One God | Many Religions
“O mighty-armed King, there are innumerable appearances and activities of the Supreme Lord of the universe similar to those I have already mentioned. In fact, the glories of the Supreme Lord are unlimited.” – Srimad Bhagavatam 11.4.23
Let’s briefly explore how the Supreme has appeared through the ages in various traditions. In the Bible, God is the all-powerful, loving father. He appeared as a burning bush to enlighten Moses, as a pillar of fire to save the Israelites from pharaoh’s army, as a thunderous voice to proclaim the Ten Commandments, and, allegorically, as a youthful lover in the Old Testament book, Song of Songs. In the New Testament he appears through Jesus Christ, who through his teachings and sacrifice showered infinite grace on the world. In the Holy Koran he is Allah, the Supremely Great and Merciful One who manifested his message of truth through the Prophet Muhammad.
In the Vedas, written in Sanskrit, he is called Vishnu, or Krishna, the transcendent, all-knowing Lord of all beings, who by infinite kindness incarnates into the material world again and again. Each descent of the One God is called an avatar (meaning “one who descends”). These same ancient scriptures foresaw the descent of the Buddha; Buddha is considered an avatar of the Supreme Being come specifically to personify compassion toward all beings.
In the epic Ramayana the descent of Rama, teacher of the highest human ideals, is described. Rama displayed both limitless power and a limitless sweetness. In the Bhagavad Gita, he is Krishna, spiritual master and friend to all, who reveals the universal knowledge quintessential to the Vedas. In the Bhagavata Purana Krishna further reveals himself as an ever-youthful cowherd, who possesses all the qualities of all the avatars but whose beauty and sweetness overshadow his majestic power to facilitate intimate loving reciprocation.
The essence and goal of all true scriptures is to connect us to an all-loving, forgiving God and to teach us how to live as instruments of that love and forgiveness. Yet religious scriptures have, in places, descriptions of harsh punishments, bloody histories, or teachings that appear to be polarizing. These accounts, and the lessons they teach, need to be balanced and understood in the light of the essence and goal: to love the Supreme, to see the innate divinity within ourselves and in all beings, and to be infused with compassion.