Your Holiness, distinguished delegates, friends from the press, ladies and gentlemen,
I now realize the heavy price the Chief Guest has to pay! To be asked to speak immediately after His Holiness has spoken would shake the confidence of any person.
I see before me arrayed the best minds and leading lights from all the great religions that reside in our country. And through this gathering, I believe, His Holiness has a composition no less than the gathering at Chicago’s World Parliament of Religions in 1893 where our own Swami Vivekananda enunciated India’s views on the world stage clearly putting us as leaders in the concept of “inclusiveness”. By coincidence that conference too was held in September. I also believe that at this moment, and in this august gathering, I should start by quoting the great Swami as he addressed, the leaders of various religions that had gathered in Chicago : and I quote: “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all nations and all religions of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnants of Israelites, - - - - - -. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the Zoroastrian nation.” And he went on to quote a hymn that he was fond of: “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee.”
I would imagine that your discourses through the next two days will also bring out the rays of light that we so desperately need – not just in India, but across the world today. While the World Wars may have involved nations fighting each other for reasons of hegemony, we see today man arraigned against man on grounds of religion. Religion that was intended to bring sanity into human behaviour is failing the test of time as religions vie against each other to prove their superiority over one another.
And I put to you: Can one, any one – philosophical thought be superior to another? And on the same analogy - can any religion be superior to another? Do they not wish to lead to the same concluding point? Is the culmination not intended to be the same? Allow me here to quote from the Gita: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.” Sectarianism and bigotry have long obsessed this beautiful planet: we must now awaken to a new dawn or else mankind will pay a more torturous and indeed a more tortured price than that paid at Hiroshima.
When the world sits and watches – we will be helpless witness to the destruction of more Bamiyans, we will watch wanton massacres as we see at the hands of the ISIS; mankind will be forced to move in large numbers as refugees to perceivably safer havens – as we witness in swathes of Africa, the Middle East, and even closer home – Myanmar. God created man in his own form: the Quran addresses him as AshraffulMaqluqat” – the first among his creations. But man’s existence hardly exhibits this superiority. We have created screens and barriers – in the form of natural boundaries, specific communities and castes.
And so – my appeal to all you great leaders who are here this morning – is to use this great event as an opportunity to again kindle the common spiritual current that goes through all religions. I believe the definition would be the consciousness of one Reality – be it called Wisdom, Light, Love or nothing. Here again I hark back to AdiShankaracharya’s – “AtmaShatkam”
“Na Punyam Na Papam
Na Sukhyam Na Dukham
AhamBhojanamNaivaBhojyam Na Bhokta
- I have neither virtue nor vice
I do not commit sins or good deeds,
Nor have happiness or sorrow
Or pain or pleasure.
I do not need mantras, holy places,
Vedas, rituals or sacrifices
I am indeed,
That eternal knowing and bliss, Shiva
Love and pure consciousness.
The same thoughts flow in Sufi philosophy. The enlightened sufis often question the validity of conflict. In this context, I quote Ghalib:
“Asleshahood o shahido –
“The path to see or who sees, or
What is being seen are all one,
Then I am astonished at what
Is this confusion about”.
The quarrels amaze me: Is there a competition to win an argument? Is this a fight among religions? The mystics of all religions have tried to symbolize their experiences in different ways – what is simply called the ‘tariqa.’ As the Persian sufiDhun – Nun talks of ‘marifa’ or speculation: “To ponder about the Essence of God is Ignorance, and to point to him is associationism (shirk), and real gnosis is bewilderment.” With the Almighty there is ‘intimacy’ and yet ‘respect’. The intimacy of a Rumi or Rabia,the love of Guru Nanak, the awe of a Moses. All the above move in the same direction – to annihilate oneself in the beloved. Is this not same as experience by our own saints in India, which we may call the awakening of the kundalini when the hidden energies traverse the 6 chakras and burst into enlightenment (or bewilderment at the Majesty of what is perceived) as she pierces the Sahasra Chakra.
So as we sit in this great hall and ponder and discuss – how can we not remember that each one himself or herself is also part of the great Atman or Universal Spirit. And it is that thought that can save humanity from clashing within itself. Clashes are manmade. They come from pride, an ego that leads people to believe in the superiority or inferiority of an individual or a race or a religion.
I have taken much of your time. I will therefore conclude by going back to the Concluding Address of Swami Vivekananda at Chicago and I quote:
“Do I wish the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water’? No, it becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them in plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”
And here I must add a bit of sweet smell: for this is what Attar said (as you are aware he used to sell perfume) before becoming a sufi. This couplet in Persian is inscribed in a Shaivite temple in Kashmir.
“Heresay to the heretic
And religion to the orthodox;
But the dust of the rose petal
Belongs to the heart of the
It is now time not to speak in praise of one’s own faith – but see and speak of the goodness of other faiths. How beautiful it would be for the Padre to sing sufi hymns, for the sant to delve deep into the mysteries of Islam, Zoroastrianism and Christianity, for the Buddhist to understand that apart from pure rationality that leads to an acceptance of a God and to willingly believe the strengths of faith that lead us to believe in God.
Brothers and sisters – the time is for a clarion call for universal brotherhood, as a poet said:
“Kaantonkizubaansookhgayipyaas se yarab
Ekaablapaavaadiyapurkhar main aave.”
This valley of thorns needs the nourishment of love. And if we do not – let me caution that religion will lose out: the winds of atheism and agnosticism will challenge established dogma. There are enough modern thinkers like Richard Dawkins who are leading the movement towards atheism and fast challenging the established orders.
Therefore my plea to you here today is to convert this into a Congress of Religions and come up with guidance that can provide balm to our disturbed world. Under the guidance of His Holiness may the discourse over these 2 days become a threshold for homogeneous thought. There is no other human in the world today other than His Holiness who is more suited to fight for unity of mankind, a symmetry of thought in religions, and to make this planet a better place to live. So let us all bask in his divine light as we tread this difficult path. We live in hope that man will indeed prove itself as “AshraffulMaqluqat” – influenced by higher thought.
I am humbled and deeply honoured for having got this opportunity to speak to such a distinguished gathering. My family and I have been recipients of enormous affection from His Holiness and we are indeed blessed. I hope that under his shadow your deliberations will bear true fruit. Thank you very much for your time.