When I planned on speaking to A Level Students about religious issues at a college in Kathmandu, Nepal as a guest speaker, one of my friends asked about the topic of my discussion. He was surprised as I told him that I would be talking about the importance of interfaith dialogue, religious harmony and discussions on the potentials of incorporating faiths into one Universal doctrine. The reason for his surprise was the fact that he felt no need for such dialogues in Nepal, as he considered Nepal one of the most religiously tolerant and free nations in the world.
A small country located between two Asian giants (India and China), Nepal was a Hindu Kingdom a few years ago prior to the constitutional amendment that made it a secular country. However, it was not prejudices against religious minorities that prompted a strong secular voice, but rather, it was a political gambit of some leaders. It was always a nation of religious freedom and harmony. It still is a nation where the government allocates proportional representation for religious minorities in the house of representatives, provides funding to Muslims for their annual pilgrimage to Mecca, and consults with religious scholars to address their grievances.
It is a nation where many Hindus celebrate Christmas as if it is their own, frequently visit Buddhist Stupas and celebrate their festivities, and Buddhists, Christians and Muslims cherish Hindu festivals like Dashain and Tihar (Diwali) in great numbers. People of different faiths come together as one when the nation goes through periods of great joy or experiences calamities. Rights of the minorities are constitutionally preserved, holidays are granted for major religious festivals, and no bias is felt against people for their faiths. Religious persecution is very rare and fanaticism is pretty much nowhere to be found.
Amidst such religious tolerance, harmony and acceptance of different religious traditions in the country, my friend’s thoughts of the irrelevance of the topic made sense, given that he did not take into account the audience I was talking to. The students were the A level students taking courses of the British academic systems, the majority of them aspiring to seek further studies abroad. While it was unlikely that religious tensions would emerge in the now peaceful and harmonious Nepal, it was quite likely that most of them would attend universities in the West, where religious tensions are looming large. It was thus imperative for them to acknowledge what lay ahead of them, preparing for the different religious landscape that is sure to greet them.
I felt that not having any bias against the people of different faiths and the understanding of the essence of major religious scriptures would help them deal with the surrounding cultures they would be immersed in while pursuing their careers. It can not only prepare them for the realities of religious tensions around the world, but also guide them towards promoting the ideal of equality and harmony on their own if they are convinced of the fact that we have the same divine spark in us all, the divine conscience and consciousness that we call the soul.
It was my first appearance as a guest speaker to such an audience. It was an amazing experience to share my story of transformation from an agnostic to a truly inspired spiritual man with motives to promote religious harmony, as well as showing them the real picture of the dangerous world we are living in today. Those curious and receptive minds to such discussion indicated that today’s youths are not watching the events passively but are truly concerned about what is going on around and are ready to cooperate with those motivated to change them.
I talked to them about the apparent differences that exist between faiths, especially in regards to the rituals and the mythological stories. Looking at the distinctions of how people dress, eat and react to the events in their lives as well as their beliefs in the mythological stories, many consider these irreconcilable differences between the faiths. There were others like Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mahamati Prannath, the founder of the vision of Tartam who argued that in true sense all the faiths are guiding humanity towards eternity and the liberation of soul.
In terms of guidance to humanity offered in scriptures, they all ask us to be virtuous, unpretentious, modest, honest and resolute in spiritual pursuits and to find peace in the contemplation of the divine. Most importantly, the world’s major faiths have surprising ideological similarities. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism all profess monotheistic beliefs – although Hinduism is often termed a polytheistic religion, this is in fact not the case. Similarly, all these faiths agree to the eternity of the soul and the transience of this material world. They also share the idea that the soul is forgetful in this world and is made impure by its association with material pursuits. They all talk about the reward for virtuous actions while speaking of damnation for the vices in a similar tone.
I also talked about the potentials of incorporating the world’s major faith into one Universal doctrine on the basis of a new philosophy of Tartam that unravels and enumerates the similarities between Vedic and the Semitic Scriptures. It states that religious dissensions are unwarranted because in both the fronts we are the same – that we all have the same divine spark in us that we call soul and that the Lord is the same for all.
Reminding them of all these ideas made the lecture satisfying and a pleasing experience while it gave me an extra motivation to work in the field of interfaith discussions. I reminded them of our responsibilities of getting together into discussions to seek commonalities and urged youth like them to come forward in leading the campaign of a safer, more hospitable and peaceful world for people of all beliefs and denominations led by our faiths. What pleased me the most was their hope and aspirations for a safer future. I promised to myself that religious leaders like us should not disappoint them.
Picture courtesy of the author.