Intercession vs. Enlightenment
One of the striking differences between the religions of the world is the concept of intercession. Many religions preach the idea that there is someone (typically called a Prophet) who is capable of interceding on our behalf and take us to heaven or eternity or what have you. The interceding personality is “semi divine” and endowed with all kinds of mystic powers that enable them to accomplish this feat. Come judgement day and all we have to do is to be on the good books of the prophet! We don’t have to worry about anything else. The prophet himself (in most cases it is a male) has the divine control over God and is very close to God.
It is possible that these religions conceived of the Prophet with the aim of using him as a model for emulation. Thus the Prophet is typically a man with such lofty ideals and conduct that, to just emulate him, would guarantee the believer a place in heaven. We will have more words to say on the notion of heaven itself later. But let us delve a little more on the concept of a Prophet.
A Prophet, aka a Messiah in certain circles, is readily recognized in the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). But the eastern religions have Gurus who sometimes come close to a Prophet. But there are important differences which I would elaborate later on in this post. I think the Prophet or Guru is very useful because of the following reasons:
- The believers see a person worthy of emulation right in front of them(or maybe read about him from their scriptures). Often, this person is portrayed as worthy of emulation in not just the physical but the mental level. Think like Buddha for instance may be an injunction that is preached to the Buddhists.
- The prophet is conceived to protect the believer beyond death. Hence Prophets and Gurus sustain the soul till eternity unlike our earthly parents and relations, who despite their best intentions, cannot take care of us once we shed this body.
Thus, the Prophet attains a tremendous level of importance. This role, like any other important role, is susceptible to be misused by charlatans. Thus we have false prophets, messiahs and gurus who tarnish the image of others.
Differences between a Prophet and a Guru
There are important difference between Abrahamic religions and Eastern religions in their beliefs about prophets or Gurus.
The chief difference, I think, lies in the fundamental concept of intercession itself. Eastern religions such as Hinduism or Buddhism embrace the role of a Guru but the Guru does not have the ability to intercede on an individual’s behalf with God or anyone. These religions lay more emphasis on individual Karma and how enlightenment (which is the ultimate goal of all mankind) transcends all karma. The end goal of an individual is spiritual Enlightenment (more on this in the next paragraph). A Guru can aid in this process by making the believer to follow some prescribed routes that have hitherto yielded fruit. This means that:
- The Guru cannot attain enlightenment on our behalf.
- The Guru can only point us in some approximate direction and we will need to follow suit from then on
A corollary of the above is that the Guru cannot be equated with God or does not have specific privileges beyond ordinary mortals. Eastern religions also admit of the existence of multiple Gurus. Another prevalent doctrine is that the same Guru is not for everyone. It is possible that one believer’s Guru is different from another believer’s Guru. This is also in keeping with the multi faceted approach of Hinduism towards enlightenment. A person can attain enlightenment by following multiple paths. He or she is not constrained or strait jacketed into one fixed path. Since the same Guru is typically not proficient in multiple paths, each person can choose their Guru according to their individual choice.
The Heaven Concept
Heaven is the Utopia for many religions. Heaven is the place where believers goto dwell for all Eternity. The Prophet is conceived as the divine being who will intercede with God on the believer’s behalf to pave their way to heaven. But in Eastern religions, the ultimate objective of human beings is to “understand” their Oneness with God. The non perception of Duality is the ultimate objective. This state of non perception is called by various names such as Moksha, Nirvana, Enlightenment etc. This state itself is highly individual. Hence there cannot be an interceding personality who can do on this on behalf of the believers. This is because, recognizing a “separate entity” distinct from the individual itself is not possible when Duality is gone. Hence even the perception of a Guru or a prophet would vanish the moment the person becomes “enlightened”. This, in my view, is a fundamental difference between Eastern and Abrahamic religions of the middle east.
Problems of Messianic proportion
The very stature endowed to a Messiah, is capable of being manipulated by charlatans for their own nefarious ends. A scheming person can declare himself (or herself) as a “Messiah” and prey on people’s gullibilities to dominate over innocent people. Since the entire religion is bestowed on the believers by these fake Messiahs, it is possible that religious beliefs can be twisted to favor the Messiah. This is the biggest problem with Prophethood and gives religion a very bad reputation in general. Many times, so called “sayings” of God are nothing but the “sayings” of the Prophet. The Prophet in short becomes God’s frontend man and manipulates the believer’s gullibility and steers them away from God. This is very reminiscent of a Hindu proverb which says “Sometimes, even if God blesses us, the priest stands on the way”. This saying is very true with false Prophets and Messiahs.
So, the necessary attribute for every religious person is to develop the discrimination that is necessary to distinguish between the Good and the Bad. May the Lord help us in that!
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti