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‘A Paper presented on Religious basis of Culture’
Interfaith and Culture – Asian Interfaith Consultation
& 50th Anniversary of the Temple of Understanding
Srinagar 18th & 19th June, 2010

  Dr M M Verma,
President, Interfaith Foundation


The challenges, which the mankind is facing today, are a serious threat to its very survival. It is mainly due to our flagrant disregard to Rita i.e., the Law of Nature, the Moral Law, as stated in the Vedas. Reckless and uncontrolled pollution, resulting in the ever rising global warming and depletion of the ozone layer have already given mankind the taste of environmental catastrophes. We must live in harmony as the Devas do. Harmony, thy name is Law of Nature.

On the social side, the culture of fragmentation of humankind into rigid identities and illogical division into castes and sub-castes, due largely to the negative role of political leaders and their religions surrogates, is lamentable. True, political leaders of one party can’t remain indifferent to other politicians, who misuse religion to take undue political mileage.

It is irony that we fight in the name of God and kill people while praising Him. How absurd does it sound that we praise the artist but dislike his painting; praise the poet but dislike his poetry. This is nothing but a culture of hypocrisy.

In my humble opinion, mankind has not been divided by Prophets and Holy Scriptures. Unity in diversity is God’s will. The basis of division and hatred are mainly economic, political, language, sectarianism, regionalism and rivalry among nations for domination and exploitation of the weaker nations. The whole human history bears a testimony to this argument. Huntington’s thesis of cultural and civilizational conflict is a motivated one and unnecessarily blown out of proportion by the world media.  I think Lenin was right and Huntington is wrong.

Interfaith in our times has gone far beyond the first step of just taking of religious tolerance. Its being increasingly recognized that world religions have much in common with each other. Belief in one God has created tolerance and respect for each other. We are interrelated and interconnected with each other. We are not a group of islands but a Global Village. No religion can refuse to recognize the spirituality and legitimacy of truths embodied in other Scriptures. The process of globalization has compelled us to think afresh about other religions and their missionary work. No religion flows from the barrel of a gun. No religion sanctions killing of the innocent in the name of God. No religion permits blood bath and indiscriminate butchery of   humankind.

Disagreement among people is a civilized way. Different people with diverse beliefs were a theme repeatedly mentioned in the Vedas, the Gita and the Quran. The origin of all messages of all Prophets is the same, as they have been revealed by God. Before we call ourselves Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, let us understand, follow and practice our respective faiths. In order to understand another religion one should be deeply committed to one’s own religion. Try to understand each religion in its own distinctiveness and see its contribution to the spiritual atmosphere and unity of mankind. In every religion, there are universal human values and a basic message it has for human beings. The focus of every religion is on making man more pious, righteous and on building a social environment on these universal values, conducive to peace and prosperity of mankind.

Scholars generally point out similarities and dissimilarities in different faiths but it is more important that they meet as men, sharing the task of building a society in which all men realize their dignity as called upon to love and serve one another. The foundation of a pluralistic society, its culture, legal system and public school education require acceptance of universal. human values, derived from human experience.

Commonalities

Praise be to Allah (Quran sura l) is the same as the longtime sung Gayatri Mantra in the Vedas, it is very much the same as in Mul Mantra. God dwells in the pure heart (Sukhmani Sahib Canto 3) is the same as in Gita and the Quran. The Quran says: your offerings with not be accepted if you are wicked. The praise of the Lord and his name is the subject which all Scriptures have addressed. It had first started with the Vedas, long ago.

A Hindu who meditates on Brahma, a Muslim who praises Allah, a Sikh who sings songs of devotion to Akal Purakh (The Timeless Being), a Christian who magnifies Jesus,  a Jew who magnifies Adonai, a Zoroastrians who honors Ahura Mazda (The Wise Lord) are all, in essence, generating devotion to the One, they consider to be the Supreme Lord. Keep all Holy Scriptures in one shelf, there will be no problem. Mohammed, Buddha, Christ and Nanak can shake hands with each other without reluctance. But the most important thing that the followers of every religion must learn is to practice their religion in such manner so as not to make a nuisance of it to others. Sometimes, an over-doze of religion also becomes a curse, if religion is not correctly understood and practiced.

What is here is also there. What is “I” is also “thou”. What is “thou” is also “that.” ‘Thou art that’ is the essence of the whole Hindu philosophy. I would rather go with Zoroastrianism to say :  its better to help a needy rather than build a temple. I also share Gandhiji’s enthusiasm to wipe out tears from every eye.

All religions people and scholars should contribute to the dissemination of good ethics and family coherence. We are a religious people, therefore, we owe a special responsibility to the society. But we have to reform ourselves first before we try to change others. We should unitedly face the menace of fundamentalism, terrorism, injustice, drugs and hatred among people. Communal harmony and national integration, peace and prosperity go hand in hand. God’s messengers and the World Masters of thought have invited our attention to the universal human values and have rejected wrong doings, aggression and damage to environment.  

There is need for cooperation on the basis of divine messages and ethical principles that will help diffuse world conflicts and enhance human values of truth, peace, nonviolence, justice, tolerance and moderation.

I think we should blame neither God nor religion. Veda and Puran are not wrong, it is we who are wrong, said Guru Nanak. The Interfaith conferences should promote the culture of common consciousness of the common good. There is a dire need of common understanding among leaders and masses of different faiths. This is the next step we need to take collectively towards unity.  Let religious leaders and scholars hammer out universally acceptable principles of the culture of common consciousness.              

Religion is not a pastime or a subject of intellectual debate. Religious power like any other power can be used for a good cause or a bad one. But what we need so desperately in our world today is mobilization of religious power on behalf of world peace. This power, if mobilized among the right thinking people of the world will surely usher in a golden period in human history.

We should make sincere efforts and take initiatives to cross over narrow boundaries of exclusivism. We should continue efforts to highlight the shared wisdom and light of the great religious masters of the world. May this light shine brightly. May there be peace on Earth. May diverse cultures and civilizations coexist. 

 
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