The Global Congress World's Religions Proceedings 1980-1982 Edited by Henry O. Thompson
Welcome to this solemn and festive inaugural ceremony of the Global Congress of the World's Religions. For more than four years, an ever-increasing body of individuals, committed to the ideal of worldwide inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, has been working towards this hour of formal inauguration.
We met first in November, 1977, following the International Conference on The Unity of The Sciences in San Francisco. Since that time there have been other meetings in a variety of countries and other meetings following the ICUS in Boston and Los Angeles. The published proceedings of our conferences are available. We have incorporated ourselves legally. We have laid the groundwork for a series of inter-religious consultations in several regions of the earth with the intention of inviting the religions of those regions to tell us what the agenda for the GCWR should be, rather than our telling them what it should be. We have elected officers for the GCWR. We have designated working task forces to develop a good number of activities, including a fundraising program.
We plan, Deo uolente (God willing), to have a general convocation of as many of the world's religions as are willing to come and take their part in a public forum of all the religions. Participation may be official or unofficial.
We shall address ourselves to the issues of religion These include the issues between the religions and the issues confronting the human family with the sincere hope of being able to do something about those issues.
Tomorrow morning at 9:00 am in this room we shall make a full report to you of our activities over the past year and bring you up to date on what we are doing. At that time we will especially invite you to make whatever critique and commentary you please. But above all we shall be encouraging you to industrious collaboration with us in your sphere, your region of the earth, and in your religion. Indeed without you, our progress would slow and stop. With you, the religions of the world shall one day gather in common purpose. Today we shall hear six responses from six individuals. They do not speak as official representatives of their religion. They do greet the GCWR on its birthday on behalf of the several religious traditions in which they stand, in which they live. The first to speak is Sri Radhakrishna.
Friends: I rise this afternoon to personally witness and greet the birth of the Global Congress of the Worlds Religions. I am conscious that this is neither the first, nor the last, attempt at a global level to bring men and women of different religious persuasions together to generate levels of understanding, awareness, and consciousness about each other's traditions and religious beliefs, and to provide a forum for interaction, deeper study and common endeavor. These attempts have a rhythm of their own, are much needed to fill a gap, and provide continuity. I see in this continued renewal an underlying hope that our effort, in some small way, is sufficient to dispel enveloping darkness so light persists.
I convey greetings to you from my fellow co-religionists, and others actually engaged in interfaith or multi-religious endeavors. As a Hindu, I've been brought up in a tradition of synthesis and assimilation. It is an approach to God that does not negate other approaches. Leading reformers in recent years, such as Vivekananda and Gandhi, have emphasized this approach. In a pluralistic situation such as we have in India, this is not merely a practical and pragmatic approach. It is more than that. It is a spiritual need. One of our leaders said that the days of politics in religion are over. We enter the era of signs and spirituality. So we need to seek the deeper spiritual insight of religion. We need to apply these insights scientifically to modern problems. It is our hope that with a growing world consciousness, our small effort will provide a forum for one world increasingly drawn closer by science, communication, and technology. It will provide a basis for the individual in society.
Our concern at the Global Congress is for man, no matter where he belongs (to what race or country), for the whole man, not aspects or portions. Our concern is not merely the future man, but the present man as well as the future man. I see in the Global Congress of the World's Religions this deeper concern and fully support the endeavor. Each one of us can work for this mandate in spite of our limitations. The Global Congress, as you can see, has a colossal task to accomplish. If it is not to be merely words and words, it has to engage itself in a deeper search of spiritual experience. To individuals and groups by study possibly, by prayers if necessary, meditation, fellowship -- it has to offer opportunities of conferences, consultation, but also of living together. That includes making efforts in our own lives to approximate to our claims. If this effort is to succeed, and succeed it must, the Congress will also have to consider active tasks of reconciliation as expressions of a deeper concern. It is a combination of all these that may lead us to the fulfillment of our objectives. I am one of those who believe in the efficacy of prayer. I hope and pray that this effort takes the right direction and succeeds. I have faith and confidence that the Global Congress is in the right hands -- in the hands of those that have the necessary vision, direction and dynamism needed for this challenging task. There is an invocation in Sanskrit: "Lead us Lord from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from nothing to infinity." May the spirit of this invocation guide us in the days to come. Thank you.
The next person to have spoken was Francis Botchway, one of the directors of the African Institute for the Study of Human Values. The Institute and the Global Congress have grown together more or less as twins over the past few years. Francis has had to fly to Spain. Standing in for him then is Professor Christian R. Gaba, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. He pours the libation today on behalf of the autochthonous religions of Africa. Dr. Gaba.
As Dr. Lewis has told you, Francis had to leave suddenly for Madrid. But before he left he gave me this written greeting to be read to you at this conference. I am going to read it on his behalf.
Friends, brothers and sisters, I've been given a task too great for me to perform. To represent Africa is indeed an honor. Yet the task of that representation is formidable. But before I perform that task I would like to recognize some African sons present in this room. This is in the great tradition of Africa. Professor Ohin, Professor Dickson, Professor Gaba, Professor Asare Opoku -- my valuable colleague Professor Gyekye, Professor Sodipo, Professor Montilus, Professor Asjangba and others. I draw my strength from the collective cosmic computer of these great sons of Africa. We are gathered here today to honor the Global Congress of the World's Religions and to reaffirm the perception that the history of our race is a common study. We who are Africans join you in the affirmation of this noble universal principle. We offer this on behalf of Africa:
Oh Mother Africa. You gave
birth to all beings.
You who reveal
the modality of the cosmos
in whom every cosmic fragment
Your mode of existence
gives structure to the world.
In you we find
the revelations of cosmic suprality.
O Mother Africa.
You who reveal to us
the extra-terrestrial figures
of human life.
You who taught us
is but another cosmic modality
of human existence.
You who taught us
that life and death
are ciphers in the cosmic rhythm
of the universe.
O Mother Africa.
You have revealed to us
the universal generatrix.
You who taught us
that the mystery of life
is to be found
in the rhythmical renewal of the cosmos.
O Mother Africa.
You are the center of the universe.
The cornerstone of the cosmos.
O Mother Africa.
I shall sing praises unto you.
Next to speak is Dr. Joseph D. Ben-Dak, Professor of International Management and Peace Studies at the University of Haifa, Israel. Joseph is Jewish.
To say this is very humbling would be an understatement. To be a representative of the Jewish religion anywhere would be difficult. I'm so glad I'm not talking to a Jewish audience.
One of the major problems I think in religion today, as one looks from the point where we are in human history, is that we have spent so much time preaching love for coreligionists, and so little time on love for those who are different from ourselves. My religion has been as sinful in that area as any other religion. It almost seems pathetic to realize how little of the time of people in religion has been spent in what I think should be the most proper job -- if job is the term to use -- for people involved in the deeper sacred area that we are talking about here. That job is how to love those who are really different from ourselves. This is the most difficult of all jobs, the most difficult of human interactions.
If I have something to pray for in regard to this Congress, it is that I believe that something like that is overdue. Something like that has not been available for a long time. I believe that it is about time to take something like that extremely seriously. For my part at least, I would like to invest as much time as possible to make it a reality. I think the critical dimension is the fact that so much of our theology has been spent on how to love and redeem those who are similar to us. This really critical dimension is one that I always find missing when I read any religious text. I've come to believe that if you really want to know the story of your own religion, and I use the same terms that have been used in the GCWR preamble, you have to realize that a story is not only a story of the past. It is also the story of the future. In order to understand and be prepared in the future, you really have to understand not only what you have done in the past, but how your religion has contributed to other religions as well.
When you look at the interconnections, it is amazing to see how much better you can understand your own religion, if you are really aware of others. Take for instance the story of Jesus in the Last Supper, when he talks about his trial (Luke 22:28). Take this story and consider for instance that you are a Jew and you want to understand the Kiddush on Saturday. You really have no source other than Christian sources. Look up Chapter 22 where you can really understand that there is a direct connection with a Jewish custom that Jesus was utilizing at that time. If you really want to take the strict approach and say you are going to use only Jewish sources to understand a Jewish custom, you really face the fact that you are ignorant about a specific custom that was important in the days of the Second Temple. You really lack information about your own customs.
Take another example. Take the Jihad in Islam. Jihad is today considered among most of my people a very basic tradition of Islam to which one would object. It is the idea of attacking people if they are not Muslim in order to create a world which would be totally Muslim. I'm sure that there are people who would think of this as only in Islam. But it is much more accurate to talk about the concept of Jihad as it is understood in the Koran in the original way it was understood in the early medieval period. The first interpreters of Muhammad had the correct interpretation. It meant investing oneself in order to make it possible for others to enjoy life, That is, to invest one's effort in making the poor or the people who suffered, or the people who are different from yourself, better off. If one takes this proposition from Islam, one has the most beautiful idea. Once you look at it this way it really makes the whole concept of Jihad not only a proper concept for Muslims but for Jews as well. Then you could really look at the history of wars that are justified by this concept and realize that it was a sort of mistake. Maybe it's about time that we correct our understanding because we really want to live in a future where the religion of love will be the proper way of going about things.
I lead my life most of the time amongst secular people. I don't practice the rituals of a religion but I consider myself extremely and deeply religious because I like to practice religion in every day and every deed that I do. Thus it is very important for me to cooperate in work with people that are like-minded and like-spirited and for that matter like-motivated. Now, if I do not have their religion to relate to, to consider, to work with, what do I really have? Religion, if it is anything at all, is the kind of concept that ties us to a continuing destiny for people. It is something which is before us and after us and the only thing which gives us motivation and makes life worth living.
I really believe that this Congress can provide a vehicle by which we can:
1. Understand each other better.
2. Make a real effort to understand what is different.
This Congress can be a real base, for it can be the proper relationship between us -- the future of all of us who are different for we are in fact very similar. Thank you.
The next person to speak is Dr. David J. Kalupahana, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. Dr. Kalupahana is a Theravada Buddhist from Sri Lanka. He is the President for Communications of the GCWR.
Honored guests, distinguished members of the GCWR.... It is with great humility here on this momentous occasion that I speak on behalf of millions of Buddhists the world over. I do not speak as their elected representative but as one who has dedicated his life to the study of that sublime teaching, the message of Gautama the Buddha. It is a message of peace and hope for mankind delivered 2,500 years ago. My earnest hope is that the distinguished leaders of the different Buddhist sects, traditions, and schools will lend their enthusiastic support and encouragement in furthering the goals of the GCWR. I am confident that conforming to the spirit of tolerance and compassion embodied in that ultimate message, Buddhists the world over will join hands with members of other religious faiths in order to work for the betterment of mankind.
We are aware that the GCWR is not the first of its kind. One of the major conferences, held almost a century ago, was the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893. In spite of the competence and sincerity of those who attended that conference, I must say that it was a failure. In our discussion during the past two days, the idea emerged that the GCWR should hold a meeting in 1993 to celebrate the centennial of the Chicago conference. I personally feel that it would be inappropriate to celebrate something that was a failure rather than a success.
At this moment I wish to reflect upon the first paragraph of the "Notes of the Charter" of the GCWR distributed to you.
The Global Congress of the World's Religions is a voluntary association of concerned persons from the broad spectrum of all the world's many religions and spiritual perspectives. It was founded in 1980 to become the ongoing forum where representatives from the plurality of human religious experience could communicate with one another, learn about and from one another, and provide means whereby the deepest and highest motivations of both traditionally religious and other persons of spiritual conviction could be creatively and constructively focused for the good of all.
This means the GCWR recognizes the existence, or at least the fact, of a plurality of religious perspectives in the world. Its goal is to focus the different spiritual convictions creatively and constructively for the good of all. The way this goal is to be achieved is through communicating with one another. The goal is our hope for the future. Let us leave it for a moment.
The Way, as the Chinese call it, the Tao, is our immediate concern. Let us reflect upon that for a moment. We are interested in communicating with one another and learning about one another with all the good faith in the world, with all the modern technology at our disposal. Have we succeeded in communicating with one another, learning about one another? With the sophistication of all the means of communication, with all the satellites out there in space, we are no closer to mutual understanding than 2.000 years or 3,000 years ago. The more developed our means of communication, the greater has been our difference, our mutual distrust.
One possible reason for the failure to communicate with each other, and learn about each other, may be that we have adopted a radically wrong method. Reading about what happened at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, one can observe the kind of approach adopted by many representatives there. The most difficult representative came from the part of the world from which I come. With due respect I will mention the name, Swami Vivekananda who eloquently upheld the essential unity of all religions. In doing so, he had to go through many important doctrines in the divergent religious traditions which are held sacred by each of those traditions. In my opinion, which stands to be corrected, it is this persuasion that probably led to the failure of that congress. If so, instead of asking the question, "What is the essence of the different religious traditions of the world," let us ask the question, "What has such and such religion done for mankind?" The consolation Jesus Christ has provided Warren Lewis is undoubtedly similar to the consolation Muhammad has offered Ismail al Faruqi, and Buddha has offered David Kalupahana. There is at least one reason for us to be sensitive to another's religion, to be considerate of another's point of view. This I hope is one way in which we can make the Global Congress a success.
Let me end my few remarks with a lighter note. I am superstitious enough to suggest that the Parliament of Religions failed because of the venue of its first meeting. Maybe we should be careful in selecting a venue for our first meeting of the Global Congress of the World's Religions. We should look for a place sanctified by the occurrence of religious miracles. Chicago certainly is not the place. Let me explain what I mean with a little anecdote. Conforming to the normal practice at all such meetings, the organizers of the Parliament of Religions at Chicago provided conducted tours of the city for the participants. Attending the congress was a lay Buddhist representing the country from which I come, Sri Lanka. His name was Ananda Dharmapali. In the course of such tours, the participants were taken to visit a modern meat canning factory. At this factory, the distinguished delegates were shown how cattle were herded into one end of the factory and cans of corned beef issued out at the other end. An enthusiastic tour guide asked the delegates, "Don't you think that this is a miracle?" Ananda Dharmapali thought of responding, "I do not see any miracle in entering cattle at one end of the machine and getting cans of corned beef from the other. On the contrary, I would consider it a miracle if cans of corned beef were inserted at one end and cattle produced from the other end." For the success of the Global Congress of the World's Religions, let us keep our eyes wide open for a sacred venue that has witnessed the occurrence of such miracles. Thank you.
Our next speaker was to have been Ninian Smart, who is the GCWR President for the Agenda of the GCWR. As many of you who know Ninian have heard, he had an operation some weeks ago. He suffered a relapse and had to go back into the hospital. We are told he is at home again and is recovering nicely now and is out of danger. Standing in for Ninian is Dr. Mary Carman Rose, Professor of Philosophy at Goucher College in Baltimore. She greets the GCWR on behalf of the Christian faith.
I have had such a long and difficult spiritual search that even now it makes me happy to have Warren say, "She's a Christian." But I very much share Joseph's feelings. I'm glad I'm not talking to a typical Christian gathering. I'm very active in Baltimore in many Christian communities. In all of them, I frequently get a cold shoulder because I'm far too ecumenical. I have found my spiritual home, but there's an aspect of "stranger at the gate" that does not get enough attention. I have been a stranger at the gate. As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota I looked in on the Hindus who lived in Minneapolis. I looked in at the Buddhists. There were some Taoists. There were some Gnostics. There were many groups. Every one of those groups was made up, primarily, of people who had found their home. They were good to me. They did take me in. They taught me. Many of them are still my friends. Before I knew the meaning, the Christian or the Jewish meaning, of, “I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on me," I learned it from a Taoist. Before I understood about impediments to Christian spiritual development, I knew about the seven Buddhist impediments to spiritual developments. Before I was even mature enough to be interested in the Judeo-Christian God or the Muslim God, I had learned from my Hindu friends there is one God and all men are His children. Warren may have been interested in this project for ten years. I've been interested for almost fifty. I always knew there was going to have to be a Global Congress. Where will it go? We don't know. I trust the creativity of the Tao, the creativity of the Way. I don't want to interfere with a creativity that I think all of us must see is much greater and wiser than we are. But Warren said I could speak for myself and I'm going to. I see that I do have a commitment. I am faithful. I must fight for the truth but I must never be offended -- must never, never be offended -- on personal grounds. I must pray every day, to try to be more loving, more self-giving. I must work. J must take this responsibility for the little things in my life to try to bring about a purer humanism.
Our final speaker is Dr. Lois Lam'ya al Faruqi, Professor of Religion and Art at Temple University in Philadelphia. She speaks for the Muslim world, and welcomes the Global Congress of World Religions. Dr. al Faruqi is the Chair of the Committee on Religion and the Arts of the GCWR.
Salaam aleykum -- Ladies and Gentlemen: As a Muslim, I welcome the founding of the GCWR. I see it not simply as the inauguration of yet another body or institution of do-gooders who would promote the social, economic and emotional welfare of mankind. I see it as the beginning of a new period in which people from various religious traditions are to become aware of their common heritage as God's creatures and vice-regents on earth. In this new era, we are moved to collectively and cooperatively seek to fulfill His will for the whole of mankind. This movement toward a Global Congress is important and unique in that it is not one which shows tolerance of the various religious traditions for self-centered, strategic, or political reasons. On the other hand it is not contemptuously tolerant of the various traditions because it deems them harmless fantasies. Instead, the Global Congress workers have been sincerely trying to seek out and to gather together people of genuine religious commitment, people who are tolerant because of their deep respect for the various religious traditions, people who are concerned for the spread of that tolerance to all mankind. God's will relates favorably to all His creatures, rather than limiting His benefits to a particular segment of humanity. The goals of the GCWR are goals for which Muslims have been striving since the seventh century and for which they shall continue to strive until the end of time. These are goals which are part and parcel of our religious beliefs. Exemplification of this deep-rooted Muslim concern for inter-religious cooperation and dialogue exist on both the ideational and the practical level. The ideational roots for this concern and involvement are found in the Holy Koran, the revealed scripture of the Muslim people. There God affirms that He has sent His message not only to the seventh century inhabitants of Arabia, but to earlier people as well. The Islamic message, therefore, came as a reaffirmation, not a rejection, of the earlier revelations to Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus. In addition, Islam commanded of its adherents a respect for all humans as possessors of an innate religious capacity and an innate moral capacity which made all mankind a species higher than the rest of creation, even higher than the angels.
On the practical side, the relationship between Islam and the world's religious traditions is also found extending back to that formative period. In the year 632 a covenant was made in Madina between the prophet. Muhammad, the community of Muslims and the community of Jews. This covenant or constitution which was to inform all later instances of the Islamic state, sought to break the bond of the tribalism of that time, just as we today, by striving for the formation of the GWCR seek to break down those barriers of nation, race, color or sex, which divide us and set us in conflict and competition.
That seventh century covenant established the Islamic states as an over-arching institution, a world-order to protect and promote not ethnic groups or nation-states, but the constituent, religious communities. It was a federation of the Muslim and Jewish communities which granted to each protection from outside aggression, at the same time as it guaranteed freedom of religious beliefs and the right to order the lives of its adherents in accordance with those beliefs. Later a Christian, a Zoroastrian, a Buddhist, a Hindu and other religious communities came into contact with the expanding Islamic state and these communities were offered and provided the same protection and status. Given the religious imperative for inter-religious involvement both on the ideational and the practical levels, we as Muslims feel proud and anxious to cooperate with people of other faiths in order to realize the goals espoused by the GCWR and, thereby, to move ever forward toward realizing God's will on earth.
Next, we shall recite aloud together the preamble to our charter. The preamble is printed on the inside first page of the brochure which you have been given. Please understand that the preamble is not a creed, each word of which is supposed to be a statement of faith or dogma and would therefore be submitted to analytical scrutiny. Quite to the contrary, it is merely a general statement of the intention of the Global Congress. As you read through it with us, if you find that you share a general agreement with the sentiments expressed in the preamble, and if you feel persuaded by what we are attempting to do, please know that we would warmly welcome you as full industrious members with us in bringing to pass a Global Congress. Leading us in the unison reading of the preamble is the Rev. Marcus Braybrooke, executive chairperson of the World Congress of Faiths in England, and a priest of the Church of England.
Thank you, Warren. Friends, before I ask you to stand and read the preamble with me, I think we should have perhaps a moment of silence in which we can read it to ourselves and ponder its meaning, so when we read it together, it can be a time of dedication. As Warren said, this is not a creed, but an expression of our intentions. Then after the reading, we hope that those of you who wish to, will sign your name in the very beautiful book which lies open waiting for your signature. So we'll just have a moment of quiet before we read this together.
I invite those of you who would like to share in reading this preamble to stand and say it with me.
The flowing together of human energies
in the life of our time
inspires us religious people
o unify our hearts, clarify our understanding,
implement our compassion, and coordinate our action
in the shared responsibility for well-being
of the human family and the earth itself
on which we live.
This task belongs to all of us
as the history of our race
increasingly becomes a common story,
but it is particularly expected of those
whose minds have been opened to spiritual enlightenment
and whose hearts are made tender
for the fragile and the suffering.
We, therefore, today. November 30th 1980,
sensing our religious responsibility,
in the name of all we hold sacred
a global congress of the world's religions.
We undersign our names --
both those who call on God and those
who do not --
and invite others of like persuasion
to join with us and sign their names,
betokening our intention to gather the
into an ongoing congress
where these high purposes
shall be acknowledged, strengthened, and made effective.
Please be seated. I'm going to ask at this point that our trustees and their advisers come forward and sign the book of the Congress. After they have done that, we will move the book out into the hall. It will be on a table there and we invite the rest of you to sign the book with the understanding that we'll be contacting you. In that way, we'll be able to clear the room so that the next scheduled event can be arranged here.
I want to remind you again that tomorrow morning at 9:00 we'll have the conference session of our Fourth Annual Conference Toward a Global Congress of the World's Religions. At that time you will have additional opportunity to sign the book.