What is the way, the truth and the light? How do we achieve enlightenment or salvation or perfect happiness? I think there must be many answers, many paths. In the rock opera Jesus Christ, Superstar Pontius Pilate asks, "But what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?" These are excellent questions.
Who am I to deny that Gautama Buddha and his followers achieved and do achieve enlightenment? Many Christians, Jews and Muslims find their faiths incredibly fulfilling. Many of them have died for their faith. How much more committed to a path can you be? People have found deep inspiration in many religions and philosophies. The truth? Different paths work for different people. The ultimate, single truth? I'm not sure that exists, and perhaps it won't until there is ultimately a single person left to find it.
Some people are comfortable believing exactly what other people believe. They become convinced that some set of beliefs represents the ultimate truth. They are content to become part of a collective consciousness. To some, losing the ego or the self is something they will work their whole life to achieve. They are driven to become part of something greater than themselves. That works for them. That does not work for me.
That is not to say that I do not enjoy companionship or a sense of belonging. I do. That does not mean that I do not place high value on selflessness, especially selfless service. What I am uncomfortable with is two things: the concept that there is an ultimate, perfect truth that is true for everyone and that the group is much more important than the individual.
I see absolutely no evidence that there is a single path that is true for every person. I believe we must each find our own way. It is natural that we would look to the experience of others to see what has worked for them so that we do not have to find out everything for ourselves. It is natural that we initially adopt that which those whom we love and respect believe to be the correct path. It is part of human nature to want to belong, to seek fellowship with others. There are many things that we can achieve collectively that we cannot achieve individually. But we are strongest when our efforts are additive, when each individual contribution to an effort increases the total. If we take ten people and add up all their ideas, we can end up with ten ideas. But when everyone is forced to think alike, we end up with one idea, not ten. Nine ideas are lost in the process. If we take the ten ideas that ten people contribute, we may decide that one idea is the best of the group, but even then, if all ideas were considered, the group still placed value on the contribution of each individual. When a group decides that only one set of ideas has value and rejects all other attempts to contribute, the value of individuals is diminished, sometimes to zero. I think that any objective person can look around and see that there are many people choosing many paths, and we can see that these paths lead to happiness for so many people that there cannot possibly be only one true path. I think you have to close your mind to the evidence to not understand that. And when groups impose their will on individuals through force, and when people are required to walk paths that are not of their own choosing, the group is diminished every time it strips its members of their individuality.
Respect and consideration are important companions on our journey, because our paths will cross with many others on the way to our destination. Along the way we may wonder why some people choose the path that they do. We can even warn them when we see that the path they are following leads to danger or disappointment. But we should keep things in perspective. Others may see our own path leading to a bad end. We cannot choose another's path and should not, anymore than we want them to choose ours.
So as you pursue the path that you believe to be true, keep your eye on your goal, wave if you see me, share with me what you have seen and done on your journey, and then do not be surprised when I continue on my own path instead of following yours.