“The highest summit of spiritual perfection is knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Unless one is firmly convinced of the different opulences of the Supreme Lord, he cannot engage in devotional service. Generally people know that God is great, but they do not know in detail how God is great. Here are the details. If one knows factually how God is great, then naturally he becomes a surrendered soul and engages himself in the devotional service of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.7 Purport)
Friend1: All religions are the same.
Friend1: What? I know you don’t believe that.
Friend2: They reference the same concept. There is something beyond the individual. There is a higher objective to life than to live like an animal.
Friend1: Okay, but I know that there are major differences as well.
Friend2: The four pillars of religious life are honesty, austerity, compassion, and cleanliness. These are universal principles, never the exclusive property of any particular group.
Friend1: If they were all the same, why do we discuss the Bhagavad-gita so much? Why not reference other religious traditions?
Friend2: They say that God is great. They say that He is Almighty. You will find such references in the Vedas as well. There are names that reference the Supreme Lord indirectly.
Friend1: Like which?
Friend2: Ishvara. Paramatma. These reference features in relation to the individual soul and material nature. They don’t necessarily reference a form.
Friend1: They are impersonal.
Friend2: In a sense. There is the story of Kakabhushundi, who continuously speaks the Ramayana to those who are fortunate to hear from him. He has an amazing story covering many births, leading to the body of a crow from which he never forgets the Supreme Lord Rama. In one of those births he met a guru who tried very hard to persuade him along the impersonal path. The guru explained God in vague terms, having no attributes. Kakabhushundi was not attracted by this philosophy; he wanted to go further. You could say that is the key distinction with the Vedas.
Friend1: They go further?
Friend2: Others declare that God is great. The Vedas explains just how great He is. Of course the potency is limitless; therefore Vedic literature continues to expand.
Friend1: Where does Christianity fit in? What about other faiths? Why don’t you reference them? I’ve heard some nice verses quoted by other people.
Friend2: Parampara. Disciplic succession. We follow what is taught to us. This is not to slight anyone else. I just don’t know much about Christianity. I know that Christ himself was amazing. He was not of this world. God is one, so if you follow your preferred religion properly, and provided that religion is authorized, then there is no harm.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Even within the Vedic tradition there are many branches of knowledge. There are different sections and philosophies suited to different desires. You can think of other spiritual traditions as something like subsections. The Puranas are ancient histories teaching the key concepts of Vedic philosophy through story form and through transcripts of conversations between notable sages and their disciples. You can think of these other religions like Puranas if you want.
Friend2: Are we not missing out by focusing solely on the Vedas and books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam?
Friend1: That I can answer confidently. We are not missing anything. Everything is explained in the Shrimad Bhagavatam alone, up to the capacity of the human mind to understand. That work even explains why there are so many religions. Living entities have different desires, and they find systems to match those desires.
Friend2: What do you mean by “system”?
Friend1: Ways to reach the objective. If you want ascension to the heavenly realm after death, there is demigod worship. If you want amazing abilities, out of body experiences, there is yoga. If you want great wealth even in this lifetime, there is karma. If you want peace of mind, there is renunciation. There is a pathway even if you desire harm to others. So many dharmas there are, but by following Krishna in true surrender, sharanagati, you don’t have to worry about them.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
Devotion to Krishna is the superior path since it already includes the enjoyment from the other paths. It goes beyond, matching the soul’s essential characteristic.
Why of other religions you don’t speak.
Is not something of value in each?
Like quote or verse from which to learn,
Higher wisdom from diversity to earn.
Shrimad Bhagavatam having everything and more,
Explaining all desires, pillars of religion four.
Not slight intended, from parampara taking,
Surrender to Krishna best shelter making.