Tolerance as a skill and an attitude to life has become essential for the very survival of humanity. One of the fallouts of the much discussed globalization process is the demand to meet, work and live with people of totally different culture,..” ethnicity and backgrounds. How one manages this heterogeneity of cultures and lire styles is very crucial for the survival of humanity. In 1995 when UNESCO declared the year as a year of Tolerance, the purpose indeed was to bring to light the high levels of intolerance manifested all over the world. UNESCO called for education for tolerance to counter the influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others. The most significant thing about the whole exercise was the acceptance of the fact that the diversity of our world’s many religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure that enriches us aI1.(UNESCO,1995).
Just as religion and various faiths have created intolerance, they also have the resources and the fundamental insights and practices to build a tolerant world. This paper is an attempt to highlight how various faiths and religions can contribute to the building of tolerance in the world at large. It will look at the context of the discussion, various religious faiths and search for commonalities that build tolerance. Distortions also need to be identified. The argument of the paper is that the core of any religious faith promotes tolerance and hence the struggle is to keep faithful to the core of religious faiths and practices.
THE CONTEXT: A MULTI-RELIGIOUS SOCIETY
India is known for its multiplicity of religions. It is in fact the cradle of world religions. Being the birth place of many religious traditions and an eternal source of spiritual inspiration and guidance, Indian is looked upon as a source of spiritual succour. It is interesting that everyone in India, barring a very small minority officially profess a religion, though they may not be practicing it.
Table 1. India Land of Religions
80 per cent
14 per cent
2.4 per cent
2 per cent
0.7 per cent
0.5 per cent
0.4 per cent
Religion not stated
0.07 per cent
It is only a minuscule section who does not publicly affirm any religious affiliation. It is still a regular experience that people from the West flock to India looking for spiritual guidance and fulfillment.
At the same time, religious fundamentalism and consequent communal disharmony have become everyday experience too. Communal riots have become a regular feature, destroying the very peace that religion tries to build and maintain. There are claims that in three to five years there were 37,000 communal riots in the country (Hussain, 2002). The fact is that there is communal disharmony created by the fundamentalist groups in various religions and abetted by political interests. Religion by its very nature works for harmony. Can these religions regain their original inspiration for harmony and peace?
It is important to understand religion in its original meaning. Very broadly, religion is any specific system of belief about deity, often involving rituals, a code of ethics and a philosophy of life. This definition includes all of the great monotheistic religions, Eastern religions, neopagan religions, a wide range of other faith groups, spiritual paths, and ethical systems, beliefs about the existence of Gods and goddesses.(Glock and Stark, www.hewett.norfo/k.sch.uk/curric/soc/reliqion/re/1.htm)
Five core dimensions of religion
Five core dimensions of religion as listed by Glock and Stark (ibid.) are the following:
The belief consequence
The practice consequence – ritualized worship
The knowledge dimension – information and knowledge about the beliefs
The consequence dimension – affecting behaviour
The expectation experience – Expectations regarding and experience or through prayer.
Invariably every religious system contains these components of belief, rituals, information and knowledge, behavioural consequences and the expectations that guide the whole system. At the primordial level religions come together or are able to vibe with each other in the areas of expectations and experiences. At the belief levels, particularly the dogmatic articulations, the rituals, or the behavioural traditions, there are likely to be diversities.
A brief look at major religions
Hinduism: Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam. It claims about 837 million followers, i.e. 13 per cent of the world’s population. Geographically, it is the dominant religion in India, Nepal and among the Tamils in Sri Lanka. According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches there are about 1.1 million Hindus in the U.S. A more accurate estimate may be 7, 66,000 Hindus in 2001 in the U.S. and in Canada
1,57,015. As the world’s oldest organized religion, Sanathana dharma, is best known for its tolerance. It is this religion which gave enough freedom for its followers to think on its basic principles. It even accepted and accepts the valuable concepts from other religions. The Rig Veda proclaims, “Let the knowledge come from all the directions.” It is this free thought and tolerance that allows the existence of many disciplines under this big tree each respecting one another.
Hinduism is also the world’s largest pluralistic tradition. A multiplicity of spiritual paths and ways are recognized as valid in Hinduism. Hinduism is not based on the teachings of a single prophet or a single book. The teachings of many different sages and saints find home within Hinduism. God may be worshipped both in male and female forms. Hinduism has much in common with the earth based religious traditions ofthe world.
Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future. It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology. It covers both the natural’ and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. It teaches that all existence is suffering, that suffering is born of desire and that freedom from suffering, Nirvana, can be achieved by following the eightfold path that combines ethical behaviour, wisdom and mental discipline, including meditation. It has found followers in substantial number of people.
Christianity as a religion focuses on the Fatherhood of God, and brotherhood of man. Jesus and his life form the basis for Christian faith. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the means by which God saves the world. Christianity is a way of belief, worship and life characterized by love. With an estimated 2.1 billion adherents in 2001, Christianity is the world’s largest religion. It is the predominant religion in Europe, the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippine Islands, Australia, and New Zealand and is spreading widely in Asia, China and South Korea. Though Christianity’s association with the colonization of the world has given it a different face, Christianity too like other religions carries a core of tolerance and love.
Islam is a monotheistic religion which originated with the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, a7th century Arab religious and political leader. Today, Islam is the second largest religion, and has about 1.4 billion followers, spread across the world. Islam emphasizes submission to the will of God. Etymologically it means ‘peace’, ‘acceptance’ ” submission’ and total surrender of one’s self to God. The divine revelation was communicated to the world through Muhammad, the prophet, the final one. The Koran, the traditions, Hadith and the manner of life of Muhammad, Sunna guide the life of a Muslim. For Islam, there is no god but God, Allah and Muhammad the prophet, is the apostle.
Judaism propagates monotheism. The primordial experience of this community is the covenant election of Israel to be the bearers of this belief. Divine transcendence, God as the ground of all existence, ethical conception of God, concern for individual moral culture, universalism, election for service, and the unity of history in the purpose of God are some of the basic tenets of this ancient religion of the Jewish people. The practice of Judaism has been marked by the study and observance of the laws and commandments revealed by God and as written in the Torah, as well as those found in the Talmud. Around 14 million followers make Judaism the world’s eleventh largest organized religion.
Seeking for the common and the Universal
Religions have contributed to the peace of the world, but they have also led to division, hatred, and war. Religious people have too often betrayed the high ideals they themselves have preached. Thus people have felt obliged to call for sincere acts of repentance and mutual forgiveness, both personally and collectively, to one another, to humanity in general, and to Earth and all living beings.(UNESCO, 1994)
It is true that religions can make a substantial contribution to an emerging culture of peace and harmony. “The contribution the religions can make to an emerging culture of peace and harmony is to seek out what is common, or universal in all the religions. However, discovering a universal ground upon which the various religions could relate is problematic when it is attempted at the level of belief or ideology or in the doctrinal sphere.” (Teasdale, Wayne and UNESCO, 1994)
Religiosity divides, Spirituality unites
In discussing religion as an instrument of peace and harmony, one needs to make this distinction between religiosity, which only can divide, and spirituality which can unite all believers. Religiosity focuses on the differences, whereas spirituality emphasizes what is common. Spirituality provides meaning to life and reality. It reveals the significance of life, making sense of situations and helping one to derive a purpose in life. Spirituality focuses on values, beliefs, standards and ethics one must cherish. Transcendence is the quality of spirituality, inviting the believer to move beyond the experienced. Spirituality connects, with the self, others, God and nature. Spirituality is also an invitation to become, to unfold life, reflecting and experiencing, ultimately leading to an experience of who one is and how one knows. In this sense, spirituality is more primary, primordial, numinous and a religious experience, and the emphasis is decidedly on experience, not on doctrine or belief.
Points of Similarity found in dialogue between spiritualities
A close analysis of the various spiritualities reveals the following similarities which would really become a basis for building a culture of peace, harmony and tolerance
1. Experience of an ultimate reality, known by different names e.g. Allah, God, and Brahman and so on
Ultimate reality cannot be limited by any name or concept
Ultimate reality is the ground of infinite potentiality and actualization
4. Faith is opening, accepting and responding to Ultimate reality. Faith in this sense precedes every belief system
5. The potential for human wholeness- Enlightenment, Salvation, Blessedness, Nirvana etc.
6. Ultimate reality may be experienced not only through religious practices but also through nature, art, human relationships and service of others
7. As long as the human condition is experienced as separate from ultimate reality, it is subject to ignorance and illusion, weakness and suffering.
8. Disciplined practice is essential to the spiritual life; yet spiritual attainment is not the result of one’s own efforts, but the result of the experience of oneness with Ultimate reality.
Similarly there are some common practices too in all spiritualities.
Practice of Compassion
Service to others
Practising moral precepts and virtues
Training in meditation technique and regularity of practice
Attention to diet and exercise
Fasting and abstinence
Relationship with a qualified teacher
Repetition of sacred words( Mantra, Japa etc) 9. Movement and dance
It is an amazing unity. There is so much common in the religious striving of humanity, in the common search for peace, harmony and ultimate satisfaction. Whereas fundamentalist and disruptive forces will focus on the religiosity and the differences, spirituality will seek for the commonalities and the harmonious.
Agenda for the youth and Youth Animators.
The social scenario in India and the world over demands an active youth population striving for peace and tolerance. In order to build a world of peace and harmony, tolerance as a skill and an attitude must precede. Hence the youth needs to take this agenda. And in this agenda for a harmonious world, where tolerance is the hallmark of every interaction, the youth must get involved in the following agenda:
1. Facilitate a change from religiosity to spirituality.
Where there is so much of exhibitionism in religiosity, spirituality is quietly practicing peace, harmony and tolerance.
2. Confront the social and religious reality with insights from social sciences.
Much of fundamentalism is fed on rumors, stereotypes and prejudices. This can be challenged with data and insights gathered from Social Science research. When factual data and critical analysis are combined, insights follow which will make a difference to practice.
3. Promote a new culture of spiritual activism.
The society does witness substantial religious activism, the kind that divides and disrupts. A new culture of spiritual activism can and must be promoted to build a tolerant world, a world of peace and harmony. The commonalities in the spiritualities provide the basis for action.
There is far too much of communal disharmony in India and the world over. All of this is created by human being and much of it in the name of religion. The survival of humanity depends on the levels of tolerance that men and women are willing to develop and practice in their every day living. Religiosity has helped deepen this crisis. If communal disharmony is man made, communal harmony and tolerance also can only b e made by man. The only difference being that the latter needs to be built up as the result of a planned action towards a tolerant, just and humane society. As the paper argues, this can be facilitated by a focus on the spiritualities that unite. The youth and the youth animators can contribute to the building of a tolerant society by inculcating and training youth in healthy spirituality and by downplaying the difference creating religiosity. As UNESCO declared,
“We are aware of the world’s cultural and religious diversity. Each culture represents a universe in itself and yet it is not closed. Cultures give religions their language, and religions offer ultimate meaning to each culture. Unless we recognize pluralism and respect diversity, no peace is possible. We strive for the harmony which is at the very core of peace.”
1. Hussain Syed Shanawaz. 2002. Reported in rediffmail. com 26 April
2. UNESCO. 1995. Various Papers in connection with the International Year of Tolerance
3. UNESCO. 1994. Declaration on the role of religion in the promotion of a culture of peace
4. Glock and Stark. Quoted in Sociology at Hewett.