I had the opportunity to participate in several interfaith seminars at local and national levels. Scholars belonging to different religions speak eloquently to establish the positive aspects of their faith with innumerable references from their holy scriptures. At the end of all such seminars both speakers and organisers feel happy. The content of the speeches are published with colourful photographs and circulated for further publicity.
A few days ago I had another opportunity to participate in a panel session on peace and harmony. It was a gathering of over five hundred young students and their animators who had come from all parts of India. Speakers belonged to Christian, Hindu and Islam faith. All speakers presented several positive aspects of their faith based on their respective holy scriptures. It was indeed a very inspiring and enlightening experience. After the presentation by each speaker the house was opened for questions and interaction by the participants. Initially I thought that the presentation of the scholarly adults was beyond the grasp of the school students. However I was pleasantly surprised to see the active participation of the students with intelligent questions.
They questioned the hypocrisy of the priestly class of all religions, commercialization of religion and overemphasis of rituals at the cost of spiritual values of justice, dignity of women and equality of the oppressed sections of the society. The scholarly speakers at times were not able to give satisfactory answers to the youth.
Every time I hear the eloquent talks by experts about the values of peace, brotherhood and humanity taught by the founders of all religions and recorded in the Holy Scriptures I get upset because a vast majority of these expert speakers do not raise their voice when a small group of fundamentalists take control of the religion. This small minority of fundamentalists not only misinterpret the scriptures but also act as the ultimate authority of the religion.
The elite intellectuals who consider themselves liberals in their own respective religions and eloquent in the drawing room discussion and seminars in the security of institutions remain indifferent and do not speak out. The authors, artists and a handful of celebrities who protested against the fundamentalism and intolerance of the fringe groups of Hindutva stopped talking when they faced criticism from politicians and sycophants of the Government. A former editor and senior journalist who used to write fearlessly against the corrupt politicians and the wrong policies of the government stopped writing. Most of them remain silent and passive for fear of being accused of sedition, anti-national.
The liberals of all religions do not speak up against the fundamentalists who hijack their religion. Silence and passivity of the liberals and intellectuals empower and embolden the fundamentalist forces in every religion. Silence and passivity of ‘the righteous’ is more dangerous than all the violence inflicted by the fundamentalists.
Fundamentalism, commercialisation and misuse of religion by politicians will end only when the large number of liberals of each religion and community make their opinion loud and clear without fear of any adverse situations. What these liberals speak so eloquently in the seminar halls should be spoken in public meetings and media. They should be fearlessly communicated in all possible ways.
The indifference of the vast majority of good people in the society is responsible for the increasing crimes, corruption and exploitation in the country.
As the adult intellectuals suffer from cowardice, the youth is the hope of the society. The youth is open to new ideas and embrace truth promptly. They should be given opportunity to explore and experiment the power of spirituality which is beyond institutional religion controlled by priestly class. Youth has the power to break the walls of religion, caste and other small identities which block divine manifestation. During the convention I could witness this natural and spontaneous flow of the divine from the hearts of the young people which I always witnessed in all the training sessions of the youth in the Universal Solidarity Movement also. The young people not only easily understand the distinction between the religiosity of rituals and spirituality of values but act promptly to break the walls of division and exclusion. Youth understand and accept the radical expression of RELIGIONLESS SPIRITUALITY which is the way of peace and universal solidarity. Many years ago Dr. S. Radhakrishnan rightly said, “This place would be much more religious if all religions go”.
Interreligious fellowship cannot be realized by talks but by living. The success of Universal Solidarity Movement is its community living with persons of diverse faith, culture and language. This integral and interreligious community living for a common vision convinces the youth of the possibility of creating a world of unity and fellowship breaking down all the walls. The urgent need is to multiply USM model of spiritual communities and movements where youth can touch and experience spirituality of values without the burden of priests, dogma and opium of rituals.(Published on 14th May 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 20)