“All religions lead to the same goal”, is a concept widely subscribed mostly by educated Hindus. I feel that this well-meaning concept needs to be enquired into and understood.

If all religions have a well-defined common goal, the difference would be purely cultural. Difference of culture is totally acceptable, to any thinking person. If the goal of various religions is the same, there will be no religious issue necessitating any discussion. But then what is the truth of the statement “All religions lead to the same goal”?

If ethical values constitute the goal of religion, certainly there is a singular goal adopted by all religions, the ethical values being universal. But, should any person be religious to be ethical? Is there a necessity to be educated by religious scriptures to know what is ethical and what is not? Is it not true that any normal human being is well informed about the universal values? An aborigine in the outback of Australia as even a pandita from Benares has the same value in not getting hurt at the hands of another. That others also do not want to get hurt from him or her is also very well known to the person. Other values like non-stealing, compassion, sharing and so on are equally known facts. In fact, they form the moral infra-structure for human interaction with one another and also with the other living organisms in the world. This value-knowledge is born of human common-sense. When there is this faculty of choice for a human being, there should be a matrix of norms known to him for making the right choices. If the human being is totally programmed, there will be no such thing as right or wrong in human behaviour. Without religious masters and religious scriptures preaching about right and wrong, one is very well informed about them. Therefore, ethical values cannot constitute the goal of any religion, for one can be ethical without being anyway religious. On the other hand, some religions take away the universality of these common-sense-born value by giving sanction to killing of those who do not conform to their beliefs and who articulate their non-conformity. That the common-sense-born ethics are better off, without any interference of religion, is really a cause for sadness. In fact, religion should confirm the universal values as most of them do. The Vedic religion adds strength to the value-structure by introducing the adrsta phala of punya and papa for actions that are right and wrong. Many other popular religions also introduce this element of reward and punishment. Suppose the goal for all religions is just reward or punishment, we may be able to say that all religions have the same goal in spite of differences in these rewards and punishments.

Theology differs from religion to religion. The concept of reality of God, world and you is again thought of differently. More often, God is looked upon as a judgemental person located in a place yonder. Reaching that place and living with him is the goal. Neither the Vedic religion nor Buddhism will accept this as a goal. Much less will a devout Christian accept a goal other than reaching the heaven promised by his scripture. Then, what does the statement that “all religions lead to the same goal” mean?

For a vaidika who accepts with total understanding that this world including one’s body-mind-sense complex is the Lord’s manifestation, any form of prayer and worship is valid. Every name and form is valid enough to invoke the Lord, the Lord being every name and form. But prayer either mental, oral or ritualistic is a karma, capable of producing a result. The given result is not the goal of religions much less the goal of any individual even if one thinks so. The goal of an informed vaidika is freedom from a sense of limitation centred on I. Can there be an ultimate goal for a human being other than this? This freedom, moksa, from this sense of limitation is the human goal.

The Veda says that the sense of limitation is due to one not knowing oneself. Then it is obvious that the human goal is Self-knowledge. The various theologies of various world religions and that of some cuts in Vedic religion as well do not have anything to do with this goal. They are committed to their own beliefs even though they are non-verifiable and more often than not, unreasonable. They have a right to have their beliefs which do not have any space for accommodating other religious goals. But these beliefs are not acceptable to any thinking person. They are not acceptable to a person who understands moksa either. So all that a vaidika can say is “all forms of prayer are valid”. Being an act, a karma, each prayer can produce a limited result. One wants a limited result too in life. But it can never be the goal of religion much less of a human being.

– Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswati