I have been reading the book “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”, written by Sam Harris, and in it there is a section where Sam talks about the perennial philosophy. For those not in the know, that is the view that all religions lead to the same end, which is an old idea but most recently championed by Aldous Huxley. Sam basically says that this idea doesn’t stand up to scrutiny beyond a quick glance, and as an example he cites the differences between Islam’s attitude to violence and Jainism’s attitude to non-violence. I found his reasoning persuasive.
Thinking about it further, it seems to me that there is perhaps a core experience that is the origin of all the religions, as they were in their beginnings, but that as they are now, with all the editing of the original accounts they are based on, translation and transcription, that they no longer fairly represent those experiences. Certainly they no longer all seem to lead in the same ultimate direction.
You could say that starting with a religion gets you certain things, a concentration of mind, whether that is through prayer or meditation, and a focus on certain virtues. That is true. And most religions have a mystical tradition, such as Meister Eckhart in the Christian space, or Rumi as representative of the Sufi’s in Islam. However these are small streams and not representative of the majority view. Most orthodox religious leaders would not guide you towards them. Moreover the more advanced teachings of each religion tend to be specialised and diverse, and more often trending towards instilling obedience rather than developing intelligence and wisdom.
It leads me to think that not all religions will lead to the same outcomes with respect to wisdom and maturity. If it were so, we would expect to see many people with the wisdom of Zen masters in places like Iran or Afghanistan, religious strongholds. Which is patently not the case.
What is attractive about the perennial philosophy is that it puts all religions on an equal footing and thus encourages tolerance and inter-faith dialogue. These are goals which most common people and politicians would subscribe to, and so a lot of otherwise sane people accept it with little scrutiny.