Co-existence of Religions, Pluralism and Cultural Diversity - Manu Raval

Posted: 28.12.2008
Updated on: 20.08.2009

The Plenary Session on topic No. 6 the early dawn of human history, man’s mind must have been amazed at natural phenomena. He started worshipping a higher power unknown and inexplicable. The root of religion resides in the recognition of such a majestic glory. In course of time it became irresistible and universal.

The nomadic tribes initiated and improved upon their customs, traditions and rituals as time went by. When they settled on river banks, they developed agricultural surpluses. Due to such leisure their rituals became refined religious practices. Distance of space and time created different beliefs in different kinds. Thus, different religions were born in unimaginable diversification, which too often, created conflicts which persist today.  But, “Is there a way of Evolving a New Model of Non-violent Life Style of Universal Peace and Sustainability?”

In all probability the first invocation to heavenly energies could have been voiced by the Aryan poet-philosophers on the banks of river Ganges and Brahmaputra in the pastoral plains of Northern India by the foothills of Himalayas Their first scriptural literature, called Rig-Veda, happens to be the oldest surviving artistic and spiritual creation of humanity, which, some say, is 7000 years old and some others hold that it is only 5000 years of age.

There are four Vedas with their Brāhmanas, Āranyakas and more than 108 Upanishads, and four Upavedas, and the Smriti, including Darśanas and other philosophical and secular literature of ancient India, of which no details are relevant here. However, it has been estimated to be more than what has been produced by the human intellectual creativity in all languages at all times until date.

The Aryans, the present Hindus, could preserve all this because a special intellectual class called Brahmans compressed the literature in a special method of sutras, an aphoristic style of mere clauses, each one of which can be expanded into scores of pages, nay, sometimes into a full book. One can, in short, say that the Sūtras contain an ocean of thought in a drop of language. This literature deals with some of the most profound and most modern kind of ideas and information which can now be attested by current scientific inventions.

Because of catholicity of ideology, breadth of vision, democratic perception of individual freedom and tolerance for differential opinions, not only Buddhism and Jainism were born in India but also hundreds of branches of the same religion, and its off-shoots created a plethora of religious beliefs and rituals.

In course of time the human race by force of circumstances migrated to different directions and experienced different climatic conditions, living and surviving methods, and learned new ways of thinking, worship and rituals and more than half a dozen world religions were born.

As it happens in case of all human institutions, as time passed, rigidity entered in thinking and religious dogmas replaced the original concept or the sacred teaching, perching and practice of the prophets and that created conflicts since ages and history has recorded the gravest, longest and most atrociously long drawn out wars, not only between various religions but even between the branches, denominations, sections or sects of the major religions – in which they debased themselves.

We are facing a crisis in every human age. We have repeated this statement and it is unfortunately true because in Vedānta human life has been described as:

Kshurasya dhara nishita duratyaya
durgam pathastat kavayoh vadanti

which means that the worldly existence has been described by poets as walking on the edge of a razor. Since this is the fate of all of humanity, crisis is unavoidable. Even in the age of great thinkers of lore, Maharshi Vyāsa is credited to have said before the famous war of Mahābhārata,

Urdhva bahu pravakshyami, na kashchit shrunoti me

that is, I proclaim with raised arms but no one listens to me.  Likewise our craving for peace in this crazy world is like a cry in the wilderness, since none can obliterate human history.

In the predawn days the male member of the family had to use violence for survival and that trait in differing degrees continues to rule various sections of the society. For millenniums we have waged wars in the name of religion and we continue to do so in the name of world wars or current terrorist attacks on innocent men, women and children, when we proclaim loudly that no religion advocates violence.

While human nature is full of varieties and weaknesses, one of the greatest causes of grief in life is religious divergence. Therefore if we want to have lasting peace in the world, can we think of a way of abolishing all religions by one stroke and work out a unanimous “universal code of conduct” which will prescribe the most minimum steps of simple  spirituality, morality, ethics and civility based on universal brotherhood, comprehensive compassion genuine regard for all individual dignity, restriction in familial, social, political, economical, religious and industrial tensions and tolerance for the dissident ideology so as to create a utopia which was oft conceived but never delivered.

Individuals and organizations have been constantly trying for establishing peace on earth. That has been the main mantra in most of the religions of the world but what a chasm between desire and destination!  How cynical that some enthusiasts even raise non peaceful cry like “Let’s wage war for peace” when we have to earn peace only by peace and never by a war.

At the end of each Hindu prayer three soothing and sonorous sounds are repeated. They are

Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Meaning: “May there be peace in the nether world, peace on the earth and let peace prevail in the heavens.”

There is no panacea for peace, however, a reasonable prescription can be laid down on the basis of Vedāntic adage which says that if you want your grandson to eat mangoes sow the seeds today. Peace prevails when violence disappears. For that we may have to start teaching a fetus to observe nonviolence while it is in the womb. Possibility has then been created that if not in that very generation, but in the next, the whole society may become fairly non-violent. When there is no violence in thought, speech or action, peace may descend from its celestial heights to the terrestrial ramparts.



Dr. Rudi Jansma, Jaipur

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