A blind man left his village and followed the winding path through the forest. He was on his way to see his friend in the neighboring hamlet. After his arrival, the two friends spent many happy hours together. At last, it was time for the blind man to return to his village.
“Here,” his friend said, “it is already nightfall. Take this lantern with you.”
“Lantern? What good is a lantern to a blind man?” he asked.
“It is to avoid accidents. It will help other travelers on the narrow path see you coming.”
With this thought in mind, the blind man took the lantern; thanked his friend, and went on his way. While plodding along the meandering path, he enjoyed the cool, fragrant mist which enveloped both him and the sound of chirping crickets. However, imagine his surprise when nearly home, he suddenly collided with a huge man.
“Fool! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?” the big man shouted.
“Why didn’t you see my lantern?” asked the blind man.
“Lantern? Oh, yes, . . . Well, the candle is out!”
So, a lantern is not much help to a blind man after all. In fact, it may prove harmful. For if the blind man didn’t have the lantern, he would have walked more carefully because he would be less confident that others would see him coming.
What is the meaning of the story? Well, the lantern represents a religion and the candle is the founder of that particular religion. A beautiful glow radiates from the lantern and points the way to God. In fact, there are many lanterns. Each illuminating a different path, all of which lead to the same destination. The only problem is most of the people carrying lanterns are blind. Furthermore, because of their blindness they cannot tell that the once sparkling glass of the lantern is now blackened with grime, preventing any light from escaping.
After the death of a great religious teacher, an institution is formed, bureaucracies emerge, power struggles begin, schisms and sects arise, and the original teachings of the master are reinterpreted and codified. Ministering to the sick, feeding the hungry, and caring for the imprisoned were the original concerns. Today, however, much weight is given to the type of meat you eat or avoid, the clothing you wear or remove, or the rituals you perform during the day or week. No wonder the lantern no longer sparkles. No wonder the lantern is covered with grime. No wonder the light of the candle no longer illuminates the way.
Yes, the lanterns no longer reveal the many paths to God. But this doesn’t disturb those traveling on a path because they are blind, and unaware of the absence of light. Are my comments unnecessarily harsh? I don’t think so. Judge for yourself. What do they call their brothers and sisters of other faiths? Not brothers or sisters, but heretics, gentiles, pagans, and heathens. By labeling others as sacrilegious sinners they feel no guilt as they kill their neighbors. What heinous acts of suppression, destruction, and butchery are committed in the name of religion! I’m not surprised, however, because fighting over religion is much easier than practicing it. Though the perpetrators of these acts proudly cling to their lanterns, isn’t it obvious that they are blind?
Each group of lantern carriers claims that they are followers of the one true religion. This statement is proof of their blindness. Did they choose the country of their birth? Did they choose the culture they were born into? Did they choose the lantern they now carry, or was it given to them by others. If they were born in an entirely different land, wouldn’t they be carrying an entirely different lantern? The blind cannot see their own blindness.
What’s the point I’m trying to make? I’m not suggesting that we give up our faith. Actually, I encourage everyone to follow a path. Any religion or spiritual tradition will do. But I suggest that we follow our path fully awakened. It is helpful to ask ourselves, who or what is it that I wish to follow. Do I wish to follow the founder of my religion or the institution (which is one of many) that claims to speak on the founder’s behalf? Also, what does a critical look at the institution’s history reveal? Does its history suggest that it is a better judge than you of the founder’s teachings? Follow your heart, for as it is written, “We may seek God by our intellect, but we only can find him with our heart.”
I value all scriptures, but my favorite is the scripture of the Indigenous Peoples. Their scripture is written by the hand of God and is called nature. It is a universal language and unencumbered by words. It speaks direct to the heart. It is the aurora borealis, the Grand Canyon, and the most spectacular ice sculpture of all, Niagara Falls in February. But it is also the centipede crawling out from under a moss-covered stone, pine needles dancing in the wind, and the fragrance of dew. It is the song of life. And what is life? Crowfoot, a Blackfoot Indian explains: “It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”
The Indigenous Peoples are courageous warriors. Unlike religious people who cling onto a rock in the middle of a raging river, they let go and learn how to swim. That is the way of the spiritual person. The way of courage. The way of trust. The way of love. Rather than listening to others interpret God’s words, they choose to listen to His Voice silently speaking within their own breast and in the night sky. They understand that true religion is the life we live, not the beliefs we declare.
Albert Einstein also defined religion, “True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness.” Let us become living lanterns, lighting the way. And whenever we come across a fellow traveler carrying a different lantern, let’s open our hearts and minds so we can learn more and shine even brighter. For as Victor Hugo wrote, “Toleration is the best religion.” When asked, the great American, Thomas Paine, said, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” When asked, what will you say?