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Dr Karan Singh
MP (Rajya Sabha) and President Temple of Understanding

In an era full of scams and scandals, it is relevant to talk of interfaith movements and hence this Colloquium.  In 1893, the first Parliament of World Religions was held in Chicago in which among others Swami Vivekananda also spoke and stirred the largely western audience with his electrifying eloquence.

Unfortunately, interfaith movement still remains peripheral to human consciousness.  There should be a creative symbiosis among all the organizations, which are working in this field. Although the essential philosophy of all religions is the same, yet there are marked external differences.  Barriers of fanaticism and exclusivism continue to plague the society. 

Let us work towards the philosophy that seeks to bring forth such principles which are common to all religions and faith-based traditions. There are certain human values that must transcend the rules of religion. We cannot give a second class status to women just because our religion says so. We cannot practice untouchability simply because some religious texts sanction it.  Numerous other examples can also be cited.

There are two aspects of religion – vertical and horizontal.  How do we perceive the Divine and how do we practice the attributes of the Divine? In 1961, my wife and I visited Russia. The then Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, hosted a dinner party in the Kremlin. I had an opportunity to ask him, whether a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union could be a believer in God. The answer was a categorical “No”. 

Later, once again I had the opportunity to go to Russia with Bishop Paulos Mar Gregarious of the Orthodox Church, in connection with the celebration of 1000 years of the Russian Orthodox Church. I was surprised to see that despite several decades of  the Soviet govt’s repressive attitude towards all religions in the country, millions of Russians openly professed their belief in Christianity and other religions. It goes to prove that the religious spirit can be suppressed, but peoples’ faith cannot be extinguished for all times.

At this turning point in human history, unless there is harmony among the world’s major religions, there will never be peace on Earth.  India truly exemplifies the spirit of unity in diversity.  India is the cradle of four major religions of the world—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and she welcomes the five other religions – Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith, all in a spirit of tolerance.

May this joint initiative of Interfaith Foundation, India and Temple of Understanding give fresh hope to all religious communities that despite their differences, they can still live in harmony and successfully resolve their crises and problems which confront them. Otherwise, the grave dangers that surround us, in the arena of governance, environmental devastation, consumerism, unsustainable lifestyles, economic and financial collapse, will surely hasten the coming world apocalypse, orchestrated by the prophets of doom and charlatans of different hews.    

Every religion has two major aspects; one is universal and the other which is particular to that time and place. If we could formulate universal concepts in all religions it should be possible to develop a strong interfaith movement. There is probably no country in the world where there are as many interfaith dialogue meetings as in India. But its unfortunate that these organizations don’t have much contacts with each other. Besides, there is always a resource crunch for interfaith activities. It is another hurdle in shaping interfaith movement.

As intellectuals and theologians are not many and their discourses hardly understood by common people, it is interfaith dialogues which can reduce the gap between different communities. There is a need to provide an effective platform for promoting interfaith dialogue, where all concerned organizations should meet periodically and provide the much needed momentum for building a strong interfaith movement.

To promote inter-linkages among people, active citizens and their associations, the intelligentsia and youth have to join hands to promote interfaith paradigm.

With these words, I extend my best wishes to the organizers of the Colloquium, which is aptly themed: “Interfaith Paradigm for Learning to Live Together.”
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