Chapter Four

 

JEWISH SOULS AND OTHERS

 

DEVOTEE: Rabbi, according to Jewish understanding, is there ultimately any difference between the soul of a person born in a Jewish family and the soul of someone who is not? Do Jews have any advantage over non-Jews in their ability to realize and love God?
RABBI: After close examination, I've concluded that the general principles of the soul, the creation, God, and His manifestations are surprisingly similar in all spiritual traditions. Furthermore, full realization of God can be achieved by anyone regardless of his race, religion or nationality. Here is a verse that confirms this point: `Elijah said, "I bring heaven and earth to bear witness that any human being, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, freeman or slave, according to his deeds, can become worthy of Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, the transcendental experience." [Tana DeBei Eliahu Rabba 9] [Bahir II: 94]
DEVOTEE: The Vedic philosophy propounds a similar principle that proves we all have an equal opportunity to realize and love God and to achieve His eternal abode. According to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, "To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come back to Me." [Bg. 10.10] The Bhagavad-gita also teaches that we are spiritually equal and that our spiritual identity is far more important than any external considerations. There it is said, "Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both". [Bg. 2.16] Therefore, our real identity is spirit soul. Temporarily identifying ourselves as man or woman, Jew or Hindu, rich man or poor man ultimately has no bearing on our ability to realize God. God is eternal and we are eternally His servants regardless of how we identify ourselves at the present moment.
RABBI: Now of course many people identify themselves as Jews, others as Hindus, Muslims, or Christians. Frequently, religious followers are taught to think that they are on the right path and that everyone else is wrong. Yet, if we are to accept that we all have an equal chance to achieve love of God, then we must also accept that there is some underlying thread that ties all religions together in spite of their different scriptures, rituals, and culture. Considering the Vedic emphasis that we are spiritual by nature, how do the Vedas explain the essence of religion?
DEVOTEE: In his introduction to, The Bhagavad-gita As It Is, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that point very nicely. "The English word religion is a little different from the Vedic word, sanatana-dharma, the essence of religion. Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another, but sanatana-dharma refers to that activity which cannot be changed. For instance, liquidity cannot be taken from water, nor can heat be taken from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity cannot be taken from the living entity." What is that eternal function of the soul? It is service. Every living entity serves someone. Even the trees serve others by supplying fruits, flowers, firewood, or shade. The essence of religion is devotional service to God; we may momentarily identify ourselves as Jews, Hindus, Christians etc. Love of God means unending and uninterrupted service to Him, and that principle is found in all religious traditions.

 

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