A Realistic Model of Peaceful Co-existence and Sustainability ►URI, a Global Interfaith Organization

Published: 15.04.2014
Updated: 30.07.2015
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8th International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action
[ICPNA]


 

Introduction

To me, the great lesson of India’s history is that genuine religious pluralism and toleration are achievable and, indeed, have been a historical fact… …The question is what the world can lean from India’s example. At present, we face the truly frightening risk of turning away from any openness and tolerance of differences. In today’s increasingly globalized world, with its interconnected economic and environmental challenges, as well as the increasing proximity of peoples and cultures, many factors exert a pressure that tests the limits of our capacity for acceptance of others. Here, India truly remains a model of pluralism and toleration, especially on the religious level, and is a society where despite deep faith in their own religious traditions, individuals do not feel the need to bring the followers of other faith traditions into their religious fold. India, with its long history of tolerant coexistence, is a beacon for the rest of the world. In fact, when it comes to the wider world I see my own work as being a humble messenger of India’s ancient teaching on ahimsa (nonviolence) and tolerance of religious pluralism. I see my efforts in promoting peace, nonviolent approaches to resolving conflicts, and understanding across boundaries of race, religion, and nations, all having their roots in the ancient Indian teachings. So, in every sense of the world, I remain truly a chela (disciple) of India. (The Dalai Lama)[1]  

As a Buddhist monk and Seon (Zen) practitioner of Korea, I have come to Jaipur with the same sentiment in reflection of the nore above.

A decade of the 21st century has gone by with “nothing but the ghastly scenes of genocides, nuclear holocausts, communal blood baths, terrorism, religious intolerance and hatred on the screen of our mind” as the organizer pointed out.[2] However, there have also been interfaith efforts of the concerned people to overcome the violent troubles of the world, although religious intolerance and conflicts are continued. As a founding Global Trustee and Regional Coordinator, I have joined and worked for United Religions Initiative (URI), an interfaith organization for being religious at the United Nations, I would like to introduce the URI in relationship with ANUVBHA and share my experiences of interreligious activities of a couple of decades to suggest that we need a networking and cooperation among interfaith organizations for a nonviolent future and world peace.

Global Interfaith Organizations and URI

1. Interfaith Movement History shows that there have been interfaith or interreligious movements and several interfaith organizations around the world in the recent centuries. Let me first introduce a working definition or concept of the term interfaith in the sense of relating to or between people of different religions.[3] Among various interfaith actions, dialogues have been the base. “There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions” and “There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions.”[4] Therefore, the interfaith movement first started with dialogues and then came cooperative actions for common good. Interfaith dialogue refers to friendly and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions and spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at both the individual and institutional participation. It has sought a common ground to understand other’s reality, values, and commitment to the world, concentrating on similarities between faiths. There have been local, regional and international or global interfaith initiatives and some of them constitute organization and networks formally or informally throughout the world.

Activities of Interfaith Organizations

Let us review some important interfaith organizations and their activities and events in brief.

  1. The Parliament of the World Religions (PWR) had held the first world conference in Chicago, 1893, the second again in Chicago, 1993, then in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1999, Barcelona, Spain, in 2004, Melbourne, Australia, in 2009, so far. It seems that PWR has been the biggest gathering of various religious people, attended by 8-10 thousand participants coming from around the world.
  2. The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) was founded in Boston, USA, and based in London, UK, 1900, and its regular conferences have been held all through the century and so far, focusing on religious freedom but also considering other matters like conditions for coexistence
  3. The World Congress of Faiths (WCF) was established in the UK in 1936 for sharing wisdom and concern about faith matters.
  4. The Temple of Understanding (TOU) was created in New York, United States of America, in 1960 to promote understanding the different religions to coexist for common goods
  5. The World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP) was held and established the body in Kyoto, Japan, 1970, for discussing peace and harmony among religions and sociopolitical situations. It has been called as Religions for Peace (RFP) since some years ago.
  6. The United Religions Initiative (URI) had initiated in San Francisco, 1995, and officially launched in 2000 through the Summit meetings of religious leaders from around the world in 1997-2000. Most of the organizations mentioned above have held regular conferences for discussing interfaith issues of facing situations, since their establishment. However, it is obvious that all of interfaith organizations have sought peace among religions and coexistence in the world through dialogues and cooperation for common goods.

Interfaith Activities of a Certain Denomination

There have been various interfaith activities in a certain religious denominations for understanding and coexisting with other denominations throughout the major world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Jainism. Let us see some significant events of such cases in terms of interfaith and intra-faith or ecumenical activity in a religious denomination. The World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded in Geneva, Switzerland, 1948, which includes Protestant, Anglican, and Orthodox Christian churches in terms of ecumenical coexistence and common mission. The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue was established in Vatican City, Italy, 1966, based on the Second Vatican Council’s decree “Nostra Aetate,” which meant a substantial change in attitude of Catholic Church towards other religions. It has occasionally invited representatives of other religions to have a conference and ceremony for world peace. Islam World Congress was held in 1981 and declared Universal Islamic Human Right related with interfaith matters. The Brahma Kumaris (BK), a Hindu tradition, held a Universal Peace Conference through its World Spiritual University in India, 1983. Anuvrat Global Organization of Jainism held the 1st International Conference on Peace and Nonviolent Action in Ladnun, India, 1988, which included various religious participants. The International Network of Engaged Buddhists held a conference on “Religion and Globalization” in Ching Mai, Thailand, 2003, with participants of various religions. The World Fellowship of Buddhists, which was founded by representatives of major traditions of Buddhism in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1950, established a Standing Committee for Interfaith Affairs at its General Conference in Yeosu, Korea, 2012. It can be said that most international or global organizations of major world religions have a department or committee for interfaith affairs to manage activities for peace and coexistence with other religions, as well as to take a part in the interfaith conference and cooperation for world peace and harmony.

2. United Religions Initiative (URI)

1)        Background of URI

URI was initiated in San Francisco, USA, 1995, after a religious ceremony for commemorating the 50th anniversary of establishment of Unite Nations which had been founded in San Francisco, 1945. It is said that the idea for URI came to California Episcopal Bishop William Swing in 1993, after an invitation by the UN to host a big interfaith event in San Francisco, marking a semi-centennial of the signing of the UN Charter. He asked himself, “if the nations of the world are working together for peace through the UN, then where are the world’s religions?” Therefore, URI has intended, guided by the vision of founder Bishop Swing, to be an international interfaith organization for peace, modeled after the UN. However, through dozens of meetings with world religious leaders, Bishop Swing leaned that there is a thread of competition, a focus on expanding individual denominations, and little institutional commitment to building bridges. Nevertheless, he found a deep desire for cooperation and peace in those at the grassroots of the world religions. From the inspiration of reality, the vision for URI took shape as a supported network connecting people across religions and cultures, based on the cooperation circles of grassroots on the various spiritual traditions.

The URI Charter was developed through a series of international conferences of religious leaders and consultation with transformative organizational design practitioners David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney. It seems interesting to know that there are some symbolic stories related to the charter signing events in terms of venue and time: the Charter was signed by more than 200 religious leaders present, and hundreds more joining over the internet, at a ceremony in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is known as having the largest number of bridges in the world; in the year 2000, with aspiration for world peace of the new century and new millennium. The signing was done on the 26th of June - the same day as on which the United Nations Charter was signed originally. Those remind people of the characteristics of URI as a bridge-builder among different religions and a parallel organization with UN for world peace. So far URI has more than 600 Cooperation Circles in 84 countries around the world. Each Cooperation Circles must consist of people from at least 3 different religious and spiritual traditions. It can be said now that URI is the newest and biggest global interfaith organization in the world, considering its date of establishment and size of membership and activities.    

2)        Purpose, Principles and Mission of URI

As other organizations, URI has been run by principles of its Charter. Therefore, let me introduce the Preamble, Purpose and Principle of URI Charter for easy and direct understanding the characteristics of URI.

Preamble

We, people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world, hereby establish the United Religions Initiative to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We respect the uniqueness of each tradition, and differences of practice or belief. We value voices that respect others, and believe that sharing our values and wisdom can lead us to act for the good of all. We believe that our religious, spiritual lives, rather than dividing us, guide us to build community and respect for one another. Therefore, as interdependent people rooted in our traditions, we now unite for the benefit of our Earth community. We unite to build cultures of peace and justice. We unite to heal and protect the Earth. We unite to build safe places for conflict resolution, healing and reconciliation. We unite to support freedom of religion and spiritual expression, and the rights of all individuals and peoples as set forth in international law. We unite in responsible cooperative action to bring the wisdom and values of our religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions to bear on the economic, environmental, political and social challenges facing our Earth community. We unite to provide a global opportunity for participation by all people, especially by those whose voices are not often heard. We unite to celebrate the joy of blessings and the light of wisdom in both movement and stillness. We unite to use our combined resources only for nonviolent, compassionate action, to awaken to our deepest truths, and to manifest love and justice among all life in our Earth community.

Purpose

The purpose of the United Religions Initiative is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

Principles

The URI is a bridge-building organization, not a religion. We respect the sacred wisdom of each religion, spiritual expression and indigenous tradition. We respect the differences among religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions. We encourage our members to deepen their roots in their own tradition. We listen and speak with respect to deepen mutual understanding and trust. We give and receive hospitality. We seek and welcome the gift of diversity and model practices that do not discriminate. We practice equitable participation of women and men in all aspects of the URI. We practice healing and reconciliation to resolve conflict without resorting to violence. We act from sound ecological practices to protect and preserve the Earth for both present and future generations. We seek and offer cooperation with other interfaith efforts. We welcome as members all individuals, organizations and associations who subscribe to the Preamble, Purpose and Principles.[5] As we have seen above, it is clear that URI concerns about violence and sustainability as well as others, including socio-political and cultural matters. URI brings attention to interdependence of people and the world for the future, as well as to peace, justice and healing for all living beings and the Earth. URI states its mission “interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world.” We can envision “a world peace, sustained by engaged and interconnected communities committed to respect for diversity, nonviolent resolution of conflict and social, political, economic and environmental justice” as the URI vision.

Inter-Interfaith Organizations Networking

As we have seen above, there have been many interfaith or interreligious organizations of denominational and international level, since the late 19th century. However, most interfaith movements were accelerated in the latter half of the 20th century and most interfaith organizations were also established in the context of the movement. Generally, all of interfaith organizations have sought peace among religions and coexistence in the world through dialogues and cooperation for common goods. Therefore, it is obvious that there are many similarities among the interfaith organizations. We can find out a common ground where various interfaith groups get together for common purpose of coexistence and peace among religions. For instance, it is good to remind that URI Preamble states, “We unite in responsible cooperative action to bring the wisdom and values of our religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions to bear on the economic, environmental, political and social challenges facing our Earth community. We unite to provide a global opportunity for participation by all people.” And in principles, “We seek and offer cooperation with other interfaith efforts; we welcome as members all individuals, organizations and associations who subscribe to the Preamble, Purpose and principles” which we have already reviewed and there is nothing to object or reject its spirit and mission.

I appreciate that ANUVIBHA also welcomes everyone to its mission as “Anyone belonging to any religious sect or caste or nationality can become a member of the movement… Come join the self-transformation network” that is based on “the Anuvrat code of conduct which consists of eleven small vows which enjoin a person to refrain from senseless and unnecessary violence, aggression, violent agitations, discrimination on grounds of cast, color, sect and sectarian frenzy. This ethical code restrains his passions that harm society and destroy its eco-sustainability.” It is said that “Anurvat Movement is a beacon of hope. It shows the way towards a nonviolent future and make us realize that both knowledge and wealth increase when we share them with others.”[6] I remember that Dr. S. L. Gandhi, as a representative of ANUVIBHA, attended the URI Summit in USA, 1998 and URI Asia-Pacific Regional Assembly in Bali, Indonesia, 2002. He has invited interfaith people to his ANUVIBHA conferences and joined other interfaith events around world. There is a common ground and similarity between URI and ANUVIBHA in terms of initiative or movement of peace and nonviolence for all sentient beings of the world. Therefore, we can say that it is very natural that interfaith people and organizations can participate in any other interfaith organizational events and work together for a common purpose and vision for world peace. Eventually, I would like to suggest interfaith people and organizations that let us take an initiative for dialogue and cooperation among interfaith organizations for peaceful and nonviolent future, as a movement of inter-interfaith networking. I am sure that if interfaith organizations around the world have dialogues and work together for world peace, it will be a most powerful and spiritual network of peace building in the world. It can be a “Realistic Model for Peaceful Co-existence and Sustainability.” I have participated in many interfaith events and experienced wonderful feeling and friendship with hospitality so far. We should promote the interfaith movement and reinforce interfaith harmony and cooperation for the nonviolent future through inter-interfaith networking and communication among interfaith organizations.

Conclusion

I have reviewed the interfaith movement and interfaith organizations concerning “Nonviolent Future” and sought a “Realistic model for Co-existence and Sustainability” for all sentient beings and the Earth. As a model, I introduced URI with the Preamble, Purpose and Principle of its Charter. I have mentioned ANUVIBHA which has a similar spirit of URI for world peace and sustainability. There are many global interfaith organizations such as PWR, IARF, TOU, WCRP, and URI. Moreover, we have seen that certain denominational organizations like the WCC and WFB have their own interfaith committees and departments regarding coexistence and harmony among religions. However, most interfaith organizations sought the common aim to realize world peace and justice in societies around the world. It seems obvious that if interfaith organizations of the global community work together, world peace and nonviolent future come in reality soon. Therefore, I suggest the communication and cooperation among interfaith organization as “Inter-Interfaith Networking” for common good and a better world. 

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. 8th ICPNA
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Anuvibha
  4. Anuvrat
  5. Anuvrat Code Of Conduct
  6. Anuvrat Global Organization
  7. Anuvrat Movement
  8. Body
  9. Brahma
  10. Buddhism
  11. Chicago
  12. Christianity
  13. Cooperation
  14. Dalai Lama
  15. Dr. S. L. Gandhi
  16. Globalization
  17. ICPNA
  18. International Conference On Peace And Nonviolent Action
  19. Islam
  20. Jainism
  21. Jaipur
  22. Ladnun
  23. London
  24. Nonviolence
  25. PWR
  26. Sustainability
  27. Tolerance
  28. Violence
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