By Ayathuray Rajasingam –
The issue of enforcing unity among the people in Sri Lanka has become a controversial debate on account of the birth of divisive force of religions. Ancient history of Sri Lanka establishes that there were two nations and two religions, viz, Buddhism and Hinduism. With the passage of time Muslims came as traders and introduced Islam. Later they were followed by the Westerners who introduced Catholicism and Christianity. Though there were some incidents of conversion with compulsion, subsequently people belonging to the five religions lived in unity.
History shows that religious wars were caused on account of religious differences and today the concept of the Charter of Human Rights has put an end to all these conflicts in the West, while religious conflicts continue in some of the countries in Asia and in the Middle-East. The short-sightedness of such religious conflicts demonstrates that we are living in a deeply divided world, indicating the reluctance to accept religious pluralism.
Basically all religions and faiths are the same. It is the different approaches in the practical teaching that caused harm to the unity of the people. It is sad to observe that it is the politicians who aggravate this situation in order to consolidate their position in power, instead of taking adequate and meaningful measures to prevent the deteriorating economy of the country. Swami Vivekananda compares God with light and religions with lamps, which indicate that every religion has its own approach to realize God – a truth that every politician and religious fanatics should reconsider. There is only one God, but called him under different names.
It is unfortunate that fundamentalism and politics, which form an explosive combination of ambition and lust for power of the politicians, spoil the pious atmosphere of religion. With the deterioration of the rule of law, there is an inadequate social system and economic imbalance, all of which in turn, saw the birth of a divisive force of religion. It is at this juncture that Buddhist religious leaders should re-consider what Lord Buddha preached.
One should have a clear idea of what religion is. Buddhist monks chant ‘Buddham Saranam Kachchami, Sangam Saranam Kachchami, Dharmam Saranam Kachchami’. Lord Buddha delivered three messages to the people and these are the messages, which were preached by ancient Hindu sages & saints.
‘Buddham Saranam Kachchami’ means the supreme intellect within an individual which leads him/her with the discrimination of Right & Wrong. It is the aspect of Right that makes an individual’s life noble and happy, leading one to the state of Bliss. This implies that one should live harmoniously and let others also live in similar fashion.
‘Sangam Saranam Kachchami’ means surrendering to the society by involving an individual’s life for the benefit of the society even at the expense of that individual’s comfort.
‘Dharmam Saranam Kachchami’ means always be righteous i.e. surrender to the righteous behaviour and character. Dharma means the righteous behaviour of humans.
Now the issue is whether divisive forces of Buddhism, claiming or posing to be its champion, are complying with the Buddhism’s Three Fold Refuge or Three Jewels of Buddhism of ‘Buddham Saranam Kachchami, Sangam Saranam Kachchami, Dharmam Saranam Kachchami’, other than the Maha Sangha and the Buddhist Congress. Today the vital issue is whether such divisive force of Buddhism poses as a threat to other religious people to live harmoniously and happily with others or on account of its egoism. One ponders whether the concept of Dharma is forgotten. It is a pity that they do not seem to realize the acceptance of religious pluralism. Will there be a renaissance in Buddhism with the birthday celebrations of Lord Buddha.
Similarly, other religions should not also be a divisive force against peace and security in the country. It should in all circumstances promote and practice tolerance. If a religion becomes a tool of intimidation, coercion and oppression with the support of political and external religious powers, then there is suspicion whether it falls within the purview of fanaticism or even terrorism. It is painful to hear that some religious and political leaders maintain silence when divisive forces of religion are a threat to peace and security, while the foreign countries, with their broad-minded religious and political leaders, encourage majestic temples of all religions to be built in their soil and respect other religions – a sign of accepting religious pluralism. A country will prosper if religion is not politicized.
Having known that God is responsible for our existence, it is painful to think that there are conflicts of views within the religious groups. There is no conflict among religion. It is the extremists in those religions who create conflict by not respecting the beliefs of other religions. Conflicts of views erupt between the extremists of the organized religions and religions that are not organized and has no founder. Christianity and Islam condemn ritualism, while Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism and Roman Catholicism recognize the importance of ritualism. As Dalai Lama said, all religions agree upon the necessity to control the undisciplined mind that harbours selfishness and other roots of trouble and each religion teaches a path leading to spiritual state that is peaceful, disciplined, ethical and wise. What is essential is to consider the purely metaphysical side of religion. Therefore, all religions send the message that an individual should treat himself/herself and the persons around that individual fairly and honestly. Only then, it can be said that the individual is blessed.
There should be a compromise among the religious leaders with the view to defeat the aim of the divisive force of religions. Religion does not initiate conflict. It is the people who follow the religion who initiate conflict by not respecting the beliefs of other religions. The reluctance to compromise among the religious leaders and its promoters signals that they do not realize the acceptance of religious pluralism. What is lacking is the absence of Unity in diversity.
All religions march towards unity among the people and for their well being on this earth. Time and again religion has established the truth that compassion has been a pillar of world peace. All religions have the same ideals of love, the same goal of benefiting humanity through spiritual practice and the same goal of making their followers into better human beings. The proverb, ‘Service to mankind is service to God’ is prevalent all over the world. All religions emphasize that serving and treating fellow human beings with kindness is an essential part of good moral conduct. The central theme of all religions focus on the idea of ‘sharing’, in showing the love by way of offering services to the fellow human beings by devoting their time, energy and material resources. Religion should not be an obstacle in the way of national unity. What is required in a country practicing pluralism like Sri Lanka, is Unity in diversity.
The divisive forces of religion in Sri Lanka should take into consideration the importance of accepting religious pluralism for the unification of all communities. According to Swami Vivekananda, religion is a relationship between God and soul. Religion consists of spiritual realization. People from different walks of life approach spirituality in different ways but their true nature is already divine, though hidden by their egoism. The purpose of life is to realize that divinity which, in turn, is the essence of religion. To realize that religion, an individual should practice four Yogas, namely of knowledge, control of mind, selfless and love of God. Therefore, religion is the essence of human life and it has the great motivating power in one’s life including in his social, economic and political aspect. As such universal love and universal brotherhood should be the new ideal for the acceptance of religious pluralism. Only then it will give an equal value for all religions in the world.
The importance of the humanity and universal brotherhood to keep religious harmony in society is vital. A religion should be equally philosophic, equally emotional, equally mystic and conducive to action. It is for this purpose Swami Vivekananda suggested four types of Yogas. The essence of all religions is one. It is like one light produced with many lamps.
It is sheer stupidity to think that a particular religion is the best and superior to others. It is difficult to distinguish whether an individual is a Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Catholic, once an individual is absorbed in the infinite spirit, i.e. being in union with God. It is like a river which disappears losing its form and name when flown into the sea.
This is the hour for every politician and religious leader advocating divisive force of religions to realize that Dharma is a force which brings unity, integrity and harmony within society. In the words of Dalai Lama, Religion represents essentially as an ennobling urge designated to fulfil higher purposes of human life. Humanity cannot forget the experience of love generated by religion. The world has heard the noblest word of peace from religious dignitaries. In times of crisis, religion has inspired people to take care of human beings. Dharma has taught the people to accept religious pluralism. Only then, there will be peaceful co-existence in the country.
May the Teachings of Lord Buddha guide everyone and bless them with Peace.