INTERFAITH IN A PLURALISTIC WORLD
BY DR. KARAN SINGH. FRIDAY, 22 MARCH 1996
"Due to the wish of God I am unable to attend your function which you have arranged in the memory of the late Shri O.P. Ghai. I was ready to fly but God stopped me in Calcutta. Dear child, I pray to God for the success of this function with a message that religion is a way of life.We are all children of God. The objective of all of us is to attain happiness, peace and love of God. One can attain through one's religion - the supreme peace and happiness only by knowing God, by feeling God and by loving God." MOTHER TERESA
ABOUT DR. KARAN SINGH
A distinguished and eminent scholar statesman, Dr. Karan Singh catapulted into political life in 1949 when he was appointed Regent in Jammu & Kashmir, and thereafter was head of the state for eighteen years. In 1967, Dr Karan Smgh was inducted as a Member of the Union Cabinet headed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi and assigned the portfolios of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Health and Family Planning, and Education and Culture respectively. He has formerly been the Chancellor of Jammu & Kashmir University, and Benaras Hindu University, Chairman of the Central Sanskrit Board, President of the Authors Guild of India, the Commonwealth Society of India, and the Delhi Music Society. He is Vice-Chairman of the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, and formerly President of India International Centre. He is Chairman of the Temple of Understanding, a major international Interfaith Association.He is also a member of the UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. Recently he founded the International Centre of Science, Culture and Consciousness which is emerging as an important centre of creative thought. He is President of the People's Commission on Environment and Development (India), and Member, International Steering Committee of the Global Forum of Parliamentarians and Spiritual Leaders on Human Survival. He is also a Trustee of the Green Cross International. Dr Karan Singh is an author of distinction, having written a number of books on political science, philosophical essays travelogues and poems in English.
TEXT OF THE LECTURE
Shri S.K. Ghai and other members of the Ghai family, Shri Kanti Chaudhury who I recall was in the same ministry as me in pre-historic times, Shri Narendra Kumar, other distinguished publishers and book lovers resent here this evening, representatives of several of the world's great religions, friends from the press and electronic media.
I think no better tribute could be paid to the memory of the late Shri Om Prakash Ghai than to have an evening of Interfaith prayers and speeches. He was indeed a remarkable human being. I knew him myself for at least 30 or 35 years since I first came to Delhi and in the course of his career, he not only built his own publishing house, Sterling Publishers, into a leading publishing firm, but also reflected a personal commitment to deeper values.
He was one of those rare people who, apart from being a to nautch professional, was also genuinely concerned with and committed to certain values. And Interfaith values, the age old concept of aikam sad viprah bahudha vadanti-the manifold manifestations of the divine-was something very close to his heart. His. small booklet Unity in Diversity in which he had culled from various religious traditions, a number of very important and telling quotations, I think, deserves very wide circulation in this country.
I remember the first book of that kind that I read was of course Aldous Huxley's Perenniel Philosophy which was published sometime in the late 40s or the early 50s. That was a brilliant book. It was not only a selection of quotations from various religious and philosophical traditions but it was also linked together with a luminous commentary by Huxley.
Then after many years, there are several very expensive compendiums but Shri O.P. Ghai's small book struck me as being one which should be circulated in all our educational institutions. I think it is a great tragedy that in this country with our tremendous diversity of religious and philosophical traditions we have so gravely neglected religion. I think that many of the problems that we face today can perhaps be traced back to a neglect of religion, a neglect of the deeper principles that lie behind the many and varied religious traditions of this country.
So at the outset I would like to pay my tribute to the memory of Shri Om Prakash Ghai to all that he did and I would congratulate SK and the Institute of Book Publishing for having instituted this memorial lecture. I hope that in addition to this, there will be attempts to widely circulate some of his excellent books on the quest for excellence, on self-improvement and on the interfaith movement.
As far as I am concerned, I feel very happy to be here today in three capacities. Firstly , of course, as President of India International Centre. I am very happy that among the many and varied functions that we have in this unique gathering place in Delhi we today have representatives of a number of religious traditions because that is also very much part of our national life, of our public life, and in India International Centre we have no particular religion, no particular ideology but we are a platform for the articulation of varied views and of different traditions. I am very happy today to see a full hall for a function like this.
Secondly , in my capacity as Chairman of the Temple of Understanding; the Temple of Understanding is one of the four major Interfaith organisations in the world. The Interfaith movement is a movement which perhaps can be traced back to 1893 when the First Parliament of the World's Religions held in Chicago, the event where you will remember Swami Vivekananda, who was not really invited to the Congress, appeared and made such a dramatic and memorable impact. And in 1993 we had a second meeting, the second Great Parliament of the World's Religions there in Chicago. So if we start the Interfaith movement from then, almost a hundred years now, there has been this movement in varied forms. There are several worldwide organisations, the Temple of Understanding is one of them. We have an India Chapter. We have eight centres in different clties in India, and I would like to inform this audience that tomorrow at 6.30 in the evening, we are inaugurating the Delhi Centre with a multi-media show in Kamani Auditorium. So anybody who is genuinely interested in the Interfaith movement is most welcome to attend that.
The third capacity is in my personal capacity, because the Interfaith philosophy, as it were, has been built into my life. I was born a Hindu but in a Muslim majority State and so we have been interacting with Muslim shrines ever since my childhood. Needless to say, the first school I went to was a Christmas school and the beautiful photographs of the Virgin Mary and the baby Christ are still indelibly impressed upon my consciousness. Our family had very close links with Maharaja Ranjit Singh and therefore we were taught from early childhood to pay as much reverence to the Darbar Sahib as we do to our own family temple in Jammu.
I am not alone in this, most of us in India are brought up with this multiplicity of religious and spiritual inputs. In fact, India has a distinction of having been the birthplace of four of the world's great religions Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Four religions came to us, or say, five now from west Asia Religion of Zarathustra, prophet of Iran, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and now the Baha'i religion also has been accepted as a world religion. So these are nine world religions flourishing in Indla. And there are dozens if not hundreds of sects and subsects and so on. The Interfaith movement seeks to bring representatives of these religions together in order to facilitate Interfaith dialogue and harmony and understanding.
I would submit for your consideration that as the world is now moving into a global society, the importance of the Interfaith dialogue is increasing, not decreasing. There was an assumption, made on the one hand by the Marxists and on the other by the liberals, that religion was something which would very rapidly lose its hold over the minds of the people. And that it was simply a hangover from some old fashioned ideas and that as people become educated and as they become affluent, religion is going to lose its importance. Well, that has not happened. In our own lifetime we have seen in fact a massive resurgence of interest in religion.
As a critical example you take Russia. Now the Soviet regime based on Marxism-Leninism was clearly atheistic . This was confirmed to me by no less a person than Mr Khruschev when he gave a party for us in the Kremlin in 1959. I asked him specifically, "Mr General Secretary, is it possible to be a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and also a believer"?He said, "No it is not possible. We respect religious beliefs but to be a member of the Communist Party you have got to be atheist." Russia was ruled for 70 years by an avowed Ethiestic dictatorship and yet find that probably religion has been one of the great divisive forces in human civilisation.
Now, here we have this very strange paradox. On the one hand, as has been pointed out by all the speakers, every religion preaches love and compassion, tolerance and friendship and the overriding divinity of the Supreme. While on the other, when we see the actual way in which religions have functioned, we find a very different picture. Therefore, we have to be clear in our minds that when we talk of the resurgence of religion, and when we talk of the Interfaith movement, what we are trying to do is not to regress to the medieval situation of jelads and crusades and dharmayudhas and so on, but to move one step onwards-towards an understanding, towards a harmony, towards an Interfaith dialogue. That is the destiny of the religion of the future. Otherwise if we still have these negative concepts with us, now armed as we are with nuclear and other weapons of terrorism and disaster, we can end up by doing very much more damage than was done in the past. But the one thing we cannot do is to neglect religion.
There has been a class of intellectuals in India who for 50 years have been trying to denigrate religion and they brought about a situation in which it became unfashionable to talk about religion. You were not supposed to talk about the religion-no, no, this is something only of an individual. So the best minds drew away from religion, leaving the interpretation of religions to the most backward looking fanatical and retrogressive elements in each society. Now that is therefore a massive dereliction of duty on the part of the Indian intelligentsia in which we are all involved. I would submit that in a country like India, and in India particularly, religion will remain an important motivating force. Swami Vivekananda once said that every nation has a genius for something or the other, and India has a genius for religion. People in India are religious, whether they are Hindus, or Muslims, or Christians or Buddhists or Sikhs. It does not matter what religion they follow, they are religious, they are deeply religious. There is something in the cultural atmosphere of this country, in the cultural heritage that makes people religious. Therefore we cannot afford to neglect religion.
Now what we do about this, is something that can be debated. My own view is that we should encourage the circulation of Interfaith texts, of books like the one written by Shri O.P. Ghai, so that people can learn what other religions also say on critical elements. There is so much misinterpretation, misunderstanding, misinformation. There are stereotypes. If you ask a common Muslim to mention one or two Upanishads, he will not know what you are talking about. If you ask a Hindu to really say what is that Prophet said, he cannot quote it. There are these stereotypes in the mind and they can only be overcome by a process of mass education.
I know that we are very proud of our secularism, and I am second to none in my commitment to secularism. But secularism does not and cannot mean a neglect of religion and an anti-religious bias that has failed. Whether that neglect has been malign as with the Marxists or benign as with the liberals, the neglect of religion has failed. Therefore, now we have to reinterpret our ideas, we have to give, as it were, a new Interfaith philosophy. We must have equal respect for aIl religions. Sarva Dharma Sambhava, that was surely what Gandhiji talked about, not an equal neglect of all religions.
So with our secularism intact and secularism surely means only that the State has no religion. Fair enough, the State as such does not have any, we are not a religious state, but that does not mean that the population of India is not religious. It does not mean therefore that we should not attempt to bring about understanding and harmony through a process of education; through a process of dialogue; through a process of Interfaith functions Iike this one.
What we really need is a positive reformulation and reintegration of eternal truth of religion in the contemporary context. We need a reinteraction of religious faith in an Interfaith context. We need a rediscovery of spiritual truths in the context of global consciousness and we need a reintegration of science and spirituality in a new holistic paradigm. Each one of these ideas, of course, can be developed at great length, but on this occasion I do not intend to expound at an great length on these concepts. But simply to make the basic point that the Interfaith movement is the next stage in the evolution of a religious movement in India.
- Not where the wheeling systems darken,
- And our benumbed conceiving soars.
- The drift of pinions, would be hearken,
- Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
- The angels keep their ancient places,
- Turn but a stone and start a wing.
- 'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces,
- That miss the many-splendoured thing.
The many-splendoured light of the Atmnan, the light that lightens every man that cometh into the world, the Ruhani Noor of the Sufis, the Aik Onkar of the Gurus, it is that light that we must find within ourselves.
One of the most creative thinkers of this centurv, Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychologist, has said that the task of humanity in this age is integrating the shadow, and where is the darkest shadow?-opposite the brightest light. The bright light of hyperconsumerism, of ultra-materialism is throwing a dark and malign shadow. And that shadow is now beginning to disrupt all the great achievements of science and technology There is only one light that does not cast a shadow, remember that, and that is the light of the Atman. It is that light we must find. It is that light which is at the heart of the inter-religious movement, Ishwarah sarwvabhootanam hriddeshe tishthati: the Lord resides in the heart of all beings. Therefore it is through meditation, through prayer, through nishkam karma, through Yoga, through whatever you may like, but try and approach that light. It is only if we find that light within ourselves that we will recognise it within other persons. It is only when we recognise that light within other people that we will realise that religions are so many different paths to the same goal. That religions ultimately are gifts of the Divine, multiple gifts of the Divine which people according to their backgrounds, their linguistics, their cultural background, can use as paths towards spiritual realisation. That is what I would like to say on this occasion while paying my tribute to Shri O.P. Ghai.
We are living in a very exciting time. A new world is being born in front of our very eyes, a world which has to be based upon the principles of Interfaith harmony. So I will close with a beautiful verse from Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, where he says:
- Wherever I look there are torches and candles,
- Wherever I turn there is tumult and shouting.
- For the world today is heavy and in travail,
- Striving to give birth to the eternal world.
Interfaith Prayers By:
- Rev. Gyomo Nakamura - Buddhism
- Bhai Chaman Lal - Sikhism
- Sister Joann - Christianity
- Maulana Abdulullah Saleem - Islam
- Shri. A. K. Merchant - Bahai
- Swami Gaur Sunder Dasa - Hinduism