Proposition: All religions are equal – This formulation is understood to mean equal in some particular sense and not in the sense that all religions are identical.
Response: Since it is self-evident that any two religions have some noticeable differences, “equal” cannot mean identical. It can mean equal in some particular sense. All religions are equal as religious entities in the same sense as all individuals are equal as legal entities. When the truth is held self-evident that all people are created equal, it does not follow that they have the same weight, height, physical features, IQ, …Rather, what is meant is that no individual is entitled to a privileged position. Nor does it mean that one person cannot be picked in preference over another based on differences. Thus, what Hinduism is saying is that all religions are equal in the sense that they all make truth-claims and none of the can claim its truth-claims to be true and there proceed to null-doze all others to be false.
“All religions are equal” acquires the same revolutionary force which the cry “All me are created equal” had on the lips of those who stormed the Bastille.
Proposition: All religions are One – If ultimately everything is Brahman, and all there is Brahman, then any differences between religions is superficial and perceived as real because of ignorance. Therefore, all religions are one when one looks beyond their superficial differences.
Response: The idea of oneness in “All religions are one” has been made one with the idea of oneness of Brahman. The two have been collapsed into one claiming that the collapse is justified by non-duality ideas of Advaita. Advaita does not say that manifestation of the Universe and differentiation of things manifest are homogeneous in ultimate reality. The key element to remember when talking about ultimate reality is not the “oneness” but the “indescribability”, not its unity but ineffability.
If the ideas of oneness are not the same, then what do Hindus mean by oneness in saying “All religions are One”? Hindu idea of oneness for religions is an idea of tolerance. Hindu idea of tolerance is as much connected to Hindu theism as with Hindu non-duality.
Proposition: All religions are the same – This formulation is understood to mean that all religions are means to the same end, furnishing men with different but partial insights into nature of reality of equal value.
Response: This position holds that all religions are merely paths and do not have any truth associated with their particulars. Thus, differences in particulars of the religions is irrelevant to the ultimate truth. They merely are different paths to the same goal or destination and hence ultimately false.
This is at best an extreme position even for Advaita which asserts the dependent reality of Saguna Brahman and the Universe which are not false but relative truths. Besides, Hindus who are non-Advaitins certainly do not accept that their path is false.
Proposition: All religions are essentially the same – This formulation suggests that, upon careful enquiry, one finds that the essence of all religions is the same. Their differences are only superficial.
Response: A generality of all religions has been postulated called the essence with all religions as particulars of this general essence. Problem with this is that an essence is posited but we are not told what the essence really consists of. At a minimum, there needs to be an argument cannot but be based on a common, general essence. This has not been done either.
Proposition: All religions have an abiding sense of the Universal – Thisthere is an abiding sense of the Universal, then this Universal has to exist independent of the religions it abides in. Why? Many religions have a known beginning and some have disappeared. Therefore, what is abiding is not the particulars of religions but the Universal essence that is contained in all of them.
Response: This argument suffers from not establishing that there needs to be a common abiding sense of the Universal. It also fails to offer any indication of what this shared sense of Universal is.
Question: Can the Hindu position be “All religions are true?”. If so, what is its intended meaning?
Response: Yes, it is the Hindu position. It is best understood as the diametric opposite of “My religion alone is true and all else are false.” The intended meaning is “Each of the religions may be true or false. When Hindus use words like same or valid or equal or equally true or One, they are not suggesting Homogeneity. Because of the metaphysical nature of essential claims of a religion, there is no way of ascertaining its truth or falsity. Thus, one cannot be designated as truth and the rest designated as false.”
Written by Arvind Sharma