That there are many religions and multiple variations within those religions is clear indeed. That there is a universal spiritual “curriculum” common to almost all religions is less apparent. This article will touch the tip of this iceberg of that commonality by comparing a five religions. Quite briefly it can be said that an underlying theme of learning to live harmoniously with others: how to respect others, share with others, and how to encourage others is the ethics embodied in almost all religions. That ethical goals are shared among religions is very significant because all of spirituality regardless of the different means to attain these goals, always comes back to them in the end. Each religion has its own vocabulary and belief system, and spiritual practices. These are the different means. Preparing a meal can be a helpful analogy. People have different food likes and dis-likes, some even have food allergies so of course the specific meal any one person would prepare would be different. However the nutritional requirements for any human body are basically the same. How one chooses to fulfill those nutritional needs through cuisine is a matter of choice. And so it is with religion, each religion can be seen as a different cuisine but the nutritional requirements, the spiritual nourishment needed is universal.
For the people of the Book, the children of Abraham, the Jewish-Christian-Islamic religions the last six of the ten commandments embody the ethics of those religions: honor father and mother, no murder, no adultery, no stealing, no false testimony (lying), no coveting. The five Buddhist precepts taken by lay people are to abstain from: taking life, from taking what is not given (stealing), from sexual misconduct, from false speech, from becoming intoxicated. Although the vocabulary is slightly different these two lists concur on four essential points, the intention to not kill, to not lie, to not steal, and to conduct one’s self appropriately in sexual relations. Finally let’s look at what the Yoga Sutras have to say: “The Laws of Life are five: nonviolence, truthfulness, integrity (which would include not stealing), chastity (correct sexual deportment), and nonattachment”. Again we find the same four ethical points in slightly different language.
It is interesting to compare the injunction of the Ten Commandment not to covet with the Yoga Sutra’s Law of Life of nonattachment. Both are mental states and they both refer to the same thing. Coveting is wanting something and being attached to something is also wanting it. One could say that nonattachment goes a step further than not coveting and if you limit not coveting to the list given in the Ten Commandments that would be so. However a broader definition of non-coveting could clearly be the same as nonattachment. I have always felt that because it is a mental state non-coveting actually covers the actions of not lying, not stealing, not killing and not committing adultery. If one is in a state free of coveting these negative actions are impossible.
And so here at the ethical beginning points of all these religions we find a universal curriculum. These religions begin with ethical injunctions and through their various practices they end with the embodiment of these ethical principles.