Honest and bold dialogue can completely reverse wrong views and erroneous perceptions held over millennia...
Leaders of every religion need to be informed about the basics, vision and beliefs of other religious traditions
BY SWAMI DAYANANDA SARASWATI (New Indian Express, 9 March 2008)
An extraordinary inter-faith meet between Hindu and Jewish religious leaders - an event with the potential to pioneer a paradigm shift from conflict to harmony among all religions - took place at Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago. The historic meet emphasised and illustrated the importance of honest dialogue between any two religious traditions to resolve seemingly irresolvable differences.
Last year Hindu and Jewish religious leaders, representing the two oldest traditions in the world, commenced an inter-religious dialogue in New Delhi. Following that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the delegation from the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha held the second round of interreligious dialogue at Jerusalem in February 2008.
The Jerusalem meet concluded with a landmark declaration that Hindus worship ‘one supreme being' and are not really idolatrous.
The implications of this are profound in content and far-reaching in effect.
Judaism was born of the complete repudiation of idol worship and rabbinic literature abounds with denunciations of idolatry in an entire tractate of the Talmud devoted to this.
The importance of this issue in Jewish and other Abrahamic traditions cannot be overstated. Since its first encounter with these religions, and due to their incomplete understand ing of its Sastras, Hinduism has been perceived by them as idolatrous and promoting many gods. The Hindus have for centuries experienced the extremely violent consequences of this wrong perception. The historic declaration made at the Hindu-Jewish summit at Jerusalem on February 18, 2008 sets at rest the wrong notion that Hinduism is idolatrous.
The declaration reads:
‘It is recognised that one supreme being in its formless and manifest aspects has been worshipped by Hindus over the millennia. The Hindu relates to only the one supreme being when he/she prays to a particular manifestation. This does not mean that Hindus worship ‘gods' and ‘idols'.' The Jewish leaders, in so many words, owned their perception of the Hindu tradition as erroneous and came up with the declaration which the Hindu delegation could happily accept. This establishes that honest and bold dialogue can completely reverse wrong views and erroneous perceptions held over millennia. It emphasises that leaders of every religion need to be informed about the basics, vision and beliefs of other religious traditions.
In India Hindus not only gave sanctuary to the Jews when they were hounded out all over the world but also gave them the freedom to pursue their religion with dignity. Yet their notion, entirely due to a wrong perception, that Hindus worship many gods without one supreme being and that they are idolators remained, with the result their theological conflict with Hinduism was seen as irreconcilable. Now after an honest and open dialogue they have realised that the accommodating heart of a Hindu is born of his/her acceptance of one Supreme Being who is invoked in many ways and in many forms by different faiths including theirs.
In fact, the crux of the problem was no doubt the worship of forms.
When they understood that no form is separate from Isvara and the particular form enshrined in a temple is but an altar of worship, they did not see any real issue to contend with. They were visibly relieved and thanked the delegation for removing the wrong perception held for more than two thousand years.
Once the fundamental misconception was removed, the Rabbinate, not surprisingly, also affirmed the following declaration on the sensitive issue of the svastika, the sacred symbol for the Hindus:
‘The svastika is an ancient and auspicious symbol of the Hindu tradition.
It is inscribed on Hindu temples, ritual altars, entrances and even account books. A distorted version of this sacred symbol was misappropriated by the Third Reich in Germany and abused as an emblem under which heinous crimes were perpetrated against humanity, particularly the Jewish people. The participants recognise that this symbol is, and has been for millennia, sacred to Hindus, long before its misappropriation.'
The importance of this affirmation may be understood from the fact that a Hindu temple in Detroit was van dalised a few years ago by the Jewish community offended by a huge svastika rangoli at the entrance of the temple.
Another critical element in the declaration is the acceptance that all faiths are sacred and inviolable and that religious conversion is in itself violence. If all faiths, particularly the Abrahamic family of faiths, accept this declaration the fundamental cause of religious disharmony will be gone for good. Several other and significant issues were discussed at the summit, leading to mutual understanding.
Leaders of both religions came out of the mutually enriching meeting, wiser.
I write about this meeting and its outcome because it sets a new bar for inter-religious dialogue. To ferret out what is common in our traditions and agree that we have some common ground is not enough; it is not enough to skirt around tough issues and "agree to disagree". No, to be beneficial to all, to foster enrichment rather than impoverishment of our religious traditions, dialogue must be conducted on the points of intersection of our conflicts with ruthless honesty. We should have the courage to probe, question, listen and even agonise if we have to, but never shirk. Above all, the dialogue must be rooted in the deepest and most comprehensive grasp of the scriptures of the respective faiths.
Dialogue is the ancient Hindu model for promoting mutual understanding of religious truth and avoiding or resolving conflicts between faiths. Dialogue between enlightened leaders of the faiths prevents the differences among them from spilling on to the streets and turning into uncontrollable issues. That was how in this ancient nation religious harmony was conceptualised, promoted and sustained for thousands of years.
Now this needs to be globalised for promoting peace among religions.
The only means to conflict avoidance and resolution is dialogue among different religions. The Global Foundation for Civilisational Harmony [GFCH] which was inaugurated by His Holiness Dalai Lama in January 2008 in Delhi, and in which some well-known religious and spiritual leaders of different faiths participated, has a very significant role to play to bring about this healthy understanding among religions. The GFCH needs to organise meaningful dialogue between leaders of different religious traditions and help remove wrong perceptions arising from an absence of true understanding of each other's faiths, paving the way for harmony and mutual respect among religions. All religious faiths and religious leaders must extend their whole-hearted support to this great initiative.
Hindu-Jewish Leadership Summit
An important inter-civilizational initiative taken on behalf of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha, the Voice of Collective Hindu Consciousness, is the interaction at the apex level between the Jewish religious leadership and members of the Acharya Sabha. This became possible due to the efforts of the Convener of the Acharya Sabha, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and the active cooperation of the World Council of Religious Leaders. The purpose of this interaction is to promote mutual understanding of and respect for the two most ancient and continuing civilizational, cultural and religious traditions as a step towards world harmony. The first Meet under this initiative took place at New Delhi in February 2007, hosted by the Acharya Sabha.
The reciprocal Hindu-Jewish leadership Summit took place in Jerusalem in February 2008, hosted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the American Jewish Committee.
It was accompanied by scholars from both sides assisting in the discussions and the enclosed Joint Declaration was issued at the end of the Summit.
Page 1/2 Hindu-Jewish summmit: declaration, Feb. 2008
Page 2/2 Hindu-Jewish summit: declaration, Feb. 2008.