The Whole World is One Family
By Stephen Knapp
The title may sound like some fantasy, or a overly utopian idea, but actually this is the premise of the Vedic teachings. That is why there is the saying in Sanskrit, Vasudhaiv Kutumbikam, “the world is one family”. Certainly we can see that the whole world is populated by people who are working to attain the same things: happiness, peace, security, resources like food and shelter, and a hopeful future. How much easier it could be if we focused on our similarities instead of our differences. And with that, how much easier it would be to find the necessary cooperation that would pave the way for global assistance in helping everyone acquire what they need.
Yes, we are all born in certain parts of the world and may have different physical or cultural characteristics. You may be born a Caucasian in America, or a black person in Africa, or an Arabian, or German, or in an Islamic family or Christian, etc. But did you make a decision that this was what you were going to be? Or did you just sort of find yourself in this situation? Did you just happen to have a family that taught you what you should accept yourself to be? Or did you really make a deliberate decision that this was the identity you wanted to accept? Or, on the other hand, would you really like to see more deeply than this identity and discover what you are above and beyond the temporary and changing body? The fact of the matter is that we are all hoping and struggling to find the same basic needs as everyone else. So this means that whatever the appearances of the body may be, we all have many of the same aspirations. And we share the planet similar to the way a family of brothers and sisters share the same home.
Why the Vedic texts teach how we are all one family can be explained. The Vedic literature, the oldest spiritual and philosophical texts in the world, do not preach the superiority of one religion over another, but espouse the doctrine of santana-dharma, which is the eternal path for all living beings based on the nature of the soul. These ancient Vedic scriptures only recommend the highest level of dharma that a person can follow, depending on what he or she would like to accomplish in this life. Otherwise, we can consider a variety of thoughts and philosophies that may assist in our progress. This is also why he Rig Veda explains: aano bhadrah kritawo yantu vishwataha, which means, “Let noble thoughts come to us from everywhere.”
The premise is that we are all spiritual beings who are not these bodies but only inside them. Our real identity is not whether we belong to a certain ethnic group or culture. Yes, we may follow a certain path or religion, but these can be changed and the soul is above all such temporary designations. And the nature of the soul is to love and be loved. Everyone is working and wishing for that, because happiness is found in relations, and no happiness is higher than a deep loving relationship. But the highest relationship is that which we, as spiritual beings, share when it is based on devotion to the Supreme Being, the ultimate lovable object. That is the eternal spiritual path, or santana-dharma.
By having a solid understanding of such spiritual knowledge, there is automatically a respect for all others regardless of race, sex, or species. This brings a moral and peaceful social behavior in everybody toward everyone. By having respect for everyone’s spiritual identity, parts and parcels of the Lord, this also brings an innate happiness in us all. We can understand that we are only visiting this planet for a short time, and that we are all in this together. In other words, my contribution to your well-being, especially spiritual well-being, will be an automatic contribution to my own existence. In this way, society at large is in a state of constant improvement. That is the goal of the Vedic way of life.
Therefore, the Vedic system means a way of life that aims at the elevation of everyone in society to a higher level of consciousness. It means to assist ourselves through a disciplined and godly life to understand the purpose of our existence as well as to become a spiritually realized person. It also means that we help every other individual soul because by helping others we help ourselves. That itself is a natural state of being when we can perceive God as the Supersoul, Paramatma, within everyone. All of this is encouraged by, and increases, a natural faith in an all-pervading Supreme Being. Such faith and focus on the Supreme Being, when systematically developed, can elevate us to return to our real spiritual home after death, which is one of the most important goals of the Vedic lifestyle.
This Vedic premise is one of the reasons why India has always welcomed so many other religions into the country. India is the homeland of some of the oldest religions in the world. In the Vedic system, there is room for both dissent and digression and freedom of choice. The basic principle is that the freedom of the individual is all important. It is not that the beliefs of one must be imposed on another. Thus, different communities following different ways can live together in amity. Spiritual Truth itself can manifest in different ways, depending on the lessons that an individual needs to learn, and the ways that he or she may need to grow in this particular lifetime. Therefore, because of different levels of consciousness within people, it should not be expected that only one religion or philosophy has everything that can fulfill everyone everywhere.
The trouble we see so much of in the world today is not so much a clash of religions, but a clash of individual egos of people who associate their bodily identity and cause with their religion. It is the tendency of the human mind to cling to those people who are similar, and claim superiority over those who are different. This itself leads to the divisions of religion, caste, ethnic group, or race. Thus, the tendency becomes to defend one’s own weakness, inferiority or insecurity by unnecessarily criticizing and hurting others to establish one’s own sense of position and superiority. However, in these days this is often done in the egotistical guise of defending one’s own religion. But this ignores the very love, compassion and tolerance that most religions claim to represent or teach. And certainly it ignores the very love, mutual respect and cooperation that we seek, and that the world depends on if we and this planet are to survive. Why not take the noble path of being more willing to live up to your religion rather than to simply fight or die for it? This alone would settle many of our differences and world problems. We have to decide whether we want to live with each other or fight with one another. The answer should be obvious.
As it is concluded in the Atharva Veda: “We are birds of the same nest. Wearing different skins, speaking different languages, believing in different religions, and belonging to different cultures – yet we share the same home, our earth. Born on the same planet, covered by the same skies, gazing at the same stars, breathing the same air, we must learn to progress happily together or miserably perish together. For humans can live individually but can survive only collectively.”
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