February 10, 2011, Mumbai: At times when the world is traumatized by religious conflicts and tensions, it was heart-rendering to see Radhanath Swami take the initiative to meet eminent religious leaders and work towards spreading the message of love and peace. Radhanath Swami participated in an interfaith conference on ‘Decline of morality in public life: Role of religion in restoring it” organized by by K.J. Somaiya College. The Somaiya trust is one of the largest educational trusts in India with 34 institutes and 27,000 students.
The dialogue brought together members from the highest order of the Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths. H.E. Oswald Cardinal Gracias, H.E. Archbishop Felix Machado, H.E. Salvatore Pennacchio and H.E. Cardinal Murphy-O’ Connor represented Christianity. H.H. Radhanath Swami and Pandit Vidyasimhacaharya Mahuli represented Hinduism, and Prof. Advocate Ashraf Ahmed Shaikh and Maulana Abdul Malik represented Islam. It was attended by over 500 students and guests. During the informal get together before the conference, Radhanath Swami spent time with the dignitaries, sharing and learning from the rich cultures of the world.
“If religion is for peace and unity why have there been so many discords because of it?” challenged a concerned young man, in his early twenties. With gravity and compassion, Radhanath Swami echoed the teachings of the great spiritual teachers of the past, “strife and friction are caused when we understand only the letter of the religious law but ignore the spirit behind it. Unity and brotherhood of mankind can happen when we transcend the external differences and focus on the spiritual essence of all great traditions.” He highlighted the essence of every religion to be ‘sincerity in cleansing our own hearts, and cultivating humility by honoring every living entity as a child of God’.
His Eminence Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor from the Vatican, a former President of the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales implored the audience to cultivate the qualities of charity, forgiveness and compassion. He urged the audience to unite to form a culture of love and peace. His Eminence Archbishop Felix Machado emphasized that deep friendship amongst people of different religious faith is possible when we live by the principles taught by our respective paths. He recalled the appeal of Pope Benedict 16th on the urgent need to build bridges of friendship.
Prof. Advocate Ashraf Ahmed Shaikh, advocate and prominent social activist, Mumbai, and Maulana Abdul Malik, head of Islamic Studies in Bharuch, Gujarat, presented the Islamic concern for serving and caring for neighbors. Maulana Malik also revealed the Koranic call for fear of God which can bring about the highest degree of morality and honesty amongst human beings.
Radhanath Swami began his address with an instructive incident from his personal life. As an eight-year-old child, he learned about his parents’ decision to separate, and this caused him great pain and confusion. Seeing his distraught condition, his parents resolved their differences and committed to stay together for the sake of their children. He recalled that when his mother had passed away a few years ago, she had been married to his father for fifty-eight years. Applying the same principle to spirituality, he highlighted that religious leaders are like parents to their congregations and they need to resolve their conflicts on the basis of higher principles.
The interfaith conference also saw Radhanath Swami brilliantly draw parallels from the Holy Bible and the Indian classic, Srimad Bhagavatam. He observed that in his study of various religions of the world, he had found the essence to be the same: “to love God with one’s mind, heart and soul”, as stated in the first commandment of the Holy Bible. He then quoted ancient Sanskrit verses to reveal the same principle taught in the Vedic literatures from the East. “A truly spiritual person is one who always seeks the essence everywhere, in everyone and in every situation”, says Radhanath Swami.
Radhanath Swami quoted his guru who said that real religion is not about being a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian, Jew or a Jain or a Parsee. Real religion is about loving God, and being an instrument of His compassion to everyone at every stage of our life. He put it succinctly, “True religion is about transforming arrogance into humility, greed into generosity, hate into love, vengeance into forgiveness, and selfishness into selflessness.”
He also presented the teachings of Lord Caitanya who taught that one should be humble like a blade of grass, tolerant like a tree, eager to offer all respect to others and not expect respect for oneself. In this mood one could chant God’s names forever. He then shared a similar teaching of Lord Jesus on the mount, near the Sea of Galilee, “Blessed are the humble, the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God and blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” He drove home the point of seeking the essence through a striking example of a dog which can recognize his master in whatever attire he or she may be dressed. “If we cannot recognize the truth and God, when He appears in different ways to different people at different times, then we have so much to learn from the dog,” observed Radhanath Swami.
Replying to a student’s question on balancing morality with the competition to succeed in this world, he brought up the fundamental need of every living being to love and be loved. Much suffering in this world is due to placing value in our lives of on quantity over quality. He then posed a thought-provoking question: “Which is a more powerful motivating force, greed or love? A mother is willing to sacrifice everything with full enthusiasm, 24 hours a day, for her child, simply because of her love. Similarly if we actually love God and thereby all living beings, and we work motivated by that force of love, we will excel beyond all our limitations because we will work for a purpose that is deeply fulfilling to the heart.
Radhanath Swami concluded his talk by sharing a secret, “The motivation to serve God and humanity is the secret to gaining power, enthusiasm and fearlessness to fulfill our duties in this world.”
The five hundred plus audience felt hope and promise as they witnessed a special and sweet camaraderie shared by the eminent dignitaries. Radhanath Swami joined the honorable leaders at the lunch program after the conference. Mr. Samir Somaiya, the Chairman of the Somaiya Trust hosted the program.
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