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

II. Overcoming Religious Conflict -- A Hindu Approach by Seshagiri Rao

A prominent feature of our times is the unprecedented mingling of peoples of different races, cultures and religious traditions on a global scale. This phenomenon has brought to the attention of thinking people all over the world the inescapable fact of interdependence of peoples and the solidarity of humankind. Although religious seers and prophets have all along upheld the essential unity of the human race, it has nevertheless taken a long time for humankind to arrive at even a notional acknowledgement of that unity. In the secular world, this has come about partly as a result of the holocausts of two world wars, and is being reinforced now by the instant communication of worldwide news. But the problems that threaten human solidarity are not merely political and economic; they also arise from certain basic religious and spiritual attitudes.

On the religious front, confrontation has given place to contact; there is a move from mutual recrimination to religious conversation. The multireligious situation of our times has made inter-religious dialogue a serious concern. The pressure of pluralistic societies compel us to look at our respective religious traditions in the light of others. They demand an examination of our attitudes to peoples of other faiths. Indeed, we are passing through a process of self-searching, self-criticism, and self-understanding. We are witnesses to and participants in this rethinking process.

Physicians are supposed to cure and not spread disease. Religious traditions are not supposed to spread hatred and violent conflict against one another. They are meant to be forces of reconciliation. In practice though, they have often functioned and still function as divisive forces. They have stressed sectarian trends, and they have raised walls of separation between peoples. But such parochial attitudes cannot satisfy humankind as a whole in the present day world. Rivalry between religions is disastrous to all of them; it obscures their real teachings.

The time has come for world religions to make a new departure. Confronted as they are with fundamental problems of human survival and destiny, they have both the responsibility and the opportunity to cooperate with one another in the promotion of human community and well-being. There are differences between them and will continue to be and they need to be respected and preserved. They should rather strive to better themselves as instruments of human welfare than indulging in mutual bickering.

Traditional theology, developed in religious isolation, has now become inadequate, if not obsolete; it does not permit the different religious traditions to live side by side in friendly cooperation. Religious conflict has become tragic and pointless; no single religious tradition can expect to displace all the other religions. As far as we can see, human community will continue to be religiously pluralistic. Each religion should come to terms with this fact, and attempt to do justice to the religious experience of mankind as a whole. By a deep and a thorough investigation of its respective heritage, each tradition should open up a new spiritual horizon hospitable to the faiths of other people. The future usefulness of any religious tradition depends on its ability to cooperate with other traditions.

There are universal teachings and extensive resources in each tradition that can bind divisions and build bridges of understanding. By releasing these universal moral and spiritual insights, human fellowship can and must be fostered. For what serious significance can a particular tradition have when human existence itself loses all meaning? Unless harmonious relationships based on mutual reverence are developed among the great religions of humankind, none of them can hope to be a fit instrument for promoting and sustaining human community and fellowship.

The chief problem facing us today is the reconciliation of humankind. Religions of the world are challenged to apply their resources to its resolution. History poses challenges, and if we restate our old principles in new ways, it is not because we will to do so, but because we must. Such a restatement of the truths of eternity in the accents of our times is needed in every tradition for it to be of living value.

As inhabitants of this planet, the adherents of different faiths are bound by a common destiny. Loyalty to our respective traditions should not undermine our loyalty to the human community. Religious commitment should not become confinement in a system of thought and culture. Each tradition has to take a global view of things and realize the implications of interdependence in the moral and spiritual realms also. To preserve and enrich the quality of life for all human beings is the common responsibility of all religious traditions. Indeed, multireligious dialogue and cooperation have become a necessity to move towards this end.

Not only is the world religiously pluralistic, but each great tradition is also pluralistic. Speaking of my own tradition, Hinduism is one of the most pluralistic religions in the world; there are diverse forms of belief and practice in it. We have the Vaishnavas, the Saivas and the Saktas. There are Hindu sects which stress self-effort and others which depend on grace alone to attain spiritual liberation. Hinduism recognizes six orthodox schools of philosophy; there are schools which recognize realism and those which uphold extreme forms of idealism. Hindu community accepts all of them as religious options available within the tradition. Similarly in the context of world religions, it recognizes the validity of each religious tradition.

Reverence for the faith of other people has been an essential element in the Hindu spiritual vision. The tradition respects all prophets and sages who have come to guide humanity. Hindus have tried through the ages to give expression to an ecumenical spirit in religious matters. They believe that the great religions are not only relevant but also necessary in the context of the diversity of human needs; each of them addresses a felt need in the spiritual progress of humanity. They do not wish that any tradition should be undermined or eliminated. They hold that at its deepest and best, each tradition constitutes a precious part of the religious heritage of humanity. They appreciate various forms of sincere worship and are willing to learn from others.

Hinduism justifies religious pluralism and its validity on the bases of the twin principles of spiritual competence (adhikara) and chosen form of Deity (Istadevata). Some religious insights and practice appeal to some persons, while others catch the imagination of other personality types. Accordingly, one and the same form of worship or practice is not recommended to all persons. Different sects cater to a diversity of temperament and capacity.

Very early in their history, the idea became popular with the Hindus that God, with different names and worshipped in different places and forms is not in fact, different. A verse in the Rgveda declares: "Truth is one, and sages call it different names." This idea of one Reality manifesting in many forms helped the cultural synthesis between Aryan and Dravidians in ancient times. Not only the Dravidian gods like Rudra-Siva and Vishnu win acceptance but, in course of time, become supreme.

The Upanishads accord recognition to alternative ways of conceiving the Supreme Being. Brhadaranyaka and Chandogya conceive the highest reality in impersonal terms whereas Katha, Mundaka, and Svetasvatara conceive the Supreme Being as personal. The rest of the Upanishads accept both conceptions as valid. This is an important breakthrough; it allows Hindus to be at home with those traditions that are monistic as well as with those that are theistic. During the age of the systems, when six schools of philosophy came into prominence, all of them were accepted by each of them as orthodox. The Bhagavad-Gita has given classical expression to this attitude:

Whatever form one desires to worship in faith and devotion, in that very form I make that faith of his secure. (VII. 21)

Even those who are devoted to other gods and worship them in full faith, even they O Kaunteya, worship none but Me. (IX. 23)

In what ever way men resort to Me, even so do I render to them; in every way O Partha, the path followed is Mine. (IV 23) '

Throughout history, Hindus have received with friendliness the followers of other religions, who sought shelter in India from time to time to escape persecution in their own homelands. After the second destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem, the Jews who came to India were received warmly and were allowed to practice their faith in their own way. Within a century of the crucifixion of Christ, the Syrian church of Christianity could find a place and carry on its activities freely in South India. Syrian Christians constitute a flourishing and a respected community in Kerala even today. And when Muslims invaded Persia, the remnants of the Zoroastrian community left their homes and came to India. They were provided with the necessary facilities to establish their own modes of religious worship. Hindus met the Muslim traders with hospitality, and there were many happy contacts with Muslim countries long before the actual political invasions of Muslim rulers. We have also the very recent example of India offering shelter and hospitality to the Dalai Lama and his followers who came to India to escape communist repression and persecution. India was aware of the serious repercussions of this act in her relations with the People's Republic of China. Yet I remember the conclusive argument of Dr. Radhakrishnan (at that time Vice-President of India): "We cannot go against our culture and heritage," and that settled the debate.

Hinduism is a philosophy and a way of life to guide its followers in moral and spiritual matters, affirmations such as sattyannasti parodharmah there is no higher dharma than truth; and ahimsa paramodharmah, nonviolence is the highest virtue, give the bases for the regulation of Hindu life and conduct. Mahatma Gandhi described Hinduism as a "search for truth through nonviolent means." Hindus look upon the world as dharmaksehtra, the field of moral and spiritual endeavors. Therefore, they seek to support similar endeavors of the people in other faiths.

Hinduism teaches the unity of being, which implies that all the things in the universe are knit together in that which is the common basis of all existence. Spirituality probes this underlying unity of life and aims at universal well-being. It gives the philosophical root of nonviolence or love. It encourages a way of life where the individual is enabled to live in tune with the Infinite. It asks people to transcend the barriers that their little egos have erected around themselves.

Human life is plagued by the conflict between the divine and the demonic, egoism and altruism. This inner conflict is the basis of external disharmonies. Harmony outside cannot be achieved without achieving the integration of personality. The true self is liberated and united with God only when we have completely freed ourselves from all selfish attachment.

There are important differences as well as similarities between religious traditions. Since differences are important, and in some cases unbridgeable, no uncritical syncretism (dharmasankara) is entertained. While marveling at the uniqueness of each religious tradition, Hindus appreciate the enrichment that comes from religious diversity. Each tradition is valued for the differences it brings to the human community. It makes them humble and prevents a sense of complacency and self-sufficiency in their own beliefs and practices.

Religious differences cannot be understood until we appreciate the similarities among the traditions. By focusing on the resemblances, we are able to see human religiousness in its varied forms and contrast it with a purely secular way of life. The inculcation of moral and spiritual values brings all religions together. The "Golden Rule," in one form or the other, and the injunction to transcend egoism are present in all of them. They all believe that man's relation to man is more important than man's relation to material things. When we wish to grow in partnership, we should work for a healthy harmony (samavaya), while appreciating the differences. We are not surrendering our differences when we talk of unity.

The conception of unity behind diversity has been a fundamental factor in Hindu religious consciousness. It springs from a concern for truth and value wherever they are found. The appreciation of and the willingness to learn from the other traditions is the keynote of the Hindu attitude. Hindus accept the Bible, the Qu'ran, and the scriptures of other religions, along with the Vedas, as the word of God. Our purpose in dialogue should not be the elimination of differences, but the appreciation of each other's faith leading to a cooperative endeavor in overcoming injustice, violence, war and irreligion and in promoting morality and spirituality

The essential aspiration of religions is for reconciliation, human fellowship and peace. By awakening the spiritual consciousness of humanity, we can establish moral order in human society. Spiritual traditions of the world should, therefore, stand together and work for the greater glory of God and greater happiness of mankind. 

Table of Contents

Tparents Home

Moon Family Page

Unification Library