclectic universalist as well. I got to experience Gaudiya Vaishnavism in its homeland of India for three years. I very much imbibed it and lived as much like an Indian sadhu as an American could. Upon returning to the West, I sought to present the teachings in a way that would appeal to Westerners. This was especially true after leaving ISKCON.

I thought about how successful we were in India appealing to Vaishnavas to support their native religion. Back in the U.S., I thought I would try to teach love of God in an American format, Christianity, the dominant religion. Being in a progressive denomination like the United Church of Christ (UCC), I was able to do that to a degree. Unfortunately, most of the local churches are not as progressive as the national church or many of the professional leaders.

The UCC is good about not trying to convert people. It is very ecumenical and interfaith. They send missionaries to other countries, but mainly to do good works and be in solidarity with the people and local religious leaders regardless of their religion. Of course, those without a religious faith or those who want to change faiths are welcome.

I found that the lay Christians I worked with in general did not have as deep a commitment as their Hindu counterparts in India. Also, the non-dogmatic, non-hierarchical, decentralized structure of the UCC gave the clergy little power and leaves them at the mercy of the local congregation. After being run out of three congregations in eleven years, I said, “Enough.” However, I did reintegrate myself in Western culture and learned how religion is practiced and understood by educated, progressive mainline clergy.

There has to be a way to integrate some of these principles with Sri Chaitanya’s teachings so that we can learn to develop our love without having to completely change the way we eat, dress, wear our hair, etc. The zealous, evangelical fundamentalism that ISKCON has been guilty of is not the only way to organize a religion. There are much better models out there.

I feel I have attained a balance in my life. Since leaving the church three years ago, I have deepened by Radha Krishna devotional practices, but I definitely live a Hawaiian lifestyle. I’m sure many of you are also finding a balance within your lives that works for you. This is the hope for the future, that an indigenous Radha Krishna devotional practice may develop and thrive.

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