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Swami Shanatmananda Ji
General Secretary, Rama Krishna Mission, New Delhi

It is paradoxical that all dialogues on interfaith understanding are held for audiences who are well-versed in such ideas and who need little briefing about the dire necessity of interfaith harmony and understanding. Most of the discussions take place amongst the enlightened religious leaders, who are firmly grounded in ideas of interfaith understanding.  What is really important is to carry these ideas to the grass root followers. It is the responsibility of all religious leaders, who believe in harmony of faiths, to spread these ideas amongst the masses and grass root followers. Unless these people are brought into the ambit of interfaith understanding, no lasting peace can ever be established through such dialogues. They would only remain theoretical.

We often talk of interfaith understanding. But there is also a great need to look at intra-faith understanding. Quite often, it seems that greater disharmony, hatred and violence are spread through misunderstanding and disagreement at the intra-faith level i.e., within the same faith.

We need to seriously look at the Constitution of our country if we want to usher in the ideas of interfaith understanding.  Our Constitution advocates Secularism.  This has been interpreted, particularly by the Central and State governments to mean absence of religious beliefs or lack of faith or leaning towards any particular religion, which is something ridiculous and can never be achieved.  Ours is a country, which is rooted in thousands of years of deep religious traditions.  On the other hand, if Secularism is interpreted as harmony amongst religious faiths, then something worthwhile can be attempted.  It is necessary that religious leaders of all faiths should jointly represent the matter to the Central government to bring about a suitable constitutional amendment so as to replace the word 'Secularism' by 'Harmony of Faiths'.

Yet another point to be noted is that these ideas of interfaith harmony should be inculcated at a very young age.  It is impossible to bring about a change in the mindset when people are grown up.  Hence, it is necessary to introduce the elements of interfaith harmony in school curriculum and teach such ideas to the young minds i.e., school children.  This would enable them to grow up as responsible and enlightened citizens.

The ideas expressed by Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda regarding interfaith understanding and harmony of faiths, deserve a close look.  Both of them emphatically stated that interfaith understanding is a matter of experience and not mere talks or theories.  Sri Ramakrishna, during his life of Sadhana, literally underwent the religious practices of several faiths and through his direct mystical experiences came to the conclusion that all faiths led to the same goal.  That is what he said in his famous assertion "As many faiths so many paths".  Swami Vivekananda was the first religious leader to proclaim at a world platform i.e., the World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893 that Acceptance and not Toleration, is the key idea.  It is not just enough to tolerate other faiths.  One should wholeheartedly accept that each faith is capable of leading its followers to the ultimate destiny and goal of human life. Therefore, interfaith paradigm must embody universal human values, common to all faiths. To achieve this goal is not an easy task. It calls for honest understanding and cooperation among the religious leaders, first, and education and awareness of our fellow compatriots, next. Not Secularism but harmony of Faiths and understanding.

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