In 1896, Dr Annie Besant gave four Convention Lectures on Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Christianity at Adyar, Madras, on the twenty- first anniversary of the Theosophical Society, the President-Founder, Colonel H.S. Olcott, being in the Chair. In 1901, she continued the series with another four lectures on Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, and Theosophy or Divine Wisdom as the common source of all religions at the twenty-sixth anniversary, Colonel Olcott again presiding. Each of the lectures on the seven religions has been published as a separate booklet with the exception of the lecture on Divine Wisdom, and the whole series as a single volume under the title Seven Great Religions.
The following lecture does not pretend to be any- thing more than a popular exposition, intended for the ordinary reader rather than for the student. Delivered to audiences composed almost entirely of Hindus, with only a sprinkling of Zoroastrians and Christians, they rather take for granted a knowledge of Sanskrit terms; so notes have been added where obscurity might arise from their use. They are intended to help members of each of the religions to recognize the value and beauty of faiths which are not their own, and demonstrate their underlying unity.
In the lecture on Buddhism I had especially in mind the misconceptions which shut the Lord Buddha out from the hearts of his countrymen, and strove to remove them by quotations from the received scriptures containing the authoritative records of his own words. For indeed I know of no greater service that could be rendered to religion than to draw together again these sundered faiths which almost divide between them the Eastern world. Mother and daughter they are, and family feuds are proverbially bitter; yet might the quarrel be healed, if the desire for amity reigned on both sides.
Secondly, each religion is treated as coming from the one great Brotherhood, which is the steward and custodian of spiritual knowledge. Each is treated as an expression, by some member or messenger of that Brotherhood, of the eternal spiritual truths, an expression suited to the needs of the time at which it was made, and of the dawning civilization that it was intended to mould and to guide in its evolution. Each religion has its own mission in the world, is suited to the nations to whom it is given, and to the type of civilization it is to permeate, bringing it into line with the general evolution of the human family. The failure to see this leads to unjust criticism, for an ideally perfect religion would not be suitable to imperfect and partially evolved men, and environment must always be considered by the Wise when they plant a new slip of the ancient tree of wisdom.
Thirdly, an attempt is made to distinguish the essential from the non-essential in each religion, and to treat chiefly the former. For every religion, in the course of time, suffers from accretions due to ignorance, not to wisdom; to blindness, not to vision. Within the brief compass of a lecture, it was not possible to distinguish in detail, nor to point out all the numerous non-essentials. But the following tests may be used by anyone who desires to guide himself practically in discriminating between the permanent and the transitory elements in any religion. Is it ancient? Is it to be found in the ancient scriptures? Has it the authority of the founder of the religion, or of the sages to whom the formulation of the particular religion is due? Is it universal, found under some form in all religions? As regards spiritual truths, anyone of these tests is sufficient.
As to smaller matters of rites and ceremonies, observances and customs, the use or disuse of any particular practice, we may ask as to each: Is it laid down or recommended in the ancient scriptures, by the Founder or his immediate disciples? Can its usefulness be explained or verified by those in whom occult training has developed the inner faculties which make the invisible world a region they know by their own experience? If a custom be of modem growth, with only two or three centuries behind it, if it be local, not found in any ancient scripture, not justified by occult knowledge, then - however helpful it may be found by any individual in his spiritual life - it should not be imposed on any member of a particular religion as binding on him as a part of that'religion, nor should a man be looked at askance for non-compliance with it. This fact especially needs to be stressed in India, where customs that are entirely local or very modem, are apt to be identified with Hinduism in the minds of their followers, and any Hindus who do not accept them are looked upon as somewhat inferior, even as unorthodox. Such customs, even if much valued and found useful by their adherents, should not be considered as generally binding, and should fall into the class of non-essentials.
It has been well said that while in things essential there should be unity, in things non- essential there should be liberty, and in all things there should be charity. Were that wise rule followed by each, we should hear less of the religious antag- onisms and sectarian disputes that bring shame on the very word 'religion'. That which ought to unite has been the ever-springing source of division, until many have impatiently shaken off all religion as being man's worst enemy, the introducer every- where of strife and hatred.
May this little book, sent out with reverence for all religions that purify man's life, elevate his emotions, and comfort him in sorrow, be a message of peace, and not a stirrer-up of strife; for I have striven to sketch each religion in its best, its purest, and most occult form, and each as though I belonged to it and were preaching it as my own. To the Theosophist 'nothing that is human is foreign', and he has only reverent sympathy for every expression of man's longing after God. He seeks to understand all, to convert none, and in offering to share the knowledge with which he has been entrusted, he hopes to deepen every man's faith by adding to his faith knowledge, and by unveiling the common foundation which supports all religions.
Owing to pressure of time many quotations, supporting the positions taken, were either summarized or omitted in the spoken lecture. They have been inserted in their proper places, together with a few points that were in the original notes but were also omitted for lack of time.
About the Author:
They was second President of the Theosophical Society (1907-1933), was described as a Diamond Soul for she had many brilleant facets to her character. She was an outstanding orator of her time, a champion of human freedom, educationist, philanthropist and author with more than three hundred books and pamphlets to her credit. She also guided thousands of men and women all over the world in their spiritual quest.
In her earlier days in England she did remarkable work as a Freethinker and Fabian socialist, and supported many noble causes including women's rights. From 1893, she lived in India and worked indefatigable for the cultural and spiritual renaissance of the country. She organized the Home Rule movement and inspired Indians with a dynamic vision of India's future.
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Item Code: IDF569 Author: Annie Besant Cover: Paperback Edition: 2005 Publisher: The Theosophical Publishing House ISBN: 8170594642 Language: English Size: 7.1" X 4.9" Pages: 52 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 75 gms