Teachings Shared Among the Religions

Interfaith SymbolsAs an interfaith minister, I’ve spent many years probing the question, “What are the core spiritual teachings shared by most if not all major spiritual traditions and religions?” My list has been stable for quite some time, and I found myself thinking it was time for me to write it down.

At the outset, let me make two foundational observations.

First, I don’t claim any originality to these thoughts. On the contrary, if there were any originality here, it would fly in the face of the purpose of the statements.

Second, religious and spiritual teachings can be thought of as divided into two broad categories: teachings about God, the universe, and other “beliefs”; and teachings about how to live our lives so as to be in accord with one another. The former are called theology, while the latter are called ethics or, more accurately, practice.

In an integrated system, practice ought to proceed from theology; that is, how we behave in the world, how we seek and find happiness, how we treat others, should derive from one or more of the core beliefs we have about the Divine. This is not to say, however, that one cannot have ethical behavior without a belief in a Divine Being. There have been numerous examples of just that sort of thing throughout human history.

With those preliminaries out of the way, here are the theological teachings that all of the religions of which I am aware share in common:

  1. There is a God.
  2. God can be found within ourselves.
  3. God is Unconditional Love.
  4. There is an essential Unity of All That Is; that is the entire nature of God.

In some religious and spiritual traditions, these teachings are mainstream. That is, the majority of the adherents to that particular path would readily agree with those belief statements. In others, only relatively small numbers of adherents — generally those who characterize themselves as mystics — would easily agree with all of those principles. Yet, the Scriptures of all of the major religions contain those teachings and appear to be largely founded on them.

Spiritual practices, on the other hand, vary by culture. Still, there are some shared principles at work on the practical level that are worth noting.

For example, all spiritual paths and religious traditions teach some variation of what Christians call the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have others do to you.” In some traditions, this is phrased in the negative: “Do not to others what you would not want done to yourself.” But the principle is plainly the same. This is the core underlying principle behind Compassion, which is a central practice in humanity.

The primary practices that show up in most if not all spiritual paths include:

  1. Honoring parents and ancestors;
  2. Doing no harm to others;
  3. Loving others unconditionally;
  4. Respecting the spiritual above the physical;
  5. Following the teachings of Scripture rather than those about Scripture;
  6. Forgiving others.

Depending upon how granularly one wishes to slice and dice practice, any list of these shared ideas might grow much larger than I’ve presented here.

A meta-survey of data gathered about worldwide religious belief reveals that something over 80% of all of the people on planet Earth have a belief in a higher power, a Divine Being of some sort bigger and more powerful than any one individual human. Some studies put this number as high as 90%. Historically, there is no record of any culture that did not contain a substantial religious or spiritual component. It seems that mankind is predisposed — one is tempted to say “hardwired” — to believe in God.

Whether or not this list proves to be exhaustive, it is at least a reasonable starting point for a discussion among adherents to the various religious teachings and spiritual paths who might encounter one another and perceive deep differences where none really exist.

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