World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts
Editor, Andrew Wilson
Scripture Teaches In Parables
The scriptures contain passages which qualify the truth of their own doctrines. Recognizing that scripture may be expressed in parables and symbolic language, they teach that spiritual discernment is required for its proper interpretation. Scripture also cautions us from believing that any system of doctrine contains the entirety of truth, for in reality, God's truth is infinite. Rather, as the Buddhist texts tell us, the teachings of religion are limited to what is needful and useful humankind's salvation.
We have put forth for men in this Qur'an every kind of parable, in order that they may receive admonition.
Islam. Qur'an 39.27
Knowing that all the living have many and various desires deep-rooted in their minds, I have, according to their capacity, expounded the various laws by which these [desires] could be overcome with various reasonings, parabolic expressions, and expedients.
Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 2
And when he was alone, those who were about him with the twelve [disciples] asked [Jesus] concerning the parables. And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven."
Christianity. Mark 4.10-12
Mark 4.10-12: Jesus gives the reason he teaches in parables by quoting from Isaiah 6.9-10. The prophet Isaiah's words are a bitter commentary on the people's rejection of his ministry; though he preached God's words, the people's minds were darkened and they could not respond. Jesus was similarly misunderstood. Yet he still endeavored to give a gentle and gradual message, one that could be received even by babes, through teaching in simple parables. These could be understood by those who had ears to hear. Cf. Matthew 13.14-15, p. 400.
It is He who sent down upon you the Book, wherein are verses clear that are the Essence of the Book, and others ambiguous. As for those in whose hearts is swerving, they follow the ambiguous part, desiring dissension, and desiring its interpretation; and none knows its interpretation, save only God. And those firmly rooted in knowledge say, "We believe in it; all is from our Lord"; yet none remembers, but men possessed of minds.
Islam. Qur'an 3.7
The written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Christianity. 2 Corinthians 3.6
Look, I will draw my sword to fight the Vedas, I will put shackles on the Shastras, I will whip the back of the books of Logic, And I will chop off the nose of the Agamas. [I don't give a damn about my high birth; I have no hesitation to say,] I am the son of the cobbler Chennyye. O most bountiful Lord, Kudala Sangama.
Hinduism. Basavanna, Vachana 716
The biblical tales are only the Torah's outer garments, and woe to him who regards these as being the Torah itself!
Judaism. Zohar, Numbers 152a
He who does not know that indestructible Being of the Rig Veda, that highest ether-like Self wherein all the gods reside, of what use is the Rig Veda to him? Those only who know It rest contented.
Hinduism. Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.8
First take up the words, Ponder their meaning, Then the fixed rules reveal themselves. But if you are not the right man, The meaning will not manifest itself to you.
Confucianism. I Ching, Great Commentary 2.8.4
Qur'an 3.7: Cf. Qur'an 2.269, p. 789; Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2, pp. 598f. Svetasvatara Upanishad 4.8: Cf. Pancastikaya 170, p. 218; Ramkali, M.5, p. 62. Vachana 719: Basavanna, a brahmin by birth, regarded the cobblers and untouchables as his brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. For this breach of caste taboos he was constantly rebuked by brahmins quoting scripture. Cf. Vachana 589, p. 280.
When the man of highest capacities hears the Tao He does his best to put it into practice. When the man of middling capacity hears the Tao He is in two minds about it. When the man of low capacity hears Tao He laughs loudly at it. If he did not laugh, it would not be worth the name of Tao.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 41
Jesus answered them, "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man's will is to do his will, he shall know whether this teaching is from God or whether I am speaking from my own authority."
Christianity. John 7.16-17
In the unessential they imagine the essential, in the essential they see the unessential--they who entertain such wrong thoughts never realize the essence.
What is essential they regard as essential, what is unessential they regard as unessential--they who entertain such right thoughts realize the essence.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 11-12
Were you to cleanse the mirror of your heart from the dust of malice, you would apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God made manifest in every dispensation, and would discover the mysteries of divine knowledge. Not, however, until you consume with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current among men, can you behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge.
Baha'i Faith. Book of Certitude, 68-69
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. "For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Christianity. 1 Corinthians 2.12-16
Tao Te Ching 41: See Chuang Tzu 14, p. 718, and the Parable of the Sower, Mark 4.3-20, pp. 718f. Book of Certitude, 68-69: For an example of Baha'i interpretation of symbols from the Bible, see Book of Certitude, 33-41, p. 1095. 1 Corinthians 2.12-16: Interpretation of scripture should be by the inspiration of the Spirit. It is said that even the devil can quote scripture. Only with the discernment born of the Spirit of God is the Word of God understood in all its depth and power. The quotation is from Isaiah 40.13. Cf. 1 Corinthians 2.6-10, p. 538.
Undiscerning men, theologians preoccupied with scriptural lore, Who claim there is nothing else, utter words with ephemeral results. Their words promise better births through cultic acts, dwell at length on various rites, And aim at pleasure and power. These men are full of desire, zealous for heaven. They cling to pleasures and power and are fooled by their own discourses. They have no knowledge consisting in commitment, fixed in concentration. The Scriptures speak to the world's weave of integrity, passion, and sloth. Transcend it, Arjuna, Free from opposites, forever in integrity, detached from things, in command of yourself. All the Scriptures mean as much--no more, no less-- to the discerning spiritual man As a water tank in a universal flood.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 2.42-46
And if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it [were ink], the words of God could not be spent. Lo! God is Mighty, Wise.
Islam. Qur'an 31.27
The water from the ocean contained in a pot can neither be called an ocean nor non-ocean, but it can be called only part of the ocean. Similarly, a doctrine, though arising from the Absolute Truth, is neither the Truth nor not the Truth.
Jainism. Vidyanandi, Tattvarthaslokavartika 116
The Word is measured in four quarters. The wise who possess insight know these four divisions. Three quarters, concealed in secret, cause no movement. The fourth is the quarter that is spoken by men.
Hinduism. Rig Veda 1.164.45
The first man did not know her [Wisdom] perfectly, the last one has not fathomed her; for her thought is more abundant than the sea, and her counsel deeper than the great abyss.
Christianity. Sirach 24.26-27
Bhagavad Gita 2.42-46: Cf. the Parable of the Raft, Majjhima Nikaya i.134-35, 802; Mulamadhyamaka Karika 24.8-12, pp. 1021f. Tattvarthaslokavartika 116: Cf. Sanmatitarka 1.28, p. 66; Parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant, Udana 68-69, p. 68. Rig Veda 1.164.45: Cf. Rig Veda 10.90.1-4, p. 97; Kena Upanishad 2.1-3, p. 87.
Behold, you are my son; wherefore look, and I will show you the workmanship of my hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1.4
I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
Christianity. John 16.12-13
For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully.
Christianity. 1 Corinthians 13.9-12
And We sent Messengers before you, and We assigned to them wives and seed; and it was not for any Messengers to bring a sign, but by God's leave. Every term has a Book.
God blots out, and He establishes whatsoever He will; and with Him is the Essence of the Book.
Whether We show you a part of that We promise them, or We call you unto Us, it is you only to deliver the message, and Ours is the reckoning.
Islam. Qur'an 13.38-40
John 16.12-13: Jesus only had three years to teach his disciples, and many truths of heaven were left unrevealed. The Spirit continues to inspire us with new and deeper insights into truth. Qur'an 13.38-40: The 'Essence of the Book' is the fullness of truth known only to God; what is revealed in the Qur'an and in the previous scriptures may only be a part of this fullness of truth. How is Muhammad or any of the prophets, who are but mortals, to know?
Thus I have heard.
On a certain occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Savatthi in Jetavana monastery in Anathapindika's Park. Now it happened to the venerable Malunkyaputta, being in seclusion and plunged in meditation, that a consideration presented itself to his mind, as follows:
"These theories which the Blessed One has left unelucidated, has set aside and rejected--that the world is eternal, that the world is not eternal, that the world is finite, that the world is infinite, that the soul and the body are identical, that the soul is one thing and the body another, that the saint exists after death, that the saint does not exist after death, that the saint both exists and does not exist after death, that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death--these the Blee does not elucidate to me. And the fact that the Blessed One does not elucidate them to me does not please me nor suit me. Therefore I will draw near to the Blessed One and inquire of him concerning these matters. If the Blessed one will elucidate to me, either that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal..., in that case I will lead the religious life under the Blessed One. If the Blessed One will not elucidate [these matters] to me..., in that case I will abandon religious training and return to the lower life of a layman."
Then the venerable Malunkyaputta arose at eventide from his seclusion, and drew near to where the Blessed One was; and having drawn near and greeted the Blessed One, he sat down respectfully at one side. And seated respectfully at one side, Malunkyaputta asked his question....
[The Buddha replied], "Pray, Malunkyaputta, did I ever say to you, 'Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the religious life under me, and I will elucidate to you either that the world is eternal, or that the world is not eternal, etc.'?"
"Nay, verily, Reverend Sir."
"Or did you ever say to me, 'Reverend sir, I will lead the religious life under the Blessed One, on condition that the Blessed One elucidate to me these things.'?"
"Nay, verily, reverend sir."
"That being the case, vain man, whom are you so angrily denouncing? Malunkyaputta, any one who should say, 'I will not lead the religious life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One shall elucidate to me either that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal...'--that person would die before the Tathagata had ever elucidated this to him.
"It is as if, Malunkyaputta, a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions, relatives and kinsfolk, were to procure for him a physician or surgeon; and the sick man were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me belonged to the warrior caste, or the brahmin caste, or to the farmers' caste, or to the menial caste.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt the name of the man who wounded me, and to what clan he belongs.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me was tall, or short, or of middle height.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me was black, or dusky, or of a yellow skin.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the man who wounded me was from this or that village, town, or city.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the bow which wounded me was a capa, or a kodanda.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the bowstring which wounded me was made from swallow-wort, or bamboo, or sinew, or maruva, or from milkweed.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the shaft which wounded me was a kaccha or a ropima'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the shaft which wounded me was feathered from the wings of a vulture, or of a heron, or of a falcon, or of a peacock, or of a sithilahanu.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the shaft which wounded me was wound round with the sinews of an ox, or of a buffalo, or of a deer, or of a monkey.'
"Or again he were to say, 'I will not have this arrow taken out until I have learnt whether the arrow which wounded me was an ordinary arrow, or a claw-headed arrow, or a vekanda, or an iron arrow, or a calf-tooth arrow, or a karavirapatta.' That man would die, Malunkyaputta, without ever having learnt this.
"In exactly the same way, Malunkyaputta, any one who should say, 'I will not lead the religious life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One shall elucidate to me either that the world is eternal or that the world is not eternal, etc.'--that person would die before the Tathagata had ever elucidated this to him.
"The religious life does not depend on the dogma that the world is eternal; nor does the religious life depend on the dogma that the world is not eternal. Whether the dogma obtain, that the world is eternal, or that the world is not eternal, there still remain birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, despair, for the extinction of which in the present life I am prescribing.... This profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of religion, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana; therefore have I not elucidated it. "And what, Malunkyaputta, have I elucidated? Misery I have elucidated; the cessation of misery I have elucidated; and the path leading to the cessation of misery I have elucidated. And why, Malunkyaputta, have I elucidated this? Because this does profit, has to do with the fundamentals of religion, and tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, knowledge, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana; therefore I have elucidated it. Accordingly, Malun kyaputta, bear always in mind what it is that I have not elucidated, and what it is that I have elucidated."
Thus spoke the Blessed One; and, delighted, the venerable Malunkyaputta applauded the speech of the Blessed One.
Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.426-31: Questions which Tend not to Edification
Majjhima Nikaya i.426-31: Cf. Parable of the Raft, Majjhima Nikaya i.134-35, p. 802.
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