About

Every institution needs leaders to keep communities together and to inspire people. Though we tend to think of prophets as special individuals—sometimes more than merely human—most prophets in their own time thought nothing special of themselves. Instead, they attached significance not to themselves but to the teachings themselves which had been revealed to them by God, some cosmic storehouse of knowledge, or some other mystical source. It is the source that we were instructed to revere, and not the human vessel through which it revealed its teachings.

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Quotations

Justin Welby
Archbishop of Caterbury and head of the Church of England
Christianity

"You go into their churches and you don't see a White Jesus—you see a Black Jesus, or Chinese Jesus, or a Middle Eastern Jesus—which is of course the most accurate. You see a Fijian Jesus—you see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages and understandings."

The New Testament
Christian scripture
Christianity

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

Huston Smith
Scholar of religion
Islam

“In an age charged with supernaturalism, when miracles were accepted as the stock-in-trade of the most ordinary saint, Muhammad refused to pander to human credulity. Allah, he insisted, had not sent him to work wonders. If signs besought, let them not be of Muhammad’s greatness but of God’s, and for these one need only open one’s eyes to the wonders of nature. The only miracle that Muhammad claimed was that of the Koran itself. That he with his own resources could have produced such truth—this was the one naturalistic hypothesis he could not accept."

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture
Judaism

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture
Judaism

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth."

Shoghi Effendi
Baha'i leader
Baha'i

“The inestimable value of religion is that when a man is vitally connected with it, through a real and living belief in it and in the Prophet Who brought it, he receives a strength greater than his own which helps him to develop his good characteristics and overcome his bad ones. The whole purpose of religion is to change not only our thoughts but our acts; when we believe in God and His Prophet and His Teachings, we are growing, even though we perhaps thought ourselves incapable of growth and change!"

Moojan Momen
Baha'i writer
Baha'i

“Bahá'u'lláh asserted that priests and other religious professionals had their role informer times when the majority of people were illiterate and needed guidance. Today, however, humanity has the ability to bring education and literacy to all. Therefore it is possible for all to read the scriptures themselves and come to their own understanding of them. Bahá'u'lláh has therefore abolished the priesthood and the professional religious class. It is still necessary, however, to fill the other function of religious professionals, the organization and administration of the Bahá'í community. The Bahá'í administrative order fulfils this function.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Baha'i leader
Baha'i

“For Baháism has no clergy, no religious ceremonial, no public prayers; its only dogma is belief in God and in his Manifestations (Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, et al., Bahá’u’lláh).”

Huston Smith
Scholar of religion
Buddhism

“It is impossible to read the accounts of Buddha’s life without gaining the impression that one has been in touch with one of the greatest personalities of all time. Perhaps the most striking thing about him was his combination of a cool head and a warm heart. Clearly, he was a great rationalist. Every problem that came his way was subjected to cool, dispassionate analysis. But this objective, critical talent was balanced by a Franciscan tenderness so strong that it has caused his message to be subtitled ‘a religion of infinite compassion.’"

Shunryu Suzuki
Zen master
Buddhism

"We need some teaching, but just by studying the teaching alone, it is impossible to know what 'I' in myself am. Through the teaching we may understand our human nature. But the teaching is not we ourselves; it is some explanation of ourselves. So if you are attached to the teaching, or to the teacher, that is a big mistake. The moment you meet a teacher, you should leave the teacher, and you should be independent. You need a teacher so that you can become independent. If you are not attached to him, the teacher will show you the way to yourself. You have a teacher for yourself, not for the teacher."

Lieh Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

“Confucius and Mo-tzu were not princes. They never became leaders or held any political office. However, people gave them respect equal to that of kings and nobles. Everywhere they went, people craned their necks and stood on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of them. Everyone respected them and wished them well.”

Lieh Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

“Does it really matter if someone is recognized as a sage or not? If you are truly honest, sincere, and upright in everything you do, do you need others to acknowledge your virtues to make you virtuous?”

Huston Smith
Scholar of religion
Confucianism

“Confucius was undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest teachers. Prepared to instruct in virtually all the disciplines of his day, he was a one-man university. His method of teaching was Socratic. Always informal, he seems not to have but instead to have conversed on problems his students posed, citing readings and asking questions. The openness with which he interacted with his students was striking. Not for a moment assuming that he was himself a sage—sagehood being for him a matter of comportment, not a stock of knowledge—he presented himself to his students as their fellow learner."

Ruth H. Chang
Scholar of East Asian religions
Confucianism

Tianzi ["Son of Heaven"] usually refers to the human emperor who is so closely associated with divinity that his title links his origins to "Heaven." He was the human paramount ruler. Known as Tianzi, he and his subjects were always reminded that his authority was supposedly given by the divine. He was regarded so sacredly that he was viewed as a demigod. Myths even claimed divine origin for the dynastic lines, creating a nearly supernatural power for the emperor. However, it seems unlikely that the scholar class actually believed these creative legends. Yet he was still in a unique position, connecting the populace to divinity.”

Robert Wright
American journalist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“Religious leaders tend to have high status, and it is not beyond the pale to see their preachings as a form of exploitation, a subtle bending of the listener’s will to the speaker’s goals. Certainly Jesus’ teachings, and the Buddha’s teachings, and Lao-tzu’s teachings had the effect of amplifying the power of Jesus and Buddha and Lao-tzu, raising their stature within a growing group of people. The great religions are at some level ideologies of self-help. It would indeed be wasteful, as Campbell suggests, to throw out eons of religious tradition without inspecting it first. The sages may have been self-serving, like the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t sages.”