Prachi A. Bhosale –  Persuing MBA at Thakur Institue of Management Studies & Research , Mumbai

Harmony is a precondition for peace, and peace opens the door to joy. All of us know this from our own experience. In matters of health or study, work or worship, harmony is what we strive to achieve. When harmony is lost, the result is stress and anxiety, pain and sorrow.

Religions of the world have contributed to the loss of social harmony, often because there are simply so many of them and they seem at variance with one another. The distrust and conflict between religions is sad and strange. Considering the fact that all religions deal with the same basic human problems, we would expect the world’s religions to be in the forefront of promoting harmony–not only among themselves but also at every level of society. Sometimes religions do work together to promote harmony, but the harmony that is achieved is too fragile to withstand disruptive social forces.

The oldest religious sentiment ever expressed is perhaps the statement on religious harmony found in the ancient Vedas “Ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti” Which means “Truth is one; sages call It by various names.”

The same sentiment has since then echoed and reechoed in the corridors of time, amplified by enlightened persons of different religions in different parts of the world. As the pagan Roman thinker Quintus Aurelius Symmachus said to St. Ambrose, the dogmatic bishop of Milan: “The heart of so great a mystery cannot ever be reached by following one road only.”

Yet despite these broad, universal sentiments expressed by enlightened beings from different religious traditions, the simple but tragic truth is that humanity as a whole has not yet come to terms with religious plurality. Faith traditions other than one’s own are frequently seen as threats. Religious differences still rankle and continue to produce disharmony, misunderstanding, and mutual distrust.

But the main part of the problem is the very concept of religion. What is religion? If we look at the many ways “religion” is defined, we find that the term covers so wide an area that virtually anything can be called a “religion.” There are also varying ideas of what it means to be religious. Since every religion has its own book or prophet as the supreme authority and is believed to be complete in itself, sometimes even communication between one religion and another becomes difficult or is considered unnecessary.

Given all these problems, there is this additional issue of religious plurality. Whichever way religion may be defined and whatever may be the nature of practicing it, we need to find some way to make sense of the different versions of religion that exist all over the world.Through the centuries people have adopted different approaches to solve this problem.

These approaches can be broadly classified into four categories exclusivistic approach, inclusivistic approach, syncretistic approach, and pluralistic approach.

In Exclusivistic Approach, easiest way to dispose of all the questions concerning religious plurality is to deny it altogether. Only one religion is true. The other socalled religions are false or misguided, and do not really deserve to be called “religions.” Obviously, the underlying message is that “my religion” is the one “true religion.” An implied corollary to this is the idea that if the world were to be united by one religion, that religion could only be “my religion.”

The inclusivistic approach is based on the belief that one religion–and, of course, it is always “my religion”–is the fulfillment of what is best and true in others. Those who take the inclusivistic approach will admit that there must be some divine purpose for the existence of many religions. The other religions cannot be totally false or misguided; they do have some element of truth–the fullness of which is, however, most clearly revealed in “my religion” alone.The inclusivistic approach is found offensive–or at least irritating–by most people, because it tends to undermine the special identity and uniqueness of every religion other than one’s own.

In Syncretistic Approach Some people feel that every existing religion in its present form has certain limitations. Those who follow the syncretistic approach recognize the diversities in religion but hold that these are not antagonistic to one another. They believe that a new religion will eventually emerge, or can be created, by combining the strong points of every religion and omitting their weak points.

The pluralistic approach not only acknowledges religious diversity but also accepts that each religion is completely valid according to its own terms and concerns. This is, I believe, the only approach acceptable to thoughtful, reasonable men and women in today’s world. But this approach also poses serious challenges at both the individual and the collective levels.

In spite of the diversity and the differences, no one can deny that religions do share certain common characteristics such as concern for the existential problems of humanity, transcendence, intimacy, holiness, fellowship, and the symbolic expression of inner experience. The harmonious approach consists in recognizing this common ground and enriching our own spiritual life by absorbing the best elements of other religions while remaining steadfast in our own.

The need of religious harmony is firstly to teach secularism to new generations and ask them to preach it.

The new generations who are getting inoculated in communal hatred and violence should be told that their forefathers laid the foundations of this nation on the ethics and principles of secularism. Did not your great sages say-“Vasudevam Kutumbakam-entire world is one family”. If entire world is one family, religions cannot stay different. The new generations must be educated that secularism lies in their blood. Be you a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, it is your birthright to preach secularism and throw away rubbish projections made by politicians and pseudo-religious people

Secondly

, to give a place to interaction among religions and communities. Now-a-days the specter of terrorism is looming large on the horizon. It is really sad that people of every religion is taking to terrorism. But as a very perceptive Indian, you can make a difference. If there is an occasion at your home like marriage or birth day of our child, you ensure that people from other religions attend such ceremonies. From time to time we create staged shows of goodwill among people of various religions and name those “SAD BHAVANA YATRA”- meaning “march together for goodwill”. But those are almost futile in their roles in creating harmony. A real change can be brought at the grass-root levels, when families belonging to different religions care and share on such occasions with love and respect.

.Thirdly to avoid rumors, projections and instigations against religions like poison- You need to avoid rumors, projections and instigations against religions like poison. Science and technology have integrated the entire world in the common thread of unity and progress. Religion is only a matter of faith. Any rumor, projection and direct and indirect instigations against people of any religion must be avoided like poison. It is because whatsoever mankind has achieved so far, religions have come to destroy it completely.

As the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. We will be more and more challenged to learn to live together harmoniously. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions. Religious harmony can be obtained by respect for other religion, admiration, appreciation and faith. Unity among communities and religious harmony are vital factors for the development of the country. Divisions among us will strengthen various hostile forces seeking to deny us our freedom. When all communities rise in unity, the forces hostile to the country will be weakened and freedom further strengthened. Religious harmony is brought about through realizing that ‘Truth is One but the Paths are Many.’

When we realize that the goal of every religion is essentially the same – the search for Truth then we can foster an attitude of open dialogue and mutual exchange of ideologies rather than imposing our beliefs on others by force. Through the correct practice of religion we should develop not only harmony between faiths and nations but a harmony or state of peace within ourselves and gradually a harmony or experience of Oneness with something greater than ourselves!

I would like to conclude in the way M.K.Gandi said
“I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.”