World Scripture


This section contains selected passages calling for tolerance and respect for believers of other religions, and for conscientious people generally. Believers are urged to treat everyone with equal respect, not to have a different standard of conduct for people of other faiths than for one's own community. Religious disputes and doctrinal conflicts are condemnable; they are often motivated by egoism disguised as piety, and by displaying enmity they do not give proper witness to one's faith. The polemicist betrays his ignorance: attached to his own partial viewpoint, he cannot see the possible validity of another's. Herein is included the famous parable, found in many sources, of the blind men and the elephant. It teaches the folly of regarding any single religious perspective as absolute and complete. Such is also the import of the Jain doctrine of Anekanta, which regards all disparate doctrines as complementary parts of a single whole.

There is no compulsion in religion.

1. Islam. Qur'an 2.256

Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe? No soul can believe, except by the Will of God.

2. Islam. Qur'an 10.99-100

Those who praise their own doctrines and disparage the doctrines of others do not solve any problem.

3. Jainism. Sutrakritanga 1.1.50

The Buddha says, "To be attached to a certain view and to look down upon others' views as inferior--this the wise men call a fetter."

4. Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 798

Qur'an 2.256: Cf. Analects 12.19, p. 1072. Qur'an 10.99-100: Cf. Qur'an 16:125, p. 1026. Sutta Nipata 798: Cf. 1 Corinthians 8.1-3, p. 796; Diamond Sutra 21, p. 800.

Truth has many aspects. Infinite truth has infinite expressions. Though the sages speak in divers ways, they express one and the same Truth.

Ignorant is he who says, "What I say and know is true; others are wrong." It is because of this attitude of the ignorant that there have been doubts and misunderstandings about God. This attitude it is that causes dispute among men. But all doubts vanish when one gains self-control and attains tranquillity by realizing the heart of Truth. Thereupon dispute, too, is at an end.

5. Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.15

Kapathika, "How should a wise man maintain truth?"

The Buddha, "A man has a faith. If he says 'This is my faith,' so far he maintains truth. But by that he cannot proceed to the absolute conclusion: 'This alone is Truth, and everything else is false.'"

6. Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya, Canki-sutta

Comprehend one philosophical view through comprehensive study of another one.

7. Jainism. Acarangasutra 5.113

All the doctrines are right in their own respective spheres--but if they encroach upon the province of other doctrines and try to refute their views, they are wrong. A man who holds the view of the cumulative character of truth never says that a particular view is right or that a particular view is wrong.

8. Jainism. Sanmatitarka of Siddhasena 1.28

9. Like the bee, gathering honey from different flowers, the wise man accepts the essence of different scriptures and sees only the good in all religions.

9. Hinduism. Srimad Bhagavatam 11.3

And nearest to them in love to the believers you will find those who say, "We are Christians," because among them are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant. And when they listen to the revelation received by the Apostle, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears, for they recognize the truth. They pray, "Our Lord! we believe; write us down among the witnesses."

10. Islam. Qur'an 5.82-83

A Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and ordered that [Peter and the apostles] be put outside for a while. And he said to the council, "Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!"

11. Christianity. Bible, Acts 5.34-39

Sanmatitarka: Cf. Tattvarthaslokavartika 116, p. 806. Qur'an 5.82-83: Those Christians of the time of Muhammad exemplified an attitude that is ever essential to interreligious understanding: we should be open to recognize the truth in another's religion and rejoice in it.

A man among the Muslims and a man among the Jews reviled one another. The Muslim said, "By Him who chose Muhammad above the universe," and the Jew said, "By Him who chose Moses above the universe." Thereupon the Muslim raised his hand and struck the Jew on his face, and the Jew went to the Prophet and told him what had happened between him and the Muslim. The Prophet summoned the Muslim and asked him about that, and when he informed him the Prophet said, "Do not make me superior to Moses, for mankind will swoon on the day of resurrection and I shall swoon along with them. I shall be the first to recover and see Moses seizing the side of the Throne; and I shall not know whether he was among those who had swooned and had recovered before me, or whether he was among those of whom God had made an exception.... Do not make distinctions between the Prophets."

12. Islam. Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim

Suppose you and I have had an argument. If you have beaten me instead of my beating you, then are you necessarily right and am I necessarily wrong? If I have beaten you instead of your beating me, then am I necessarily right and are you necessarily wrong? Is one of us right and the other wrong? Are both of us right or are both of us wrong? If you and I don't know the answer, then other people are bound to be even more in the dark. Whom shall we get to decide what is right? Shall we get someone who agrees with you to decide? But if he already agrees with you, how can he decide fairly? Shall we get someone who agrees with me? But if he already agrees with me, how can he decide? Shall we get someone who disagrees with both of us?... But waiting for one shifting voice [to decide for] another is the same as waiting for none of them. Harmonize them all with the Heavenly Equality, leave them to their endless changes, and so live out your years. What do I mean by harmonizing them with the Heavenly Equality? Right is not right; so is not so. If right were really right, it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument. If so were really so, it would differ so clearly from not so that there would be no need for argument. Forget the years; forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home!

13. Taoism. Chuang Tzu 2

Acts 5.34-39: The liberal attitude of Rabbi Gamaliel swayed the council to allow Peter and the apostles freedom to preach the Christian gospel in Jerusalem. Christians use this passage to argue for toleration of unconventional sects and opinions. Gamaliel's dictum, that undertakings of men will fail but those of God cannot be defeated, is consistent with Jewish teaching: cf. Abot 4.14, p. 1081. Chuang Tzu 2: Cf. Chuang Tzu 2, p. 181; Tao Te Ching 2, p. 801; also Digha Nikaya i.3, p. 1005.

A number of disciples went to the Buddha and said, "Sir, there are living here in Savatthi many wandering hermits and scholars who indulge in constant dispute, some saying that the world is infinite and eternal and others that it is finite and not eternal, some saying that the soul dies with the body and others that it lives on forever, and so forth. What, Sir, would you say concerning them?"

The Buddha answered, "Once upon a time there was a certain raja who called to his servant and said, 'Come, good fellow, go and gather together in one place all the men of Savatthi who were born blind... and show them an elephant.' 'Very good, sire,' replied the servant, and he did as he was told. He said to the blind men assembled there, 'Here is an elephant,' and to one man he presented the head of the elephant, to another its ears, to another a tusk, to another the trunk, the foot, back, tail, and tuft of the tail, saying to each one that that was the elephant.

"When the blind men had felt the elephant, the raja went to each of them and said to each, 'Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?'

"Thereupon the men who were presented with the head answered, 'Sire, an elephant is like a pot.' And the men who had observed the ear replied, 'An elephant is like a winnowing basket.' Those who had been presented with a tusk said it was a ploughshare. Those who knew only the trunk said it was a plough; others said the body was a grainery; the foot, a pillar; the back, a mortar; the tail, a pestle, the tuft of the tail, a brush.

"Then they began to quarrel, shouting, 'Yes it is!' 'No, it is not!' 'An elephant is not that!' 'Yes, it's like that!' and so on, till they came to blows over the matter.

"Brethren, the raja was delighted with the scene.

"Just so are these preachers and scholars holding various views blind and unseeing.... In their ignorance they are by nature quarrelsome, wrangling, and disputatious, each maintaining reality is thus and thus."

Then the Exalted One rendered this meaning by uttering this verse of uplift,

O how they cling and wrangle, some who claim
For preacher and monk the honored name!
For, quarreling, each to his view they cling.
Such folk see only one side of a thing.

14. Jainism and Buddhism. Udana 68-69: Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant

Do not break a promise, not that which you contracted with a non-Zoroastrian nor that with a co-religionist. Both are valid.

15. Zoroastrianism. Avesta, Mihir Yasht 10.2

Udana 68-69: We give a version of this well-known Indian tale from the Buddhist canon, but some assert it is of Jain origin. It does illustrate well the Jain doctrine of Anekanta, the manysidedness of things. Cf. Tattvarthaslokavartika 116, p. 806. Mihir Yast 10.2: Cf. Analects 15.5, p. 1020.

Revile not those unto whom they pray besides God, lest they out of spite revile God through ignorance.

16. Islam. Qur'an 6.108

Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

17. Christianity. Bible, 1 Peter 2.12

Our rabbis have taught, "We support the poor of the heathen along with the poor of Israel, visit the sick of the heathen along with the sick of Israel, and bury the [dead] poor of the heathen along with the dead of Israel, in the interests of peace."

18. Judaism. Talmud, Gittin 61a

1 Peter 2.12: Cf. 2 Corinthians 6.3-13; Lotus Sutra 14, pp. 1028f. Gittin 61a: Cf. Sotah 14a, p. 988; Hadith of Bukhari, p. 970; Gandavyuha Sutra, 990f.