In this world, different religions came into existence and spread over the centuries. They have different scriptures, different philosophies and different practices.
On one hand, religions have given mankind the message of peace and harmony and also have contributed immensely to the well-being of humanity by encouraging different acts of charity, such as building schools, orphanages and hospitals and promoting art, architecture, sculpture and literature. On the other hand, in the name of religion, people have spilled innocent blood and raised fumes and fires of destruction. Thus, sometimes religions have become one of the major causes for dissension, division and conflict.
With this background and his prudence and insight, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, explored the possibilities of sharing together the areas of convergence and divergence in religions by organising the Congresses of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions so as to establish a bond of fraternity among their followers. He looks forward to building a new world of peace and safety for all by bringing leaders of different faiths on one single platform. In his speech in the first Congress he said, “The diversity of faiths indeed is not a disadvantage; instead it is a priceless gift, thanks to which there is mutual enrichment and spiritual development.”
Religions, as S. Radhakrishnan, the second President of India pointed out, are like manifold dialects through which we can speak to God and God can speak to us. He wrote, “Religion speaks to us in many dialects. It has diverse complexions. And yet it has one true voice, the voice of compassion, of mercy, of patient love. And we must do all we can to listen to that voice.”
The Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions is the initiative of President Nazarbayev. It is a platform for interreligious dialogue, which is a pressing need of the hour.
The world in which we live ought to be a happy home for one and all. The Yajurveda says, “Let the world be one single nest for all its inhabitants.” If it is under the shadow of war, pierced by affliction, oppression, torture and pain, none can enjoy life which is worth living.
One can understand that world peace is not something that can be established permanently once and for all. It is like hunger which once satiated rises again. Efforts are constantly made to see that one gets his bread every day. Similarly, for maintaining world peace, people should go to great pains to achieve it. It is a shared responsibility. Much is talked about world peace, but only a few noble souls such as Mahatma Gandhi walk the path they talk about.
The idea of bringing together the leaders of different faiths on one single platform is in itself a beautiful dream come true, a dream which humankind perhaps would have never seen before. It is encouraging to come across political leaders like President Nazarbayev who realise the potential of religious leaders in guiding human society.
Interfaith dialogue takes place on various levels, such as dialogue between academicians, dialogue between religious leaders, dialogue between lay persons, etc. Among these, the dialogue between religious leaders has a special significance. People at large have faith in religious leaders and they rigorously follow what they say. Political leaders, with their power to envisage and implement the policies for a nation, have the unique opportunity to meet religious leaders in these congress meetings which give space for mutual exchange on critical and urgent issues. Thus the sacred and secular powers come closer as pilgrims of peace to build bridges for inner and outer peace in the world.
With these and similar efforts, we, the followers of different religions, should make a resolution to help the fearful become fearless, the oppressed free from pain, the insecure feel secure, and the weak become strong; then, we can envisage that the dawn of peaceful coexistence is not far.
Saint Jnaneshvara, in his commentary on the Bhagavadgita, popularly known as Jnaneshvari, prays to God with the following words:
“May the sinners no longer commit evil deeds; may their desire to do good increase and may all beings live in harmony with one another. May the darkness of sin disappear, may the world see the rising of the sun of righteousness and may the desires of all creatures be fulfilled. May everyone be in the company of saints devoted to God, who will shower their blessings on them. Saints are walking gardens filled with wish-fulfilling trees and they are living abodes of wish-fulfilling gems. Their words are like oceans of nectar. They are moons without blemish and suns without heat. May these saints be the friends of all people.”
The congress meetings give the opportunity to be in the company of noble souls who, without any selfish motive, work for making the world a better place to live in.
The author is the director of K.J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham.