The Global Congress World's Religions Proceedings 1980-1982 Edited by Henry O. Thompson

II. GCWR Meetings in India

A regional meeting of the Global Congress of the World's Religions was held in Mysore, India from 27-28 May '82. Mysore is in the state of Karnataka (formerly Mysore state) in southern India. Dr. M.S. Nagaraja Rao was the convener. There were 20 people present, including 4 student observers. Participants came from Mysore, Bangalore, Dharwar, and Pondicherry. They are philosophers, linguists, orientalists, political scientists, religious and academic leaders. While predominantly Hindu, the Christian and Muslim perspectives were also represented.

The undersigned gave a brief history of the GCWR and its concern to build bridges of understanding among the religions of the world. Copies of the 1982 brochure were distributed along with copies of the first two newsletters (the first in photocopy form). The 1980 brochure and the February '82 issue of Cornerstone with its report on the February '82 Executive Committee meeting in New York City were circulated for reading.

Dr. K.S. Hegde, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Mysore, chaired the opening session and gave an opening statement on the meeting's theme, "Approaches to World Unity." Dr. K.B. Ramakrishna Rao gave the opening address on the theme. He also closed the meeting on Friday with a paper on "World Unity -- The Perspective of the Bhagavad Gita." He emphasized the religious aspects. Dr. K. Krishnamurthy took a Vedantist approach. Dr. Anthony Chirappanath, a Roman Catholic priest, presented a Gandhian view while Swami Harshanandaji took a meditative approach. The discussion of each paper was lively. The diplomatic perspective of Sri Siddharthcharry of the diplomatic service (Africa, China, Europe) and that of international law (Smt. Lata Krishnamurti) are especially noteworthy. Dr. M.S.N. Rao is transcribing the tapes of the discussion. Plans are underway for publication of the sessions. Five of the papers are printed in this volume.

Participants carried on the discussions over coffee, lunch and dinner. These informal contacts are in some ways as important as the formal sessions. Participants disagreed frequently but were of one mind on the value of the meetings and look forward to more in the future.

Dr. Chirappanath took me for a visit with Roman Catholic Bishop Matthias Fernandez and Chancellor Dennis Norshna of Mysore. I gave them copies of the new brochure and the second newsletter (May '82).

M.S.N. Rao and Thompson flew to Varanasi, also known as Benares, the holy city in northeast India. Here Dr. L.N. Sharma and Prof. R.S. Mishra convened a regional meeting of the GCWR, co-sponsored with the Department of Philosophy of the Benares Hindu University. Dr. Mishra chairs the Department of which Dr. Sharma is a member. It was an open meeting of the Department and 40-55 people attended the three sessions. These included several Burmese Buddhist monks and Westerners who are students at the University. The undersigned again presented the history and cause of the GCWR and distributed literature.

The theme here was "Religion: Today and Tomorrow." In a surprising, unplanned way, the presentation complemented the Mysore meetings. Virtually all speakers began with the past and worked up to the present. We must deal with that past and heal the wounds of the past. That can be done because we live in a new day. Travel and technology put us in touch with one another and make it possible to share our understandings in a mutual give and take. While some stressed the tolerance of Hinduism, others noted the lack of tolerance such as the split between today's India and the predominantly Muslim Pakistan (now Pakistan and Bangladesh) and the current concern of some Sikhs to form a separate state. Hinduism itself is divided into a variety of forms and illustrates the need for unity in diversity that the GCWR is working toward.

The lively discussion within the sessions and informally over refreshments spoke to the importance of this meeting. Several speakers and discussants noted this and thanked the GCWR, congratulated it and wished their respective blessings on the future work of the GCWR. The proceedings were again taped. Rao is transcribing them and it is hoped this material too can be published. Sharma and Mishra hope to sponsor another meeting in December that will draw participants from neighboring areas.

Subsequent to the meetings, Rao, Sharma and Thompson met with the Maharaja of Varanasi. He has turned over his political responsibilities to the state but retains the religious leadership which his family has held for centuries. We discussed the meetings, asked him to be a patron, and gave him literature on the GCWR. Our Indian colleagues and members of his staff were surprised at the amount of time he gave to our discussions.

Rao and Thompson returned to New Delhi where we met with Sri Radhakrishna, GCWR President for Action and Director of the Gandhi Peace Foundation. After a six month illness, he is once again in action. We briefed him on the meetings, the current state of the GCWR, fundraising, and programs, and gave him advance copies of the literature. We discussed the controversy of Unification sponsorship, including opposition from some inter-faith activists. Radhakrishna would be willing to sponsor a regional meeting of the GCWR in New Delhi.

The undersigned then travelled to Jerusalem and met with GCWR trustee Dr. R.M. Zwi Werblowsky of Hebrew University. I briefed him on the meetings in India. We discussed the current state of the GCWR, including fundraising and programs. He suggested a low profile for the present. He himself will be in Japan from July through April. My luggage had been lost so I could not give him the new literature but this will be sent to him.

Henry O. Thompson Secretary to the Board of Trustees

II: Part 1 Approaches to World Unity -- A Vedantic approach Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy
Professor and Head Department of Sanskrit Karnatak University Dharwad

Vedanta is the cream of ancient Upanisadic wisdom as systematized by great Acaryas or gurus in the course of several centuries in India. While fully alive to the diversity of faiths recognizing God or unseen controlling powers, and to the efficacy of the religious emotion in its multiple manifestations, it keeps itself open at the same time to reason and does not overrate dogma or conventional ritual. Reason is geared towards realization of the highest spiritual end, termed usually as Moksa or final emancipation from samsara or the unending cycle of birth and death. Vedanta does not speak of men but Man; the unity that underlies all individual men. Each one is individually imperfect, possessing diverse traits of personality. But viewed ontologically, the many are in essence but changing forms of the Immutable One, which alone is: which alone knows and which alone is of the nature of ecstatic bliss. SAT -- CIT -- ANANDA or EXISTENCE -- KNOWLEDGE BLISS is the very nature (Svarupa-laksana) of reality. And that is Advaita Reality. One must rise above one's primordial Ignorance to be awakened into this realization, which is a sense of complete unity, tranquility and Peace -- santam, swami, advaitam.

Religion is recognized and transcended in this philosophy of Absolute Monism. The rites of worship (Karma-Kanda) are not decried but deified in the light of self-realization (atmasaksatkara). So long as rituals are motivated by desire for personal gain or welfare, they cannot serve the ultimate goal of moksa, which is the Highest Value in life (paramapurusartha). But that is the way of the common man who thinks he is religious. He should be taught how to discharge religious duty without any selfish motive. The individual's ego-centrism must be remedied by making him realize the Infinity of his inmost self. Any religion is better than irreligion since it instills the spirit of loving devotion (bhakti) and self-surrender (prapatti) to the omniscient and omnipotent Godhead with Infinite grace. But no religion is complete until it culminates in an awakening into Absolute Truth, an awakening into Advaitaconsciousness where one's inmost being, the subject itself is recognized, as identical with the Almighty God or Brahman, who is the One behind and beyond the Many. This awakening alone is the saving jnana or wisdom.

Our lives are governed indeed by multiple interests -- sensual, economic, social, political and so forth. Our actions depend upon our interests and a clash with those of others is inevitable. All these conflicts must be first recognized at their source, if they are to be remedied. The source of all clashes and conflicts is the mind of man. The moods of the mind (citta) are unpredictable and proverbially fleeting. But more constant is the reasoning intellect (buddhi), yet it allows room for many closely-reasoned ideologies. Doubts and misgivings assail the manas or willing agent. The ego is always there asserting its primacy over all else. Such is the antahkarana or psychological make-up of men. Until this ego-centered or mind-centered or even intellect-centered personality or man is purified and sublimated in the light of the refulgent Atman or Inmost Soul, there is no permanent salvation or solution to the problem of evil. The eternal quest then is for the unchanging One behind the changing many.

All actions of individuals and peoples come under the realm of vyavahara or daily routine. They are conditioned by the very nature of man as a social and sensual being. And they cannot be stopped. "Svabhavo duratikramah." Nature cannot be changed. Wisdom lies in seeing clearly and squarely that this Nature (prakrti) is acting on her own; and all the clashes and conflicts are inevitable so long as Nature is not transcended by the higher wisdom of the witnessing spirit or self. Multiplicity of objects, names and forms on the one hand and conflicting interests and desires on the other which drive men to diverse activities -- all stem from a single source ultimately -- which we may, for want of a better word, call universal Ignorance or Avidya. There is no knowledge -- scientific or sensory -- which does not come under the realm of this universal Ignorance which is Man's estate.

What is required then is a total change in perspective. One should learn to understand there is a higher spiritual awakening possible for man; an awakening wherein all the activities of men and nations, whether at war or peace, are no more substantial than the passing shadows in a dream. It is not in one's hands to stop dreaming so long as one is a slave of one's own mind. The mastery over mind during the waking state is as illusory as one's mastery over it in the dreaming state. The sooner this truth is realized, the sooner the approaches to world unity will open up and become clearer.

In other words, man has to save himself, by changing himself from within, by becoming truly the master of his mind. He should see God not outside but within himself. All the codes of ethics and moral values, all the disciplines of ritual, sacrifice and forms of worship, and all the sacred gospels and scriptures become valid as helping religious men in this Eternal spiritual quest by keeping their minds in check. The moment they cease to render such help, they are no better than atheistic teachings. Humanity at large remains still to be educated since inner Perfection has not yet been attained.

Indian thought is insistent that not only the mind of man but even the universal laws of Nature outside are constituted of the same triple constituents -- sattva or purity; rajas or activity and tamas or lethargy. It is their balance which keeps Nature going as it does. Their imbalance alone accounts for creation or destruction. That is Indian cosmology. But the same is true of the human mind. It has also a demonical dimension of rajas and tamas within accounting for all wars and worries. But what is important to realize is that it has a godly dimension of purity or sattva also. There is no man on earth who does not have a conscience whose drives are always for peace. As Kalidasa puts it -- satam hi sandehapadesu vastusu pramanam antahkarana-pravrttayah. The human conscience alone is the ultimate authority in deciding the right from the wrong. This is the element of sattva which should not be allowed to be silenced by demonical tendencies.

If towering intellect and worldly enjoyments could ensure peace and happiness, the world should have been different today when man's scientific achievement has reached its zenith. There should have been peace and no room for war or conflict, but things are otherwise. Purity of conscience whose clarion-call has always been peace has suffered heavily. It can be reclaimed only by the discipline of universal religion. The mind has to be purified first and transcended; then peace will not be a shadow or a slogan but a living reality. The transcendence of mind demanded by Vedanta implies rising above both pride and prejudice, hate and love, dogma and doubt. The upanisadic mantra is "Peace" "santih santih santih". The Bhagavadgita's ideal Man is a sthitha-prajna or gunatita; one whose vision is steady and one who has transcended the pulls of the mind, anchored securely in his inmost self. This insight of Vedanta is as relevant today as ever before. It is so broad, tolerant and universal that it can yet take us nearer the eternal goal of humanity for peace. Only, we should have ears to listen to its message which looks, on the face of it, to be impossible. All the sages and saints of India, theistic or atheistic like the Buddha, speak with one voice that peace is attained only by self-culture, individually and collectively. This is the positive aspect of Vedanta which gives an adequate explanation to all religion by upholding the infinite dignity of Man identifying him with the Supreme Absolute, in his essence as Spirit. Its negative aspect which is equally important denies ultimacy of empirical and mundane dichotomies and paradoxes.

II: Part 2 Approaches to World Unity
E.P. Menon Director Friends World College (South Asia) Bangalore -- 1

Even though world unity has been one of the highly cherished goals of mankind since civilization dawned on this earth, it has remained an elusive entity out of our practical reach. Reasons are obvious to any thinking person who has larger human concerns. Therefore, my attempt is to ponder over positive possible steps that could be taken which could lead us to that cherished destination.

I want to deal with only four major approaches. Before that we should begin with a philosophical question. Without a philosophy, a principle, an idea to live with and work for, there can be no meaning in life at all. Therefore let us ask: what kind of a human society do we want to see in the future? What kind of a world do we want to live in? Justice is the key word upon which I would like to formulate my answer. I would like to see the future of the world primarily based on justice of all kinds: family justice, emotional justice, economic justice, social justice, political justice, national justice, international justice. Once basic agreements could be reached on these aspects, it becomes easy to work out the structure and methodology with which the objectives could be reached. From this angle I would like to discuss the following four approaches.

1. Educational

In all evolutionary societies the educational philosophy, structure and methodology seem to have been generally tuned to the fulfillment of the individual's exclusive benefits, skills and advancement, instead of providing for the total benefit and advancement of the entire society. Therefore unbalanced development of various faculties has occurred, devoid of social dimension and commitment. Thus innumerable conceptual barriers and narrow prejudices began to dominate human actions and aspirations. This situation must be changed. It means organization and implementation of alternative systems of education, wherever required.

It has to be oriented toward humanity, problem related and solution seeking. Then education would become a commodity available to all members of the society. Simultaneously efforts must be made to create educational systems that are not confined within four walls of institutions or within the pages of books alone. They must assume direct relationship with all areas of human activity, from the kitchen to the United Nations, from the farm to the battle-field. As advocated by Mr. Soedjatmoko of Indonesia, the Rector of the United Nations University, a modern global learning process must emerge through which "new and faster ways of learning to meet the demand for knowledge in countries where population is exploding," should be possible. A proper balance should be struck between experiential learning and academic learning.

2. Cultural

The cultural approach is very much interrelated with the educational approach. To learn to appreciate the inherent values of different cultures, should be part of any educational philosophy and practice. Food, language, various kinds of fine arts and performing arts etc., being the important symbols that represent the sum and substance of any culture, they should be given adequate importance in all educational planning and practice. As the philosophy of sports excludes narrow prejudices of blind nationalism, understanding cultural relationships between differing social systems is bound to minimize potential areas of conflicts.

A highly developed culture must demonstrate itself in the life and behavior patterns of individuals and groups. Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the true meaning and purpose of all value systems from time to time. For example: a philosophy of war used to be extolled in most societies in which one person had complete control of the entire population. In such a society, the educational/cultural content was also tuned to suit that philosophy. We, today, who believe in democratic process for the reconstruction of society, continue to carry forward certain symbolic representations of those values and systems which have become obsolete in the interest of humanity. Today we want all members of the society to feel and function as participants, in the process of production, distribution, administration, decision making, etc. Then will only new values and systems emerge without any violent upheavals. Already custodians of cultures themselves have begun to question the validity and utility of many aspects of our cultural life.

The world needs a new global culture in which basic human aspirations are to be promoted, rather than sectarian values under the garb of various customs and rituals. We should be prepared to alter or let go of various cultural symbols that come in the way of world unity.

3. Economic

The most important stumbling blocks on the path towards world unity are constituted by various elements that control the economic means and ends of social and national relationships. The world has only two alternatives: either voluntarily accept the need for change and then reject certain traditional economic values and structures; or be prepared to face more conflicts and perish collectively. This is inevitable because in most of the societies it is the minority that controls, exploits, makes decisions, makes rules and enjoys more at the cost of the majority. The masses everywhere are becoming more conscious of the predicament in which they continue to exist and suffer. They have begun to mobilize themselves to struggle against the mighty power-structures which control, utilize and exploit them.

Solutions to most of these economic problems are either through violent means or through nonviolent means. Violence has already become so violent that it has begun to defeat its own purpose. Dialogue and negotiations must take precedence over any other methods. The latest trend that has emerged among nations is to be appreciated and encouraged. The north-south dialogue, the group of 77 dialogue, the UNCTAD deliberations etc., are consequences of the above reality. These dialogues must not only help settle problems between nations and regions, but also should contribute to evolving new methods of economic relationships through which the acute disparity between one human being who lives in a village in Orissa and another human being who occupies the presidency at the White House or the Secretaryship of the U.N., must be narrowed down.

4. Political

The political approach to world unity must essentially depend upon the above three aspects. If the educational, cultural and economic approaches could be well-coordinated in a given period of time, the consequent political approach would be very easy and handy. Then institutions like the United Nations will have an easy task in taming the lions and lambs of the political jungle of the world arena. However imperfect the UN structure is at present, however ineffective its resolutions are, it is still a great hope for mankind. Honest and concrete attempts must be made to make it more effective and useful. Then many imponderable political problems would find solutions in the UN assembly hall. Both national governments and enlightened and concerned individuals all over the world must and can play a positive and large-hearted role in this direction.

Religions can play a most dynamic role in forging world unity, but unfortunately the history of the world has shown that they have not been able to do so. Unless they are prepared to give up their garbs and walls for the sake of promoting the essential truths of their basic teachings, they don't seem to have a future positive role. Once they are able to do it, they will discover that they are primarily aiming at the same goal -- human brotherhood and unity.

"Remember your humanity and forget the rest," declared Einstein and Russell a few years ago. Science with Humanism seems to be the sure and secure way towards world unity. Let us strive for that.

II: Part 3 Approaches to World Unity
Professor K.B. Ramakrishna Rao Professor of Philosophy University of Mysore, Mysore, India

The institution sponsoring this seminar is the Global Congress of the World's Religions. It is in good company with similar organizations like the Universal Religious Alliance, World Parliament of Religions, Union of All Religions, World Congress of Faiths -- all working for world unity, since the first quarter of this century. It is interesting to note that all of them aim to build world unity on the concept of religion or faith. That is, as it should be. There are organizations which are political, social, scientific and economic which also have the same purpose, but work in different ways. However, the most basic foundation for all of them lies in religion or faith. It is the primordium on which all kinds of relationships will have to rest, and all unity is to be forged.

However, the question arises: How many are religious: how many believe? How can religion provide the necessary stimulus for all -- the religious and the nonreligious, the theist and the atheist -- or motivate them to work for world unity on its credentials? How can it instill faith in the faithless? Further, in the context of the modern technological scientific age, an age of positivism, scientism and empiricism, to what extent can religion and religious criteria be credible? Evidently, the concept of religion is both complex and touchy. It is amongst the religions themselves that we find disunity. The world has witnessed crusades on principles of religion, has shed blood in the battles between faiths.

An attempt on the part of organizations, such as the one sponsoring this seminar, becomes very relevant and significant. One of the unique features of the present century is that it makes or compels religions to transcend their narrow fortifications, and to re-examine their postulates or credentials; and in the face of the imminent possibility of global destruction, to think of saving mankind. During this century more than at any other time, man is feeling the intensity of the truth of the statement of one of the great thinkers of modern times, Heidegger, who says: 'man is thrown into the world, and is abandoned for death.' It is an invitation to face our world situation, or to choose to die with the burden of the past corrupt tradition and belief.

It is in this context, that the urgency of world unity and cooperation is to be seen, not simply as a superficial consideration, but as the primary necessity of one's own existence, and the existence of others.

There are several approaches to world unity, and I do hope this seminar will, at best, enumerate or take note of them (within the short time at its disposal) and carry home the thoughts that emerge in the discussion for further elaboration and application.

We have several approaches, and so consequently several definitions, too, of religion, but the more significant may be noticed here:

1. The purely mystical, which transcends all limitations of finite life and stands away from them or besides them in ecstatic union with the Infinite, speechless and timeless, boundless and nameless.

2. The philosophical, which also examines on intuitional grounds, besides rational and empirical, the most universal principles of being and existence beyond particulars or parochialism.

3. The theological, which in its own way sees freedom and unity amongst the faithful in strict adherence to a Messiah, Prophet or to the revealed word of God.

4. the sociological, anthropological and the psychological which see in beliefs and customs and modes of worship and prayer a universal pattern of behavior and modifications for coming together for mutual or communal benefit and survival.

To go to the details of the philosophical, the second in the list above, there are several recent perspectives, which in their own distinct ways throw light on the phenomenon of religion, vis-a-vis, the existential, the phenomenological, the humanistic and the linguistic. But the most significant development of the century has been the approach through:

5. The scientific study of religion or comparative study of religions. It is with this approach, and with the usage of the philosophical methodologies mentioned above, that the future of the understanding of world religions is bound.

For achieving a world unity either in life or in faith we need a new hermeneutic which will alter our understanding not only of the essence of religion, but also make us respect the practices of religion however varied they may be. By an adoption of such a hermeneutic, it should be possible for us to discover what Paul Tillich, so significantly, calls the 'dimension of depth,' the 'ultimate concern of all,' which is unconditional in man's spiritual life. Lest we splinter away the unexperienced truth as alien, it is such a hermeneutic which guided the existentialists, Tillich and Heidegger, to propose it as 'subjectivity' Lest the incidentals and the contingents weigh more than the essence in our judgments, it is such a hermeneutic which helped the phenomenologists, like Husserl to stick to subjectivity as the essence and to 'bracket' or 'suspend' all objectivity. Lest personalization take out of Truth its universality it goaded the existentialist theologians, like Bultmann, to bring in 'demythologization' and to call for the expression of truth in nonhistorical symbolism. Lest we lose ourselves in particular manifestations of truth as final, it is the grasp of comparative study of religions to expose us to the glory of the vista of manifestations in which Truth itself exists; and expresses itself. This we find in the memorable works of Max Muller, Rudolf Otto, Jochim Wach and a host of workers in the field, such as WC. Smith, M. Eliade and Joseph M. Kitagawa.

Incidence or achievement of world unity is a complex effort and is bound to be more universal than particular and parochial, more liberal than conservative. It should be not merely the result of cognitive venture but be the consequence of an affective experience. A truth of such unity is not simply to be known but should be lived. For this end, understanding should strive, whereby religious striving turns out to be the whole affair of life -- cultural, economic, political, social etc., to permeate all secular activities to the extent that the fine mark of distinction should vanish. A new sense of values should fill life making it worth living. A new hermeneutic can only pave the way for the much desired community of the world, and a consolidation of the ideal of unity.

No better expression of the grasp of this hermeneutic could be found than is reflected in the famous Asokan edict (No. 12):

Devanam priya, Priyadarsi honors all sects, the ascetic and the lay. He honors them with gifts and tributes of all kinds. But he, Devanam priya, does not lay so much weight on gifts and tributes, but rather on that in all religions there might be growth in essence (sara vriddhi). The reason for this is that no praise for one's own religion or reproach of other religions should take place on irrelevant occasions. On the contrary, every opportunity ought to be utilized for honoring other religions. If one proceeds in this way, he furthers his own religion, and renders good to others religions. Otherwise he does harm to his own religion for he would be disparaging other religions out of admiration for one's own. He who injures his own religion is most commended. For men should learn and respect the fundamentals of each other's religion.

Asoka laid the criterion for the study of comparative religions thus, when he continues his edict by saying:

... It is indeed the cherished desire of Devanam Priya that followers of all religions become well informed about the doctrines of other religions and acquire universal knowledge... (and by such means) promote each one's religion and the glorification of righteousness or dharma.

A recent Professor of the History of Religions, Friedrich Heiler, has summarized his results of comparative study of religions, in the spirit of the Asokan edict, and writes thus: "There are seven principal areas of unity which the high religions of the earth manifest." They are:

1. The first is the reality of the transcendent, the holy the divine, the Other. Above and beneath the colorful world of phenomena is concealed the true being...

2. Second, this transcendent reality is immanent in human hearts...

3. This reality is for man the highest good, the highest truth, righteousness, goodness and beauty...

4. This reality of the Divine is ultimate love which reveals itself to men and in men...

5. The way of man to God is universally the way of sacrifice...

6. All higher religions teach not only the way to God, but always and at the same time the way to the neighbor as well...

7. Love is the superior way to God... (The History of Religions -- Essays in Methodology. Ed. Eliade and Kitagawa. 1959 pp 142-151.)

Any effort at world unity should comprehend this identity of vision of all religions and profit by the common manifestations of the religious spirit to establish the Kingdom of God on earth or convert the kingdom of man to a divine kingdom. The intuition of another great thinker, Schleiermacher, who said, "the deeper one progresses in religion, the more the whole religious world appears as an indivisible whole," should lead us in the path with hope. And no less the congregational prayers of the Vedic Seers help us fulfill the ideal:

Sam gacchadhvam sam vadadhvam
sam vo manamsi janatam/

Deva bhagam yatha purve
samjanana upasate//

Samano mantrah samitih samani
samanam manah saha cittamesham/

Samanam mantramabhi mantraye vah
samanena vo havish juhomi//

Samani va akutih
samana hrdayani vah/

Samanamastu Vo mano
yatha vah susahasati//

(Rig Veda X, 187, 2-4)

Meet together, talk together, Let your minds apprehend alike in like manner as the ancient Gods concurrently accepted their portions of oblations.

Common be the prayer of these (in assembly). Common be the achievement, common the purpose, associated be the desire. I repeat for you a common prayer. I offer for you with a common oblation.

Common be your intention, common be the hearts. Common be your thoughts, so that there may be a thorough unity amongst you.


II: Part 4 Gandhi's Approach For World Unity Through Religion
by Dr. Anthony K. Chirappanath

Can religions play any role in the process of world unity? Or, can it only be a source of disharmony? Religions are meant to establish peace and unity on earth. The Hindu prayers often conclude with "Om Shanti." The Christian greets his brother: "Peace be with you." and the very word 'Islam' means 'Peace'. Paradoxical, indeed, that they cannot coexist in peace and unity. For, what is the testimony of history in this regard? What has usually happened at the birth of any new religion? Is there any religion which has not caused division, dissension, discord and even bloodshed? It appears that religions have always been a disintegrating factor, having in them the very seeds of disharmony. And we do not find any reason for it to be otherwise in the future.

Mohandas Gandhi

According to Gandhi, the problem is not with the religions, but with the religionists, that is, the so-called followers of religion: due to lack of proper understanding they do not follow their religions properly. According to his understanding of religion, the differences will not divide mankind, only enrich it. If we are to hope that religion will play a role in bringing about unity and harmony, it appears that we have to take Gandhi seriously and try to understand religion as he expressed it through his life and thought.

Gandhi believed in the fundamental unity of all religions. He affirmed the equality of all religions, for truth, he said, is not the monopoly of any particular religion. This implies that we must have regard and respect for religions other than our own, and that we must try to learn from other religions. Perhaps the most important feature of Gandhi's religious philosophy is that, it not only says all religions are true, but it also says that all religions are false. "We recognize that all these faiths are true and divinely inspired and all have suffered through the necessarily imperfect handling of imperfect men." It is here that Gandhi's view differs most from the traditional understanding of religion.

It is true that Gandhi had his own solution to the problem of religious disunity. His solution consisted of removing the misunderstandings about religion (one's own as well as that of others) and in replacing the worse interpretation of another's religion by its best interpretation. But this solution is based on the new understanding of religion which Gandhi offered. The trouble with this new understanding of religion is that it cannot be had in isolation. A proper understanding of religion is not possible except in the context of a radically new structure of society different from the present structure. Gandhi's own efforts to bring about communal harmony and world unity as well as his attempts to understand the true nature of religion, must therefore be seen as part and parcel of his life's mission which was to give a new turn to the very course of human civilization.

His religious philosophy

There is a distinctive character to Gandhi's idea of religion. Every evening after the prayer meeting he used to discuss problems: political, economic, social as well as religious, with the members of the community. For him, life was one whole and it cannot be divided into water tight compartments such as political, religious, etc. A true religious person has to be religious always and everywhere and he cannot put up with injustice anywhere. Thus his entire conception of religion was an integrated one. Religion is meant for the reformation of life. That is why Gandhi said, "my religion is ethical religion."

This does not mean Gandhi rejected the existing particular religions. Nor did he deny the essential elements of any religion, i.e., creed, cult and code. He was ready to tolerate any religious doctrine, even if unreasonable, if it was not immoral. But he would fight tooth and nail those religious doctrines which are in conflict with morality. The same holds true regarding cults as well. He would not object to any form of worship which is not immoral. Ultimately the creed and cult are meant for a better code of conduct. Hence if they do not serve this purpose of bettering life, they are no good for religion.

Divine paternity and human fraternity

Gandhi firmly believed in the common fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. Almost all religions accept this great doctrine. We come from God and we are marching towards him. It is from this presupposition that he goes to the fundamental unity of all religions in diversity. Any attempt to root out traditions, effects of heredity, climate and other surroundings is bound to fail. Unity is encased in a variety of forms. The various forms will persist until the end of time. Wise men will ignore this crust and see the soul beneath the crust. God is one and identical with Truth. Truth is not the exclusive property of any single religion.

Gandhi's struggle for the freedom of India is sometimes raised as an objection to the above stand. He has clarified this. His patriotism was not an exclusive thing. It was all-embracing but he rejected that patriotism which sought to capitalize upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities. His patriotism was always consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large. He wanted to realize brotherhood or identity, not merely with the beings that are human, but with all life, even with such beings that crawl on earth, because we claim common descent from the same God. Thus he extended brotherhood to all living beings.

We are all children of the same father whom the Hindu, the Muslim and the Christian know by different names... The Allah of Islam is the same as the God of Christians and the Ishwara of Hindus... and little man has tried in his humble way to describe mighty God by giving Him attributes. However, He is above all attributes, Indescribable, Inconceivable and Immeasurable. Living faith in this God means acceptance of the brotherhood of mankind. It also means equal respect for all religions.

Unity of all religions

We may call ourselves Christians, Hindus or Muslims. Whatever we may be, beneath the diversity there is oneness and underneath many religions there is one Religion. There are many points of contact among these religions. The differences are indeed insignificant. Convinced as he was of this fact, Gandhi had great reverence for all religions and admired their noble manifestations. All religions reveal God and show man the path of liberation. Only the descriptions vary If there was religious strife, men and not religions were responsible. He exhorted people to live the religions to which they belonged, in truth and in spirit. This will bring about harmony of religions in the world, he said.

Mahatma Gandhi clearly saw the need of the time: people belonging to different faiths must have the same regard for other faiths that they have for their own. It means finding unity in diversity. Just as in Nature, there is a fundamental unity running through all the diversity, so also there is fundamental unity in religions. To discover this underlying unity Gandhi has a master key, i.e., Truth and Nonviolence. As he was a close student of all principal religions, his study revealed to him their basic unity. He not only preached this unity, he lived it in his own daily life. He believed that all men are equal, that they are brothers and members of one family. Differences of skin and race and nation are only transitory and superficial.

Different religions, according to Gandhi, are the different followers of the same garden, or branches of the same tree. Using the same simile he says: "Just as a tree has a million leaves, similarly, though God is one, there are as many religions as there are men and women though they are rooted in one God... Each mind has a different conception of God from that of the other." However, he did not aim at any fusion of religions. He felt that each religion has some special contribution to make.

All religions are true

As he believed in the fundamental unity of all religions, so also Gandhi affirmed that all the great religions of the world are true 'more or less.' The 'more or less' is because religion as conceived by man can never be perfect; perfection being the exclusive attribute of God alone. "If all faiths outlined by man are imperfect, the question of comparative merits does not arise" -- says Gandhi. All faiths constitute a revelation of truth. Truth is like the fire at the heart of a many-faced jewel. Each angle shows a different aspect and a different color. Imperfect as we are we can see truth only in fragments and act according to our limited vision. The reality is known only to God. Hence, we must not be like the 'frog in the well' who imagines that the world ends with the walls of the well. We must not think that our religion alone is true and others are all false. A reverent study of other religions would show that they also are as true as our own, though all are necessarily imperfect. Therefore we must entertain the same respect for all faiths. When such an attitude becomes the law of life, the conflicts based on the differences of religion will disappear from the face of the earth.

All religions are equal

As in the truth and unity of all religions, Gandhi also believed in the equality of all religions. When he says that all religions are true and equal, he does not necessarily mean to say that 'they are equally true' in religious terms or that they are absolutely true. Another man's religion is true for him, as mine is for me. I cannot be the judge of his religion. We know no two bodies are identical, nor are any two leaves of a tree. There is bound to be some difference. Each one prays to God according to the light he has. How can one pass judgment as to "who prays better? If I am a seeker of Truth, it is sufficient for me," says Gandhi.

Since there is only one God and there is identity in the essential moral principles of all religions, in theory there can be only one religion. But in fact there are many religions, because men, who are imperfect by nature, interpret these moral principles according to their own temperament, climate and culture.

In theory, since there is only one God, there can be only one religion. But in practice, no two persons I have known have had an identical conception of God. Therefore, there will, perhaps, always be different religions answering to different temperaments and climatic conditions.

The duty towards self, and the relationship with one's neighbors are the same in all religions. What distinguishes religions from one another is their external practice, their liturgy and their formula of prayers. He compared different religions to different roads leading to the same God. "Religions are different roads converging at the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal?" Thus Gandhi concluded that all religions are equal.

The acceptance of the doctrine of equality of religions does not abolish the distinction between religions and irreligion. He says no man can live without religion. Some people may say that they are agnostic and atheists, and that they have nothing to do with religion. He compared them to a man saying that he breathes but he has no nose. According to Gandhi man by nature is religious, and he has to follow a religion. That will lead him to God who rules his every breath.

Respect for all religions

Since all religions have a basic unity, are sharing the same Truth, and are equal, we must cultivate the same respect for all religions. This is possible only if we study all religions with equal-mindedness. We should have no desire to criticize any element of other religions because they are not ours. We must have the humility to confess that we cannot understand everything about a religion. Every religion has four elements, i.e., mythical, mystical, ethical and theological. It is natural that mythical and mystical elements often remain difficult to understand by reason.

Still, there are many things which one can learn from other religions. Therefore, Gandhi exhorted the people of different religions as follows:

I would advise the Hindus and the Sikhs to read the Qur'an as they read the Gita and the Granth Sahib, lb the Muslims. I would say they should read the Gita and the Granth Sahib with the same reverence with which they read the Qur'an. They should understand the meaning of what they read and have equal regard for all religions. This is my life -- long practice and ideal.

On another occasion he advised the Hindus:

Leave the Christians alone for the moment. I shall say to the Hindus that your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teachings of Jesus.

To the Missionaries he said:

You, the Missionaries, come to India thinking that you come to a land of heathens, of idolators, of men who do not know God... He (an Indian) is as much a seeker after Truth as you and I are, possibly more so... I tell you there are many poor huts belonging to the untouchables where you will certainly find God. They do not reason but they persist in their belief that God is. They depend upon God for his assistance and find it too... I place these facts before you in all humility for the simple reason that you may know this land better, the land to which you come to serve.

Authentic Religion And World Unity

It is high time that authentic religions should come forward to awaken genuine values in their followers. True religions always stand for truth, love, harmony and peace. These are values which humanity likes, seeks and endeavors to establish. Authentic religion strives towards this goal, rising above narrow historicity, communitarian limitations and ethnically bound realities. Only the element of transcendence can drive man towards the above goal.

The genuine values awakened in the hearts of men can lead them to action of love towards our neighbors. This in turn will bring about communal harmony and world unity. As Gandhi said, the greatness of a religion consists of its capacity to produce great minds, meaning minds capable of accepting and appreciating others.

In the vivid and picturesque scene of final judgment, Christ placed on His right the people who lived a life of service and righteousness. Love and truth is the essence of any moral law. In the story of the good Samaritan, the representative of outcasts, Jesus reinforced the law of love. Further, in the talk with the Samaritan woman Jesus denies any particular place of worship and demands worship in spirit and truth. Hence religion should help men to seek values that are basic and eternal, that will bring men together and thus create a world of love, acceptance and harmony. The following are guiding principles for better interaction among religions:

a. Promote better understanding of religions, both of one's own and of others.

b. The deeper understanding of other faiths should lead us to support all in their struggle for self-realization.

c. Accept men of other faiths as they are and as they want to be instead of imposing your view on others.

d. Be open to learn from one another. We may have much to offer to others. That is the case with others too. We need a better sharing and dialogue.

Religious Instruction In Formal Education

Fundamentals of every religion must be included in our school syllabus. They should be taught in such a way that the students will grow in respect for religions and religious values. This requires a fresh and creative type of religious education. The religions should be presented at their best without creating any kind of prejudice against any particular religion. The emphasis should be on the cultivation of appreciation for and understanding of the valuable insights throughout the religious history of mankind. It is a sad fact that many do not have an adequate knowledge of their own religion, yet they are ready to throw mud at those of others.

There is a grave danger in the proposal made above, if it is not executed with extreme care and caution. Our purpose is to promote eternal religious and moral values and not sectarian attitudes. Hence our aim should be a nonsectarian, value-centered religious instruction so that children can develop respect for all religions. In our present educational system a student is robbed of his full development if he receives no guidance in his early years towards the recognition of the religious aspect of life.

Studies in comparative religion must find more place and scope in our college and university studies. Departments of religious studies can conduct formal, informal and nonformal courses on religions. This is a most forgotten field which needs the most urgent attention of the authorities concerned.

Our people must be taught of religion in an enlightened manner to love one another and to know that God is one for all. They should feel that they are all members of one great family of human beings, having different forms of worship. They are all fellow-pilgrims marching towards the spiritual realization of truth and love. This is the great lesson Mahatma has taught us by his thought and life.

For Practice

Inter-religious dialogue

Inter-religious dialogue occurs when committed followers of various religions meet to communicate to each other their religious views, convictions, fears and doubts, their aspirations and hopes. This can be a prayer meeting, a sharing session, a common action, etc. Proper inter-religious dialogues can wipe away the curses of racism and religious riots from the face of the earth and can establish better world unity and communal harmony.

Sharing in common enterprises

Members of different religions can come together and work together for common goals such as nation-building at the economic, social, cultural and political levels. In our working places of schools, colleges, offices, and factories there is much scope for sharing common enterprises.

Sharing common study and reflection

This is another form of dialogue wherein members of different religions meet for common study and prayerful reflection, on their religious values and experiences, or discuss problems of man in the light of their own religious commitment. This form of dialogue can take place at the levels of ordinary believers, or of scholars, etc. The religious institutions and study centers like colleges and universities must take initiative for this.

Sharing common prayer

The purpose of common prayer is the corporate worship of God, our common Father and Creator. Under the Divine paternity we form one family of mankind. Our Mahatma said: "Congregational prayer is a good means for establishing essential unity through common worship... Prayer is the greatest binding force, making for the solidarity and oneness of the human family. If a person realizes his unity with God through prayer, he will look upon everybody as himself."

"Live-together" sessions

This form of dialogue has proven to be very powerful and fruitful in establishing communal harmony. This gives the best opportunity to experience each other in prayer, study and life.

II: Part 5 Approaches To World Unity The Perspective Of the Bhagavad-Gita
by Prof. K.B. Ramakrishna Rao Professor of Philosophy University of Mysore, Mysore. India

Viewed from the perspective of the Bhagavad-Gita, the subject of today's discussion, "The Promotion of World Unity," is one of the most important aspects of the general philosophy of Consolidation which the Gita envisages. The select term for this process of consolidation which the text uses is "loksamgraha", whose dimensions pass beyond the ordinary understanding of it. The term has been used variously to convey the senses of "achieving human welfare," "guiding the people not to go the wrong way," "holding together the people, etc. It is scarcely linked with the deeper and wider sinews of reality against the background of which any human unity or welfare can have meaning. The perspective of the Gita seems to be touching the core of the problem of the universal, or more significantly, of a "cosmic consolidation" whose one aspect is promotion of world unity and human welfare. The insight of the Gita seems to be to point towards a consolidation at the most basic level, namely, the unity of all existence -- man and nature, spirit and matter, thought and reality, bearing reflections on all aspects of individual and universal life. The direction that a human being can get in promoting world union -- which we ordinarily take to be one of religious, political or social unity of human beings in the world -- becomes easier only with the deeper intuitions of a purpose behind the Cosmic Consolidation itself at all levels of existence, the human and the animal, the living and the nonliving, the mental and the material, the concrete and the subtle.

Lord Krishna couches his philosophy in such a way that while outwardly he insists that Arjuna perform his work as is natural to a Kshatriya, the implications are that he is laying bare the secrets of cosmic consolidation that take place at each level of existence, and the human element which is involved is only an instance of a conscious regent commissioned to quicken or keep up the process of cosmic consolidation. The cosmic or philosophical import of "viswarupa darsana" is that we are all inextricable elements of a larger and planned structure of a Reality which demands us to discover our place in it and to do a job, and do it correctly, efficiently and with the deftness of an artist. In other words, we are asked, being conscious regents, to "participate" [pravestum 15.59) in the reality which is a unity far beyond the logical laws of contradiction or superficial distinctions. The individuality that one gains as per this dialectic is the individuality given to him by a reality only to serve his/its purpose, and being conscious regents to serve it consciously and with devotion. Arjuna is just one instance in the scheme (11, 33), and so are we! An individuality that claims a separation from reality sets itself up as an antiforce or parallel movement, which ultimately awaits a destruction, even as the entire brood of Dhuryodhana awaited destruction working against the Law of Consolidation.

The metaphysical thesis of the Lord is the unity of existence, where the individuals or groups or nations are expected to discover that they have a cosmic role to play, and a cosmic responsibility to fulfill, and by undertaking it only can they serve themselves. What is unique about this is the exhilarating joy of participation in the cosmic theme and function. That itself is the object of realization beyond which there is no further end. In this cosmic participation an individual's success or failure is metamorphosed into the cosmic success or failure, and a realization of this gives an individual a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment that he has done his job. Success or failure is immaterial, for what is operating is not just the individual but no work is isolated from the cosmic factors which work as though converging on a point; the individual.

The outcome of this analysis of Reality and its implication for the topic on hand is to choose between being antiforces or parallel movements against or with Reality, and being happy participants in the consolidation that is taking place of all elements -- conscious and unconscious -- in the scheme that can be called Divine. To choose the former is to be wasted away as insignificant material ("mogham partha sa jivati etc." 3.16), and to choose the latter is to get the credit for having understood the theme and for having served it. Man's role comes in the latter choice. How to do it is elaborated by the Lord in terms of Jnana. Bhakti and Karma yogas.

If human activity that is directed towards achieving world unity is philosophy, it should consist of unraveling man's relationship with the rest of existence and of intimating the necessity of a choiceless participation: and if it is religion, it should consist of practicing this relationship in life. The mission of the Gita is thus to awaken in us this sense of cosmic relationship and of the necessity of realizing it in life.

Naturally then, if each individual has a place and a relevant part in the scheme of things, there is added a natural dignity to each pursuit: philosophical, scientific, religious, social or cultural. There is actually a spiritual socialism or secularism which respects all faiths and creeds, all pursuits and professions, however sophisticated or low they may be. The "tolerance" that we often speak of among religions and faiths, and among different peoples, becomes superficial if this inner secret is not understood. The rationale of the Lord in accepting services in whatever manner they are offered and from whatever persons they may come forth, to be of equal importance lies in this deep-rooted cosmic philosophy which relates individuals and peoples with a central theme, the Divine (7.21). World unity on the basis of religion and philosophy cannot justify itself, if this basic relationship is forgotten. Each mode of worship and each mode of pursuit is directed to serving the same end, and none is inferior to the other, for each is the expression of a cosmic function and a mode of operation. Shall we say this understanding of the Gita, for which one "dharma" is not the enemy of another "dharma", but the enemy is only "adharma?" And, which "dharma",i.e. religion, wishes to call itself "adharma".

When the dignity of the human individual is restored not on any political instrument of franchise or acceptance of a social equality, but on the basic foundation as an element in the cosmic theme working for consolidations, the prospect of world unity is assured, otherwise, no. A United Nations conceived on a superficial equality of nations was bound to be a failure and has failed. Where it does not take into cognizance the elementary rights of human beings to live, and a population is allowed to be obliterated on considerations of race or religion under a merciless militarism or by power politics the cosmic link is forgotten, and the world unity enacted thus becomes a meaningless sophistry. A social, political or economic rehabilitation of mankind is to be based at the level of the heart, and the understanding that helps it is the recognition of the individual as the divine. It is not sympathy that an individual expects but a duty towards him. He is a co-traveler in the pursuit, nay, a co-ordinate element in the cosmic theme.

The perspective of the Gita in this regard is straight, and the pointed words of the Lord reflect this clearly: "who so ever sees Me in all, and all in Me" is the "yogi" and is "dearest to Me!" The conception of a Divine Community of Beings where individuals have a dignity of being, where being is not simply individual and local but cosmic, where participation is determined on the exercise of natural functions, where choice and mode of pursuit are free, and where "results" and "aims of success" do not matter, is something unsurpassed and worth considering, as it is found on a philosophy of a "cosmic consolidation."

If the world unity has not been achieved it is because we have disconnected ourselves from the roots of Reality. In other words a disunity among men and nations -- on whatever ground it might be -- is not simply a disunity at the human level, but is the expression of a deeper malady, namely a disconnection from the Cosmos. Our anger, hatred, sorrow or fear either at the individual or at the group level exists fundamentally because we try to sail off jettisoning our relationship with a wider structure of reality of which we are a part and from which we draw our sap of life. There is a danger of extinction here, if we do not awaken to our essential links with the stalk and the roots. Arjuna's is one such case, and Krishna asks him to link himself up with the Cosmic Law -- this is "yoga", technically, which is operating at any level and at any instant but hidden from our common understanding. Yoga is absorption, it is participation in the Cosmic Life with Love and joy.

Now we have come to the last point regarding the "human" unity, i.e. why it should be achieved. The how of it is answered already.

The philosophy of Cosmic consolidation is based on the dialectics of a self-regenerative "sacrifice" or "yajna", and if we have any cue in this, we should clearly see how the Infinite Reality maintains itself. As infinity or Infinite Reality is at each point of existence, so humanity lives in each man and awaits a response conducive to the upkeep of humanity. It is humanity fulfilling itself as man, and man fulfilling himself as humanity. And who knows if the reality called humanity is making a demand on you, me and everybody not only to raise the "stock" of the whole, but also to give a direction to the understanding how Infinity is consolidating itself. World unity, then, is a necessity for the survival not of mankind alone, but is so even from the larger perspective of a cosmic theme with which humanity is involved and wherein humanity has a function, and in achieving it humanity finds its fulfillment.

No country has been more blessed than India in the matter of inheriting the ripest of wisdom of the type we find in the Gita, and no person has greater responsibility to imbibe and practice this spirit of Cosmic consolidation than an Indian. 

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