Aug 1, 2009
When civilization began, our forefathers were worshippers of nature. Nature was everything to them. They saw the Sun and Moon as their guide and protector. Others accepted a particular animal or bird as their saviour and hope. Later generations had different experiences of the sacred, giving rise to varied beliefs and practices. People began to call the sacred by different names. Yet all ascribed it to a reality called God. Was religion a problem then?
Today we have a number of religions in the world. India is noted as the birth place of the majority of religions. Our founding fathers dreamt of a nation where every religion would flourish and every voice be heard. They rightly adopted secularism as the credo. But today India has become a battle field of fundamentalists, who resort to create communal tensions under the pretext of safeguarding the precious heritage of their religion. Educated people too are today easily influenced by these forces of division because of the lack of knowledge and appreciation of other faiths. Very few Indians know about religions other than theirs. Such ignorance leads to suspicion and mistrust.
I was brought up in a mixed enevironment where I attended school with friends belonging to different cultures and faiths. I enjoyed visiting their homes for festivals. I was groomed to pick up many languages other than my own in the coastal district of Mangalore. Isn't it a rare and worthwhile feeling to continue to live in such harmony as Indains?
Hindu chauvinist want to swallow all religions into one: India is a country of Hindus, Hindu Christians, Hindu Muslims and Hindu Sikhs. The need of the hour is to respect each other and grant liberty and freedom of religion to all. Those who don’t show respect and compassion for minorities cannot be called truly religious people. Then only Kandhamal and Manglaore attacks will not repeat.
Religion – an instrument to seek God
Religion plays a major role in the lives of the peoples of India. It is an integral part of our history and culture. It has been a strong force in the hearts and minds of Indians. Ours is a land of sadhus and sanyasis, Sufis and sages, mystics and gurus, a land where mountains and hills stand high in exuberant joy, manifesting our religiosity. Swami Agnivesh said, “Religions can play a creative role in society, because what unites religion is stronger than what divides it.” All religions have as their essence - truth, love, compassion and justice. They may stress one aspect more than the other.
But can India still live its glorious “Unity in Diversity”? All through my childhood I learnt that there is Unity in diversity. Foreigners who came to India always admired India’s great diversity. But nowadays I feel sad to admit that Indians have failed to recognize the rich diversity in our unity. We need to understand and appreciate this. The strength of our diversity has yet to be discovered. Such strength comes from respect for and tolerance of other faiths.
Religion – a pointer:
All religions try to speak of the divine reality through bhajans, mantras, sat-sanghas, Namaz, Scripture reading, Art and sculpture. Every religion tries to understand the concepts of GOD- WORLD-SOUL. Only by immersing ourselves in the deep waters of another faith will we understand the hidden wisdom and beauty.
Fr. V.S Painadath says, “Religion can be symbolized by a tree. There is rich diversity – no one leaf is the same, not one branch grows in the same direction. Yet the entire tree is one, and one vital sap flows through the entire tree and nourishes it.”
Every religion teaches one to be good, be it through the quest for knowledge in Hinduism, tolerance in Sikhism, loving service as embodied by Christ in Christianity, the brotherhood of Islam or the compassion of Buddhism. The Adi Granth(Guru Granth Sahib) says, “He who looks on all alike and he who considers all to be equal is truly religious.”
Mother Teresa, who served people irrespective of religion, always said, “I love all religions, but I am a lover of my own. The love of others must be one that opens my eyes wider to the beauty and depth of other religious tradition and culture.” Religion is just an instrument, not a goal as Victor Edwin says in his book on dialogue.
Swami Chidananda once said, “How blind are we to the way others from outside our religion view us. Even as we attempt to understand in order to be understood, we rarely respect another religion as equal to ours.”
Bernard Shaw rightly said that the worst sin towards our fellowmen is not creating hate, but to be indifferent to them. It is the essence of inhumanity. Learning about other religions will help us to widen our horizon, celebrate differences for better collaboration and will indirectly guide us to live our own religion and faith better. At the educational level institutions must educate students about all religions and their scriptures in addition to conducting inter-faith prayer meetings and organizing celebrations of major festivals of different religions. Exposure of students to practical experiences such as visiting places of worship of different religions will help them imbibe opportunities to see the goodness of other faiths. In this way, the true spirit of peaceful co-existence and religious harmony will motivate the future generation to uproot the seeds of fundamentalism, religious ‘terrorism’ and cultural hatred. In how many homes do parents encourage discussion to dispel preconceived notions about another religion? This will be the beginning of our journey together in faith.
A truly religious person is opposed to all injustice wherever it may be. We are first Human beings then we are Indians. Then only we are Hindus, Christians or Muslims. We need to realize that ultimately, all of us are eager to see the Kingdom of God, Vasudaivakutumbakam, Umma or Sanghat. We need to be multi-dimensional and multi-religious. We need to accommodate and learn from people of other faiths. Compassion must the virtue of a truly religious person. If religion can help one to be fully human and fully alive then the purpose of religion will be fulfilled.
“We have just enough religion to make us hate one another; we do not have quite enough religion to help us love one another.”- Jonathan Swift (17th century). This is very true even today.
Sarva Jeeva Sukham. Sarva Dharmam Sakhyam