On World Religions Diversity, Not Dissension

Dr Anindita N. Balslev in conversation with His Holiness Dalai Lama, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Dr Karan Singh and Reverend Mpho Tutu
The Four Cliusters of Questions
Anindita N. Balslev
Namaskar! We are celebrating the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda by holding this international conference "On World Religions: Diversity, Not Dissension." We are doing this precisely because this is a topic on which his thoughts are particularly relevant to our contemporary multireligious situation worldwide. This conference has been inaugurated by the Hon'ble President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan itself. During the past two days we have been deliberating on key issues focusing on multiple aspects of this large and complex theme at the Azad Bhavan, which is the seat of ICCR. This morning's session at the India International Centre is the valedictory session of this international conference. Almost three decades ago, I heard with a sense of profound disbelief about a forecast made by certain futurists. These futurists, it was said, were pretty much convinced that with the spread of secular political ideology and the increasing sharing of scientific technology, the influence and impact of the religions of the world will gradually subside and even that in due course of time these were likely to vanish from the face of this earth. I recalled that prophecy and how it has proven to be utterly wrong with almost a sense of amusement, while providing the concept note for this significant international conference. Indeed, the religions of the world are still very much with us. A common sharing of advanced technology in a global context, while facilitating travel and communication in an unprecedented manner, has made it all the more clear to us that we are by no means living in a post-religious era. Swami Vivekananda had observed: "Of all the forces that have worked and are still working to mould the destinies of the human race, none, certainly, is more potent than that, the manifestation of which we call religion." Perhaps the single most dominant criterion used in the public dis-course for distinguishing the largest human aggregates one from the other is by their religious identity associated with one or another of the religions of the world. Indeed, the world religions are still continuing to be the primary sources from which people derive their sense of collective identity, draw their norms and values and seek guidance in times of need. Consequently, the presence of the plurality of religious identities is an inalienable fact of the contemporary global scene. It is a phenomenon that has to be dealt with at multiple levels of exchanges and inter-actions by all of us. Today, the central question before us is: Can we move on to a plane of collective existence where the presence of diversity of religious traditions will no longer be perceived as a cause for dissension—as it has so often been so far? Is it at all possible for us to view the religions of the world as our common resource that can enrich and empower us in ways that we cannot even imagine today? If we could or even give it an honest try we could then claim that we are indeed seeking to carry forward a project that was initiated by Swami Vivekananda. While exploring these issues with the eminent personalities present here, I have chosen this conversational format in order to highlight that the endeavor here is not simply to invite a series of monologues but about how to innovate a setting especially with a view to facilitate the bridge-building task among the religious traditions. This is a humble attempt to carry forward Swami Vivekananda's unfinished project of enhancing "harmony" and avoiding "dissensions" among the religions of the world. Speaking of religious identity, let us use just a couple of minutes more while trying to understand the genesis, that is the beginning and the constitution of religious identity for us as individuals—as it is generally referred to in ordinary parlance and in our everyday socio-political contexts. Let us begin by asking whether we deliberately choose these identities or are these by and large attributed to us by the accident of birth? The picture seems to me at least to be very much as follows: one is first born into a religious tradition, belongs to it and only later on one can say that a given tradition comes to belong to one. While considering the question of dissensions that often happens in the name of religious identity, it is indeed interesting to note that comparatively only a small number of people among us who actually choose their religious identity, as that would imply exiting from the ones into which they are born. There are such cases of course—as exemplified by a few persons present here—where one has been born into a given tradition but has decided to choose another. We also know that there are many cases where people have been persuaded, forced and even persecuted to exit from traditions into which they are born but even in such instances would we not hesitate to call that these are actually cases of deliberate choice? In other words, wherever there is no real option before us, there is no question of exercising choice. Thus, to start with we are born into a given religious tradition and this is not a case of choosing. I assume—like most of us present here—that to be the case for all four of them (pointing to Dr Karan Singh, HH Dalai Lama, Reverend Mpho Tutu and Maulana Wahiduddin Khan). Their religious identity is a part of the givenness of their lives—born as a Hindu, born as a Buddhist, born as a Christian and born as a Muslim. May I ask whether this is a correct assumption on my part? (They nod, but see video to note how Maulana Saab answers. My comment to that response is that he chose to "remain" a Muslim.) Let me now say that I am truly honored for having this opportunity to share the stage with you all. You have before you my four clusters of questions that are the same as those that were sent to you and I request that each one of you respond to the same question or questions but only from the vantage point of your own tradition. Let this be an opportunity for all of us to start from the scratch. Every time I read out one of these four clusters of questions and share these with the members of the audience, I request each of you to fully utilize 5-6 minutes for each cluster of questions and let us benefit from your knowledge. Friends, we are now going to listen to the practitioners, who are also all authors and have very ably propagated the core ideas of their respective traditions in their published works.
Q 1. What do you consider to be the principal teaching of your tradition? What is it that has especially inspired you most, impelling you to serve your tradition all throughout your life that we cannot simply attribute to the fact of your being connected with it by the accident of birth but will be willing to grant that it could just as well be the case had it been a matter of deliberate choice?
In other words, is there a central message that is specific to your tradi-tion that you wish to share with the entire humanity because you firmly believe that we will all live in a better world if we pay heed to it?
Replies to Question No. 1
HH Dalai Lama: Respected spiritual brothers and sisters. I also recognize some long time friends in the audience. I am very happy to have this opportunity.
   I am a Tibetan. Since seventh century, and particularly eighth century, and ninth century, Buddhism very much flourished in Tibet, particularly the Nalanda tradition. Pali tradition provided the basis for mainly Vinaya practice, monastic discipline. On top of that, Sanskrit tradition provided lots of philosophical ideas and practices including some yoga or Tantric practices.
  My parents were uneducated farmers. I think my father knew more about a variety of horses rather than Dharma. In early period, when people chose me as a reincarnation of Dalai Lama, I studied Buddha Dharma with little interest; it was compulsory. Gradually, I have studied it seriously. Buddhism, particularly Nalanda tradition, puts emphasis not on faith but on reasoning and experiment. Buddha himself stated: All my followers should not accept my teachings out of faith but rather through investigation and experiment. In the meantime I also developed interest in learning about technology and science. Since my childhood I have been curious by nature. The more you investigate, the more you engage in thoughts and thinking. As we observe our world and its lots of problems, essentially many of these problems are our own creation. No one wants problems, but we create many problems. Then the big question is why? I think it is due to too much self-centered attitude and lack of holistic view.
  One of the main Buddhist concepts is Pratityasamutpada or every-thing is interdependent. This concept gives us a holistic view. No event is absolute and independent. Good or bad events happen because of this and those factors. Thinking this way always brings us a holistic view. It is quite useful to reduce narrow-mindedness. Additionally, there is altruism, sense of concern for other's well being. Altruism is the direct anti-dote to reduce self-centered attitude. These are good and useful practices. These are also immense help to understand other traditions. In spite of different philosophical views, all major religious traditions talk about practice of love, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, individual contentment, and self-discipline. All major religious traditions carry the same message. In order to strengthen these sorts of practice, use of different philosophy is necessary. Why? Because among humanity there are many different mental dispositions. Even among Buddha's own students, there are different mental dispositions. Therefore, Buddha taught different philosophies which may appear contradictory. I often tell people these seemingly contradictory philosophies came from the same teacher. This is not because Buddha is confused in his own mind. One day he taught some different philosophy; next day, next audience, another sort of philosophy. All of this is neither due to his own confusion nor for deliberately creating more confusion among his followers. He taught many different philosophies out of necessity. For different mental dispositions, different ways of approach are necessary. I personally find this reason immensely helpful to understand and appreciate different traditions—both theistic and non-theistic religious traditions. Needless to say, within these traditions we find differences as well. I feel different philosophies are necessary in order to fulfill a variety of people's wish.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: I was born in a Muslim family. My education and my upbringing were totally on the traditional lines. But when I reached the age of maturity, I became a seeker; I wanted to discover the truth on my own. I studied many books on different subjects, including religion, that were related to my search. Finally, I discovered the truth that my nature was seeking. This discovery was Islam. I can say that Islam is my discovery. I'm a Muslim not by birth, but I'm Muslim by choice. Then I published a book with the title Islam Rediscovered. My main search was regarding the purpose of life. In the Quran I discovered the Creation Plan of God. This discovery led me to under-stand the real purpose of life. According to the Quran, after the creation, God Almighty settled man on the planet earth. The planet earth is a selection ground. Here man is constantly under divine watch, and God Almighty will select those men and women, on the basis of merit, who prove to be deserving candidates for Paradise. This selection depends completely on everyone's personal record. In the end, God Almighty will select all those individuals from entire history and settle them in Paradise, which is the perfect world, free from all kinds of limitations and disadvantages.
  This discovery helped me understand the purpose of life. Here I found the justification of settling man on this planet. This discovery helped me understand the creation of man as unique. It helped me understand the pre-death period, and also the post-death period of my life. Before this discovery my feeling was that I have strayed into a world that was not made for me, but now everything seems to fall into place.
  I was born as an idealist, but according to my experience the present world was less-than-ideal. It seemed that a perfectionist was compelled to live in an imperfect world. My discovery solved this problem, and I realized that the present world is not my final abode, my final abode is Paradise, and Paradise is undoubtedly the ideal place to live in.
  I wanted to know the interpretation of human history. But my problem was that I wanted to interpret history in terms of humanity at large, which seemed impossible. Because, man enjoys freedom and he is also free to misuse his freedom. As we cannot abolish this freedom, we can-not establish an ideal system. It is this fact that in this world finding perfect individual is possible, but establishing a perfect society or sys-tem is simply not possible.
  Then I discovered that according to the Creation Plan of God, it is persons who are required and not the masses. Gibbon has remarked: "History is indeed little more than the register of crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind." This remark seems to be right when you see history in totality. But when you see history in terms of individuals, the scene is quite different. Now the world becomes a vast garden of beautiful trees.
Reverend Mpho Tutu: John 3:16 "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but shall have eternal life." This is probably the most often quoted verse of the Christian Bible. It encapsulates the principal teachings of my faith tradition. First that God loves. The fullest expression of God is love. God's love is creative, generative and generous. Second that the world is the object of God's love. The world is not described here as a mistake, a lack, an incompleteness but is described as loved. Because the world is loved the world is, by definition, lovable. This quotation does not make a division between what is spiritual, beautiful, acceptable and lovable and what is fleshly, ugly, wrong and therefore unlovable. What this teaching contains is a statement of God's vastness and God's goodness. God is vast enough and good enough to love the world, not as it will be when it is perfected but as it is. God will love the world into perfection.
  I am Christian. I was born into a Christian family and so this was my first exposure. It is the third aspect of the quotation that holds me to my faith. God became human and dwelt among us in the form of the man Jesus Christ. The reason that paying heed to incarnation will make a better world for all of us is the message it conveys. That God took human form tells us that our bodies matter. Our bodies are not an irrelevancy. Our bodies are not a prison for our spirits but, rather, there is something very particular and very holy, about our human form. The scriptures of the Christian faith describe the last judgment thus:
When the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand. "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."'
As described in this passage of scripture, when in the last days God returns to weigh our deeds in the balance the standard against which we are measured may surprise us. They are not the questions that one would typically be those with which religiosity is concerned. The questions that Christian scripture says we will be asked are not "How many hours did you spend in prayer?" or "What was your liturgical practice?" but, "Did you clothe the naked? Did you feed the hungry? Did you visit the prisoner? Did you care for the sick?" These questions demand that we keep our eyes on the eternal by acting in the present reality. These questions and the teaching that they encapsulate are the teachings that Christianity has to offer humanity.
  The three claims of my religion as expressed here: That God is love and God loves the world as it is—and therefore the world is lovable; that God has taken human form—therefore our bodies matter; and that how we treat human beings in the here and now is what will shape our place in eternity, are all teachings that can improve human experience.
'New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989. National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America (Matthew 25: 31-36).
Let us consider each proposition in turn: in the first instance, that the world is lovable even with all the faults, terrors and disasters it contains. This truth offers us an approach to changing the world that is based on love rather one based on anger and hatred. Hatred, we know, can never overcome hatred. As only light can overcome darkness, so only love can overcome hate. In the second instance, that God took human form and therefore our bodies are good and acceptable to God. This truth should give us each a particular reverence for human flesh and blood. The rev-erence with which we meet our fellow human beings should be as the reverence with which we approach a temple or a place of worship. Treating our bodies with reverence will make rape, torture and other forms of human brutality not only wrong and distressing but, actually, blasphemous. In the third instance that what determines our place in eternity is our action in the present reality. We cannot win paradise by ignoring or injuring our fellow human beings. There is no prayer, song or meditation or liturgical practice that will earn us heaven. We are made fit for the promise of everlasting life by the practice of human kindness and concern.
Dr Karan Singh: In my view, the principal teachings of Hinduism are to be found in the Upanishads where the all pervasive divine power the Bramhan—and the Divinity within each human being—the Atman—have been analyzed in detail. There is also the concept of Yoga as the philosophy and methodology of joining the Atman and the Bramhan. There are four paths in Yoga with hundreds of by-paths. These are Jnana Yoga, the way of Wisdom; Bhakti Yoga, the way of Devotion; Karma Yoga, the way of Dedicated Works and Raja Yoga, the way of Psycho-spiritual practices.
  I have always been attracted to the universal values contained in the Vedanta, and find that they are compatible with the Interfaith movement with which I have been involved for four decades. The Rig Vedic dictum "Ekam Sadvipraha Bahudha Vadante." "The truth is one, the wise call it by many names," is the keystone of the whole Interfaith philosophy. We must accept that there are multiple paths to the divine, and whereas our own path may be the best for us, this does not mean that people following other path can be murdered or tortured or persecuted in any way. This is the central message in Hinduism which needs to be shared with the entire humanity. We will certainly live in the better world if this is accepted.
Anindita N. Balslev
We all know of the dual impact of religious affiliations—benevolent and pernicious—as it is demonstrated in the history, be that of two denominations of the same religious tradition or of two religions, that is, where the religious context is definitively plural in character. Swami Vivekananda said:
No other human motive has deluged the world with blood so much as religion; at the same time,...no other human influence has taken such care, not only of humanity, but also of the lowest of animals, as religion has done. Nothing makes us so cruel as religion, nothing makes us so tender as religion.
Indeed, this cruel aspect has been played out in such gruesome manner in the name of religious identity that we really need to under-stand what makes that possible, what is at the root of it. I have said in the beginning that we draw a sense of collective identity from our religions. Let me now ask what is entailed in the teachings of these diverse traditions—explicitly or implicitly—that influence us to construe the "otherness" of other traditions in specific ways that has impact on those whom we do not perceive to be belonging to "our own" religious community. So my second cluster of questions to you is:
Q 2. What is the status of the other in the philosophy of religion of your own tradition? What is the explicit or implicit teaching that is bound to influence the attitude of the members of your own community as and when they invariably encounter these "others," that is, those who happen to derive their sense of religious identity from "other" sources than your own? That they are to be gradually vanquished? To be eventually converted for the sake of their own good? That those who are reluctant to do so are to be perceived as doomed or at best to be situated at a lower level in the hierarchy and somehow tolerated?
In other words, the question is whether it is possible to be more inclusive? Can these "others" be at all accepted as followers of a distinctly different path yet recognizably a legitimate path? If yes, on what ground?
Replies to Question No. 2
HH Dalai Lama: I think I already answered it. As I said, there is variety of people. I may add one thing. Recently, I saw one report that out of seven billion human beings; about one billion are non-believers. In this regard, I want to say that even though I am a Buddhist and accordingly I do my practice daily, but I never try to propagate Buddhism. Of course, I do understand my responsibility and duty to explain what Buddhism is to Buddhists and those who ask about it. In the Vinayapitaka it is clearly mentioned that unless someone asked you for teaching, you should not teach. This goes well with respecting individual's sort of rights. Realistically speaking, on this planet, there are so many religious traditions. When Buddha and Mahavira came, there were already other religious traditions in India. Buddha and Mahavira never tried to convert all Indians into Buddhists and Jains. The fact of the matter is today there are many religious traditions. In Arab and eastern as well as many other areas in the world, a large number of Muslims follow Islamic tradition. In the whole western countries most people are from the Judo-Christian background. India actually is home to many great religious traditions. That said, quite often religious followers, including Buddhists, forget their religions when things are going well. They do not follow religious principles at the time of need. Instead, people let destructive emotions act like god. So many problems are actually our own creation. There is too much greed, too much anger, and too much suspicion, but not enough practice of compassion and forgiveness. All major religious traditions, for the past thousand years, helped humanity. Today also millions of people get immense inspirations from them and it will be the same in the future as well. I think for at least a few centuries it will remain like that. After that nobody knows. So, that is the reality. I always expressed that religious conversion is not good. For example, there are quite a number of Tibetan Buddhist centers in the west. I always tell them they should not convert people into Buddhists. Only if people really come to learn something about Buddhism, then it is ok to teach them Buddhism. Actually, a German friend of mine who is a businessman wants to build a Buddhist meditation center in France, but I told him this is not right. France is a Judo-Christian country. If he really wants to build a Buddhist meditation center, then he should construct it either in Thailand, or Burma or even India. Like that, we must respect individual's wish and his or her tradition.
As for the question about non-believers, I think their number will increase. Non-believers are part of humanity and they also have the every right to be happy and successful members in human community. In this regard, without touching religion, usually I talk about secular ethics. Here I do not talk about God or Buddha, but simply about ethics according to our common experience and common sense. Everybody is born from a mother and that is our common experience. Rajas are also born that way. I, as a peasant child, also have been born that way, and you too. I think I want to tease my long time friend (Dr Karan Singh), that perhaps a peasant child is much closer to his mother than Raja's son. Rani lives there and someone takes care of her prince. In that sense a simple peasant's son has been more fortunate because he has received mother's affection and mother's breast-feeding with full of care and affection. Mother's affection and care for a child are extremely impor¬tant. That bond and experience remain deep in child's blood till death. All of us who are in this hall, outwardly everybody look very smart, but deep inside those of us who have received maximum affection from their mothers when we were young, I think, are much happier and more firm deep inside as compared to those who did not receive the same affection and care from their mothers at a young age. Individuals may be successful today, but at the young age, did not receive affection from their mothers or their mothers died at delivery or those who are born as an "unwanted child" or abused, then such person may outwardly look very smart, but deep inside they feel a sense of insecurity. All of these are our common experiences.
Importantly, we must respect people, and value human affection and compassion. These are very important values even from health view¬point. Medical scientists clearly say that constant fear; anger and hatred are actually eating our immune system. Calm and peaceful mind is a very important factor to sustain our immune system. You just mentioned that I look healthy. According to my own experience, I think calm mind is immensely beneficial for good health. In our discussions some scien¬tists talk about healthy body and healthy mind. It is not sufficient just taking care of physical health by taking medicine. Ultimately, source of healthy body is peace of mind. I think we can educate non-believers to be warm-hearted persons without necessarily becoming religious minded. They can be more compassionate persons for their own interest, not for the next life. In our everyday life if we become more compas¬sionate and more caring for others' well being, then we would have no room to harm others, to cheat others, and to bully others. Not at all.
Actually, you care for others' well being. Compassion is the very basis of non-violence, India's thousand years old tradition. Ahimsa is not a weakness or indifferent attitude. Not at all. Ahimsa (Nonviolence) means even though you have the ability to harm, but you respect their life, their right and so deliberately restrain from harming others. That is nonviolence. With Ahimsa, religious harmony will automatically come because you respect the followers of other religions. Therefore, I feel sometimes compassion and human affection is Universal Religion. No need of complicated philosophy, creator or Buddha. Karma means action. As you mention karma yoga, everything depends on action. Action depends on motivation. So that is my view. Too long, thank you.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: The word conversion is totally alien to Islam. Islam believes in spiritual development rather than religious con-version. According to Islam, religion is completely one's own intellectual choice; it is the result of one's own discovery rather than getting direction from some outside agent. The Creation Plan of God in this regard is mentioned in the Quran in these words: "This is the truth from your Lord. Let him who will, believe in it, and him who will, deny it.' As far as salvation is concerned, it will be determined by one's personal record. In Islam there is no race-wise salvation or community-wise salvation. Islam very clearly declares that salvation is individual-wise. It is a matter that is completely between man and God, and not between man and man. The rationale behind this theory is that salvation is the result of personality development. Only those persons will find entry into Paradise who have developed their personalities in such a way that they deserve settlement in Paradise, which is a highly refined society. For example, the people of Paradise will be completely free from all kinds of negative thought. So, only those people will be selected to be included in the high society of Paradise who have proved in this world that they are such developed souls that they can live in Paradise as is required. In the Quran Paradise is described as the "Home of Peace.' So, only those people will qualify to find entry into Paradise who have proved themselves to be peace-loving persons in the complete sense of the word. 18:29. 10:25.
In the later period of history Muslims jurists legislated the law that one who commits apostasy will be given capital punishment, or one who is involved in blasphemy will be given capital punishment. This kind of legislation is completely un-Islamic, it is an innovation of a later period of history, and has no sanction in the Quran. According to the Quran, everyone is free, no one can impose curbs on anyone's freedom. It is God who will decide whether someone misused his freedom or he used his freedom properly. Laws on apostasy or blasphemy are like entering into the domain of God. It is not a question of acceptance by Muslims, only God will accept or refuse, even those who claim to be true Muslims. The status of everyone, including those who claim to be Muslims, is one and the same, and that is, their fate will be decided in the Hereafter by God Almighty. The Prophet of Islam has declared that although I am the Prophet of God, but I don't know what will be decided about me in the Hereafter, and what will be decided about you. The attitude of Muslims towards others will be based on common brotherhood. Everyone is made by God, so Muslims must see others as God-made persons, they have no right to issue a decree about the fate of other human beings. Islam believes in common ancestry. The Prophet of Islam has said: "All men and women are Children of Adam." According to this all men and women are brothers and sisters to each other.
Reverend Mpho Tutu: Christianity has so much variety within itself and the posture towards other has been contested since the beginning of Christianity. Christianity began as a faith, a tradition, a path, an "other" in the center of a dominant and established faith. The Christian religion was born out of the Jewish faith. The first disciples of Jesus Christ—indeed, Jesus himself—if asked, would have described themselves as Jewish. Christianity was a minority sect within a dominant religion. Christianity stood in the posture of being the other religion to religion that already existed. Christians have adopted various postures with respect to the other throughout the history of the faith.
The Apostle Peter writes this:
Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives' conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God's sight.'
He advises that Christians can, by being exemplars of their faith win converts to Christianity.
The history of our faith is replete with examples of zealots who have done far more than offer a shining example of Christian living in order to win converts to the faith. The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades of the Middle Ages are early examples of violent conquest and conversion. Western Christianity spread with western colonialism. More or less bloody means were used to win converts. From the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries the Conquistadors spread Spanish and Portuguese rule through much of the world. The Conquistadors were soldiers, explorers and adventurers. They were accompanied on their voyages by Roman Catholic clergy who fulfilled administrative functions and spread the Christian faith. Converts came to Christianity because the religion told a compelling story. People were converted because they saw disciples of the faith who were genuinely people of goodwill. Many were converted from the margins of their societies, the Christian religion has a place of preference for the poor, the weak, those marginalized because of physical or mental ability. These were attracted to the faith rather than driven into it. In the colonies the attraction of a high quality education brought many converts, Christians of convenience. Many who were brought into the fold by educational opportunity remained because the teachings of the faith were compelling and engaging. Christians of convenience were drawn into the faith by the offer of boons for member-ship. But some were propelled into the faith by fear. During the Nazi holocaust many Jewish families converted to Christianity in fear for their lives. Rather claim a Christian identity and live than proclaim your Jewish heritage and die. In the modern era Christian fundamentalists have used less brutal means to enforce a type of orthodoxy. Political maneuvering and social ostracism have been used within communities to ensure adherence to the Christian faith. America of the 1950s comes to mind. Membership in social clubs and respect in the local community were a function of Christian identity. As the dominant religion Christianity won many social converts. As we see, down through the 1 Peter 3: 1-4. ages the attitude of the Christian faith towards other faith traditions has been contested. It continues to be so.
Jesus, is quoted in the Gospels as saying to his disciples that:
      In my father's house there are many mansions.'
and that
     I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.'
Indicating to his disciples, that their particular expression of faith is not the only valid way to serve God.
Perhaps in contrast Jesus is also quoted as saying:
    I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'
This line of scripture has been taken by many Christians through the ages to mean that Christianity is the only true religion and that all people must be converted to Christianity in order to find salvation.
   I understand all this to mean that we have really no concept of the vastness of God. We have little understanding of how it is that God speaks into the hearts and into the lives of even the people who sit next to us, the people who are closest to us. There cannot be a one size fits all expression or experience of faith, even as there is no one-size-fits-all expression of Christianity. We are bound by Christian teaching to be exemplars of our own faith. We may win converts to our faith by the manner of our lives but the earliest teachings of the Christian faith do not require that we proselytize. If the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John are to be believed then those of us who profess the faith must stand in profound respect of the way other people experience and express their faith. Who are we to know whether people of faiths other than ours are own "sheep of another flock" or "dwellers" in a different mansion in the household of God.   John 14:2. 6j 10:16. John 14:6.
Dr Karan Singh: While from the purely Vedantic point of view there is noother, we find that in history India has been subject to a constant series of invasions and iconoclasts have destroyed hundreds of temples and inflicted great pain upon the Hindu community. In response to that, the other came to be known as Mleccha or the unclean, and this was further strengthened by the fact that the proselytizing religions often used force to bring about conversions. I must add that in sharp contra-distinction to these invaders were the Sufis who brought with them the message of love and harmony, and whose shrines are still revered throughout India.
Anindita N. Balslev
Now let me move on to the next concern.
Those who are familiar with Swamiji's writings know that in many places he has pointed out how noble ideas get trivialized by people of sectarian mentality. He has joked about how, for example, the idea of "universal brotherhood" has been used by some Muslims and Christians. However, when referring to failures and shortcomings of the Hindu community, he has expressed his disapproval in strong terms, sometimes even very harshly but always in all cases with the intent of reminding the followers of specific traditions that they have to live up to the highest ideals of their own traditions, that their social practices and institutions have to comply with those ideals.
Q 3. So, I will now request you to take on a self-critical posture and tell us openly whether you have noticed any event or a display of an attitude or an institutionalized custom or practice that has been carried out in the past or is still in vogue in the name of your own religious tradition that you abhor because you are convinced that no matter how that has come about is surely against the spirit of your tradition. Please give us one example and then tell us what you think needs to be done in order to eradicate it or prevent it.
Replies to Question No. 3
HH Dalai Lama: Frankly speaking, I think in all major religious traditions, many of the followers are not serious and sincere. I observe in various religious traditions, I think due to lack of knowledge and the message of your own tradition and practice, many people simply carry rituals and some ceremony. For example, many Christians during their service in the church, at that moment, everybody seems very serious, but outside the church, they simply carry their usual way of life and activities such as cheating and bullying. These people are not very serious about their faith. Among Tibetan Buddhists also there are those who do the same. Unfortunately, religion is also used as an instrument of exploitation. Among Tibetan Buddhists also, quite seriously, some lamas sit on high thrones and appear as very holy but may exploit other people. I actually criticize these practices. I also publicly criticize Buddhist practitioners who attach much importance to wearing ceremony dress or different hats or instruments. I always tell them, we have never heard in the Nalanda tradition that great masters like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Bhavavevika, and Buddhapalita wear different hats and carry some instruments in their hands. Not at all. They mainly did thinking, analysis, writing, and meditation. That is the proper way to follow Buddhism. Sometimes we, the Tibetan Buddhists, put too much emphasis on super-ficial things. You know, for example, monks wear masks and do some rituals. These rituals are supposed to destroy the enemy of Dharma but they failed. We are too much involved in superficial things. Similarly, many Hindu families simply worship Ganesh, Shiva, and Saraswati in the morning; they offer them flowers, incense and recite some Sanskrit shlokas (stanzas) without knowing the meaning. Much importance is given to rituals, not the real religious message. Sometimes, I jokingly tell my friends that in the morning you worship in front of Ganesh or other deities as if you ask for their blessing to be successful in your practice of corruption and hypocrisy. How can that be? That shouldn't be. Impossible! Historically, India is our Guru and I feel very close to India. All our Buddhist knowledge, we learnt from Indian guru. That is clear. Similarly, some Muslim friends also seem to pray to Allah for success in doing wrong things. That shouldn't be. How can it be? Sadly, religion is also used for conflicts. For example, followers of the same Allah but from different sects fight with each other. People who use religion for conflicts do not know the real meaning of their teachings and follow them seriously and sincerely. Religion is just a lip service for them. Whether you accept religion or not, I think, is up to individual. Nobody can force you to believe in a religion. For example, during Buddha's time there were nonbelievers like Charvakas. But Buddha never imposed his view on them. In Ancient India, at the intellectual level, followers of different philosophies engaged in argument and debate but with respect. That is ok. For example, Charvaka's philosophy was challenged in debate but the challengers respected Rishis or saints of their tradition. My point is this that it is up to the individual whether to accept or not any religion. Once you accept a religion, you must be sincere and serious about it. That is my general critique of any religious follower. As I publicly criticize others, I also know I have to check myself. Every day from early morning onward, I should practice Buddha's teaching sincerely and seriously. If I tell others one thing, and I myself do another thing or do it differently, that is hypocrisy. Sometimes, I tell people, religion seems to teach us how to act hypocritically. That's telling others to be truthful, honest, compassionate and forgiving but one's self practice none of these. Investigation and analysis are crucial to understand Buddhism and be realistic. Let me tell you a story about my own disagreement with Vasubandhu's cosmological description of universe with Mt. Meru in its center. Vasubhandu and Asanga are brothers and public proponents of Chitamatrin philosophy (Mind Only Philosophy). Both are great scholars of the Nalanda tradition. Vasubhandu, in his Abhidhamakoshakarika, describes Mount Meru in the center and sun and moon go like that at the same level. I no longer accept that explanation. I am a little bit rebel-lious but with respect. Sometimes, I jokingly tell people that for Vasubhandu, who had no glasses and telescope, sun and moon almost looked the same size, may be with a slight difference. He described that the difference of sun and moon in terms of their size is just one yojhna (one league?); otherwise, just fifty fifty. Actually, the difference between the two is vast; sun is huge but moon is much smaller. As a Buddhist and follower of Nalanda tradition, we must accept reality. Therefore, it is important that one should apply Buddhist logical approach to investigate things and accept reality as it is found through systematic and scientific investigation and must reject false perception and explanation of reality. All the great Nalanda masters like Nagarjuna, Chandrakriti and Shantideva thoroughly investigated Buddha's words. If certain points mentioned in Buddha's own words go against our experiment and investigation, then we have a right to reject that. Therefore, I also follow that tradition. So, I respectfully disagree with Vasubhandu's description of Mount Meru. I think his description is an old fashioned thinking and not a reality. Excuse me for saying that. That's my usual critiquing method.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: According to my study, there is nothing in texts of Islam that I dislike. But, Muslims as a community have developed some traits that are quite against the Islamic teachings. And, here comes my difference with other Muslims. For example, present Muslims have developed a self-made criterion. According to them, one who seems to them not following the interest of the Muslim community, they believe that these kinds of persons or groups are enemies of Islam. But this kind of Muslim-oriented thinking is completely wrong. In Islam there are no such enemies. The Quran says: "Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend."' According to this Quranic verse, there is no one as enemy of Muslims. Everyone is either your actual friend or potential friend. If you find someone who seemingly goes against the interests of your community, then don't dub him as an enemy. But, try to establish normal relationship with him. Try to turn his potential into actuality by doing good deeds with him. Muslims have formed numerous non-governmental organizations, and under the banner of these NGOs they have waged jihad against their enemies. But this kind of thinking is completely un-Islamic. Jihad in the sense of war is exclusively the prerogative of an established state solely for defence purpose. Even states are not allowed to wage any war other than defensive war. The term "non-state actors" is totally an innovation, it has no basis in Islam. All those wars are un-Islamic that are called guerrilla war, secret war, undeclared war and also proxy war. To eradicate this mind-set, it requires long educational efforts, which includes that all Islamic ulema should issue a joint fatwa and declare openly and clearly that these kind of violent activities are totally against the teachings of Islam. It is the ulema's greatest duty, if they fail to per-form this duty they will be accountable before God. In the later period of history, Muslims have coined a host of new terms for describing the Islamic position regarding different issues. One such term is Dar al-Kufr. According to this term, the whole world was divided into two parts: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufr. Dar al-Islam was that part of the globe in which the Muslims were living in majority and Dar al-Kufr was that part of the globe in which communities other than Muslims were living. This kind of terminology was completely un-Islamic. The Prophet of Islam never used the terms Dar al-Islam or Dar al-Kufr. If you read the 41:34.268
Quran, which is the most authentic book on Islam, you will find that the Quran again and again uses the term Ayyuh al-Insaan (0 Man) or Ayyuh al-Naas (0 Mankind). The word al-Naas and al-Insaan are repeated in the Quran more than three hundred times. According to this, the world is neither Dar al-Islam nor Dar al-Kufr, instead it is Dar al-Insaan (world of mankind). I strongly differ with the above theorization and I believe that our world is Dar al-Insaan, and nothing else.
Reverend Mpho Tutu: My critique is, perhaps, a very self-interested one. Our tradition, not our religion, but our tradition does not accord women and girls the regard and the respect which they so rightly deserve. There are positions of power in our church communities that are not open to women. There are whole denominations, which will not allow women to exercise roles of liturgical leadership. Within my own denomination the role of women as ordained leaders is still contested. We have recently ordained the first two women as bishops in the Anglican Church in Southern Africa, but you know that has come as a hard fought battle. In the Church in England there still hasn't been an agreement that women can be ordained as Bishops. There is no tenet of our faith that says that women are not fully human and so cannot occupy roles of leadership within the faith community. Our Lord Jesus Christ was quite radical in his regard for women. The Gospel tells the story of two sisters, Martha and Mary as follows:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.'
Jesus' words and action are doubly radical. In a society that placed a high premium on the value of hospitality Jesus privileged learning and 'Luke 10: 38-42.discipleship. In a society that had very little regard for the personhood of women, Jesus recognized Mary as a disciple and allowed her to sit at his feet, it was only disciples who had the privilege of sitting at the teacher's feet. And women at that time were never accorded the status of disciple. In the Christian Bible it is women who are the first witnesses to the resurrection,'° women who were the first to see the risen Christ," and women who became apostles to the apostles, the first messengers to the Christian messengers.' Even so in our religion the roles, rights and responsibilities of women continue to be contested. I would venture that Christianity is not the only religion that must contend with this issue.
Dr Karan Singh: In Hinduism, as I have mentioned, we must accept different paths to the divine provided they do not attempt to force them-selves upon the Hindu community. We must eradicate the practice that has dogged Hinduism down through the ages, the discriminative and cruel practice of untouchability. Whatever may have been the origins of this custom, it clearly violates Vedantic principles and has condemned millions of human beings to an inferior position for centuries. It is interesting that the whole Hindu social reform movement which began in eighteenth century in Bengal with Raja Ram Mohan Roy and included a number of organizations such as the Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission has targeted this practice. In our Constitution, we have not only abolished untouchability by law but have undertaken affirmative action by reserving 12.5 percent of all government jobs for the Scheduled Castes (former untouchables) and 6.5 for Scheduled Tribes which cover our substantial tribal population particularly in the North-East. Despite this, the prejudice still continues and we have to sustain our thrust for equity and social justice.
Anindita N. Balslev
While Swamiji was alive, already during that time there was keen con-cern in some circles with regard to the presence of religious diversity and that attempts need to be made to bring diverse religious traditions together. The culmination of such efforts was what led to the setting up
10 John 20; Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:5; Luke 24:1-9.
11 John 20:11-16; Matthew 28:8; Mark 16:9.
12 John 20:18; Matthew 28:10; Mark 16:7; Luke 24:10.
of the First Parliament of Religions of the World, held in Chicago in 1893 where the young Swami Vivekananda participated. Candid and fearless as he was, he openly said that "harmony among religions of the world" has still remained merely a goal. He had frankly admitted that if that goal has not been reached so far, it is because of a want of a plan that is practical.
He wrote: "That plan alone is practical, which does not destroy the individuality of any man in religion and at the same time shows him a point of union with all others."
I now come to the fourth of the cluster of questions.
Q 4. Please take a few minutes each and indicate a plan of action so that a point of union among diverse religious traditions can be demonstrated as achievable on a collective plane. What is it that we are not doing because of which you think that diversity leads to dissension even in our time when technology has bridged physical distance in an unprecedented manner? How do we transform ourselves so that in our zeal to emphasize our distinctness, we no longer feel the need to overlook the overlaps that are there and get ready to recognize our shared common values?
Replies to Question No. 4
HH Dalai Lama: I always tell people about the concept of one religion and one truth and the concept of several religions and several truths. These views seem contradictory. Every religion seems to claim one ultimate truth or something like that in its own tradition. I feel, in order to develop or keep single pointed faith towards your tradition, the con-cept of one religion and one truth is relevant. But in terms of a larger community, obviously in this room, one religion and one truth is not relevant. That fact is that several religions and several truths already exist here and in larger community. Therefore, in terms of a larger com-munity, the concept of several religions and several truths is relevant. In contrast, for an individual practitioner, the concept of one truth and one religion is relevant. Looking from different perspectives, you can see there is no contradiction in my earlier proposition. As for religious harmony, for the last several years, one time I dis-cussed some ideas with Bishop Tutu. Firstly, interreligious pilgrimage can promote religious harmony. I have implemented the idea since 1975. I have been on pilgrimage to different religious holy sites with groups of people from different religious traditions. I had one pilgrimage to Jerusalem, I think twice. I also went to Lourde and Fatima in Portugal and many Hindu temples and Jewish temples to pay my respect. I found such pilgrimage very, very helpful for mutual appreciation and harmony. I also paid my respect to a mosque in Jordan and also a Bahai temple. As I said, I find it very, very beneficial. Secondly, it is important to meet with different religious practitioners and exchange different experiences with each other. I found it very, very helpful to understand and appreciate the value of other traditions. At the academic level, scholars can discuss commonalities and differences. Naturally, we will find differences but what is very important is to dis-cuss the purpose of differences and different approaches. Different approaches can lead to the same goal—how to be a compassionate, sensible and honest person. Some religions say God created us all. If you truly believe that and implement that belief, there is no basis for conflicts among human beings, among brothers and sisters. Belief in one Creator God is very helpful to reduce differences and conflicts because of single pointed faith towards God, our creator. It helps us to reduce self-centred attitude. In Buddhism there is the Anathma or Selfless theory, which claims that there is no intrinsic difference between self and others or you and me. This view also helps reduce self-centred attitude or the same purpose. In contrast, there is the concept of Atma or Soul that eventually merges with Brahma, which serves the same purpose. I have used Anatma concept to reduce self-centred attitude and develop faith towards Buddha and Boddhisatvas. My point is this that there are different approaches but they serve the same purpose. Once we are clear with that then there is hardly any basis for conflicts, arguments and fights. To Christian practitioners I want to say that when you think of your father, beloved and merciful, the whole atmosphere will immediately become very warm and very frank. With meetings like this where religious leaders sit together and send the same message of peace and harmony from the same platform, I think it will have significant impact in the eyes of ordinary people, millions and millions people. Looking at Rev. Mpho Tutu HH Dalai Lama said, "Your father told me that whenever disaster happens, people from different religious faith could come together and serve the needy together." I think that is also a very good idea. All religious traditions teach us to serve people and serve the needy. In this respect, our Christian brothers and sisters,
I think, are more dedicated than Buddhist brothers and sisters. Many of you already practice these things, you know it very well as we discussed it on few occasions. I very much feel that India is the only country where all major world religions exist harmoniously together, as you mentioned. Two years ago, in Jodhpur I met a Romanian who carries research work on religious harmony in this country. He told me that he visited one Muslim village, with at least a few thousand population there, but only three Hindu families. They live without fear, completely safe and friendly with rest of the Muslim community. That is India. I feel it is worthwhile to share this story here in the gathering of many great scholars. Some of my Muslim friends told me that real Islam practitioners should not create bloodshed to people. If you shed blood, then you are no longer an Islam practitioner. The reason, they said, is this that Islam practitioners must extend love towards the entire creatures of Allah. Here I should also mention about the concept of Jihad. Some said Jihad actually means combating your own negative emotions; it does not mean engaging in violence or fighting with other people. It means combating your own wrong, mistaken, inner destructive emotions. So, my point is this that all religions have the same message and the same purpose. My main point is this that religious harmony in this country has not politically developed recently, but has existed for thousand years. We must make special efforts to promote it within the country as people take it for granted; this is not sufficient. We must educate people about it within the country. India also should show to the rest of the world that different religious people could live together harmoniously and serve people without creating problems. I think we should have this kind of meeting not just occasionally but quite often. We should invite people from different countries, and show them this living spirit of India as an example. My Indian brothers and sisters—Hindus and Muslims—time has come to make continuous effort to promote this living Indian religious spirit of harmony within this country and abroad. We may prefer leisure but now is not the time. We should be more active now. I say to my friend, your age is already 82, but you should be more active. More active means more exercise. Sometimes, I jokingly tell people, age is also setting on me. I am now nearly 78 and I have some problem with my knees. But I tell them that this problem does not matter much because my main interest and main commitment is talk, not sports. If my main interest is sports, then this really is a problem. But for talk, it is not much of a problem. So, I can be active at least for the next ten to fifteen years. I will be active talking even in a wheelchair. Thank You.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan: In this regard Islam follows a very natural formula. This formula is given in the Quran in these words: "For you your religion, for me mine.' This formula is based on the principle of mutual respect, that is, follow one and respect all. To illustrate this point I would like to cite one event from the prophetic life.
The Prophet started his mission in Mecca, but after some years he migrated to Medina. At that time there were three Jewish tribes living in Medina. The Prophet, as head of the Muslim community, issued a declaration that is called in Islamic history the Declaration of Medina. In this declaration it was mentioned: "For Jews their religion and for Muslims their religion." One instance of the Prophet gives a very beautiful illustration of this principle. The history of Islam tells us that one day the Prophet of Islam was at some place in Medina. At that time he saw a funeral procession passing by. The Prophet was seated at that time. On seeing the funeral he stood up in respect. One of his Companions said: "0 Prophet, it was the funeral of a Jew, not a Muslim." The Prophet said: "Alaysat nafsan" (Was he not a human being?)
This instance shows what the prophetic vision was. He was able to realize a commonality between himself and that non-Muslim. He demonstrated by this event that all the human beings are one and the same. In terms of social behavior, everyone is equal. All men and women are brothers and sisters to each other. This is the true basis of social harmony. According to my experience, the basic hurdle in this regard is that people want to make other people according to their own thought. This kind of practice is quite unnatural. Because, difference is a part of nature. Everyone is born as Mr Different and Ms Different. In such a situation harmony can be achieved only by mutual respect and not by eliminating the differences. Moreover, this difference is not evil, it is rather a blessing. Difference leads to discussion, and discussion always results in intellectual development. There is a well-known saying that "Where all think alike, no one thinks very much." In other fields people have adopted this formula on a large scale, which is called coexistence. It is said that mutual coexistence is the only way of living on the earth. The same universal formula is also applicable in the religious field. 13 109:6.274
Unity is very important, but unity can be achieved only by accepting the difference and not by eliminating the difference, which is impossible. History confirms the veracity of this theory. There is a very relevant reference. The government of Canada had adopted a theory after the WWII which was called uniculturalism. They wanted to establish a society of a single culture, that is, Canadian culture. But, in spite of great endeavors, this campaign failed. Then, there was a reversal, and multi-culturalism policy was officially adopted by the Canadian government during the 1970s and 1980s. And today Canada is considered to be a multicultural society rather than a unicultural society. This experience is an empirical proof that in this world of differences, only multicultural-ism is possible and not uniculturalism. In the end I would like to add one more point. I am fond of studying. I have spent almost whole of my life in study, the library was my second home. I can say that without study man is a half man. When you read books, you enable yourself to share in with others' wisdom, both con-temporary and ancient. But, according to my experience no study is sufficient. No study can give you all that you need. The other source of learning is interaction. When you discuss with others, you not only enhance your knowledge, but also increase your capacity. It is my experience that new ideas are bound to emerge during discussion. In other words, discussion increases your creativity. Without discussion you are a reader, but after discussion you become a creative thinker. Study is unilateral learning but interaction is bilateral learning, provided it is done with the true scientific spirit. There is a necessary condition for making discussion fruitful, and that is, objectivity. You have to listen to others' point of view with an empty mind, try to understand it without any bias. The purpose of interaction is nothing but learning. The learning spirit is very important for a person who wants to know the truth. Study can give knowledge, but study cannot decondition one's conditioning. It is interaction that helps decondition one's conditioning. It is a fact that deconditioning is very important for a person who is a true seeker, but the process of deconditioning cannot take place in isolation. It requires an intellectual partner. This is the greatest experience of my life.
Reverend Mpho Tutu: Some years ago Karen Armstrong articulated a Charter for Compassion based on the shared values of every religious tradition. She noted that every major religion had as a tenet some form of the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or restated "Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." This statement forms the basis upon which we can engage to create a better world for every person. It is the basis upon which we can create mutual respect and mutual regard. It is also the foundation upon which people of diverse faith experience and expressions can work together on issues of common concern. People of every faith can agree that it is good to halt environmental degradation and work together to that end. People of every faith can agree that people need shelter, food and clothing and can cooperate across the religious spectrum to achieve those goals. We can unite across the religious spectrum to respond to human need at times of strife or natural disaster. We can unite across the religious spectrum to respond to human need when government fails us. South Africa's anti-apartheid movement was spearheaded by people of faith from diverse backgrounds. Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews joined arms with people of every faith to bring down that oppressive system of government. With the political leaders in jail or in exile it was left to religious leaders to unite based on their common humanity and the tenets of their faith. Now we are faced with environmental degrada¬tion; international and civil strife; famine; and disease. It is time for a new unity for people and our planet.
In the United States the country continues to be tormented by the spectre of 9/11/2001. The attacks drove a wedge between religious com¬munities. One initiative to respond to the division was the 9/11 Unity Walk. Each year since the tragedy people of different religious back¬grounds have walked from the largest Synagogue in Washington DC down Embassy Row to the Mahatma Gandhi statue at Dupont Circle. Every place of worship alone the way opens its doors to this diverse band of pilgrims. The walk begins with the Muslim call to prayer echo¬ing through the synagogue. Along the way walkers stop at the National cathedral for prayer. They are welcomed into the Sikh Gurdwara for a meal. At the Islamic Center they may listen as a Christian choir sings Amazing Grace. There is no incongruity. It is because the walkers come to this pilgrimage with an attitude of profound respect and an openness to learning about the traditions of people of different faiths that the walk is such a meaningful witness. Most faiths have a tradition of pilgrimage. Pilgrims travel in humility. They trust that there will be a place where they will be welcomed. They trust that there are lessons for them to learn in each encounter, blessings to give or to receive in every interaction. As people of faith we can meet each other as pilgrims. As pilgrims we offer no insult to our own faith. As pilgrims we experience no threat from any faith.
Dr Karan Singh: The point of union among diverse traditional religions has to be the Interfaith movement. This can be traced back to 1893 when the first Parliament of World Religions was held in Chicago and where, incidentally, Swami Vivekananda made such a dramatic impact. In the twentieth century, a considerable number of Interfaith organizations came into being including the one of which I am Chairman worldwide, the Temple of Understanding. Between us, we have had a large number of meetings around the world in the twentieth century. The second Parliament of World Religions was held in Chicago in 1993 exactly a hundred years after the first, the third in Cape Town, South Africa in 1999, the fourth in Barcelona, Spain in 2005 and the fifth in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. Another one is due in 2017 but the venue has not yet been decided. There was also a memorable millennial event in the United Nations in the year 2000 bringing together religious and spiritual leaders from around the world.
Despite all these efforts, however, I am constrained to say that the Interfaith movement has not yet become central to the concerns of humanity. As a result of this, fanaticism and fundamentalism in many parts of the world continue to haunt our civilization, creating havoc and disaster wherever they strike. It is, therefore, essential that the move¬ment should be strengthened, and particularly that Interfaith values should be introduced at the school level so that young people grow up with an awareness of the importance of multiple traditions instead of getting stuck in stereo-typical images and postures.
To conclude, I reiterate that the Interfaith movement has a crucial role to play in the future of human civilization. Without harmony among great religions of the world, there will never be peace on Planet Earth.
Swami Vivekananda:
We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran. Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of The Religion, which is Oneness, so that each may choose that path that suits him best.
Our watchword, then, will be acceptance, and not exclusion. Not
only toleration, for so-called toleration is often blasphemy, and I do not believe in it. I believe in acceptance. Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. Is it not blasphemy to think that you and I are allowing others to live? I accept all religions that were in the past, and wor¬ship with them all; I worship God with every one of them, in whatever form they worship Him.