In the afterglow of Maha Sivarathri, the holiest day in Hinduism, we should reflect deeply on the urgent need for religious unity in diversity to build a tolerant society that will guide us to a real and lasting peace.
Presently Sri Lanka is the home of people of four major religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Buddhism is the religion of the majority and the followers of other religions need to remember this and respect the culture and civilisation, the traditions and the values that have guided this country for more than 2,500 years. But there is one common truth. While we respect and practise our own religion, we need to also respect the values and beliefs of other religions.
Essentially, the core teaching of all major religions is a gradual inner liberation from our slavery to selfishness, self-centredness, greed, jealousy, anger, bitterness and related vices. Allowing ourselves to be gradually liberated from this is known and admired as liberative spirituality. This is what will transform us, others and our country. In our thoughts, words and actions, we will gradually be transformed from self-centredness to other-centredness so that we will be able to help, share and care for others without expecting anything in return. Instead of trying to dominate, use or abuse others for our personal benefit, we will be able to develop compassion and loving kindness towards them. If people of all religions practise this basic principle, instead of just talking or preaching about it, and acting like sanctimonious, self-righteous humbugs then our country and the whole world will be a better place to live in because of the love and forgiveness, care and concern and the spirit of service and sacrifice.
To bring Sri Lanka to this mountain of liberative spirituality and unity in diversity, the South Asia Policy Research Institute (SAPRI), headed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has written to the President and leaders of all religions, requesting them to take urgent steps to bring about religious amity. The proposals were discussed and worked out at a forum held in Colombo last month and SAPRI is now taking more steps for the implementation of these proposals.
SAPRI has expressed concern that acts of religious intolerance occurring in Sri Lanka and other parts of South Asia pose a threat to peaceful co-existence among the communities that compose our pluralistic society. Religious intolerance also poses a challenge to economic progress and inclusivity, undermines social cohesion and political stability, and creates a negative image for the country globally.
Among the steps to be taken by SAPRI are to organize workshops to promote inter-faith dialogue in seven Districts initially to be conducted by district committees which would draw participation from similar categories of leaders as those in the Inter-faith Dialogue Forum, but at grass-roots level. It will also monitor early warning signs of religious intolerance and initiate preventive action by bringing such developments promptly to the notice of law-enforcing authorities, via a 24-hour hotline, while keeping the Inter-faith Dialogue Forum at SAPRI informed.
It has been proposed that the law should be implemented strictly and fully with regard to unlawful activities that impinge on various religious communities. It calls for a study and a review of existing laws regarding the establishment and functioning of places of religious worship or religious practices and recommends amendments to prevent conflicts arising from the absence of rules and regulations in these areas.
The curriculum used in all educational institutions must contain clear messages with regard to the importance of appreciating the diversity related to ethnic, religious, and political creed. School curricula must also teach the importance of religious harmony and co-existence in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural societies like ours, while emphasizing the dangers posed to the country, the national economy, political stability and to each individual citizen by causing and promoting disharmony, intolerance and conflict.