The Tree of knowledge
On Religions and Religious Conversion
Religion has three components: symbols, customs and traditions, and values. As far as values are concerned, there is no difference, because all talk about oneness. Customs and symbols are all very different; they have to be, this is what makes the world beautiful, because God doesn’t like uniforms! Nature has been created with such diversity- so many flowers, animals, people. Diversity is the language of God. In India, God can have any number of names and forms, and they all point to one Divinity. So in one sense, there is difference, and in another sense there is unity The purpose of religion is to bring enlightenment to the individual, and happiness in society, and to move from limited individual identity, to universality and communion with the Divine. When at a time these ideals are far from reality, congregations such as these where people of all faiths gather together, have great responsibility to ponder on the pressing issues. It is a necessity for survival of our planet. Faith and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) are a powerful tool of transformation in society. Though we have moved away from the blemish of medieval conflicts to a more tolerant and co-operative society, FBOs have the responsibility to make a happy society.
Even if part of the planet thinks they are going to heaven, and the others are going to go to hell, they will create a hell for everyone. We need multicultural and multi-religious education to reach every nook and corner of the planet. Violence is appalling today, whether it is domestic violence or societal violence – we see it in every newspaper column, and a sort of pride is being attached to violence. In school classrooms, violent children are considered heroes. When we were growing up, we grew up with stories about Mahatma Gandhi, about ahimsa, non-violence. If someone lost their temper, people thought they needed to see a psychologist, that there was something wrong. Today, even with our heroes in movies, there is a culture of glorifying violence, which we need to turn around – and that responsibility is on us, the faith-based community.
As I listened to the symphony this evening, I looked at these beautiful singers and artists, all playing their own tune, but all looking at the conductor. All religious leaders have to take on this role. We cannot lose sight of that one Divinity, which has created this beautiful diversity. Otherwise we won’t have a symphony, we will have a chaos. The world has witnessed so much chaos, now let’s focus on one conductor – GOD – Generator, Operator and Destroyer. Focus on one aspect, but play your instrument. There is no threat to any tradition, to any culture, if we are all uplifted in human values, in communion of One, which is in the heart of each and every one of us.
I am reminded of the Kumbh Mela, which has been going on for thousands of years. When I was at the last Kumbh Mela, I saw something amazing 30 million people congregate there, and yet there is no crime, no violence, no stealing. Imagine that people can have this faith. Once at the Kumbh Mela, it was very cold in the night, it was January. We went out to distribute some blankets. We saw a young boy, who had just crossed his 20s – he was wearing some shorts, underclothes, and we offered him a blanket. He said, “I don’t need it, I can manage, but under the bridge there are many elderly women, they need it more than me. Please give it to them.”That sense of belongingness with each other, helping each other – only FBOs can bring this feeling on this planet. We need to get out of this vicious circle. We need to attend to the human values, and how we can elevate the spirit to move out of this deep depression and anxiety, and violence. There is no threat to any tradition, to any culture, if we are all uplifted in human values, in communion with the One, which is in the heart of each and every one of us.
All great religions in the world have, and still revere their scared scriptures. These scriptures constitute the basis of all religions whether they be the Vedas of Hindus, the Bible of Christianity, the Dhammapada of Buddhism, the Torah of Judaism, the Qur’an of Islam or Adi Granth of Sikhism. They have a great historical significance – not only they influenced the lives of billions of people in the past; they continue to do so in today’s society. These words of truth form the core beliefs of religion and thus shaped civilization as we see it today. While sacred texts have served to mould the identity of communities, they have also become points of separateness among religions. As long as our world remained divided into discrete spheres of culture with little exchange among societies, each scripture could be affirmed as unique and exclusive without causing conflict. Time was when a Christian in America, a Buddhist in Thailand, a Hindu in India or a Moslem in Arabia hardly ever met someone of each others’ cultures. Each would consider the other as a heathen who needed to be brought into the knowledge so that his condition could be improved. This mindset, fueled by political considerations, only served to widen the gap between communities.
Although all great religions profess human values like peace, harmony, love compassion, compassion etc. it is unfortunate to see the strong correlation that exists between religion and conflict. In too many instances, misinterpretation of religion and its beliefs, has led to division and conflict. Today the explosion of media and globalization of the economy has made geographical boundaries less relevant. The need of the hour is to transform the mindset of exclusivity and the lone claimer of salvation into one of understanding and acceptance.
Religion is like the banana peel, Spirituality is like the banana. We are holding onto the peel and have thrown the banana. Spirituality – the basis of all religion – is what can provide the solution to the problem facing mankind. What is needed in the world today is a better appreciation of this unifying outlook which comes out of a thorough understanding of our own self coupled with a healthy respect for all of humanity.
The first step towards promoting peace is to appreciate the spiritual depth in each religion. Each religion has a unique, and sometimes complementary, way of dealing with life’s situations. The variety of outlook and differences in perspective should serve as a means of emphasizing the diversity in nature. Each time and space has had its share of the spiritual knowledge which every prophet or founder of a religion has professed. However each religion does stand testimony to the existence of the One Absolute Reality.
It is the ignorance of each others’ scriptures which is the cause of lack of respect. This article is an attempt to provide basic understanding about various religious scriptures which would unite minds and hearts.
Conversion for either religious or spiritual reason is useless. If you are honest, all prophets will bless you. Buddha, Jesus and Allah will bless you even if you are not a Buddhist, a Christian or a Muslim, but a good human being respects all religions. When you say this religion is not good, you do not see the greatness in that religion.
Readers are welcome to contribute. Write to:
Source: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Address to the Parliament of World’s Religions in Melbourne; Timeless Wisdom : the Book of All Religions