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Speeches

S. Shantatmananda: Address to World Summit 2020

Address to World Summit 2020, Seoul, Korea, February 3-8, 2020

 

In spite of modernization and advancement boasted by the march of science and technology, we are witnessing extremely turbulent and disturbed times. The entire humankind appears to be torn asunder by innumerable conflicts. Humanity is in dire need of finding a way of peaceful and meaningful coexistence.

Is it possible to usher in peace and harmony based on values shared by humanity as a whole? That is a big question before us. Even animals living in the forest seem to be more orderly and methodical in their functioning. Human beings somehow seem to come up with ever so many reasons for getting into conflicts resulting in war, death and destruction.

In this regard, religions, although they themselves contribute to such conflicts, can show the way, if understood and practiced truthfully. In this context I wish to place before this august assembly a few ideas from the point of view of Hinduism, particularly the Ramakrishna Vivekananda tradition. 

Incidentally, I represent the Ramakrishna Mission, an internationally renowned charitable, philanthropic and religious organization which was established by Swami Vivekananda more than 120 years ago. Swami Vivekananda was the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, a 19th century mystic who discovered path-breaking ideas of religious harmony. These were not mere theoretical ideas but were statements of his own spiritual realizations. Although he was born as a traditional orthodox Hindu, he practiced the religious traditions of several other faiths, such as Christianity, Islam, etc., and discovered that all paths ultimately lead to the same goal. He emphasized that religion is realization. Thus, the emphasis should be on practice, or sadhana, and not on philosophy. 

The idea that all religions lead to or reveal the same Ultimate Truth is also echoed in the vision statement of Hinduism, Ekam Sad Viprah Bahudha Vadanti, meaning “Truth is one; the sages or the men of wisdom call it variously.”

Another major or important dimension of Hinduism is that religion is not separate or is not something to be practiced apart from the other important aspects of daily life. In Hinduism religion is all-inclusive. It also believes in the idea Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, i.e., “the whole world is a family.” This, in effect, means that the people of the world are intimately and inextricably related to one another.

Again, all the major religions of the world, perhaps all of them, believe that the world is the creation of God and all of us are created by that Supreme Power. Thus, irrespective of one’s religious belief, the entire humanity is one huge family in which all the members are related to each other. This idea, while not ruling out the scope for individual prosperity or growth, makes it mandatory to share and care, since one cannot afford to see one’s own brothers and sisters suffering in poverty and deprivation. 

Of course, it is true that religion is one of the major motivating factors for philanthropy in the whole world. The charitable initiatives of most of the countries of the world are largely supported by people with a religious bent of mind. So religions can really be a common basis for ushering in peace and harmony in this world by welfare initiatives. Today it is not only religious difference or intolerance, but several other factors like ethnicity, territorial ambition, economic aspirations, etc., that are causes for disharmony and loss of peace.  In such a context it is possible to initiate meaningful measures for ushering in peace through a proper understanding and practice of religious values.

Family values have an important role in Hinduism. There are several slokas in Sanskrit extolling the merits of parents. It is the tradition to worship father and mother virtually as gods. They are to be respected under all circumstances. The ancient traditions of Hinduism also encourage joint families, the brothers and their families living together. Such large families automatically bring a sense of restraint and also the virtue of sharing and caring. The needs of young children as well as elderly parents are always given preference. The others have to adjust. Such family setups ensure a better social order in which people learn to practice the virtues of sacrifice and service. 

Hinduism also enjoins upon its followers five types of obligations such as caring for elders, caring for guests, caring for animals, etc. We are sure that similar ideas are strewn across all religious tenets. Exposure to and understanding such values in different religions can ensure a better atmosphere of peace and harmony in the society. In fact, people need not look beyond their own religion for such virtues. The important texts of every religion emphasize the practice of such qualities. 

But today we are facing a major problem in the world in the sense that people as a class are moving away from religion. It is here that the religious leaders of different faiths have a major role to play. Of course, harmony among religions is very important, but perhaps much more important is intra-faith harmony, or harmony among followers of the same religion. Perhaps even more important is the need to bring people back to religion. The faith in any religion automatically brings into focus many humanitarian values which, if practiced, will result in tremendous peace and harmony in this world.

 

 


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