31 October, 2020

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The Question Of Religious Pluralism And Unity In Sri Lanka

By Ayathuray Rajasingam

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.

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Latest comments

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    Excellent article. While people quibble over names and meanings, the universal message of truth, justice and righteousness is the same. None can be superior to another other than he or she who practices true righteousness.

    The divisions that have appeared have less to do with religon and more to do with greed for wealth and power. Everyone wants to be the top dog in this world of mammon. If a man has one land full of gold he would want two. There is no end to his greed.

    The manifestation of greed for wealth and power, cloaked in the garb of religon is most dangerous as it deceives a person into thinking that what he is doing is sacred or holy. The only way we could avoid this situation is by looking inwards and cleansing his heart and mind by rigorous spiritual discipline. This was the path shown by all the religous leaders.

    These days people have no time for such practices, hence the problem. Religon cannot be treated as a mere doctrine, it has to be practiced. We need to study and understand our religons and critically analyse and challenge what is being said by people to suit their various hidden objectives. Blind faith can often lead us into problems and difficulties. Man is not blind, he has been given the power to think reason and decide. To to think, reason and act righteously is what religon is about.

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    A fine article written from the heart. The interpretation of the ‘Threefold Refuge’ in Buddhist practice given here is different to what is commonly recognized and may not be acceptable to orthodoxy. Still the belief in Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha is valid to the Buddhist and should dispel any notion of intolerance of other religious beliefs. This is something the Sinhala person must study when such person is a Sinhala Buddhist. Can you be a Buddhist when you do not practice Buddhist values? I do not think so. If one’s religion is practiced faithfully there can be no cause for disunity.

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    The learned author says “Later they were followed by the Westerners who introduced Catholicism and Christianity.” Since when has Catholicism not been Christianity?

  • 0
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    Excellent piece of work!

    Some extracts from A small bulletin written by Venerable Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda: The Buddhist attitude to other religions:

    “The aim of Buddhism is to guide everyone to lead a noble life without harming anyone, to cultivate humane qualities in order to maintain human dignity, to radiate all-embracing kindness without any discrimination, and to train the mind to avoid evil and to purify the mind to gain peace and happiness.”

    ” Buddhism is a religion, which teaches people to “Live and Let Live”.

    How far these aims are met in Sri Lanka?

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    Thank you Sir for a good article. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism all share a spirit of good will despite their shortcomings. We need to restore the spirit of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue that Pope John XX111 had introduced with Vatican II in 1963. Unlike Islam which is self righteous and unable to live in peace with other religionists, Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism are peaceful religions that uphold self-abnegation.

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    Many people have fallen prey to thinking that Christianity is a WESTERN Religion. In fact it is a MIDDLE EASTERN religion embraced by many western countries.

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      Sangakkara

      ” Christianity is a WESTERN Religion. In fact it is a MIDDLE EASTERN religion embraced by many western countries.”

      Christianity is fundamentally opposed to Christ’s teaching. The western Christianity is all about imperial expansion, including justification of slavery.

      Crusades were essentially western idea.

      Those who crucified Jesus later went to fight the Saracens in an effort to retake the “Holy Land”.

      It is incumbent upon followers of Jesus to rest his teachings from Christians, akin to liberating Buddha’s teaching from Sinhala/Buddhists.

      • 0
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        Native Veddha,

        Well said.

        I Would like to call you our Native Enlightened One, Native Buddha.

        Points.

        1. It is about self-interest. Christianity was used by the West for their own self interest.

        2. The Crusades were a way to deflect the objection to the Church’s Teachings.
        Pope Urban, made the Crusade a religious act. Therefore, by authority vested in him as pope(Q. Who gave that?), he decreed that anyone who went to Jerusalem to kill Muslims would receive partial remission of his sins. ( The other sins, perhaps had to be paid as Indulgences?)

        3. The Racist Sinhala Buddhist are doing the same thing, and using Mahanama Myths.

        4. In the meantime the Catholic-Portuguese-Christian Axis fnnded BBS has become their tool to make Lanka Catholic Christian, and expunge all the sins of the people by believing their Myths.

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          Amarasiri,

          I think you need to cite a few contemporary examples of Christian perfidy than quote to us what happened in the Crusades and conquests of Jusuit Conquistadors.

          We need some examples from Justin Welby’s Church of England and Pope Fracis’ Catholist church to convince us that this is all a Christian conspiracy.

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        Don’t confuse things done in the name of Religion. That does not represent the practices and beliefs of any faith.

        The crusades etc. were totally inhuman and not in line with the teachings and beliefs of Jesus.

        Christians – Followers of Christ and His teachings. People were known as Christians because they followed Christ and His teachings in the 1st century.

        Religion is an organisation that has embraced a faith and adulterated the pure teachings and made it into an establishment.

        The fundamental teaching of Jesus summerises into LOVING GOD (allowing Gods love to touch us so that we can then love one another unconditionally)) AND LOVING PEOPLE. FORGIVENESS, CARING AND VALUING OTHERS FOR WHO THEY ARE. Sadly Religion has adulterated this message but a true relationship with Jesus helps us to come back to what it is all about.

        What is happening to our country is so sad. It is like we Sri Lankan’s need a reason to fight and kill each other. First the war and now religious hatred instigated by the Govt under the guise of some so called priest masquerading in yellow robes.

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          Sangakkara

          “AND LOVING PEOPLE. FORGIVENESS, CARING AND VALUING OTHERS FOR WHO THEY ARE.”

          You could still do all the above without the guidance of Loving God.

          You forgot to mention love for environment, animals and living organisms without which human race will certainly have no future.

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    Buddha-Wisdom
    Damma-Discipline
    Sanga-Team Work/unity /harmony

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    Native Vedda

    You made an excellent point that you could do all the good in the world without the guidance of God. People who do good simply because it is the right thing to do are the humane. Others who do good through fear of God or punishment do it only to escape punishment and they are hypocrats. If there is no fear or punishment they will not do good.

    If you want to do good in the world you do not need a God and what you need is to surrender your evil nature and develop your humane qualities which Budhdha seems to have done but how much of humanism did the Budhist monks demostrated in the past few months.

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    The writer says that “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.

    Jesus said ” if somebody slap on your face one side, than you need to show the other side to him for slap again”, which is not supported by Hinduism. Krisna said to Arjun, if you are real shatriya (real Hindu), you need to stand up and fight against your brothers in Mahabarat. Lord Budda got enlighten under bodhi tree. If the ultimate goal of every Buddhist to attain this enlightenment, then he/she should go and sit under the bodhi tree and do the yogas. No marriage, family, children etc. In Islam, you are not encouraged to stay single. The best is to marry and have family as Mohamed did. Buddha and Jesus not married.

    I do not see any similarity in the basic teachings of these religions.

    Can somebody explain how basic teaching and the practical approach differ. And if a religion cannot be practically approached than what is the use of that religion.

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    If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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