Religion as one
God is one and hence laws emanating from God are also one. These laws are called in Sanskrit “dharma” or loosely translated to “religion” in English. I say loosely because it is not an accurate translation. Dharma can be described as the “constitutional and non-changing nature of a thing or living being” whereas religion means to simply profess one’s “faith”. This definition of religion is a far-cry from the description of dharma.
Therefore from the perspective of dharma as described above the concept of God is not a monopoly of one religion or one group of people (in other words it is not sectarian). Today, religion is sectarian (will discuss below). But if one is interested to understand the universal truths of life which is harmonious with nature (thus verifiable truth), one can follow this path of dharma which is natural and non-changing (sanatana).
This sanatana dharma is succinctly explained by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita was spoken some 5000 years ago and one can find elements of spiritual knowledge from Gita in other major religions of the world. So the Gita is a universal book of wisdom that teaches how a living being can live in harmony with nature and be happy in his or her local environment.
Religion as many
“One size does not fit all”. This is an axiomatic truth. The reason “one size does not fit all” is because not all are of the same size, shape, form, thought, color, quality or behavior. Human beings, who can comprehend God, come in varying forms, shapes and attitudes. To expect all of the myriad humans to adhere to the highest standard of God consciousness is not practical and is not acceptable. Therefore, based on one’s psycho-physiological states of existence, the “one” religion is packaged differently to the varying degree of human beings. This packaging has happened at certain points in the annals of human history by great seers of truth. People like Jesus Christ, Buddha, Muhammed etc spoke how much ever the local audience at that time could accept a Supreme God. It does not mean they spoke everything. They spoke universal thoughts of penance, charity and devotion to God but packaged to fit the local needs of the audience.
How can we say with confidence that these seers of truth did not present everything? – If we make a comparative study of philosophical ideas of all religions of the world and create a structure based on it, we will find a clear hierarchy of philosophical thought which ranges from complete to incomplete. Just as different grade students study physics at different levels of understanding, similarly different religions teach different levels of spiritual knowledge per the psycho-physiological states of human beings. This is not sectarian.
Religion as materialism
My first topic “religion as one” is purely spiritual. My second topic “religion as many” is material and spiritual. My final topic “religion as materialism” is purely material.
Today majority of believers of God (regardless of their professed faith) have one thing in common – to practice religion for satisfying their material motivations (which also leads to corrupt religious leaders). In other words, religion is used as a tool to satisfy one’s materialistic ambitions. This sense of material identity has different names such as Christian, muslim, hindu, catholic, jew, Buddhist, Methodist etc. While we need the material support system to live peacefully in this life, that is not the end all be all and religion should not be used for that purpose. This is the religion we see and experience every day and this is why there are many religions or faiths.
To put it in a nutshell– because human beings use religion and God for satisfying their selfish material motivations (attitude of consumerism), we have many faiths and many religions. Unless we have a desire to rise above this attitude of consumerism (materialism), we will not find the true dharma which is inherent within all beings, which is universal and transcendent.