Many people in the world today, particularly in the West, think of religion as a pre-Enlightenment way of thinking. The truth, of course, is that prior to the Western Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries pretty much all human thought—good, bad, or otherwise—was grounded in religion, because science and the Objective Method were only beginning to take hold.

What I am calling “Eternal Traditions” refers to the best of the great religious traditions of humankind but is not limited to those below.

Zoroastrianism counts. As does the Rastafarian tradition. As does Baha’i, Sikhism, Jainism, and Shinto, all of which are followed by millions of people around the world.

The primary difference between the Eternal Traditions and other ways of thinking is that worshipful practice potentially transforms the individual into a person infused with Spirit or Oneness or G-d. The best practices of the Eternal Traditions open the hearts of the devotees.

There are, needless to say, pitfalls in spiritual practice or religious belief, not the least of which include rigid orthodoxy, conformity, self-righteousness, sexism, and the condemnation of the other. 

The best of all religions, however, create compassion and art—beauty to nourish the soul.


Taoism

TAO TE CHING

Lao Tzu

506 B.C.E.

“Written more than two thousand years ago, the Tao Te Ching is one of the true classics of spiritual literature. It is a guide to cultivating a life of peace, serenity, and compassion. Through aphorisms and parable, it leads readers toward the Tao, or the ‘Way’: harmony with the life force of the universe.”

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

Christianity

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Judaism

GENESIS

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

The First Day

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day” and the darkness He called “night.”

And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.

Buddhism

The Four Noble Truths

Life is suffering.
Suffering is caused by selfish desire (ego).
Selfish desire can be eliminated.
The way to eliminate desire is through the Eightfold Path.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path is composed of eight primary teachings that Buddhists follow and use in their everyday lives:

Right View or Right Understanding: Insight into the true nature of reality.

Right Intention: The unselfish desire to realize enlightenment.

Right Speech: Using speech compassionately.

Right Action: Using ethical conduct to manifest compassion.

Right Livelihood: Making a living through ethical and nonharmful means.

Right Effort: Cultivating wholesome qualities and releasing unwholesome qualities.

Right Mindfulness: Whole body-and-mind awareness.

Right Concentration: Meditation or some other dedicated, concentrated practice.

Islam

Surah Sad 45-47

وَٱذْكُرْ عِبَـٰدَنَآ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ وَإِسْحَـٰقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ أُو۟لِى ٱلْأَيْدِى وَٱلْأَبْصَـٰرِ

And remember Our servants: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the men of strength and insight.

We truly chose them for the honor of proclaiming the Hereafter.

And in Our sight they are truly among the chosen and the finest.

Hinduism

Bhagavad Gita

You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only. You have no right to the fruits of work. Desire for the fruits of work must never be your motive in working. Never give way to laziness, either.

Perform every action with your heart fixed on the Supreme Lord. Renounce attachment to the fruits. Be even-tempered in success and failure: for it is this evenness of temper which is meant by yoga.

Work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety, in the calm of self-surrender. Seek refuge in the knowledge of Brahma. They who work selfishly for results are miserable.