Chapter 3: Paths Are Many, the Travelers Are Few
The first reason is that when a person knew only one tradition, there was no difficulty. But when one person came to know about several traditions, difficulties arose. There was a time when a Hindu born into a Hindu family was brought up solely in Hindu surroundings and near a Hindu temple. The sound of the bells of the Hindu temple had become associated with the mother’s milk and had become part of his bloodstream. Thus, the presiding deity in the temple was as much a part of his bones, blood and flesh as were the air, the water and the nearby mountain.
There were no rivals. There was no church, no mosque. No sound of any other tradition fell into his ears and mind. The old was so much in existence that it could not be questioned. It had existed long before him, and he grew up with it and within it. But then, slowly, a mosque came up near the temple and a church and a gurudwara also followed.
At one time, tradition had an impact on everyone, but now confusion is natural. Nothing can be accepted without suspicion because opposing thoughts exist side by side. If the temple is calling you by its ringing bells, the nearby call for prayers from a mosque simultaneously tells you not to make the mistake of going to the temple. Then both of these concepts enter the mind simultaneously.
The basic reason for the increase in skepticism in the world is not an increase in man’s intelligence. Man is only as intelligent as he ever was. The main reason for the increase in skepticism is the superimposition of the impressions of many traditions at once upon his intellect - particularly those of contradictory cultures.
Every path will call the other wrong. This is due to helplessness. It is not because the other path is actually wrong. Nevertheless, it will have to be called wrong, because if the other path cannot be called wrong, then the strength behind calling one’s own path right is broken. In fact, if one claims that he is right, it invariably follows that the other is wrong.
Every tradition, therefore, had its own path. These paths never met or crossed each other but simply ran parallel; all traditions flowed separately in their own course. In that situation, in that period of time, the ancient had a very deep attraction, and a person like Mahavira was very useful and helpful. But as the traditions increased in number and grew in their rivalry, the old became ambiguous and the new increased in value. The new made rival claims also. But when the old traditions were only confusing the mind more and more and the arguments of the rivals could not settle anything, then instead of selecting from the old it was easier to select from the new.
There are many reasons for new traditions. First, the prophets and tirthankaras of older traditions were born thousands of years ago. Thus, their voices have become very feeble. The prophet of a new tradition is existing with you, so his voice becomes deep and powerful. The older tradition speaks in an old language that existed at the time when it was born. A new tirthankara or buddha speaks a new language that is currently being shaped. The old words and phrases that have become dubious are dropped. New words are coined which are, in a sense, virgin, and one can easily depend on them.