01/11/2012 11:27 am ET Updated Mar 12, 2012

My Religion Is Better Than Yours

I don't know about you, but I'm definitely tired of encountering this attitude. Most people who make such statements don't have deep knowledge or set of experiences within their own tradition, what to speak of other people's traditions. I am confident that if we made even a little bit of an endeavor to understand another's faith, it could make all the difference in the world.

The first time I watched "Jesus of Nazareth" with a group of fellow Hindu monks, we all marveled at the life of Jesus and the seriousness of his teachings, and immediately we could find similar teachings from within the Hindu tradition. The video inspired me to read the Gospels, which surprised me even more. The mood of a practitioner described by Jesus is identical to descriptions in the Gita and the Bhagavat Purana.

"You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike" (Matthew 5:43-45)

Jesus explained the need to be forgiving, not wanting to be recognized or praised for one's acts of devotion, and in his dealings with the near stoning of Mary Magdalene, he taught us to be careful in judging others. The Dalai Lama teaches us that the purpose of religion from the Buddhist perspective "is to facilitate love, compassion, tolerance, humility, and forgiveness." In the 13th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna gives items of knowledge that can help liberate the soul: "Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity... all these I declare to be knowledge..."

A great Hindu teacher, Shri Chaitanya, states as well: "One should not desire to accumulate wealth, fame, prestige, or followers. One's only aspiration should be to serve God without any motivations."

The Bhagavat Purana is full of stories of individuals who were ready to forgive the perpetrator for even the most grievous of offenses. This was done with the understanding that if we learn to forgive others, then God will also forgive us and that the law of karma balances things out in due course of time.

Finding such similarities between these traditions was quite exciting, as I realized that the message of God is similar for many of these seemingly very different traditions. In order to understand this, we first of all need to acknowledge that God must have given messages of liberation and salvation to people throughout the world. God wasn't partial when He distributed spiritual knowledge to the people of the world. We need to give up our sectarian views and abandon the thought that only the people of my tradition have been blessed and that all others have been condemned.

I don't think there is anything that turns people away from religion and spirituality more than this kind of an attitude. Even if someone may be curious about spiritual truths and practices, the fanatic and sectarian mood of some practitioners can be a real deterrent. I can't remember how many times I've been confronted on the streets and in the subways of New York where someone tells me "Jesus is the only way!" or that "Jesus loves you."

I suppose they think such an exclamation is going to bring about some epiphany and make me part ways with the Hindu tradition that I have been practicing since the age of seven. Since I'm a monk and wear orange robes and have a shaved head, I guess I'm a bit of a target for such comments. To those who tell me "Jesus loves you," I simply thank them and keep on moving.

It's safe to say as well that all traditions share some similar tenets, but I don't think we can say that all religions are the same. Just because my theology, philosophy, and practice is prescribing a certain lifestyle for me doesn't mean that other systems of faith can't prescribe something different for those who choose to adhere to other teachings. I don't necessarily have to agree with the teachings in these other traditions, but I can at least be respectful to them.

Too often, because we're not grounded in our own tradition, we feel insecure and the only way to overcome that insecurity is to fanatically push our religious teachings on to others. Obviously, this only leads to conflict and a bad taste in people's mouths.

I'm reminded of a lecture I heard in which a monk of the Hindu tradition explained that just as a dog can always recognize its owner, whether the owner is dressed in shorts, a suit, or nothing at all, so a mature spiritualist is able to recognize his or her God in the dress of another tradition. I know from personal experience that this is easier said than done, but if we don't at least attempt to move in this direction, then we'll continue to fight over who's right and who's wrong.