HAVE YOU EVER STOPPED to think of how much we have inherited from others? I don't mean houses, land, money or family heirlooms, but things like the present state of civilization that people of the past— some known to us, most not— have worked for and built up. On the negative side of this is the depletion of natural resources and the pollution of air, earth and water that has gone on since the advent of Man upon the Earth; we have inherited this, too. Then, the culture and language of the people we were somehow born among became ours— not by choice, but in the same way we drank our mother's milk— automatically and without question. None of us created a single letter of the alphabet, and don't know who did; but we all use words made up thereof— letters and words of others— without thinking, but assuming they are our own. How indebted we are to those who preceded us!

Other things we inherited from others are beliefs and concepts concerning life-after-death, God, Heaven, Hell, etc. If no-one had told us about such things, or if we had not read about them somewhere, would we have such beliefs and concepts? Seeing people and other living things die, we might wonder what happens after death, but it is unlikely that any of us, by ourselves, would develop a full-blown philosophy about it; such things develop over a long period of time or are the results of deep insights on the part of certain 'gifted' individuals. But most of us just accept the handed-down beliefs of our families and cultures; it is part of our conditioning from the time of our birth, and much of it is wrong, distorted, inaccurate or incomplete.

I once read a story about a tribe of people who had no written language. Never having had one they didn't miss it, as we would if we were suddenly to be deprived of it; they managed quite well with the spoken word- except one man who had been born deaf-and-dumb. He was more severely handicapped than such people are today, who can learn how to read braille and to 'spell' words by signs. Lacking speech, hearing and a written language he was cut off not only from normal communication with people but from the accumulated knowledge of his time— things that we take so much for granted.

There are many religions and philosophies; some concur on many points and disagree slightly with others, like Judaism and Islam, while some have little in common but much at variance with others, like Christianity and Hinduism. No religion has been able to demonstrate, beyond question, that what it claims to be true is true, and as a result of this, conflict about religion has gone on throughout history, from the time of, and maybe before, Pharoah Akhnaten—who was the first to introduce the concept of Monotheism 15 centuries B.C.— and none of us are immune from it today, whether we call ourselves by a particular brand-name or not. We do not have to live in India, where Sikhs kill Hindus and Hindus kill Muslims, or Lebanon, where Muslims kill Christians, or in Northern Ireland, where Catholics and Protestants kill each other; religious madness can easily come to us, wherever we live; the world has shrunk, and no-one is really isolated anymore; we all share in the World-Karma today, more than ever before. Terrorist bombs kill innocent people far from the country of origin of the terrorists, many of whom strangely claim to be religious. Religious fanaticism did not end with the Crusades, but is virulently alive.

Is it not odd, and a bizarre contradiction, how people can hate and kill in the name of religion? Surely, no religion teaches anyone to do that; on the contrary, religions exhort people to live together in peace and harmony. Why, then, when it is within the capacity of anyone today to get a good grasp of the tenets of religion, do we have so much religious strife in the world? It is a great enigma!

Due to increased literacy, multiple modes of communication, ease of travel, etc., it is possible for people to learn about their religion— and about other religions, too— much easier than in former times, but this doesn't mean that people make use of the opportunities to learn, does it? Some do, but most can't be bothered; many still cling to the idea that their religion is— must be, without a doubt— the best religion (and in some cases, the only religion!), merely because it is their religion, and without knowing anything at all about other religions, or wanting to know; and often, we find that such people are proud of their ignorance and consider it a virtue rather than a shortcoming. This is because they are Believers, not Knowers.

And it is this— Belief as opposed to Knowledge— that has always been, and still is, the main point of contention between Religion and Science. Can the gap ever be bridged, or must it remain forever wide? It can, if Religion is seen not as something to believe in or something to identify with, something that allows for the extension of self, but as something to be lived by and applied in our relationships with others. If Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and so on really tried to apply their religions, there would not be— could not be— any religious conflict. As it is, though, with so many 'religious' conflicts going on in the world, does it not signify that religious names have entirely lost their meanings? Therefore, why should we use them any more? If we are serious about living religiously, no name is necessary; Life, undivided, is Religion.

A serious assessment of our life would enable us to deter-mine how much is ours by inheritance— and as such, not really ours— and how much by earning, by choice, by experience and conviction. We'd probably find that we have little that is really our own, but don't worry, as this would enable us to travel forward lightly, freed from the accumulated baggage of the past, much of which is a lot of old junk. By this, I do not mean that we should suddenly jettison everything of the past, wholesale and unchecked, but that we should examine things, by the light of reason and experience, to see if they have any further value and are worth retaining, or should be put into the museum or garbage-can; the dross should be separated from the gold.

Contrary to what many of us think, cultures do not divide us; what divides us is a clinging to culture, with a dislike or fear of other cultures. Cultures touch and overlap each other like the scales of a fish or the tiles of a roof; they are not distinct and cut off from each other in air-tight compartments; there is no need to cling, chauvinistically and xenophobically, to our own culture and denigrate others, when we can— and do— benefit so much from other cultures. Several examples: the Arabs of the Middle East always had oil beneath their feet; it wasn't something that was suddenly invented with the advent of the internal-combustion engine; but, lacking the technology to tap and refine their oil-resources, they had to depend upon people of other cultures who had the necessary means.

How can we live divided and cut off from each other? Look at your TV, car, watch, cassette-player, refrigerator, etc., to see where they were made: the chances are they were made by people other than of your own race or nation. But so what? They work for you, don't they? Be happy that someone— even if you don't know who— made them. If you were a millionaire but no-one had invented or made TV, you wouldn't be able to watch it, for all your money! Rejoice, therefore, in what is becoming a World-Culture, and realize you are part of it, whether you like it or not, just as you are part of the Human Race!

Another, if less obvious, example of how we have benefited from other cultures, is the use of numbers. For many centuries, Europeans used the Roman numerical system, which had no zero. Imagine the difficulty of multiplying XVI by CLVII, for example, or dividing LXIII by XIX. The use of Arabic numerals, and the zero (which originated in India), made things— building, and the development of science, for instance, not to mention the counting of money— so much easier. Whoever thinks that zero means nothing is sadly mistaken; if it did, there would be no point in using it, would there?

Reluctance, fear or refusal to investigate religions and cultures other than our own, not only reveals a deep-seated sense of insecurity, but deprives us of countless riches, and restricts us, like a frog in a well; also, it leads, almost as a matter of course, to bigotry and the terrible consequences that flow therefrom. If we reflect on the amount of suffering and destruction caused by religious fanaticism, and realize that it comes mainly from ignorance, we will also see that something may be done to lessen, if not to prevent, its continuance, by striving to open our minds about such things as culture and religion, which, by their natures, are limited and incomplete.

We don’t have to be Christians to feel inspired by the profound atmosphere of the great cathedrals of Notre Dame or Rheims, nor Muslims to appreciate the ineffable beauty of the Taj Mahal or the Blue Mosque, nor Buddhists to marvel at the stupendous stupas of Borobudur or Shwe Dagon, nor Hindus to be thrilled at the size and splendor of the Meenakshi Temple or the Kailash rock-temple at Ellora; nor need we be Druids, Egyptians, Incas, etc., to view with awe Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Macchu Picchu, the Parthenon, the Great Wall, and so on. Nor must we be English, Americans, Germans, Indians, Japanese, etc., to benefit from the scientific, technological and artistic creations and discoveries of such peoples. All we need be are human beings, members of the HUMAN RACE.

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