Varun Saraogi – M.Com , Persuing MBA at Thakur Institue of Management Studies & Research , Mumbai

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 ourbeliefs 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. Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, on Sunday 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 practicing 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.

If you want to know the qualities of a nation, just look at the quality and practices of its education system. Almost all advanced nations realize this link and have thus established good education systems.

One of the goals of elementary education is to provide students with basic skills to develop their lives as individuals, members of the community and citizens of the country. These basic skills are also the foundation for further education.

The recurring social problems such as student brawls, youth clashes and other forms of radicalism throughout Indonesia are indicative of social sickness, namely the sheer lack of sensitivity and respect toward other people from different groups.

Social conflict and religious disharmony in particular are a challenge for educators in doing their best to prepare the next generation as democratic citizens with good character as stipulated in the National Education Law.

To materialize this goal, religious harmony should be developed at school at as early an age as possible. It is most urgent that we promote creative and innovative programs to support positive civil discourse among students.

Various studies have shown that schoolage children prefer to interact with their peers. In the school context, it is these relationships where peers respect, help, share, and generally are polite toward one another. This concept of peer interaction is a critical component in social development theory (Rubin, 2009).

In a multicultural setting, students come from different ethnic, religious and social backgrounds and their mindset is dominantly shaped by those backgrounds. School programs should deliberately facilitate peer interactions to develop positive civil discourse.

Indicators of civil discourse include attentive listening, contributing ideas or opinions, asking questions, stating agreement and disagreement, and reaching a compromise in a respectful manner. In a practical sense, this would be applicable to any school subject.

Students should be trained in active listening by maintaining direct eye contact, standing still and taking turns at talking. They should also be taught how to contribute ideas that are relevant to the topic of discussion.

At elementary schools, classroom teachers function to oversee students for almost the whole day. Should they know how to design and facilitate peer interactions correctly, they would develop positive civil discourse as part of citizenship education.

On completing their formal education, students are entering a world where the ability to maintain good relationships is crucial for individual success. In contrast, an inability to maintain good relationships can be detrimental to the individual and can lead to a certain level of social conflict in a given society.

Those forms of radicalism have disrupted social cohesion and may generate mutual distrust among social groups in the society. The suicidebombing of the church in Surakarta last month, for example, may (hopefully not) lead to a revenge and similar attack against a mosque. And this could escalate into massive religious disharmony.

A research paper by Apriliaswati (2011) concludes that peer interactions in the classroom support positive civil discourse among students. Peer interactions in social studies, Indonesian and Pancasila classes are not disruptive behaviors if the teacher manages them effectively. Being noisy is not always negative. It could be evidence of interactive and enlightening interactions.

It is, therefore, suggested that promoting peer interactions should be implemented as one of the routine classroom activities. Students should be given opportunities to interact with one another through group tasks to practice attentive listening, respectful arguing and sound compromising to prepare them to live as functional members of a democratic society.

Data from the Ariliaswati study was obtained in three-cycle action research conducted with a fourth grade class of 43 students at an elementary school in Pontianak, a city where interethnic clashes have taken place quite often. The study attests that schools should function as a laboratory to exercise a civil society.

As elementary students, the children were not yet able to give informed reasons and evidence of their arguments but could express agreement and disagreement in a polite manner. Moreover, the students seemed to trust one another, such that a compromise and consensus could be reached in a civil manner.

Our present education fails to provide students with civil discourse competence. Most politicians and bureaucrats have come to power because of the education they have obtained. Unfortunately, many of them do not have such a competence.

Still fresh in our mind is a shameful incident in 2010, when lawmakers exchanged harsh words in ill-mannered ways during a hearing that was televised live across the country.

Instead of educating school children, these politicians have set a very poor  example of how to behave. To repeat, this incident shows that politics education has not done enough to promote competence in civil discourse.

When politicians and bureaucrats fail to educate the public, schools should be restored and empowered to function to the fullest. Elementary school teachers should provide opportunities to students to foster meaningful experiences, i.e., interactions with other students of different religion, ethnicity and from different social groups.

Ideally a policy should be enforced whereby schools are staffed by teachers and personnel of different religions, ethnicities and from different social groups. The campus should also provide places of worship for students of all religions. Students will learn how others perform religious rituals. And this would be an effective form of religious education within a multicultural school setting.

The traditional way of teaching religion has been criticized for emphasizing theological and ritual aspects, while ignoring the social aspects, namely horizontal interactions and tolerance among followers of different faiths. “If life isn’t about human beings and living in harmony, then I don’t know what it’s about”. “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”. “Happiness is mental harmony; unhappiness is mental in harmony”. “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 stand points and running through crooked or straight courses, at last come unto Thee”. “The whole world of religions is only a travelling, a coming up, of different men and women, through various conditions and circumstances, to the same goal. Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man, and the same God is the inspirer of all of them”.

I walk my path
I sing my song
I live my dream
I’m my self

You walk your path
You sing your song
You live your dream
You’re your self

Paths vary;
Songs vary;
Dreams vary;
Does Self?

Let’s walk our path
Let’s sing our song
Let’s live our dream
Let’s be ourselves!