Prerana Horwa  –  Perusing MBA at Thakur Institute of Management Studies & Research , Mumbai

Words said by Swami Vivekananda,
“As so many rivers, having their source in different mountains, roll down, crooked or straight, and at last come into the ocean; so, all these various creeds and religions, taking their start from different standpoints and running through crooked or straight courses, at last come unto Thee.”

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!

This is Religious Evolution – which starts with Harmony or Peace.

As the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. Four Steps to Religious Harmony are respect, admiration and appreciation for other religions, and faith to one’s own religion.

It is a common and idealistically beautiful notion, that all the religions of the world essentially practice and preach the same teachings for the betterment of the world. In fact, this forms part of the spirit that makes harmonious inter-religious dialogue possible – when we choose to focus on the similarities of compassion and wisdom. If we are to harp on the differences to one another instead, there would be interreligious conflict.

But are all religions exactly the same upon closer look? Realistically, of course not – this is why there are different religions in the first place, even though there might be certain teachings which overlap in between. If we truly wish to deeply comprehend various religions, we need to not only look at the similarities, which many tend to prefer to stop at, but to look at the differences too. However, this should be done for greater understanding and acceptance, not for debate.

In this ever-shrinking global village called the world, there is increasing interaction between adherents of various faiths. Depending on how this happens, it can be for better or worse. Rub shoulders in a friendly way and mutual understanding is fostered. Rubbed the wrong way, enmity is stirred up instead.

The most common problem in inter-religious dialogue is disagreement on perspectives of Truth. But disagreement is not the real problem if there is mutual agreement to disagree. The true problems arise from insisting to others that one’s disparaging view of their religion is correct, and the imposing upon them that one’s own religion is the only true one worth following.

There is a diversity of religious beliefs in our world simply because there is a corresponding diversity of mindsets. Even two random adherents of the same faith are unlikely to have totally identical views. We need to respect this worldly reality – before arguing on any spiritual reality. If not, there would be no harmony but only conflict. Surely, a religion that is pro-conflict is not one we need. What if it is a central tenet of a religion that it cannot agree to disagree with others? Thankfully, there is no such religion in practice today, or there would be interreligious chaos. With all orthodox religions advocating peace, this implies that those who cannot agree to disagree might not really be religious at heart.

When any inter-religious dialogue is not so much to learn, but to be preachy, there is no true dialogue. One will notice that those truly interested in understanding others ask and listen more than they speak. Sadly, those uninterested in dialogue are usually the close-minded ones too sure and proud of themselves, while belittling others’ religions. This itself is potential for conflict.

When we lose our compassion and wisdom while sharing or defending the beliefs we profess to represent, surely, we are misrepresenting our faiths with our very loss of compassion and wisdom – which are undoubtedly virtues universal to all respectable religions, and even to free-thinkers. The basic ethics of free speech (or any other form of expression) with responsibility should be followed both offline and online, by sticking to the so-called golden rule found in many religions – to not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.

A new nonprofit organization management The Harmony Foundation is established in Mumbai. They conduct lectures across the world to spread religious harmony.

It is a Foundation for Racial, Ethnic, and Religious Harmony which annually provides grants to assist worthy charitable organizations whose operations are in conformity with the mission of the Foundation.

The mission of the Foundation was to raise funds for activities that promote understanding and respect for similarities and differences among people. The Foundation will facilitate and fund educational and public awareness programs, seminars, and all other activities which the Foundation deems appropriate to forward the understanding and acceptance of people of different faiths, races, and ethnic backgrounds. The Foundation will also reach out to community groups and agencies which share the Foundation’s goals and provide financial assistance to augment their existing programs.

The promotion of religious harmony for the benefit of the public can be done by:
(a) Educating the public in different religious beliefs including an awareness of their distinctive features and their common ground to promote good relations between persons of different faiths;

(b) Promoting knowledge and mutual understanding and respect of the beliefs and practices of different religious faiths.

March 21 marks Harmony Day for 2012, and is an annual celebration of the nation’s cultural diversity. Communities celebrate the occasion across the country with events involving food, music and art from cultures around the world. “Harmony makes small things grow, lack of it makes great things decay”, by Sallust.

Religious harmony is brought about through realizing that ‘Truth is One but the Paths are Many.’