SUSHMA PARVI –  B.com , Perusing MBA at Thakur Institute of Management Studies & Research , Mumbai

ABOUT INDIA….

India is one of the most diverse places in the world geographically, religiously, culturally, and lingually. Religiously, Hinduism the largest religion in India accounts for 80% of the population; Islam, the second largest religion, accounts for 13% of the population; Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism taken together account for 3% of the population; and Christianity accounts for 2% of the population.[4]. Other religions such as Zoroastrianism and Judaism, have a centuries long history in India.

Constitutionally, India is a secular and in practice the religious diversity of India extends to highest levels of government. Currently, the Prime Minister of India is a Sikh, the President of India is a Hindu, Vice President of India is a Muslim and the chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is a Christian.

Freedom of religion in the Indian subcontinent is exemplified by the reign of King Piyadasi (304 B.C to 232 B.C) (Asoka). One of King Asoka’s main concern was to reform governmental institutes and exercise moral principles in his attempt to create a just and humane society. Later, he promoted the principles of Buddhism and the creation of a just, understanding and fair society was held as an important principle for many ancient rulers of this time in the East.

The importance of freedom of worship in India was encapsulated in an inscription of Asoka:

Religious Diversity and tolerance has been established in India by law as well as custom. Some of the world’s important religions like Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism etc originated in India.

According to the Constitution of India, every citizen of India has the right to spread and worship any religion. Freedom of Religion is thus the fundamental right in our country.

Hinduism is often supposed as the world’s oldest religion that can be traced back to the prehistoric times. Later on Buddhism came into existence. Islam originated in the first half of 7th century. Following this, Sikhism came into existence to eradicate the existing beliefs and religious superstitions, thereby alleviating the society from the evils. Although, it is believed that Christianity was there in India since 1st century, yet, the religion made its presence felt after the European Colonization. Apart from these there are still other religions in India like Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism etc.

Religion has an important role to play in the lives of the Indians. Different religious practices like worship, rituals etc are prominent in Indian social life. Every indian religion has its own unique rituals, ceremonies, festivals, and pilgrimages in conformity with the exclusive principles of the religions.

Communalism played a major role in shaping the history of religion in India. The divide and rule policy of the British kept India divide into two parts- the Muslims and the Hindus. It also instigated riots in various parts of India, thereby killing a large number of innocent people. The most unfortunate and alarming factor however, is, in recent times, communal tensions and politics in the cover of religion is still making its presence felt although in a different and more deadly form. The pertinent question that still remains unanswered is that can it be truly said “Religions in India: Diversity Meets Harmony”? It is for all of us to think and find it out!

WHAT IS RELIGION: GEORGE BERNARD SHAW says ‘Religion is a great force- the only real motive force in the world’There is a common misconception that religion means ritualistic religion and nothing else.The world religion actually means laws both natural and moral,that ensure right living.Religion stands for integral development of personality,a comprehensive view of life.

Various factors divide mankind, such as, race, ethnicity, colour, language, nationality, ideology and religion. Among these, religion is most emotive. Scholars propound that religion is responsible for making man a civilized being, spiritual growth and for taking mankind nearer to God. But it is a sad fact that more people have been killed in religious conflicts and battles than in wars for conquest of territory. Religion has been misused for political and personal gain. Cruelty has been inflicted on millions of human beings and animals in the name of religion. Millions are being sacrificed even now. Politics divides people, and politics is in command in all nations.

Religion preaches ethics, good character, virtues and values. So Religions ought to unite. But in practice they divide due to lack of understanding of the purpose of religion. Also wrong interpretation by followers of the teachings of Prophets and founders result in tragic consequences. Politicians have always used religion to gain power and to acquire territory and followers.

But certain developments during the last fifty years may help to break down the barriers caused religious fanaticism and extremism. Technology has brought peoples of the world together. Rapid transport, Instant communication, IT and E-mail, Computers and associated gadgets have enabled peoples all over the world to know more of each other, thus removing ignorance and opening up their minds to facts. Globalization of business and trade has compelled industrialists and mangers to focus on growth, profits, raw materials, markets, talents etc, and to ignore all the divisive factors. MNCs are operating in many nations where their managers are drawn from all over the world. Narrow loyalties to nationality, race and religions are waning. 200 million tourists leave their home and travel all over the globe every year. They see for themselves how others think and live. Finally, education levels are going up which removes rigidity and opens up the mind. Genuine secular and democratic governments try to reduce religious conflicts. The need to separate religion from politics is being recognized. These are favorable factors which promote inter-religious understanding. World population now stands at 6.2 billion. Christianity with 2400 millions is the majority religion in 100 countries, and Islam with 1200 million in 60 countries. Hinduism has 820 million followers who are the majority in INDIA and tiny Nepal. Buddhism has 600 million adherents who are majority in 10 countries in the East, who coexist with other cultures following the teachings of Confucius and Lao Tse.

Four religions were born in West Asia – Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Four, though not religions in the strict sense of the word, are followed in the East – Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism and Zen. Four were born in India – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. The last three are considered to be off-shoots of Hinduism, though they have separate identities 2 with own founders and holy books. But there is a great degree of commonality in concepts and philosophy among them. Their founders are worshipped by Hindus. Their followers pray in Hindu temples.

Jews and Parsees came to India seeking refuge. Christianity came to India before it went to Europe, and they were given opportunity to preach and practice. Islam came to India as traders first and later as conquerors. They ruled over major parts of India for 800 years. At present, India has 820 m Hindus, 140 m Moslems, 40 m Christians, 10 m Sikhs, 2 million Jains and 1 million Buddhists. Parsees and Jews are very few in numbers. Thus India is a country of eight religions and people are highly religious. It is precisely here that Inter-religious harmony can be promoted by education.

This possibility has been somewhat proved in Kerala, where the proportion of Moslems is 25% and Christians 20%, and the rest Hindus. Kerala scene is simply beautiful where temples, churches and mosques exist side by side. School children walk together, and go to the respective worship centers and then proceed to the same school. The Congress and Communist Parties have followers from the three major religions. Leaders share platform. Matha Amrithanandamayi ashram has Christians as well. All the religious groups work together in cultural functions. Professional bodies do not make any distinction of religion. Hindu festivals are many and are popular, and the other communities participate and even contribute financially. The major reason is probably the high degree of educational level in Christians and Moslems. They speak the same language, which is another reason for harmony. If Kerala can accomplish this miracle, the rest of India can emulate that example.

Religion is the outer cover, with a Prophet, a holy book, a set of doctrines and beliefs, distinct customs and traditions etc. But the inner core of religion is Spirituality, where there is a great deal of commonality. Also, ethical and moral codes are more or less common, though there are differences in emphasis and a few exclusive features. The Ten Commandments of Moses, the Sermon of the Mount of Jesus, Teachings of Prophet Mohammed, Eight codes of conduct of Buddha and teachings of Indian Saints and Sages, based religions, are the same.

There are fundamental differences between the Semitic religions and those born in India. Concepts of creation, heaven, hell and theology are quite different. Swami Vivekananda has stated that all religions lead to the same God in essence, and that differences are in non-essentials.

Christianity and Islam do not believe in rebirth. Hindus accept that all religions are different paths to the same God. Sri Ramakrishna declared that he realized God by observing the principles and practices of Christianity and Islam. Islam is against idol worship. But Hindus, though believing in one Supreme  Being, pray to hundreds of Gods and Goddesses as different manifestations of the one God.

Whatever be our religious affiliation, we have to live in amity with others who belong to other religions. All of us belong to the same human species. Man is only one among one million animal species, and therefore, a human birth is a rare privilege and a gift of God. In order to show our gratitude to the one God, known by various names, such as Father in heaven by Christians, Allah by Moslems, Ahura Mazda by Parsees and Brahman by Hindus, we should behave as HIS children.

Samuel Huntington has written a book on Clash of civilizations – between Christians and Moslems. Dr David Frawley has written a book on Hinduism and Clash of civilizations. Mazmudar has written a voluminous book on Unity of religions, showing the similarity and congruence in many aspects. Three scholars are trying to prove that Jesus was in India during the 16 years – a period for which there is no record in the West. Some archeologists believe that India was the cradle of civilizations in 10,000 BC. They have shown several Sanskrit words for which similar words exist in all parts of the world. Movements for Inter-religious Harmony suggest that religions can learn from others and strengthen their own religions and convictions. India is the right place for such a movement. Sathya Sai Baba, Amrithanandamayi and several monks have followers from all religions. Without leaving their faith in essence, all could learn about the common features of other religions. Einstein has stated that “Religion without Science is blind and that Science without religion is lame. Rationality, rather than blind faith and superstition ought to guide mankind. Slowly over time, Spirituality and Ethics, Science and Rationality would triumph over narrow sectarianism, and make the Planet shine with Love and Brotherhood.

 IN THE WORDS OF TIBETAN SPRITUAL LEADER DALAI LAMA

Kochi: Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, said India, where different religious traditions “live harmoniously”, is a model to other parts of world, and should continue to keep this tradition.

“India is a model. Different religious traditions live peacefully and harmoniously. Please keep this tradition,” Dalai Lama said at the valedictory of the year-long celebration of the 1,960 year-old Malankara Orthodox Syrian church in Kochi. Describing India as ‘Arya Bhumi’, the Nobel Laureate said “we consider this country spiritually very, very important.”

In the last 2000-3000 years, different religious traditions, including Buddhism, Jainism, flourished here.” “India has great heritage. There is harmony among different religious traditions. India is a land where people of different religious faiths can live peacefully and harmoniously here. India’s tradition is very relevant in today’s world,” he said.

For thousands of years, India carried the message of ‘Ahimsa’ which was relevant even today, he said, adding, “We should ourselves create inner peace by practising love and compassion in daily life.”

In the 21st century, people everywhere talk about money and material value. That is also important. Material wealth provides physical comfort. Mental comfort is possible only by faith, he said.

“A disturbed mind is very bad for health, while a healthy mind and health body go together. Material wealth alone will not bring happiness,” the spiritual leader said.

Former President A P J Abdul Kalam said there is need for a combination of economic prosperity and spiritual way of life In speeches and columns over many years a point that is usually made is that interfaith understanding is vital if there’s to be any hope for world peace.

And America — a stunning amalgam of ethnic and religious traditions — can be a model for the world in this regard. In fact, if the call of the 20th century for Americans was to work toward racial harmony, the call of the 21st century is to seek religious harmony in our increasingly pluralistic culture.

Just last month, this North Andover, Mass., school’s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations announced the award of its Goldziher Prize to Prof. Mark Cohen of Princeton University. The prize is named for a 19th century Jewish scholar of Islam, Ignác Goldziher, a Hungarian who respected Islam and who legitimated Islamic studies in European universities.

Cohen, a rabbi, teaches Jewish Civilization in the Near East and is author of Under crescent and cross. The jews in the Middle Ages, which focuses on advantages Jews in that era had when they were governed by Muslims and when, as Cohen told me, Muslims and Jews got along better than they usually do today.

What I found most hopeful about this award is the very existence of Merrimack’s Jewish-Christian-Muslim center. I hadn’t known about it before. A press release describing the Goldziher award said the center has expanded its mission from mostly Jewish-Christian relations studies to include Islam. Good. As Cohen told me, “It’s extraordinarily important that Americans learn about Islam, understand Islam and know and respect Muslims. That’s the primary need.

Although the record of all of Christianity is quite spotty when it comes to understanding and appreciating other religious traditions, Catholicism has made some helpful steps toward doing exactly that in recent decades. Evidence includes the Vatican II creation in 1964 of the “Secretariat for Non-Christians,” later renamed the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

Add to that the pioneering 1965 document, “Nostra Aetate,” in which the church — after centuries of anti-Judaism — finally said Jews should not be held collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, and there has been cause for hope.

This hope finds expression in the work of, among many others, Fr. Dennis D. McManus, consultant to the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I’ve heard McManus several times and am always encouraged by both his scholarly approach to interfaith conversation and his warm embrace of people of other faiths, even as he stands solidly in the Catholic tradition.

And that’s precisely the lesson I hope Merrimack’s center and others promoting inter-religious understanding are teaching: Learning about other faiths does not require us to abandon our own. Indeed, my own experience of learning more about Judaism as I researched my new book, They were just people : Stories of rescue in Poland during the holocaust, has made me a better Presbyterian even as I think it has made my rabbi co-author a more committed Jew.

We need not shrink from exposure to religious traditions beyond our own (and in that I include atheism) for fear that we’ll compromise our way of being. Rather, the idea of interfaith dialogue is simply to know and to be known. And it helps to approach that task with the Benedictine virtue of humility.

Without such an attitude, we may begin interfaith encounters with a conversion agenda. That almost certainly will sow distrust and end the conversation. And why would we Christians do that when we know that the job of conversion is not ours but, rather, the Holy Spirit’s?

Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, writes the daily “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s Web site and a monthly column for The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book, co-authored with Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, is They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust.

A message to the souvenir whose objective is to bring peoples together. Prayer is common to all religions. Let all of us pray to the Lord of the Universe to give us wisdom and competence to follow his ideals and aims so that this world of humans, animals and nature can live in harmony.