Interfaith Insights for a Nonviolent Future

Posted: 05.05.2014
Updated on: 30.07.2015

8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action


At the very beginning I would like to make a statement that the ideas and even some of the wordings are not necessarily my own. Everything that can be said has already been said at various points of time by scholars and scriptures. So I do not claim originality for the ideas and even perhaps some wordings that may be found in this paper. But I believe totally in the statements in this presentation.

All things in the universe are one. They began as one. They may end as one. They are all made of the same basic matter/energy, and they interact with one another, constantly.
All things on earth are one: plants, animals, rocks, oceans and atmosphere. All living creatures had a common origin, all depend on each other, and shape and are shaped by non-living things.

All humans on earth are one. We descend from the same family of common ancestors. We are, in a quite literal sense, siblings, and like siblings we depend on each other's love and care and responsibility. We are interdependent not just in our families and communities, but in nations, and increasingly on a global scale - just as we are also interdependent with nature and the earth. Yet at the same time things are many. The Multiplicity and the Unity are one and the same thing, a thing that is both many and one at the same time. The waves, and the currents underwater, make up the ocean. The ocean is the underlying basis for every wave. Neither the ocean, nor the waves, can be understood in isolation from each other.

We must preserve the sense of unity and the sense of diversity and multiplicity. We must recognize that the One and the Many are the same thing viewed from different angles. Every one of us is always part of the One, and can unite with the One at any time we choose.

Global warming has taken place because the human beings in the last hundred years have been leading a life of consumerism and materialism. Too much of excessive and lavish consumption of everything has resulted in destroying forests, polluting waters and poisoning even the air that we breathe. Also the very existence of humanity on this planet is today threatened as never before because of proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. All this is being done at enormous cost under the pretext of creating security. In fact there are 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. Explosion of even a few of them either by accident, or by terrorists or even by some egoistic and mad ruler can destroy all life forms on this planet.

Man who cannot create even a drop of blood in a laboratory, in spite of all scientific and technological advancement, has acquired the capacity to destroy all that is created by God.

Even if a portion of the amount being spent on researching and producing these deadly weapons of mass destruction are spent towards removing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and inequality, the world today would have been a more just, peaceful, harmonious, prosperous and joyful place for everybody to celebrate. All this is happening because we have deviated from the path of yogic life - simple living and high thinking.

It has been said: “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our forefathers but on loan from our children. So we have to hand it over to them at least as it was handed over to us.”

Truth is one, paths are many. People have different aptitudes and temperaments and will therefore, see things differently. Interreligious sharing help us to become more open-minded. People from various religions can learn a great deal from each others practices. Understanding the similarities to solve difficult problems is very important, if we want to make progress in intra-faith harmony. From now on, we have to be aware that the earth no longer guarantees life for us unless we ourselves guarantee the life of the earth in the first place.

The present day rivalry among religions, has lead many people to abandon religion altogether. We cannot divorce religion from life. We have to live with it. Amidst all this turmoil, we have to achieve a poise and a balance by an objective and scientific pursuit of religion. Religion means “re” and “legere”, “to bind together” the hearts of all-to each other, and back again to God. Genuine interreligious dialogue occurs in an atmosphere of mutual respect and genuine interest. It is a sharing of spirituality that inspires all parties. Someone once observed, “When philosophers, politicians and theologians meet, they argue. When spiritual practitioners and mystics meet, they smile.” Interreligious sharing helps us to become more open-minded. It also sharpens our abilities to investigate and to examine ourselves and our beliefs. Spiritual people want their limited views to be expanded. They seek to have their ignorance removed; they want their capacity for understanding and acceptance to be stretched. Interreligious contact presents this possibility.

At an international and national level, we must become more tolerant. Religious leaders and their congregations need to learn and teach tolerance for everyone and everything, for other faiths. First this must be taught to the religious leaders themselves, the rabbis, imams, rishis, swamis, acharyas, bhikkus, sants and priests. Tolerance and intolerance are basic attitudes found in our belief systems. These are things that one can learn.

We are in a new age of interfaith and inter-disciplinary collaboration between medicine, religion and spirituality. People from various religions can learn a great deal from each others practices.

Truth is one, paths are many. Truth does not pay homage to any society. It is the society which should pay homage to truth. Emphasis should be more on spirituality than on religion. Anything physical is limited. Anything non-physical is unlimited. The Soul or Spirit within the finite body is infinite. From the time of the Vedas, the earliest recorded history of India’s spiritual culture, to that of Ramakrishna (1836 to 1886) - the prophet of modern India - Hinduism has shown goodwill and respect for other religions. Despite sporadic instances of sectarian intolerance, the history of India is singularly free from religious strife. Even before the Christian era India afforded shelter to a Jewish group, and it was given the freedom to pursue its own form of worship. Thomas, one of the apostles of Christ, came to India to preach the gospel of his master, and established a church in South India, which is still functioning. Most of the Parsis, when persecuted in their homeland came to India, where they are living today as the remnant of the grand ancient Zoroastrian faith. Hindu kings, frequently helped the Moslems to build their mosques, in spite of the fact that the Moslem rulers of India destroyed Hindu temples, disfigured Hindu images, and converted the Hindus to their faith often by ruthless methods. The religious clashes between Hindus and Moslems that have occurred during the last century have been inspired largely by political factors, religion being used merely as a pretext.

The respectful attitude of Hinduism toward other religions can best be understood in terms of its philosophical basis. As has been explained earlier, ultimate reality, according to Vedanta, is Brahman, or the spirit, which is devoid of name, form, or attributes; and in the relative universe the highest manifestation of Brahman is the Personal God, who is worshipped under different names and forms by Hindus, Jews, Christians, and Moslems. A passage in one of the Hindu scriptures says: “Though without parts or attributes, Brahman assumes forms for the welfare of the spiritual seekers.”

A religion which regards ultimate reality as impersonal truth, and at the same time recognizes the validity of its concrete manifestations for the benefit of struggling aspirants, cannot but admit the validity of all religious ideals and show them respect.

The Bhagavad Gita says that people under the compulsion of desires, following their own natures, worship other deities with suitable rituals. The supreme God does not frown upon such worship; on the contrary, He deepens their faith in their respective ideals and enables them to obtain the object of their desires. The ultimate fulfillment of desires, however, comes from Him alone who is the real dispenser of the fruits of worship.

Christ proclaimed that in his Father’s house there are many mansions, and to emphasize the statement, added that he would not have said so if it were not true. Vivekananda said that a man does not progress from error to truth, but from truth to truth- more correctly, from lower truth to higher truth. It cannot be that among sincere devotees of God some are in total error and some completely right. A man’s spiritual life and method of worship are determined by his inner evolution.

Hinduism, both at its source and during the period of its subsequent development, exhibits a remarkable spirit of catholicity. As early as the time of the Rig-Veda it was said: ‘Reality is one; sages call it by various names.’ We read in the Upanishad: ‘May He, the One without a second, who, though formless produces by means of His manifold powers various forms without any purpose of His own; may He from whom the universe comes into being at the beginning of creation and to whom it returns in the end- endow us with good thoughts.’

Again: ‘As flowing rivers disappear in the sea, losing their names and forms, so a wise man, freed from names and forms, attains Brahman, who is greater than the great.’
One cannot distinguish a Hindu from a Moslem, or a Christian from a Jew, when they are absorbed in the infinite spirit. One sees differences only on a lower level, but from the summit all distinctions disappear.

That the non-dual spirit is worshipped under different names is reiterated by Hinduism. Here is a text from a Hindu scripture: ‘May the Lord of the universe, the remover of evil - whom the devotees of Śiva worship as Śiva, the Vedantists as Brahman, the Buddhists as Buddha [and we may add, the Christians as the Father in heaven, the Jews as Jehovah, the Moslems as Allah], the followers of the Nyaya philosophy who are clever in logic as the Divine Agent, those devoted to the Jain doctrines as Arhat, the ritualists of the Mimamsa Schools Karma - grant us all the desires of our hearts.’

According to Hinduism, no prophet is unique in the sense that he is the greatest of all. All receive their message from the one source and present it to men to suit their particular needs. In the teachings of Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, and Moses one may see apparent differences due to the peculiar requirements of the people whom these prophets taught. But in their communion with reality they all experienced the same goodness, beauty and truth. The common inner experiences of prophets are not noticed by their followers; the apparent external differences in their teachings account for much of religious quarrelling and controversy.

The harmony of religion found its most vivid expression through the spiritual experiences of Shri Ramakrishna. This saint of modern India practiced all the dualistic and non-dualistic disciplines of Hinduism and always arrived at the same state of God-consciousness. He pursued the teachings of Christ and Mohammed, and attained the same spiritual goal. One noticeable feature of his spiritual practices is that when he followed a particular path, he became completely absorbed in it and forgot everything else. While pursuing Islamic disciplines, he ate, dressed, and acted like a Moslem, removed the pictures of the Hindu deities from his room, and stopped going to Hindu temples. Thus he taught from actual experience, and not from mere book knowledge, that all religions are but different paths to reach the same goal. He also taught that a devotee of any faith need not give up his own rituals or beliefs, for he will certainly realize God with their help if he is sincere. Ramakrishna often described different religious experiences as different melodies of music.

Distinguished scholar and peace activist David Cortright has tried to illustrate with examples from several religions. Illustrating the first point he says: All major religions have imperatives to love others and avoid taking (human) life. In Buddhism, the rejection of killing is the first of the Five Precepts. Hinduism declares “the killing of living beings is not conducive to heaven.” Jainism rejects the taking of any form of life: “if someone kills living things…his sin increases.” The Quran states “slay not the life that God has made sacred.”; the Bible teaches you shall not murder.”

Clearly all religions from ancient eastern religions like Taoism to Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Abrahamic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all provide us with resources to work for peace and non-violence. Indeed, followers of all these religions and many of their sects have all worked at various times in their own ways to establish peace.

There is no just war or terrorism, whatever be the cause. What cannot be achieved by peaceful means, can never be achieved by any type of violence - war or terrorism.

From now on, we have to be aware that the earth no longer guarantees life for us unless we ourselves guarantee the life of the earth in the first place.

Due to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and thousands of nuclear weapons with enormous destructive potential, we have acquired the capacity to destroy all forms of live on the planet, mainly due to religious fanaticism and fundamentalism.

The present day rivalry among religions, has led many people to abandon religion altogether.

Genuine inter-religious dialogue occurs in an atmosphere of mutual respect and genuine interest. It is a sharing of spirituality that inspires all parties. God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times and countries.

If there are errors in other religions, that is none of the business of others. God, to whom the world belongs, takes care of that. People from various religions can learn a great deal from each others practices.

Our scriptures proclaim “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” - The whole world is one family. Paths are many but the goal is the same. As early as the time of the Rig-Veda it was said: ‘Reality is one; sages call it by various names.’

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