The Absolute does not, however, manifest Itself in the same manner in the different religious universes. The Ultimate Reality manifests Itself in multifarious sacred worlds sometimes in mythical forms and at other times as “abstract” monotheism. Sometimes It manifests Its Name and Qualites in the sounds and forms of sacred language and at other times as divinities symbolizing the various divine forces; hence the distinction between a polytheism aware of the Divine unity transcending multiple sacred forms and idolatry described so strongly in Judaism and Islam … As asserted by so many Sufis, followers of divinely revealed religions – whether speaking of the fire-temple, the Three Persons of the Trinity, or the many faces of Brahman – are singing the praise of the One event it be in the guise of the many.
The difference in the manner of manifestation of the Absolute is also to be seen in the different positions that the “relatively absolute” holds within each sacred universe. In Christianity, Christ remains the central reality as do the Torah and the Qur’an in Judaism and Islam, respectively, without the Hebrew prophets and the Qur’an in Judaism and Islam, respectively, ceasing to be of the utmost significance. In Zoroastrianism the archangelic and angelic worlds play a central role cosmologically, ritually, and esoteiologically different from their role in the Abrahamic world, without angels ceasing to be of great significance in the religious economy of the sacred universes of the monotheistic religions.
The Buddha image plays a salvific role in Buddhism different from the role of the icon in Christianity, and both religions differ in this matter from the aniconic worlds of Judaism and Islam. The cardinal directions have a central role in Native American cosmology and ritual not to be found in Christianity. One could go on indefinitely citing other examples to demonstrate how “the relatively absolute” is “situated” differently within each sacred universe, not to speak of the vertical levels of the manifestation of the Absolute from the Supreme Essence or Ultimate Reality, which is the Principle Itself, to Pure Being, the Logos, the archangelic, and angelic hierarchies. This universal hierarchy can in fact be understood fully only from the purely metaphysical and esoteric points of view while it is symbolized in the religious language meant for a whole collectivity usually by the “heavens” to which the Qur’an refers so often almost as a refrain and which concerns the vertical hierarchy within a single religious universe.
From “Religion and Religions”
300 pages, hard bound, 150 Kroner
Author: Seyyed Hossein Nasr