Wholeness: A Common Theme Across Religions

Religions are holistic systems that provide us with comprehensive worldviews and corresponding codes of conduct for how best to live in accordance with such views. It is not surprising that religions stress the importance of wholeness and becoming a well-rounded person who embraces a diverse range of thought and orientation, from the scientific to the spiritual.

The modern world has started to acknowledge that the intellect is not complete without emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence. When I was at Harvard, the Provost Alan Garber told me that Harvard wants students to become like a “T,” broad-based (whole), but with some specialization. The thought package which we call religion has always stressed this — becoming a well-rounded person who embraces a diverse range of thought and orientation, from the scientific to the spiritual. There is, of course, a limit to what we can learn through solitary practices like reading and watching videos. Experiential learning is what makes us truly whole and is only possible through interaction with others. In the Jewish traditions, the rabbinic sage Ben Zoma remarked, ‘Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.’

There are many religious texts that invite us to view all of humanity as a single body. The Prophet Muhammad is purported to have said, ‘The Muslims are like a single man. If the eye is afflicted, the whole body is afflicted.’ Similarly, in the New Testament it is written, ‘For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.’

One more example of this ‘one body’ metaphor comes from the Baha’i Prophet Bahá’u’lláh, who wrote to his followers: ‘Be ye as the fingers of one hand, the members of one body.’ This imagery is reminiscent of the Hindu notion that each individual is like ‘the crest of a wave in the ocean of Brahman’. The implication of this Hindu belief is that wholeness lies within, as the composition of each droplet of the wave is identical to the ocean as a whole, we all also share the same fundamental essence: atman. Taoist practice also strives for wholeness through the inner cultivation of a balance between the two forces of yin and yang.

The Abrahamic religions, with the doctrine of the ‘fall’, claim that we have fallen out of grace with God and are incomplete versions of what we were and are meant to be. Here, wholeness means reforming ourselves in a way that more closely resembles our divine nature as beings originally created in God’s image.

We have learned through millennia of human observations, research, knowledge, and wisdom — whether through science, religion or other discipline — that the natural state of the world is one of profound unity and interconnectedness. Restoring wholeness is imperative in our world today.

Not only is the basic welfare of a community dependent on that of each individual, but each member is viewed as serving its own unique and integral function. It follows that we should encourage and respect diversity within the community, rather than fearing those who might be different from us.

Mahatma Gandhi had once said that happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony — and this idea of wholeness can only be achieved if we treat the world as one whole.

Christianity

— The New Testament (Colossians 2:9), Christian text

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

— The New Testament (Colossians 3:14), Christian text

Judaism

— Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher

Islam

— Rumi, Sufi mystic, and poet

Baha’i

— Abdu’l-Bahá, Son of Baha’i Prophet Bahá’u’lláh,

Hinduism

— The Upanishads, Hindu text

Buddhism

— Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Buddhist monk and teacher

Daoism

— Tao Te Ching, Taoist text

Confucianism

— The Analects (14:12), Confucian text

Modern Philosophy and Theology

— Erik H. Erikson, developmental psychologist

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