Light: A Common Theme Across All Religions

Sunday December 18 is the first night of Hanukkah, the 8-day holiday that is often seen as the Jewish counterpart to Christmas due to their close proximity and the shared element of gift-giving. Hanukkah is also called The Festival of Lights and is visually associated with the Menorah, a special candelabra.

There is one source of light, the sun, which illuminates everything, just as most religions consider God to be the single source from which all things emanate and into which all merges back. Light is therefore a constant reminder that we are all One. The legendary Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “In the night we stumble over things and become acutely conscious of their individual separateness. But the day reveals the greater unity which embraces them. The man whose inner vision is bathed in an illumination of his consciousness at once realizes the spiritual unity reigning supreme over all differences.”

Just as the wind or light impact nature, even if we cannot see them, God impacts every passing moment and molecule. The signs are everywhere — in the miracle of birth; in the way plants exhale oxygen, which we inhale; in the precision of the tides and the seasons. Without light, we would not be able to see what is present in front of our noses; and without God, nothing can exist.

Light is also the metaphor used to shine on us when we wish to ‘see’ the inner self or our divinity. While the sun’s light illuminates our external world, knowledge illuminates our inner world. It is hardly surprising that light is used as a powerful symbol for enlightenment in virtually every religion. In the Hebrew Bible, there are many significant instances of light, starting with the famous proclamation of God early on in Genesis: “Let there be light.” We light a candle in temples and churches. In the New Testament, Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world.”

The Zoroastrian Fire Temple is built around a sacred light that burns all the time. Islam and Baha’i writings both frequently evoke images of God as the light of a lamp or lantern.

In Hindu and Buddhist thought, the guiding light is found within. Hindus celebrate their main Diwali festival, also known as the festival of lights by illuminating their homes and surroundings with lamps. Hindus usually light a lamp to start the ritual of daily prayers in their homes or temples. In Buddhism, the term nirvana translates as “to extinguish,” as in extinguishing the selfish ego like putting out a candle flame.

Christianity

— C.S. Lewis, writer and Christian theologian

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

— The New Testament (John 8:12), Christian text

“All the darkness in the world cannot distinguish the light of a single candle”

— Saint Francis of Assisi

Islam

— Qur’an (24:35), Muslim text

“All religions, all this singing, one song. The differences are just illusion and vanity. The sun’s light looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall, and a lot different on this other one, but it’s still one light.”

— Rumi, Sufi mystic and poet

Judaism

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life —

of whom shall I be afraid?”

— The Hebrew Bible (Psalm 27:1), Jewish text

“For this command is a lamp,

this teaching is a light,

and correction and instruction

are the way to life.”

— The Hebrew Bible (Proverbs, 6:23), Jewish text

Baha’i

“But the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit, and is its essential quality, as the sun’s rays are the essential necessity of the sun.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader

Hinduism

— The Bhagavad Gita (11:12), Hindu text

“As the sun lights up the world, the Self dwelling in the field is the source of all light in the field.”
The Bhagavad Gita (13:33), Hindu text

Buddhism

— The Buddha

Daoism

and no shadow below/

too fine to be named/

returning to nothing/

this is the formless form/

the immaterial image/

the one that waxes and wanes/

we meet without seeing its face/

we follow without seeing its back/

whoever upholds this very Way/

can rule this very realm/

and discover the ancient maiden/

this is the thread of the Way”

— Tao Te Ching, Daoist text

Confucianism

— The Analects (19:21), Confucian text

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