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September 30 2013 19:00 | Parish church of Ognissanti

Dialogue Among Religions: Sikh Perspective

I am grateful to the organizers of this International Meeting for Prayer for Peace for inviting me to the holy city of Rome and reviving my old association with the Community. It is a matter of satisfaction and fulfillment for those of us working for peace and interfaith dialogue that the sapling planted by H.H. Pope John Paul II during the Prayer for Peace held at Assisi on 27th October, 1986, has grown into a fruit bearing tree providing food for thought to the believers in East and West. What distinguishes the Community of Sant’Egidio from other international interfaith organisations is the fact that they not only pray for peace but also translate their prayers into action.  As we all know Prof. Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community, made personal efforts to appeal to the leaders of G-20 meeting at St.Petersburg to persuade them to avoid possible war over Syria.  God seems to have answered Community’s prayers and we see clouds of war vanishing from the Syrian land.
Being a student of history I would like to draw your kind attention to the two powerful models of progress that we watched in the twentieth century – the Marxian model and the Capitalist model. Not many of us could have imagined that the Marxian model would collapse so soon and a country as powerful as the Soviet Union would disintegrate before the start of the new century. I distinctly recall these issues being raised during a function in Moscow in 1987 organized by the Ministry of External Affairs of the then Soviet Union to mark thousand years of the establishment of oldest Orthodox Church of Belarusian. After sharing my thoughts about the model of Society established by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh faith, I pointed out that while Sikhs voluntarily share food with others because they believe that food belongs to the Lord and serving is the privilege of those to whom the Lord has provided in plenty.  In the Marxian model, resources are shared not voluntarily but under state’s diktat, which is quite different from the concept of voluntary sharing and serving the poor. I also committed the heresy by pointing out that the system, which was not based on justice and social responsibility, had no moral basis and was bound to collapse.  Such remarks in those days of pre-Glasnost Soviet Union created some sort of commotion amongst the gathering. Realizing the sensitivity of the situation, I tried to quickly wriggle out without any further elaboration or debate.
*Member, National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions, Government of India
Now that those who support the Capitalist model of society are celebrating the collapse of the Marxian model, I might be committing another heresy by pointing out that the Capitalist model, which is now fast emerging as a dominant model in a unipolar world would also collapse the same way as there is no fear of God and sense of responsibility. India has a strong tradition of sense of responsibility towards other members of the society.  The best example in this behalf can be given from the life of Mahatma Gandhi during his stay with Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad.  In the morning Gandhi asked for a bowl of water for morning ablution.  Nehru laughed saying that he was in a city with confluence of rivers and water was available in plenty.  Mindful of responsibility towards others Gandhi pointed out that while using water for ablution one should be conscious of the fact that there were millions of others who do not have clean water to drink.   It will be relevant to point out that since the first prayer for peace launched by H.H. Pope John Paul II at Assisi and subsequent meetings have been taking up various issues concerning welfare of humanity. Especially noteworthy is the effort of the Community in running soup kitchens for the poor and providing relief to the refugees.
This afternoon I will be sharing with you some thoughts about peaceful co-existence among different religious traditions in India which is not only home to four indigenous traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism - but has happily accepted other traditions like Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism as well.  The Bahais’ facing persecution in the country of their origin have made India their home and have erected a beautiful temple in Delhi known as the Lotus Temple. Since his exile from Tibet in 1959, H.H. the Dalai Lama and millions of his Buddhist followers have made India their home. It will be important to mention that Christianity came to India much before the British rule and British missionaries associated with the faith. Saint Thomas, popularly known as Sant Talumba, brought Christ’s message of love to Kerala, the Southern part of India in 56 A.D. Similarly, Islam’s message of equality and love was brought to India by the Sufi Saints much before the establishment of Mughal rule.
Since I have been invited to represent the Sikh faith I will share Sikh religion’s spirit of tolerance and interfaith dialogue with the audience this afternoon.
Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism was born at a time when the Indian society was passing through difficult times created by communal divide.  After his enlightenment Guru Nanak uttered prophetic words ‘Na ko Hindu, Na Musalman, meaning thereby that the labels of Hindu and Muslim were given by the society to men and women who were essentially children of one Father. Accompanied by Mardana, Nanak, the Guru, set out on long spiritual journeys to preach his message of love. He travelled to different parts of India and neighbouring countries and visited religious centres of the Hindus and the Muslims. Realizing the religious diversity of India the Guru emphasized the essential unity of faiths through the medium of dialogue. “So long as one lives in the world one should first listen to others before uttering one’s sermon”, said Nanak. His travels in India took him to Banaras, the holy city of the Hindus, and further east of Assam. He travelled to the north as far as Tibet where Buddhism was practiced. According to popular stories Buddhists monks were so impressed by the teaching of Nanak that they reverently called him Nanak Lama.
Two stories illustrating the way Guru Nanak made a point can bear repetition. In Haridwar he found devotees offering water in the direction of the rising sun which was intended to reach the spirits of their deceased ancestors. He joined the group but, scooping the water in his hands, threw it vigorously in the opposite direction. When questioned, he replied that surely by the same logic it should reach his fields in the Punjab which lay west. And in Mecca he was berated for being disrespectful because his feet pointed in the direction of the Ka’aba, where the Faithful believe God resides. He apologized, and asked that his feet be turned away to whichever direction where God was not present. It is important to emphasize that Guru Nanak was clearly emphasizing the omnipresence of the Creator without expressing any disrespect or dissention.
The spirit of inter-faith dialogue and co-operation is at its best in the Guru Granth Sahibwherein the fifth Guru created emotional unity of India by including hymns from Guru Nanak and his successors as also those of the Hindu Bhaktas including some of the so-called low castes and the Mulsim saints. In a Gurdwara when a devotee bows before the Holy Book, he bows before the corporate body of the Guru Granth Sahib and not before the hymns of any particular Guru, Bhakta or Saint. Ardas, the Sikh prayer, ends on this altruistic note:
Nanak nam charddi Kala tere bhane sarbatt ka bhala.
Thy Name, Thy Glory, be forever triumphant, Nanak, and, in Thy Will, may peace and prosperity come to one and all.

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