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Beyond Tolerance: BEYOND TOLERANCE


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Throughout history human beings have searched for meaning and a deeper reason for living. From earliest times, people 'worshipped' something beyond themselves. It may have been the sun, or fire. It represented something powerful. Over thousands of years, what we call religion began to evolve. As we come to the end of the 20th century we find that humans in their millions all over the world subscribe to some kind of religion - Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam - (to name a few listed in alphabetical order). There is also an increasing number of people who have abandoned organised religion and are seeking a deeper spirituality in different ways. However, the fact remains that while religion has inspired great feats of human achievement and sacrifice, it has also divided human beings from each other.

We live in an information age where access to knowledge is no more the monopoly of a few. Technology has transformed us into a global community and we have instant knowledge of what is going on anywhere in the world. Yet in the spiritual dimension, we continue to remain largely insulated by our own religions. We fail to access the rich heritage and knowledge that each religion has to offer. As we become one world community, it is time for each one of us to open our hearts and minds to the 'spiritual journey' of others and be open to the enrichment that they can bring to our lives.

"The next stage of evolution of the human race may depend on how we understand our common history as a human family."

Over the centuries, crimes of all kinds have been committed in the name of religion. The next stage of evolution of the human race may depend on how we understand our common history as a human family. The evolution of all religions is part of our history, not their history.

In my home my father, who was born in India, practiced Hinduism and my mother, a Sri Lankan, was a Catholic. I was baptised a Catholic and went to a Catholic school. As a Christian I felt I was a 'chosen' one, and viewed my father as not quite 'chosen' like me!

This contradiction always worried me and it led me to seek a much more universal approach to God. Through my father I absorbed Hinduism and at school was taught catechism. To add to our cultural diversity my aunt was a Buddhist and another aunt belonged to the Dutch reformed Church! Not once in my family did I encounter prejudice or indifference to each other's religions. My mother fully adhered to the Hindu customs, fasting days and traditions to make my father feel at home, yet she never failed to take us to Mass every Sunday at 6 am! This set the stage for my universal view of religion and God. At home God was worshipped in many different ways. I did not see this as significant until recently.

On one of my travels in Asia, I was taken to a Hindu temple by a friend. As I sat in silence reflecting and absorbing the sound of bells and the smell of incense, a deep sense of inner-peace came over me. At that moment I felt my father's presence and I heard him say (he died 27 years ago), "be at peace all will be well." Although seated on my own, I felt connected with something beyond me - a force, an energy, a power. I felt connected with something my father treasured and which I respected but did not really understand. I came out of that temple a different person. That connection I made has become a permanent part of my life. I feel a richer human being. It may sound strange but I experienced Christ in that temple and my father reassured me that "all is well."

I'd like to quote the great Russian literary giant and philosopher, Tolstoy who, in a letter to the painter Jan Styka said, "The doctrine of Jesus is to me only one of the beautiful doctrines which we have received from the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Israel, Hindustan, China and Greece. The two great principles of Jesus; the love of God, that is absolute perfection, and the love of one's neighbour, that is of all men without distinction, have been preached by all sages of the world.' If the Hindu chants the Vedas (prayers dating back more than 3500 years and learnt by little children in schools in India to this day), if the Japanese worships the image of the Buddha, if the European is convinced of Christ's divinity, if the Arab reads the Quran in his Mosque, if the African bows down to worship, each one of them has the same reason for their particular confidence. The different creeds are the historical formulations of the formless truth. While the spiritual 'treasure' is one, its expression takes the shape and colour of its time and environment.

"Tradition is society's memory of its own past."

We tend to relate religion to the specifics of our own history. Tradition is society's memory of its own past. To forget our social past is to forget our roots. So, as a result, our religion and our roots get linked and it is difficult to separate our religion from the collective memory we carry with us through life. Human nature is not a clean slate or a white board, on which we can scribble anything and then wipe it off with a sponge. It is a reservoir of the spirit where the subtlest impressions are recorded. That is why religion stirs the deeper emotional levels in us because it awakens the old impulses whose echoes go back to the childhood of the individual and their race.

We need therefore to practice our own religion, but keep ourselves open to any deeper experiences that other religions can give.

As Christians we refer to the Bible. In fact, the Bible belongs to the historical heritage of Asia - along with the Vedas (1500 - 1200 BC), the Upanishads (900-600 BC), the Mahabharata and the Puranas (330 - 450 AD) of the Hindus; the Tripitaka of the Buddhists and the Quran of the Muslims. Sadly, the Bible was brought back to Asia not as part of Asia's heritage but as an alien book. Thus began the estrangement of a great part of history from its own roots. Christianity today still remains a 'Western' religion. As Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, is not Jesus an Eastern figure, perhaps more open to an Eastern interpretation?

Christ said, "Love one another as I have loved you." This is one of the most beautiful sentences in the world. It leaves no one out because he did not say 'love only those who are the same religion as you'. The challenge facing all of us is to open our hearts to the breadth of spiritual experience of all peoples of the world, not just of our own religion. Educational institutions take pride in giving us a 'global' sense of history. But in the study of religion, we become very narrow. It is time to redress this imbalance. Global Express readers could begin a dialogue on this subject. I have only given my view in this article.

Mohan Bhagwandas, Australia

Last update: 2001-06-04 15:42:25 (EEST).
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