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S. Goswami: The Dalliance of Religions, in Service of Humanity

Sixth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
“Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values”
Bali, Indonesia, August 29-30, 2014

Address at a

Side Event of Universal Peace Federation
"Unity and Diversity among Religions: Building Trust and Cooperation through Interreligious Dialogue"

I am grateful to the UN Alliance of Civilizations under the leadership of H.E. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser for conceiving the theme “Unity in Diversity: Celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values” and getting us all here to deliberate "upon the strategies and practical measures that generate and sustain common values and a shared sense of responsibility among all stakeholders, partners and constituencies."

As a humble pilgrim to this forum, I bring greetings from India, a welcome home to the family of various civilizations. As a Hindu member of that multi-faith Indian family, I especially feel privileged, on behalf of over one billion Hindus, to greet and honor my sisters and brothers from all over the world.

India and the Hindus welcomed various civilizations for several millennia and thus in the process became greatly enriched themselves. India became the cradle of ideas and innovations and prospered politically, economically, culturally and spiritually. The willingness to dialogue became an overall growth engine for the Hindus and India as expressed in these words: "The mean-hearted discriminate between mine and others, the large-hearted regard the whole earth as home to one family."

This large-heartedness has a history behind it, and it is a long history of first encountering, then dialoging, and finally sharing with the other. The ongoing encounter with almost all major cultures is the unique source of strength for India and the Hindus.

In that context I also bring very, very special greetings from my hometown of Vrindavan. This most popular Hindu pilgrimage center, dedicated to god as Krishna, is located 100 km south of Delhi, India's national capital.

Ironically, in the Middle Ages, this ancient holy town was lost from memory as a geographical entity! In the beginning of the 16th century a great visionary and saint, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, came here. He found it as a barren piece of land without its legendary temples and gardens. Pained but not discouraged, he entrusted the job of recreating the holy land of Krishna to six apostles, known as gosvamis, my forefathers. In this team of resurrectors three came from Islamic background!

These religious leaders, under the guidance of Caitanya, entered into a dialogue with the state: the Hindu chieftains and the Muslim monarch. This was a comprehensive dialogue, a dialogue between two major religions, Hinduism and Islam, on one hand, and between religious and political powers on the other.

This unique alliance of Indian and non-Indian cultures resulted in the creation of Vrindavan. This Hindu “Vatican” or “Mecca” is the gift of the Mughal emperor Akbar to Hindu religious leaders. This daring inter-religious dialogue resulted in economic prosperity, philosophical richness, literary creativity, and artistic and architectural splendor. Thanks to the Vrindavan experience, the 16th and 17th centuries became an era of peace, prosperity and development in India.

If a dialogue, specially the interreligious kind, could be so creative and positive in my context, there must be many such stories in each culture and religion. We need to share them more and more. These stories do not belong to past alone, they could and should happen now. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized, "The challenge is to act now."

Hindu culture or civilization, mostly perceived as "religious," is primarily concerned about a knowledge system which can envision, systematize and apply common values for sustaining humanity without discrimination. These values and processes have been enumerated variously, but there is a universal acceptance of values such as truth, compassion, non-violence, love, service, equitable distribution of economic and natural resources, etc. These values and processes, called dharma, are the foundation of our common human civilization. Different cultures and religions then work out these universal values in their own ways. Under the Hindu umbrella there are a variety of religious experiences, which are in response to various challenges in different times and contexts. Each culture provides its own meaning to these common, universal values.

In the context of Hindu dharma, unity in diversity is not an act of steamrolling the variety of human experiences and expressions. Rather, it is a humble and respectful acceptance of the uniqueness of the others. Unity is meaningful so long as we have the spiritual courage to not deny the differences. Hinduism is fundamentally a celebration of variety, and it proclaims that "Truth is one, the wise speak of it in different ways."

I am grateful also to the people and the government of Indonesia for hosting this global forum. Who could be a better host than the Indonesians, whose national commitment is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (in English "Unity in Diversity")? Why this diversity? As the Hindus say and is repeatedly emphasized by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "No one person, organization or nation has the total answer to human suffering." We all have to come together, and to work together we have to talk to each other. From this dialogue the best knowledge system will emerge.

Lastly, I am grateful to the Universal Peace Federation for organizing this particular event focusing upon the role of religions. UPF believes that by recognizing the religious factor as it plays out in the lives of individuals and societies and even nations, one is in a better position to understand the peoples and practices of diverse civilizations. Such understanding may lead to respect, appreciation and cooperation. For this reason, inter-religious dialogue is extremely important as a means to promote peace and development in a world of diverse worldviews. To build an alliance of civilizations, the religious factor is important and should be understood respectfully for its relevance and significance.

The Universal Peace Federation is fully dedicated and committed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as the key for peace and prosperity. Under the guidance of its visionary founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon, UPF pushed the boundaries of dialogue to bring scientists, artists, politicians, economists, journalists, women and specially the youth to dialogically engage with each other. UPF might have not succeeded in removing the walls between the talking partners, but they have certainly created doors and windows in those walls. Let the walls of uniqueness of each culture and civilization remain, so long as there are doors and windows for the free flow of ideas and human values, in accordance with our saying: "Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions." But it is not a one-way movement. Indonesian President Yudhoyono rightly points out that compassion should also flow out through these doors and windows.

This Sixth Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations in Bali proves the fact that due to dialogical process we have conceptually moved away from the clash of civilizations to the alliance of civilizations. At this historic gathering let us all dream and resolve in the serenity and peace of Bali that this alliance matures into a dalliance (dialogical alliance) of civilizations.

However, I am also aware of that there are many obstacles in the path of that dalliance. We get strength from the prayer of Caitanya Mahaprabhu:

Let us be
More humble than a blade of grass,
As forbearing as a tree,
Having no conceit,
Always respecting others.

One should always praise the Lord. Aum Shantih! Aum Svastih!

Acharya Sri Shrivatsa Goswami, Director, Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana, is a member of an eminent family of spiritual leaders and scholars at Sri Radharamana Mandir, Vrindaban. His writings on Vaisnavism, Krishna, Radha and the Hare Krishna movement have been published by the University Presses of Princeton, Berkeley and others. He is the editor of the forthcoming volume on Chaitanya for the Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophy published by the American Institute of Indian Studies. He is the Director of Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana, an Institute of Vaisnava culture and studies at Vrindaban, whose Vraja Research Project is sponsored by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts of the Government of India. Pope Benedict XVI invited him to represent Hindu tradition at the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer at Assisi in October 2011.