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Reflections on Harmony of Religions

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Item Code: NAM108
Publisher: Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture
Language: English
Edition: 2014
ISBN: 9789381325353
Pages: 304
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
Weight 330 gm
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Back of the Book

I have practised all religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity - and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, through along different paths. You must try all beliefs and traverse all the different ways once. Wherever I look, I see men quarrelling in the name of religion – Hindu, mohammedans, Brahmos, Vaisnavas, and the rest. But they never reflect that He who is called Krishna is also Siva, and bears the name of the Primal Energy, Jesus, and Allah as well – the same Rama with a thousand names. A lake has several ghats. At one the Hindu take water in pitchers and call it 'jal'; at another the mussalmans take water in leather bags and call it 'pani'. At a third the Christians call it 'water'. Can we imagine that it is not 'jal', but only 'pani' or 'water'? How ridiculous! The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences. Let each man follow his own path. If he sincerely and ardently wishes to know God, peace be unto him! He will surely realize Him.


Human personality is the most complex entity, being an intricate medley of opposite characteristics such as good and evil, love and hate, happiness and misery. The ordinary man being the victim of, and swayed by these opposite characteristics, many times behaves erratically and unpredictably, creating a vicious atmosphere in the family and society. Some thinkers are of the opinion that friction between opposites is the one that sustains society and the individual. The Greek philosopher, Heracleitus, declared, 'War is the father of all, and king of all.' According to him, but for strife or opposition the world would pass away-stagnate, and die. The theory of evolution contending that competition is the basis of evolution, seems to espouse this view of Heracleitus. However, recent researches in ecology and evolution do not concur with this view. Fritjof Capra says, 'This new view has forced biologists to recognize the vital importance of cooperation in the evolutionary process. While social Darwinists of the nineteenth century saw only competition in nature ... we are now beginning to see continual cooperation and mutual dependence among all life-forms as central aspect of evolution. In the words of Margulis and Sag an, "Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking."

In a recent article in Scientific American we read, 'Millions of years of evolution transformed a slow, defenceless ape into the most influential creature on the planet, a species capable of inventing a mind-bogglingarray of technologies that have allowed our kind to plumb the depth of the ocean, explore outer space and broadcast our achievements to the world in an instant. We have accomplished these monumental feats by working together. Indeed humans are the most cooperative species-supercooperatives if you will.

This reminds us of Swami Vivekananda's words, 'These competitions and struggles and evils that we see are not the effect of the involution or the cause, but they are in the way. If they did not exist, still man would go on and evolve as God, because it is the very nature of that God to come out and manifest Himself. To my mind this seems very hopeful, instead of that horrible idea of competition. The more I study history, the more I find that idea to be wrong. Some say that if man did not fight with man, he would not progress. I also used to think so; but I find now that every war has thrown back human progress by fifty years instead of hurrying it forwards. The day will come when man will study history from a different light and find that competition is neither the cause nor the effect, simply a thing on the way, not necessary to evolution at all.

In spite of the fact that war is retrogressive, violence in different forms and in the name of different ideologies-especially in the name of religion and compassionate God-is proliferating all over the world, notwithstanding the best efforts of the pacifists. It is because of the fact that violent tendency is rooted in the very psyche of man. Unless something is done to 'denature' human mind, all means of curbing violence will lead only to blind alley. Sigmund Freud is of the opinion that this violent tendency is related to deathinstinct which, he claims, is one of the basic instincts of man. This death instinct expresses itself, in most cases, not as a desire to die, but as a desire to kill. Turned outward it is the urge to destroy, injure, conquer; it is the hostility- motive, the aggressive tendency, which manifests itself sometimes taking the garb of religious fundamentalism and terrorism.

According to Ian D. Suttie, a contemporary of Freud, sociability, companionship, and active participation are primary urges of man and love is an expression of these. When this urge is frustrated due to defective upbringing, or due to unwholesome social conditions, where harmonious human relationship is sacrificed at the altar of economic prosperity, love turns itself into hatred which is the root cause of violent behaviour. Dr. Suttie further emphasizes that 'social integration is, in fact, an end in itself and not merely a means to practical ends; the brotherhood is constituted for its own sake.

The people of some religious groups exhibit a kind of love-hate dichotomy where loving one thing means hating the other. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, 'All the weak and undeveloped minds in every religion or country have one way of loving their own ideal, i.e. by hating every other ideal. Herein is the explanation of why the same man who is so lovingly attached to his own ideal of God, so devoted to his own ideal of religion, becomes a howling fanatic as soon as he sees or hears anything of any other ideal. This kind of love is somewhat like the canine instinct of guarding the master's property from intrusion, only the instinct of the dog is better than the reason of man, for the dog never mistakes its master for an enemy in whatever dress he may come before it.

The very purpose of religion is to achieve two kinds of unity viz., social unity and union with the Divine. However, because of various sects and sub-sects in religion, each sect wants to retain its individuality even at the cost of harming other sects, and this will inflame violent tendency already existing in the mind, rendering the ideal of Divine unity inoperative. These two ideals of religion, viz., social unity and union with the Divine must be kept ablaze in our hearts. The former represents horizontal dimension of religion and the latter a vertical one; one represents extensity and the other intensity; one is the social and the other spiritual aspect of religion. If the spiritual aspect of religion is overlooked, the social unity gets confined to one particular sector group of religions beyond which the feeling of brotherhood will not be extended, leading to exclusivism. One must be able to extend one's arms of brotherhood to the members of other religious groups, remaining steadfast in one's own religious ideal. Swami Vivekananda calls this attitude lsnia-nishiha. He says that one must be intensely devoted to one's own chosen ideal, at the same time one 'must take care not to hate, nor even to criticize those radiant sons of light who are the founders of various sects; he must not even hear them spoken ill of.

It appears that just as there is individual Abhinivesha, clinging to one's own individuality, so also there is racial Abhinivesha, i.e. the tendency to retain racial identity. One is ready to sacrifice one's life for the sake of racial survival. This racial Abhinivesha also expresses itself in the form of religious fundamentalism, the concomitant evil of widespread terrorism. As many modem thinkers feel, fundamentalism is the reaction to threatened racial identity due to the process of globalization and cultural uniformity. The solution to the problem basically lies in the individual's mind. It is the fear of losing one's identity that stimulates aggressive tendency. Fear and aggression are closely related emotions. 'The very experience of fear is nothing but our masked feeling of aggression which we have turned back on ourselves. We don't have to invent aggression-it is already present in us as fear, and so all we have to do is call fear by its correct name: aggression,' says Ken Wilber. The statement indicates that aggressive tendency is triggered by threatened self- identity. The solution lies in helping people to develop a global outlook, to become citizens of a global village, however, without losing racial, cultural, or religious identities.

Sometimes religion is blamed for inciting violence and thereby causing unforgivable sufferings to people through massacre, incineration etc. But even in the absence of religions, these destructive acts would continue, for, as noted above, the violent tendency is part of the human nature itself which manifests under some pretexts; and religion will be substituted by some other ideologies like political, racial, regional or linguistic. The only remedial measure to this unhealthy and unenviable situation is to create an environment in every walk of life where symbiotic relationship is maintained, where one can love and in turn be loved, shedding one's egocentric drives. This sociological need is poignantly expressed by Dr. Dean Ornish: 'The real epidemic in our culture is not only physical heart disease, but also what I call emotional and spiritual heart disease-that is, the profound feeling of loneliness, isolation, alienation and depression that are so prevalent in our culture with the breakdown of the social structures that used to provide us with a sense of connection and community. It is, to me, the root of the illness, cynicism, and violence in our society.

Religion cannot be eliminated, as Swami Vivekananda says, 'Religion is a constitutional necessity of the human mind ... Wherever man is, he must develop a belief, he must develop his religious nature. The same idea is expressed by G. Watts Cunningham, 'Mankind is incurably religious. Wherever on the face of the earth man is found and whatever level of human civilization he may happen to be, he commonly has his religious beliefs and practices. Will Durant substantiates this statement by telling, 'Suppress all religion for a century, then take off the lid, and religion would grow again within a year.' So Religion has a great relevance to human progress. Man is to be prepared mentally and spiritually to enjoy the benefits of material progress judiciously without harming himself and the society. In this regard religion plays a crucial role, provided it is accepted and followed with a universal spirit. Again to quote Swamiji, 'In building up character, in making for everything that is good and great, in bringing peace to others and peace to one's own self, religion is the highest motive power and, therefore, ought to be studied from that standpoint. Religion must be studied on a broader basis than formerly.

The diversity in religion is also unavoidable, as it is evident in other aspects of human life. Even if it is possible to make the whole world follow one religion, as fanatical followers of some religions are desperately struggling for, still the sectarian fight within one and the same religion will continue to undermine the social unity. There are so many factors which contribute to the formation of sects within a religion.

First of all, The very nature of mind is to seek variety and change. The diversity is the basis of creation. The very act of thinking becomes that makes painting possible, it is the variety of sounds that creates music, and it is the variety of ideas that produces literature. Same is the case with religion too. Swami Vivekananda says, 'Men are different. If they were not, the mentality of the world would be degraded. If there not different religions, no religion would survive.

He further elucidates this point, 'We find then that if by the idea of universal religion it is meant that one set of doctrines should be believed in by all mankind, it is wholly impossible .... Again, if we expect that there will be one universal mythology, that is also impossible; it cannot be. Neither can there be one universal ritual. Such a state of things can never come into existence; if it ever did, the world would be destroyed, because variety is the first principle of life.' Basically, it is the complexity of human mind that is responsible for diversity in religion.


Publisher's Note v
Introduction 1
Samavaya Eva Sadhuh 13
Deriving Spiritual Inspiration from Different Religions 18
The Common Characteristics of All Religions 48
Positive Functions of Religion: A Philosophical Analysis 67
Harmony of Religions and Fundamentalism 85
Religions Harmony and Disharmony 104
Approaches to Harmony of Religions 120
Unity of Humankind Through Harmony of Religions: Some Christian Faith Reflections 137
Pope John Paul II and Methods and Forms of Inter-religious Dialogue 147
Sri Ramakrishna's Harmony of Religions 161
Reflections on 'Harmony of Religions': Vision of Rigveda and Mission of Swami Vivekananda 192
Contribution of Judaism to Religious Harmony 213
India's Message of Peace and Harmony 225
Harmony of Religions from the Standpoint of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda 240
Noble Thoughts on Harmony of Religions 215
The Contributors 295


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