Let us share spaces that unite us

India is a land, not of one religion, but of diverse religions. It is the homeland of four world religions — Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikh-ism. The ancient sages have from time to time formulated different perceptions of the Almighty. Almost all the non-Indian religions set foot on Indian soil right from their very beginning. Even in their own lands of origin, Christianity and Islam faced stiff opposition in the battle for survival.

In contrast, in India, these two religions received hospitality. The mainsprings of India’s emotional unity did not arise from its religions, but from its very cultural base. The cultural superstructure was supremely capable of containing all religious systems in all their genuine fullness and grandeur.

In this situation, inter-religious dialogue is a necessary tool for meeting the challenges of rival faiths – overcoming alienation and halting the march of misunderstanding. Dialogue presupposes differences and disagreements. At the same time, dialogue must stand on the willingness, on both sides, to see and accept the truth.

The alternative to dialogue is coercion. At a time when technology has sharpened the edges of aggression and the erosion of our sense of fellow humanity has removed all inhibitions, it is imperative that we talk to each other – to our enemies and friends alike. But inter-religious dialogues can eliminate division.

Modern India does not sponsor or foster any one religion at the expense of others. This is in keeping with the genius of India, which through the ages has followed the path, not of mere tolerance, but of acceptance of diversities of creed and practice.

Of course, this process of assimilation has to go on continuously. There have been periods when Hinduism has been mainly on the defensive, building up walls, mostly caste regulations, to protect itself from the inroads of other faiths. But there have also been glorious periods when  creative individuals have cast aside protective shells and entered into dialogue with other faiths, resulting in significant mutations and advances in the nation’s culture and progress.

Kabir, the inspired weaver of north India, declared that there was neither Hindu nor Muslim, but only man as the embodiment of the Divine. The beautiful legend that his dead body, over which Hindus and Muslims were quarrelling for their respective rites of burial or cremati-on, was found, when the covering was removed, to have disappeared, leaving behind a bunch of flowers, testifies to the reconciliation that he had urged between the warring creeds. There have been other efforts at assimilation in modern times — like the Brahmo Samaj and the Theosophical Movement.

 But the effort at assimilation has to be continually made at fresh levels. A decadent India under foreign rule failed to work out a creative synthesis under modern conditions and has paid dearly for that failure. The vivisection of India on the basis of religion has been a sad consequence of our failure to embody the peculiar genius of our country in terms of modern thoughts and needs. But the partition has not, as we know, removed the challenges of rival faiths co-existing in this country.

It will be easier to understand the best in another religion when one understands the best in one’s own religion. Thus true loyalty to the best in one’s religion is hardly ever in conflict with the best in other religions. Emphasis more on spiritual and ethical values, as distinct from rituals, dogmas or doctrines, will tend to bring devotees of different religions closer together.

In a multi-religious setting such as India, when negative statements are made by one religion against the other, it leads to a politicisation of religions, which has a tendency to tear the fabric of society. Dialogue will help bring harmony and peace among religions and also enable people to establish harmony with one another in addressing human needs. Such dialogue should be carried out without any fear of converting one another to each other’s faith.

 A proper understanding of one’s religion is a prerequisite to promote religious harmony. Let us accept diversity as the basic ingredient of community and so celebrate diversity. Let us, at the same time, strive to reconcile our diversities. Let us hold on to equality as the prime means to that reconciliation and justice as the binding thread.

Let us recognise that each one of us belongs to a plurality of religious communities and while being loyal to our legitimate religious backgrounds let us strive to transcend them without absolutising any. And, while we continue to dialogue our differences – for we are different – let us explore, expand and strengthen the shared spaces that unite us. Thus, may we experience the blessedness that comes when brothers and sisters belonging to all religions dwell together in unity.

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