UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE Southeast Asia & the Pacific Regional E-Newsletter

Peace Among Religions: A HINDU Perspective (LISTENING TO THE OTHER)

By Swami Guhabhaktananda*

Listening is the essence of true dialogue. It is about silencing our minds so that we can hear what is in the heart of the “other.” This space is for essays and articles from friends and supporters of the Circle. We invite you to engage in the spirit of dialogue by “listening” to what is being said with openness, respect and understanding.

Peace is a divine attribute; it is a quality of the soul. It fills the pure heart and runs away from selfish people. It is freedom from disturbance, anxiety, agitation, riot or violence. The natural state of a man and his birthright is Peace.

Hindu wisdom, which inspires humans to live the ideals of compassion and nonviolence, is captured in one word, ahimsa. Very simply, ahimsa is abstaining from causing harm or injury. It is gentleness and non-injury, whether physical, mental or emotional, it goes much deeper to prohibit even subtle abuse and simple hurt.

Non-violence has long been central to the religious traditions of India. Religion in India has consistently upheld the sanctity of life whether human, animal or elemental. There developed early in India an unparalleled concern for harmony among different life forms, and this led to a common ethos based on non-injuriousness and a minimal consumption of natural resources, in other words to compassion and simplicity.

One of the most ancient Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, is often mistaken as Divine sanction for violence. The Mahabrata (of which the Gita is a part) itself says,Ahimsa is the highest dharma. It is the highest purification. It is also the highest truth from which all dharma proceeds.” What is Dharma? Hinduism describes dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be content and happy, and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life.

Swami Sivananda Saraswati Maharaj says, “To be free from violence is the duty of every man. No thought of revenge, hatred or ill will should arise in our minds. Injuring others gives rise to hatred.”

From the Hindu perspective, to cultivate and achieve peace among religions is to first understand the role of religion. Religion is the relationship between the three fundamental principles – God, World and the Individual. Religion is not a denial of life but it is fullness of life. It consists of doing well to others, in the practical love, mercy, truthfulness and purity in all walks of life. We believe the fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. They are as old as the human race. There never has been, there never shall be, any real invention of discovery in the sphere of religion. Real religion is ONE. It is the religion of service, sacrifice and renunciation of wrong notion. It is the religion of goodness, kindness and tolerance.

The message of Hinduism to the modern world is the fundamental oneness of humanity; the spiritual unity of mankind through divine fellowship; universal love and brotherhood of man; the immanence of God; and religious tolerance; which makes for the universality of Hinduism. Truth and Love is neither Hindu nor Islamic, nor Buddhist nor Christian! Truth is ONE, homogenous, eternal substance. This is the UNIVERSAL RELIGION.

Every religion has an outer form or shell, and an inner essence or core. The outer shell consists of rites, rituals, ceremonies, beliefs, myths and doctrines. These vary from one religion to another. But there is an inner core common to all religions: the universal teachings of morality and charity, of a disciplined and pure mind full of love, compassion, good will and tolerance.

It is this common denominator that religious leaders ought to emphasize, and that religious adherents ought to practice. If proper importance is given to the essence of all religions and greater tolerance is shown for their superficial aspects, conflict can be eradicated.

An extraction from Atharva Veda:

“I ordain for you concord of heart, unanimity of and freedom from hatred in dealings with each other. Love one another in all ways.”

“Let your bodies and mind work together in harmony for the achievement of the common ideal (general welfare). It is for this that God the Protector of the Universe, has brought you together in life.”

Hinduism is neither asceticism nor illusionism, neither polytheism nor pantheism. It is a synthesis of all types of religious experiences. It is whole and complete view of life, characterized by wide toleration, deep humanity and free from fanaticism. Living a dharmic life adjusting to externals and non-essentials is the key in fostering peace among religions.

Many preach religion, but no one gives up desires and Himsa. Many preach, but no one practices love and forgiveness. Many preach, but no one recognizes the brotherhood of man. Many preach, but no one realizes the Divinity in all. Preaching has become the livelihood of men, while practice has become their object of scorn. Teach by being and learn by doing. Be Good and Do Good is the essence of all religions.

What is needed is proper understanding of the fundamental teachings of all religions and apply it in one’s daily life. Therefore, let everyone practice his/her own religion and realize among fellow human beings the real purpose of all religions.

Hari Om Tat Sat!

*Swami Guhabhaktananda is the President of Divine Life Society in Malaysia. He presented this article during the Peace Among Religions interfaith conference organized by InSaF URI KLCC on March 18, 2007 held at the Singghasana Hotel in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

URI Statement on the Crisis in the Middle East

(Approved by the Standing Committee on behalf of the Global Council of
the United Religions Initiative)

As trustees of the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative, we write to urge an immediate and complete ceasefire of violence that is currently happening in the Middle East, and a commitment by all parties, including the international community and the world's religions, to find the will to complete, implement and invest in a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We write as leaders of the URI, a global interfaith organization active in 70 countries, through the work of 400 member Cooperation Circles. URI's purpose is to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. We have many members in the Middle East, including Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians and Egyptians. The URI has consultative status at the UN through ECOSOC.

As leaders of an interfaith organization dedicated to resolving conflict without resorting to violence, we recognize and laud the heroic work of Palestinians, Israelis and peace advocates all over the world who are dedicated to rising above the violence and working for peace, justice and healing.

We believe that a new day is possible when a comprehensive, just peace will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

We call on all involved - Israelis and Palestinians, people of other nations, international bodies, religions, and grassroots groups working heroically for peace - to take the following steps to speed the dawning of that day:

* To stop the violence immediately.

* To supply immediate humanitarian aid to address urgent suffering and long-term aid to rebuild.

* To commit to negotiate, invest in and implement a comprehensive peace agreement that will allow current and future generations of Palestinians and Israelis to live their lives in peace.

* To invest in every means possible to weave a fabric of genuine, mutually honoring community among Palestinians and Israelis at the grassroots level.

* To invest less in armaments and more in social and economic infrastructure.

We commit to do all we are able, beginning with support for URI member Cooperation Circles in Israel and Palestine, and engaging our members around the world to help these steps be fulfilled.

And we commit to pray and meditate that violence will cease, peace prevail and a life of hope be restored to the long-suffering people of this region.

URI Global Youth CC Statement on the current situation in Gaza.

We, the members of the Global Youth Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative, wish to express our concern at the current situation in Gaza. Conflict creates hardship and fear for people on both sides and takes its toll on civilians, both young and old, and the livelihood of communities and economies.

As a youth network we sympathise with our fellows, the young people who are caught up in the crisis, in both Gaza and in the Israeli communities that live in fear of rocket attacks. Young people are the future of any community and we feel that they should not have to live amidst a cycle of violence and hardship. In order for young people to make meaningful and healthy contributions to society, it is imperative that they grow and develop within a space of security and integrity.

We are also concerned about those who are vulnerable in these times, such as the elderly and the sick. They need access to medical resources and clean, safe environments. In times of crisis these people suffer the most because basic facilities are less accessible.

They also need to live without the fear created by constant attacks. This situation is robbing people on both sides of basic human rights that are theirs by international law.

We implore both sides to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation and reduce hostilities so that aid and supplies can reach the people of Gaza to alleviate their suffering and so the Israeli people can live without fear. It is our hope that both sides can cooperate in order to achieve a lasting peace and quality of life for all people. Our goal, as members of a global interfaith community, is to achieve this all over the world.