One of the biggest obstacles to interfaith understanding is an inability to perceive each other’s metaphors as metaphors rather than literal claims. An awareness that one’s own tradition is rich with metaphor is essential in understanding the metaphorical nature of other traditions. With that understanding, we are able to see that all the religious traditions are about a deeper purpose of unraveling and exploring mystery.
It is a sentiment expressed so beautifully by the poet Rumi in his poem The Indian Tree, here in this translation by Coleman Barks:1
Stories about “the tree” were passed around, and finally
a king sent his envoy
to India to look for it. People laughed at the man. They
slapped him on the back
and called out, “Sir, I know where your tree is, but it’s far
in the jungle and you’ll need
a ladder!” He kept traveling, following such directions and
feeling foolish, for years.
He was about to return to the king when he met a wise man.
“Great teacher, show me
some kindness in this search for the tree.” “My son, this is
not an actual tree,
though it’s been called that. Sometimes it’s called a sun,
sometimes an ocean, or
a cloud. These words point to the wisdom that comes through
a true human being, which
may have many effects, the least of which is eternal life!
In the same way one
person can be a father to you and a son to someone else,
uncle to another and nephew
to yet another, so what you are looking for has many names,
and one existence. Don’t
search for one of the names. Move beyond any attachment
to names.” Every war
and every conflict between human beings has happened because
of some disagreement about
names. It’s such unnecessary foolishness, because just
beyond the arguing there’s a long
table of companionship, set and waiting for us to sit down.
1 Jalāl al-Dīn, Rūmī and Coleman Barks. The Soul of Rumi : A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, 46-7.