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Philosophy of Interfaith
A paper presented by Dr M M Verma
at International Conference on
Interfaith Environment: “Where are we Now?”
at Indira Gandhi Centre for National Arts on 31st Oct – 1st Nov 2008

organized by Temple of Understanding

Every effort in the Interfaith Movement is a new initiative across narrow state boundaries and exclusivism. Our goal is to establish an ideal society, where people have compassion for the suffering of others, where people care for each other, where they do not hurt each other, where the system of production and distribution are humane, rational and ethical. This is the goal, which we can pursue without involving the state machinery and the politicians.

It is possible to tolerate the old obnoxious caste system but it is not possible to tolerate the society being torn asunder into castes and sub-castes. Every religious community is getting divided into more and more segments. It is unfortunate that mankind is divided in the name of God.

I think there is something wrong with the culture of the modern world. It seems to be out of balance, and to restore that balance, we need to conduct an Interfaith study of the common culture of common consciousness for the common good of the society. I believe this is a critical work that is yet to be done at the Interfaith level. There is need for a common understanding among different religious leaders. I think this is the next step we need to collectively take towards unity, which requires dedication beyond attending conference and writing papers. Let the scholars hamper out universally acceptable common principles of common consciousness for the common good of mankind, which will usher in the era of humane society.

How to create a humane society? I have a simple formula to suggest. Lets obey our spiritual masters. Lets obey Buddha, Christ, Mohammad, Guru Nanak and others.

Here too, we act smart. We have twisted the arms of our own masters. We don’t follow them in the true spirit in our daily life. Our spiritual masters will shed tears to see us distorting their messages. They will ask us: Is it what we taught thee. Real religion is related to God and one another, and not with islands. Real religion must emphasize service to mankind and remembrance to the Lord.

I can suggest another formula to create a human society. Let us execute in true spirit the Preamble of the Indian Constitution; Directive Principles of State policy, Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties. But we are smart people and our lawyers are smarter still.

So we are organizing conferences on Interfaith dialogue all over the world. At least one such conference is organized in a month in one part of the world or the other. The answer is clear. All is not well with our society. There is tension around us. But who has created this tension. Obviously,  the anti-social elements.

Naturally, Interfaith dialogue is held to reduce tension in the society. Thus Interfaith dialogue is an effort by well-meaning religious leaders to bring together leaders and communities of different faiths on one platform. The immediate and the short- term goal is to reduce tension which is rampant in the society. And to create a humane society in the long-run. 

It is good to hold conferences on Interfaith dialogue. But these conferences would notserve much purpose if they remain confined to conference rooms. Interfaith is not an intellectual exercise in the ivory tower. Their long-term goal is that people of different communities should understand and practice the spirit of Interfaith in their daily life.

As Plato said: State is not built in the air. As the nature of the people so will be the nature of the society. Inhumane people can’t make a humane society.

In a secular society, the most important thing is that the followers of every religion must learn to practice their religion, so as not to create problems for others. In a secular society, the followers of each religion must take care that they do not hurt the susceptibilities of the followers of any other religion. But freedom to practice and preach one’s faith is absolutely essential.

I strongly feel, bringing religion into politics and vice-a-versa is not desirable in a secular society. But here too, we are helpless. Different political parties misuse the religious factor to strengthen their vote bank. They play foul. And overlook the rules of the game. As a result, national and international politics have taken a very ugly turn.

The foundation of a pluralistic society, its culture, legal system and public school education require acceptance of universal values, derived from human experience.

In the 1ndian context, we must accept the reality of pluralism. It’s unfortunate, mankind is divided in the name of God and religion. We must stress on commonalities and enrich each others traditions and cultural values. This should be our common minimum program. God is beyond all names. Religion must emphasize service to mankind. Let’s pool up all religious values and join hands with each other.

To transform people is not an easy task. It is basically an ethical problem- a moral issue. I don’t wish to discuss what role the state and government can play in the moral transformation of the society. Hence, I will discuss the transformation of mankind through Interfaith dialogue. It is good to remember the messages of our Prophets and Gurus and also the sacrifices they had made for truth and transformation of the society.

But we can reap fruit only when we practice the ideals they had lived and died. The Prophets and Gurus will not feel happy if we pay only lip sympathy to their messages. Mere words are not enough. We have to do good deeds and lead virtuous life. So, we can create an ideal society only by doing righteous deeds.

I think in our times Interfaith dialogue has gone far beyond the first step of just talking of religious tolerance. Now it is being increasingly recognized that world religions have much in common with each other. Their attitude towards life and sacred scriptures has great similarities. Belief in one God has created tolerance and respect for each other.

The process of globalization has compelled us to think a fresh and revise our approach and attitude towards other religions.  We are interconnected and interrelated today. No religion can refuse to recognize the spirituality and legitimacy of truth embodied in other sacred scriptures. In order to understand other religions a person should be committed to his own religion. There is no harm if we understand each religion in its own distinctiveness and see its contribution to spiritual atmosphere and unity of mankind.

How to live together in peace and create a healthy society? Vedas taught us: learn from all sides. Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism taught us to create balanced and peaceful societies. In India, Interfaith goes back to( i) St. Thomas Christians of Kerala in the 18th century.(ii) The Sufi Movement, which originated in Persia (Iran), (iii) Bhakti Movement, which began in the South with the Alvar Saints, later initiated by Ravidas, Kabir and Ramanand. In Maharashtra, Namdev, and Eknath had preached the unity of God and peace and oneness of mankind. Vallabacharya, a contemporary of Guru Nanak had a large following in Gujarat and Rajasthan He used to  sing songs of love and glory of the Lord and wanted people to live peacefully.(iv) Akbar the Great had set up an Ibadatkhana where he used  to hold religious discussions with Hindu, Jain, Buddhist and Muslim scholars. (v) Prince Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Shahjahan had translated 52 Upanishads from Sanskrit into Persian. Islam, unfortunately, widely misunderstood and distorted  and wrongly practiced, is a great religion of peace and human brotherhood.

The. Holy Quran clearly lays down the basis of inter-religious dialogue. Holding of such conferences /dialogues is in complete consonance with the Islamic shrai. The Treaty at Hudyabiyyah, near Mecca, is one such example.

Lord Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Mohammad, Guru Nanak, all focused on good deeds. Good deeds and balanced living is equally focused in Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism. A mere mechanical remembering of the Lord is not enough. A mere bathing in the Ganges is not enough. A mere visit to place of religious worship is not enough. A pilgrimage without understanding and devotion is not enough.

Interfaith Dialogue is an effort to recognize Principles of Unity, while overlooking superficial differences and dissimilarities, which stem from rituals, ceremonies and festivals. I firmly believe, it was never the intension of our Prophets and Gurus to create watertight divisions/ communal divides where people encounter each other with anger and hatred.. Just as coexistence is valued in Hinduism, it is also valued in Christianity and Islam. In Hinduism the goal of coexistence is achieved through co- recognition, while in Christianity and Islam, it is achieved through mutual coexistence.

A Hindu, who meditates on Brahma, a Muslim, who praises Allah , a Sikh, who sings the songs of devotion to Akal Purakh, a Christian, who magnifies Adonai, a Zoroastrian, who honours Ahura Mazda (the wise Lord) are all, in essence, generating devotion towards the One, they consider to be the supreme prayer. They may have differing interpretations of God’s nature and His ways, but in a united way, they are all reaching out to the same Creator.

If you study deeply, you will find that there are universal values and a basic message which all faiths have shared and given to the mankind. In fact, the thrust of every religion is on making man humane, pious and righteous. They wish to build a social environment on the basis of these universal values. True, there are several paths, but all paths recognize unity which is the underlying idea of all religions. In essence, we have to convince each other that there is something greater than our differences and distinctiveness. From all religious writings, people can derive benefit. Blind rejection of one faith in favor of another is absurd.

Let’s overcome exclusiveness and end our blindness in order to imbibe a common culture of common consciousness for the common good of the mankind. Let‘s celebrate the commonalities in our different religions. Let’s understand the essential messages delivered by all religions and faiths, whose combined teachings will reveal the road map to a humane society. Let’s discover a common thread (a vein of gold) running through all faiths of the world. Let’s admit that similarities do exist and some true light radiates from every faith. May this light shine brightly. May there be peace on Earth. May the diverse faiths and cultures coexist and blossom into a humane society.

Philosophy of Interfaith

Cooperation among Interfaith organizations is still only on an ad hoc basis. Adequate structures for greater coordination and cooperation are required. Only by working together will the Interfaith movement be listened to by the media and by those who control economic and political power. If the National Committee on Interfaith Movement is to be effective in helping to rebuild our spiritual and moral principles, there is a great deal of work to be done.

It is imperative that we see what we are doing as more than a set of activities, or a set of programs, or a set of organizations, or a set of individuals. We have to view this by urgently forming a National Committee on Interfaith and not create another movement. The Committee will consist of a network of likeminded individuals and institutions making a vision a reality. The Committee needs institutions, it needs voices, it needs activities, it needs university courses, it needs an academic literature, it needs serious media, and it needs major funding. For any of these to happen, we need to understand that we are collectively building a cohesive movement.

In other words, we need to be able to organize people from different faith communities to come together in concrete projects, we need to tell the story of the possibility of human pluralism, and we need to be able to facilitate discussions of diverse people, sharing as to how their various traditions call upon them to work together to serve others.
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