Daily Observer (Jamaica)
Gandhi and inter-religious harmony
The novum of our times seems to be the increasing meeting of world religious traditions. A fresh conviction is emerging that, in our contemporary cross-cultural human situation, no religion is sufficient even to face, let alone solve, any of our human predicaments single-handedly.
If, in our times, to be religious is to be inter-religious, then an interfaith approach is becoming a contemporary imperative. The phrase ‘inter-religious cooperation’ does not any more strike an esoteric note.
Mohandas K Gandhi, who is revered in India as the Father of the Nation, and whose birth anniversary is celebrated on October 2, seems to have endeared himself across cultures, also the Jamaican hearts.
His non-violent activism for freedom and equality is well known. He has indeed captured the imagination, appreciation, and active solidarity of Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, and countless other leaders. What perhaps needs a better highlight is his pioneering role in interfaith harmony and the imperatives that it offers to our present times.
A word first on his creative understanding of religion that indeed bears fruit on his interfaith attitude and approach.
Gandhi declared himself a “Sanatani Hindu”. Him being a Hindu, he felt is a question of heredity. But it is also based on his conviction that nothing in Hinduism is inconsistent with his moral sense and spiritual growth. In fact, Hinduism, with its open, tolerant, and non-violent attitude was best suited for him.
His acceptance of Hinduism was not, however, uncritical. He remained critical of abuse, like untouchability, which have crept in the system of Hinduism. He applied to Hindu scrip- tures the same critical norms that he applied to any scripture as an infallible authority.
At the core of Gandhi’s religious experience was his faith that “there is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything”. The power is felt by humans, but it escapes ‘proofs’ and literal intellectual formulation, though one might define it as ‘truth’.
Truth is God and truth is the ultimate goal of religions. Religion is a quest for truth. This makes of religion an all-comprehensive quest which is finally identical with the human quest. This quest demands total self-denial since no one can reach this truth without being free from every form of self-interest.
This truth is revealed in all the great religions of humanity. Therefore, these religions are true, although they all embody this truth in imperfect human moulds.
One need not only tolerate these religions but must have an attitude of positive love and respect towards them. Since all religions are equally valid paths to truth (sarvadharma samabhava), one should not try to convert people from one religion to another. Perhaps, religions themselves need conversion.
In this regard, his inimitable words: “I do not want my house to be walled in all sides, and my windows to be closed. Instead, I want cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”
Inspired as he was by many exemplary religious figures, including Jesus,
Lord Buddha, Lord Mahavir, Guru Nanak and Prophet Muhammad, he could personally confess his multi-religious belonging: “I am a Hindu, I am a Muslim, I am a Jew, I am a Christian.” He derived the power of love from The Sermon on the Mount, non-violence from Jainism and yogic texts, and equality from Islam, and so on.
But he was deeply aware of the historical and social reality of violence, hatred, and violence caused in the name of religions. He was also firmly convinced that unless there is communal harmony and peace in the society, the exercise of nation-building cannot be grounded on secular foundation. He had indeed witnessed the largescale communal violence at the time of partition.
Given the multi-religious context of India that includes people of such faiths as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism,
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Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and many subsects of different religions, he made “communal harmony” an essential part of his constructive programme.
His practical tools of this programme included the inter-religious public prayer meetings, the study of religious texts, promotion of religious literacy, the great use of the metaphor “children of God”, and numerous other methods.
These concrete ways were ultimately based on his spirit of openness, rootedness, and inclusiveness, progressive way of thinking, moral courage to face the communal situation head-on in a non-violent manner, and a wide-ranging empathy that extended even to his opponents.
Given our present moment and challenges, Gandhi’s lasting legacy of interfaith approach may amount to the following contemporary imperatives:
First, harmony between religious traditions should come about not in spite of differences, but because of differences. His inspiring proposal to create strong interfaith relations underscores the unity of hearts. It would not mean diluting one’s own views about religion but safeguarding the uniqueness of one’s own faith while sharing value of differences.
Second, the commonality of problems should become the starting point of dialogue between world religious traditions.
Gandhi’s liberating vision indeed inspires a dialogue of common action, rallying all the potential forces of institutionalised religions to struggle for a common cause: The elimination of racism, casteism, and the unjust situation of the world, including man-manipulated hunger, human exploitation, wars, crushing of minorities, abuse of the poor, and so on. Thus, dialogue between religions assumes a living and secular character. In our times, we indeed have shining examples in Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela for this dialogue of life and action.
And finally, tapas, that is self-suffering, should become the ultimate pathway of interfaith harmony.
It ultimately boils down to a hard and a painful realisation of contingency. No religion is self-sufficient in constructing the entire picture of reality. Religions need a mutual learning, a mutual conversion, and even a mutual fecundation. After all, it is only in receiving, conceiving can take place.
1947: In the first televised White House address, US President Harry S Truman asks Americans to refrain from eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays to help stockpile grain for starving people in Europe.
1795: Artillery commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte shoots down rebels marching against the National Convention in Paris, saving the republic. He is soon appointed commander of the army of the interior.
1796: Spain declares war on Britain.
1829: The 21st president of the United States, Chester Alan Arthur, is born in North Fairfield, Vermont.
1892: The Dalton Gang, notorious for its train robberies, is practically wiped out while attempting to rob a pair of banks in Coffeyville, Kansas.
1897: Brazil’s army crushes the rebel forces of messianic leader Antonio Conselheiro and razes the communist-style settlement of Canudos in the north-eastern outback.
1908: Ferdinand I declares Bulgaria’s independence from the Ottoman Empire and assumes title of czar of Bulgaria.
1931: Clyde Pangborn and
Hugh Herndon complete the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean, arriving in Washington state some 41 hours after leaving Japan.
1941: Former Supreme Court Justice Louis D Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the nation’s highest court, dies in Washington at age 84.
1953: Earl Warren is sworn in as the 14th chief justice of the United States, succeeding Fred M Vinson.
1954: Britain, United States, Italy and Yugoslavia agree that Free Territory of Trieste should be divided into Italian and Yugoslav zones.
1962: The Beatles’ first hit, Love Me Do, is released in Britain.
1965: Pakistan severs diplomatic relations with Malaysia on grounds that Malaysia showed partiality in the Indian-pakistani conflict over Kashmir.
1969: The British TV comedy programme Monty Python’s Flying Circus makes its debut on BBC 1.
1970: Egypt’s only political party names Anwar Sadat to succeed late President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
1974: The Irish Republican Army bombs two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, England, resulting in five deaths and dozens of injuries. (Four men who became known as the Guildford Four were convicted of the bombings but were ultimately vindicated.)
1978: US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance travels to South Africa to promote transition to black rule in Namibia.
1981: Former Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg is posthumously granted honorary US citizenship for his humanitarian actions during World War II.
1983: Lech Walesa, leader of Poland’s Solidarity labour movement, is named winner of
Nobel Peace Prize.
1984: The space shuttle Challenger blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center on an eight-day mission; the crew included Kathryn D Sullivan, who becomes the first American woman to walk in space, and Marc Garneau, the first Canadian astronaut.
1987: South Africa’s President P W Botha says his Government plans to permit some multiracial neighbourhoods.
1988: Chileans in a plebiscite turn down a proposal to extend General Augusto Pinochet’s rule until 1997. Democrat Lloyd Bentsen lambasts Republican
Dan Quayle during their vicepresidential debate, telling
Quayle, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
1989: The Dalai Lama wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
1990: A jury in Cincinnati acquits an art gallery and its director of obscenity charges stemming from an exhibit of sexually graphic photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe.
1991: Fighting erupts between Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq, in the second outbreak of violence between the two sides since the withdrawal of US and allied forces in July.
1993: China breaks moratorium on nuclear testing.
1994: Forty-eight bodies are found in two locations in Switzerland after a cult’s mass suicide-murder.
1996: Bosnia’s three-member presidency gets off to a rocky start as the Serb member refuses to attend the inauguration.
1998: A committee of the US Congress votes to recommend an impeachment inquiry of President Bill Clinton’s actions in the case involving White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
1999: Two packed commuter trains collide near London’s Paddington Station, killing 31 people.
2006: European Union ministers endorse a plan to make permanent joint patrols that pick up migrants on the high seas, moving to end internal divisions over dealing with a surge of illegal immigration from Africa.
2008: President George W
Bush defends his Administration’s methods of detaining and questioning terrorism suspects, saying both were successful and lawful. Topps Meat Co says it is closing its business, six days after it was forced to issue a massive beef recall. Track star Marion Jones pleads guilty in White Plains, New York, to lying to federal investigators when she denied using performanceenhancing drugs, and announces her retirement after the hearing.
2010: Former French trader Jerome Kerviel is convicted on all counts in history’s biggest rogue trading scandal, sentenced to at least three years in prison and ordered to pay his former employer damages of euro 4.9 billion (US$6.7 billion) — a sum so staggering it drew gasps in the courtroom.
2011: The New York Police Department’s intelligence squad secretly assigns an undercover officer to monitor a prominent Muslim leader even as he decried terrorism, cooperated with the police and dined with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Apple founder Steve Jobs, 56, dies in Palo Alto, California.
2013: A month before the presidential election, the Labor Department reported that unemployment fell in September 2012 to its lowest level, 7.8 per cent, since President Barack Obama took office; some Republicans question whether the numbers have been manipulated
2017: Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres wins the Security Council’s unanimous backing to become the next UN secretary general, succeeding
Ban Ki-moon. Frenchman Jeanpierre Sauvage, Scottish-born Fraser Stoddart and Dutch scientist Bernard “Ben” Feringa win the Nobel Prize in chemistry for making devices the size of molecules.
Robert Goddard, US inventor of modern rocket (1882-1945); Glynis Johns, South African-born actress (1923- ); Diane Cilento, Australian actress (1933-2011); Vaclav Havel, Czech politician, playwright and former dissident (1936-2011); Bob Geldof, British singer (1954-); Kate Winslet, British actress (1975-)