"Guha" is a Sanskrit word that means a cave. It can also figuratively denote the inner recesses of the mind or the heart. In Upanishadic texts, in their flights of fancy, there are many metaphorical references to the experiences of the "one" who dwells in this cave.
Strikingly, the Islamic season of fasting and cleansing, ending today with Eid also commemorates the first revelation that Prophet Mohammed received in AD 610 or thereabouts, while he meditated inside a cave, in the mountains of Hira, one of the loneliest of places in the Arabian desert.
Meditation, fasting, revelation, and enlightenment are common to all the major religions in the world. The Buddha received his moment of revelation while engrossed in deep meditation under a peepul tree at Gaya. "I shall sit under this tree and meditate upon my questions. And I shall not move until I have my answers. Even if my skin rots and my body decays, I shall not budge till I see the light".
This "light" of the spiritual world — akin to an Archimedean Eureka moment — should be similar to the light we experience in the physical world, which is non-sectarian, objective to everyone and non-differentiated in its impact.
Likewise, fasting is a synonym for penance and penitence irrespective of the faith that you belong to. Lent is a good example for Christians. The Jains carry this to extremes through abstention for very long periods. In what we call the Hindu tradition too, fasting for various periods is part of the process of spiritual progression.
Fasting during Ramzan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Along with Shahada (faith), Salat(prayer), Zakat (alms), Sawm (fasting) and Hajj (pilgrimage) constitute these five pillars. These religious procedures are not unique and we understand that at the core of all religions, there are similitude and congruities.
It is not only procedures that are similar but the principles too. The Surah Al Ikhlas, which is revered as one of the most important chapters (112th) in the Koran, pulsates with the theme that we find in Sanskrit religious texts. Renuka Narayanan, a scholar of comparative religions, quotes this in her "The Book of Prayer": "In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful…Say, God is One, God is eternal. He begets not, nor is He begotten. There is none like Him".
To a discerning follower of any religious persuasion, these are beliefs that can be readily accepted. In fact, the moment you read this Surah, you are reminded of "na jaayate, mriyate (neither is It born nor does It die") from Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita.
Those who have dug deep into all religions speak to us with conviction that the essence of all faiths is the same. "I became…convinced that it was … the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle," stated Mahatma Gandhi of Islam and the Prophet. (Collected Works Vol. 29, p.134).
As we live in a world in which the mix of various religions sometimes appears to be a tinderbox, it is time to reiterate what is common and contemporaneously logical in all of them. The Kerala Governor, a rare polymath-politician, citing verses from the Quran, says that "the diversity of belief and its various expressions in no way defy the divine will and purpose". ‘For every people, there is a direction to which they face (in their prayers). So hasten towards all that is good.(2.148)," he quotes in his brilliant tome "Text and Context: Quran and contemporary challenges".
In this season of Ramzan/Eid, we have to reiterate the harmonising elements and not harp on the differences. Differences there will be and probably can never be defaced but ultimately the purpose of all faiths should be to move forward in the direction set by India's illustrious saint, Vivekananda, who said: "We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran; yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of "The Religion", which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best".
(S Adikesavan is a top executive with a bank)