Time to realise a universal religion

source:? DNA India, Feb 14, 2011

KG Suresh

The year 2011 has started on an ominous note for world peace and harmony between civilisations. A bomb blast in front of a Coptic Christian church on New Year?s Day killed at least 21 people and wounded nearly 80 in an attack that raised suspicions of an Al Qaeda role. In Pakistan, Salman Taseer, the liberal governor of Punjab, was assassinated for advocating reform of Pakistan?s blasphemy law, while in Balochistan province, members of the Hindu community are migrating out after a spate of kidnappings.

These religious conflicts are a reminder of the vision of a universal religion as conceived by Swami Vivekananda, whose 150th birth anniversary celebrations were inaugurated by prime minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on January 12.

The swami had said the only rational way to cope with differences was to accept them not only as inevitable but as essential. ?One must learn that truth may be expressed in a hundred thousand different ways, and that each of these ways is true as far as it goes. We must learn that the same thing can be viewed from a hundred different standpoints, and yet be the same thing…

?Suppose we all go with vessels in our hands to draw water from the lake. One has a cup, another a jar, another a bucket, and soforth, and we all fill our vessels. The water in each case takes theform of the vessel carried by each of us, but in every case, water, and nothing but water is in the vessel… God is like that water filling these different vessels, and in each vessel, the vision of God comes in the form of the vessel. Yet He is One…?

Since time immemorial, there have been efforts to establish peace and harmony. From the World Parliament of Religions, where Swami Vivekananda made history, to the creation of League of Nations and the United Nations, history has been witnesses to umpteen such efforts to resolve conflicts. Yet, violence continues unabated.

With conflict-resolution models failing, it is time to evolve conflict-avoidance models. The need of the hour is a paradigm shift from the now prevailing notion of tolerance of other faiths to the ideal of acceptance of all faiths as valid and sacred to achieve peace and harmony based on mutual accommodation.
A silent revolution along these lines has been taking place.

Religious leaders from across the world signed the historic inter-faith document, ?The Faith Human Rights Statement?, on December 10, 2008. While emphasising the importance of the freedom of expression, the document noted the freedom to have, retain and adopt a religion or belief of one?s choice without coercion or inducement, to be an undeniable right.

This declaration addressed a principal apprehension of faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism (in the Indian context) and Confucianism about the Abrahamic faiths. Conversion has been a bone of contention between Hindu and Christian groups in the country and leaders of Abrahamic religions and the head of the Hindu Acharya Sabha Swami Dayananda Saraswathi were signatories to this agreement at Amsterdam.

In this regard, the Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India), which was inaugurated on January 22, 2008, in the presence of spiritual leaders from all faiths along with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and former president APJ Abdul Kalam, has been doing pioneering work. The organization is engaged in persuading different faiths to undergo an endogenous transformation and thereby bring about changes in perceptions as an essential part of the process to ensure lasting harmony.

As we commemorate Vivekananda?s 150th anniversary, there cannot be a more befitting tribute than working for realising his vision of a universal religion. As he aptly put it, ?The greatest harm comes from the fanatic. We may not doubt the sincerity of the fanatic but often he has the irresponsibility of a lunatic. The fanatic is the greatest enemy of mankind.

?Given these cleavages, is the idea of the universal religion realistic or just idealistic? But behind all these differences, we must recognise a deeper level of commonality that suggests that the universal religion already exists, and is constantly evolving and taking clearer shape. No two persons are exactly alike, yet, despite these differences, there is a common thread of humanity.?

The author is director of Delhi-based Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India)



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