There are many reasons as to why people are drawn to a religious or spiritual way of life. Having faith in something bigger than us, can encourage strength in times of trial. Religion can provide us with a system for living. Religiousness makes every person to feel that we are together. In our heart we find godly peace and we might bring that peace to the world. As Dalai Lama said,
“This is my simple religion, there is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy, our own brain, our own heart is our temple and the philosophy is kindness.”
One thinks passionately today of Peace and Harmony only because the reality of our environment is war and disharmony. Throughout history we human beings have acted foolishly to precipitate war and disharmony and then when their effects become intolerable we yearn for Peace and Harmony while wallowing in misery and distress. At such times religious leaders have given leadership only because they had recognized the importance of altruism – that is the principle of considering the welfare and interests of others.
When leaders of Mankind set their societies on the path of altruism there was peace and tranquility in such societies, but when they deviated and dabbled in selfish on a selfish theory of morals concentrating upon themselves, their families, their particular community and so on ultimately such behavior led to disharmony, disagreement and discord.
When selfishness predominates in human relationships there would soon be discord and disagreements. When altruism prevails peace and harmony would result.
Let us next refer to the commonality of all religions in stressing the importance of altruism.
Islam preaches brotherhood of man. All are equal at the altar of God. Yet if economic disparities among the people happen to be the reality of Life, Islam declares the raising of zakat-a tax of two and a half percent payable on certain kinds of property, the money so raised to be devoted to charitable purposes. Thus Islam considers the interest of others. Live and let live seems to be its fundamental, underlying lesson.
Christianity preaches charity too. It stresses the disposition to think favourably of others and do them good. The spirit of Christianity is stressed by the phrase “Christian Charity”. Christianity’s lesson too is clear – “Live and let others live too”.
Buddhism stresses on Metta (loving kindness towards all beings), Muditha (gladness at the success of others), and Karuna (compassion towards all beings) – again the stressing of living harmoniously and letting others to live with dignity.
When we turn to Sanaathana Dharma or the Perennial Moral Testament which has been in existence for over 5000 years, which in modern times is referred to as Hinduism, there is a statement in Tamil in the Thirumanthiram which was given to the world over 2000 years ago which says, “Anbe Sivam” – “God is Love”. In other words it said is no need to go searching for God – because God is Love. Therefore love other beings as you shall love yourself and your dear ones and then Divinity would come to reside where there is such a loving relationship. Loving others as thyself again is to live and let live.
All major religions therefore stressed the importance of living and letting others live. The major lesson adduced by all religions therefore in order to bring peace and harmony in society has been to devise an environment in which all would pursue a policy of “live and let live”.
Whenever such a lesson imparted by religions was lost on societies, where they instead stressed the pursuit of selfish values and goals, there had been chaos and violence in such societies. The reason is not far to seek. When I devise a scheme of society which would ultimately give benefit to me and my chosen relatives and supporters while you similarly devise a plan to benefit you and yours or even all others, naturally a conflict would ensue. But where I devise a scheme which benefits you and yours while it equally helps me and mine, there is little chance of conflict. It is as simple as that.
So if Religious are to give leadership to contribute to an atmosphere of peace and harmony, it is the stressing of altruism that would have a positive impact on society. This has been stressed by the Hindu from very early times. Let me set out the manner in which this was stressed by the Hindu Society from time immemorial.
One existence, in which all beings are rooted, however varied the appearances, however different the forms and structures, all such differences branch out from a single trunk. Modern sub atomic researches have now confirmed the correctness of such an outlook. What it meant was that each person was but a part of a whole. Such a person was not independent. He or she was a portion of a vast interlinked and interdependent order. Such a person was not, as the Westerners thought, born free. On the contrary he or she was born into numerous obligations. Thus the happiness of the individual could not b divorced from the happiness of the whole. It was upon the harmony and due integration of the parts that the whole was able to be happy and contented.
Thus an individual existed neither for himself nor his separate ends. He existed for all and for the common ends. It is like a finger in a hand. It is part of the body. It exists in the body for the use of the body. A finger cannot call itself free to do as it pleased. It existed only for the body. So too Man was part of the larger society. If you think otherwise it would be the outcome of the illusion of separateness.
Under such a view of man and society, it was but natural that the Hindu society stressed not on individual rights but rather individual duties. Man was expected to recognize all his obligations and live as a part of a greater whole not as an independent being. There was no need for a Social Contract which in any event was an artificial agreement or a legal fiction foisted on society. The truth was that every person was born into a society and with his birth obligations arose naturally. Though rights and duties are the two sides of the same coin the approaches were different. The perspectives were different. The standpoints were different. When I speak from the standpoint of Rights, I say, “This is yours. It is my duty to render it to you.” You would notice here the attitudes are also different. From the standpoint of Rights my attitude is one which is aggressive, combative and savours of separateness. From the point of view of Duties, it is an attitude of yielding, peaceful and tends towards unity. When we are nurtured by a sense of duty, we look at ourselves only in relation to others and we are interested in performing our duties and not in demanding anything for ourselves. The other important aspect of dutifulness is that one has to perform his duties even to the other who is undutiful. Under Rights, if you fail to recognize the others’ rights, then there is repudiation and the other person would break up any relationship he or she had with you. It is not so under Duty. The bond does not get broken even if one is dutiful and the other is not. The pith and substance of the Bagavad Gita is “Disinterested Devotion to Duty”. One does one’s duties whether the other person recognizes your action or not. The philosophical basis for this is that karma will look after the breach of obligations by the other. I need not do any harm to the other person.
Thus from a Hindu point of view Religious leadership had been given from ancient times by the saints and sages setting up the norms and standards of behavior for the society. They stressed on duties and obligations rather than on Rights and Privileges. Peace and Harmony could prevail only if we could negate our aggressive egos as far as possible and consider the wants and needs of the other person. In this connection self analysis is very important. Unless we understand our strengths and weaknesses and adjust ourselves to the environment and to those around us we must expect quarrels and controversies. It is only the person who is duty conscious, who could adjust to his environment properly. If our politicians without thinking of the next election and their chances of winning that election were to consider their duties towards the society today we could solve the ethnic question or for that matter any problem without difficulty. Let us hope our politicians and powers that be would at least hereafter do their utmost to bring about a better future for our country where prosperity and national well being and amity would prevail. I thank you for your patient hearing.
Peace among persons, groups or nations is not possible without good will, towards one another and goodwill towards one another is not possible without acknowledging God and God was not honoured and glorified, good will among person has not been achieved, and then peace on earth is almost impossible. So we love to become religious and make inter religious dialogues to build a better world, free of nuclear damage, the arms, race, poverty, ignorance, discriminations and ensuring development, dignity and justice for all.
*Ven. Ramachandra Kurukkal Babu Sharma, Co-ordinator (Hindu Religious Affairs) to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka. Speech delivered by Ven. Ramachandra Kurukkal Babu Sharma at the National Conference ‘the Role of Religion in Reconciliation’ on July 23, 2013.