While there might be more than a path up a mountain,
not all paths lead upwards,
and not all paths lead to the summit.
A fellow Buddhist remarked that different religions are like rivers leading to the same sea of one taste – of saltiness, which represents liberation. This is a common albeit mistaken view, which is a serious mistake if it implies that the Buddha taught so. How is this so? Because the actual words of the Buddha are these in the Uposatha Sutta – ‘Just as in the great ocean there is but one taste – the taste of salt – so in this Doctrine and Discipline (that he teaches – the Dhammavinaya) there is but one taste – the taste of freedom (vimuttirasa)’. The Buddha was commenting on the nature of his teachings; not on all teachings everywhere in general. If all teachings of everyone equally led to ultimate liberation, there would be little if any special value in the Buddha teaching something similar… or different. However, the Buddha, as we learn of via the suttas, say in the Brahma Net Sutta, is known for explaining why some 62 belief and practice systems in his time were inadequate in terms of perfect truth and goodness. This the Buddha did to illustrate why the Buddhadharma (his teachings) is different too.
The Uposatha Sutta also said this – ‘… just as whatever great rivers there are – such as the Ganges, the Yamuna, the Aciravati, the Sarabhu, the Mahi – on reaching the ocean, give up their former names and are classed simply as “ocean”; in the same way, when members of the four castes – noble warriors, priests, merchants, and workers – go forth from home to the homeless life (become monastic followers of the Buddha) in the Doctrine and Discipline declared by the Tathagata, they give up their former names and clans and are classed simply as “contemplatives, sons of the Sakyan (Sakyamuni Buddha as a spiritual father or teacher).”‘ Perhaps details of the quotations were missed while the salt and river analogies were mixed together, with each river representing a general belief and practice system (i.e. religion) instead? However, when we study different spiritual systems, two things tend to happen… At first, on a superficial level, many similarities would be seen. Next, upon deeper scrutiny, many irreconcilable doctrinal differences surface. This is the basis of the need for inter-religious harmony.
Perhaps one of the ways, albeit without ill intention, of accidentally shortchanging or diluting the Buddhadharma is when it is not learnt in detail, which leads to it being shared in a manner lacking in accuracy. The only way to share the Buddha’s teachings more clearly is to study, practise and realise it as personally and deeply as possible. It so happens that a ‘Buddhist’ writer liberally rewrote the salt quote in a once popular book as so – ‘Just as the great oceans have but one taste, the taste of salt, so too there is but one taste fundamental to all true teachings of the Way, and this is the taste of freedom.’ What was specifically the Doctrine and Discipline of the Buddha became a generic great ‘Way’, which was hinted to accommodate many other ‘ways’. That ‘all roads lead to Rome’ is really a romanticised concept because surely, only some roads lead to where we wish to reach. Some roads lead us only part of the way, some away, some astray, while some lead us in circles. Could it be, that some misunderstand the Buddha’s teachings due to such books? If so, it is all the more important, that we study the suttas well, so as to right such wrongs.
If you don’t know where you’re going,
any road will get you there.
– Popular Misquote of ‘Alice In Wonderland’
When is So-Called “Buddhism” not Buddhism?
Are All Religions the Same?
Why Buddhism Isn’t Pyschotherapy (See ‘The Great Way’)