UNESCO & Cardinal Paul Poupard Foundation
International Symposium 2015-2016
Relevance of Religion
St. Andrew’s College, Bandra
Concept Note: It is a fact that the world is changing rapidly, and this is not something new. Change is the changeless law of the world. History shows that every time there was a massive change, the great phenomenon influenced the lives of millions. However, the fundamental principles of living have always remained unchanged. Religion has played its role in the past. The question is whether religion will be of any consequence in the coming millennium. What will be its position? Will it have any relevance in the future way of life? If it has any relevance, then what form will it take?
The relevance of a thing is determined by the need and purpose it serves. Man is not just a physical being. He has thoughts, emotions and has a keen sense of aesthetics. Hence philosophy, along with science, art, music and dance, will continue to be relevant. When one thinks in this way, one will understand that religion will also remain relevant for all times. The question is what is religion. What role does it play in one’s life and what is its need? Religion has the following three aspects:
Philosophy means the vision of Truth. It is the vision of the entire life. This aspect will be relevant for all those who are the seekers of Truth. It is observed that everybody is not merely interested in food, clothing and shelter, vain entertainment or sensual pleasures. There have been many seekers from time immemorial who renounced all material objects and went in search of Truth.
The seekers came from different backgrounds of society. These are the people who have an intense longing for knowing the Truth. Religion fulfils this demand of such seekers at the highest level. The purpose of religion is to enlighten people about their own nature and the nature of the Absolute Truth. Hence, as long as there are seekers of Truth and a religion that fulfils their demand, religion will always remain relevant.
This is a very important aspect of religion. These values keep the society integrated and in harmony. The health of a society that is made up of individuals depends upon the quality of education. Education not only involves gaining knowledge and the skill to apply this knowledge in life, but it also includes understanding the purpose of applying this knowledge. After the completion of the medical course, even the doctors take an oath that they will use their knowledge to serve the society. All knowledge that one gathers should be used to enrich and serve the society. Earlier, the idea of business was, how to make profit for oneself, but now people have realized that one cannot make a profit without taking care of the customer’s interest. In the beginning there was management by force and authority, but now it is slowly changing to management by love. This is an aspect of religion. For all moral and ethical values, the basis is the vision of oneness of the Self, which is gained through religion. However materialistic a society may become, it will have to abide by the principle of ‘live and let live’. As one looks upon one’s own happiness, one will have to look upon the other person’s happiness too. When one deceives someone else, one is deceiving one’s own self.
Therefore, one should have these moral values of life. Otherwise, one’s own existence will be in danger. These values will always remain relevant. Without this aspect of religion, there cannot be any peace, harmony and integration in society.
Rituals are a demonstration of the philosophical vision. Customs and traditions are also derived from the same vision. There is a great deal of potential for changes, variation, addition and subtraction in this aspect of religion. All cannot understand the vision theoretically. They require demonstrations. Many rituals came into existence to demonstrate the vision. When people follow them, they will want to know what they are doing and can thus slowly turn their mind towards the highest Truth. The ritualistic aspect of religions differ a lot from one another, giving a feeling that one religion is totally different from the other. Even in a single religion, there are numerous denominations. These denominations start competing with each other. Then comes a sense of superiority and inferiority. The wars that are fought in the name of religion are not prompted by religion. The tendency to consider one’s religion superior and an insistence that others should join that religion are the cause for most of these fights.
Looking back into the history of religions, as far as Hinduism is concerned, one does not know when it began or who the founder was. In the case of other religions, there is a particular historical period when they were established and they depend upon a specific founder. One can find vast differences between a religion as it was at the time of its formation and as it is today. Many new denominations come up in the name of the same founder. This is inevitable because people are changing and their appreciation of things is also changing. Industrialization too has brought about many changes in the society. The form and nature of religion have to change. But the vision of Truth and the values based on it will remain permanent. The religion that understands the ever changing nature of this world and is able to mold itself at the empirical level, keeping the essence intact, will survive. Those religions which become very rigid and are unable to change will perish.
One thing is certain – religion was there in the past, it is present now and it will always remain. Even those governments or countries which tried to do away with all religions by closing down the temples and other places of worship, had to reopen them. The spirit can never be killed. The voice of that spirit may sound very feeble and the number of seekers may decrease, but their power will remain unshaken. Religion can never become irrelevant. What form it will take in the future, one does not know. Sometimes it appears that there will be a kind of synthesis of the various aspects of different religions, giving birth to a new religion for all. There were Masters who tried to bring synthesis among religions, but they succeeded only in adding a new religion. It appears improbable that one can have a new universal religion by taking something from all the existing religions. Every religion in a way has taken some aspects of other religions, but still they continue to maintain their individuality. This is a strange phenomenon.
We should understand the true essence of religion as the oneness of the Self. All the moral and ethical values should be founded based on this understanding. Furthermore, based on these values if we lead our lives, then the world will become a better place. Many wrong notions and confusions may arise, some people may even try to destroy the foundation of religion, but those who understand the Truth must abide by it, become stronger and proceed further. This is the best way to approach the future.
The International Symposium was held on 27th January 2016. Fr. Francis Gonsalves S.J, Professor of Systematic Theology and Scripture from Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeet, Pune was the keynote speaker. He presented his views on the ‘Importance of Interfaith Dialogue’. The other dignitaries included Ven. Dhammachari Chandrabodhi (Theravada Buddhist); Dr. Kokila Shah (Professor of K.J. Somaiya Centre for studies in Jainism), Ms. Uzma Naheed, the executive director of Iqra Education foundation, Brahmakumari Vinita and Terkel Douglas, Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Copenhagen- who represented their papers with their perspectives and interpretations on the topic.
The yearly journal was also released during the session entitled “Ethics and Society: An International Journal Religious and Cultures for Peace and Harmony” – Volume 4.