Understanding & Collaboration Between Religions

I bow down to everyone here, who are the embodiments of Pure Love and Supreme Consciousness.


At the outset, I would like to convey my best wishes to the Interfaith Center of New York. May this organization be able to light the lamp of love and peace in thousands upon thousands of hearts under the able leadership of Very Reverend James Parks Morton. The Interfaith Center deserves special commendation for its dedicated activities in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, which claimed the life lives of thousands of people, including innocent children. Let me also take this opportunity to express my heartfelt happiness that this conference could be held, and also for the faith you have vested in me.

In fact, it is only because of the selflessness and self-sacrifice of millions of devotees around the world that Amma has been able to offer some service to the society. Actually, this award and recognition go to them. I am only an instrument.


The topic of today's speech, “Understanding & Collaboration Between Religions “ is one that has been discussed at thousands of forums around the world. And while such discussions – and the work of organizations like this one – have brought religions together to some extent, fear and anxiety regarding the world and its future continue to plague our minds.


For this situation to change, we need better understanding and more collaboration between religions. Both religious leaders and heads of state firmly assert this point at meetings such as this. But we are often unable to demonstrate the same firmness in action as we do in word. We share many ideas in these meetings, yet when we try to implement them, we are unable to do so due to the influence of various pressures. A meeting without open hearts is like a parachute that fails to open.


Every religion has two aspects: one is its philosophical teachings as explained in the scriptural texts; the other is its spirituality. The former is religion's outer shell , and spirituality, its inner essence. Spirituality is awakening to one's true nature. Those who make the effort to know their True Self are truly faithful. Whatever one's religion, if one understands the spiritual principles, one can attain ultimate goal, the realization of one's true nature. If a bottle contains honey, the color of the bottle is irrelevant. On the contrary, if we fail to absorb the spiritual principles, religion will be nothing more than blind faith, shackling us.


The point of religion is to transform our minds. In order for this to happen , one must imbibe spirituality – the inner essence of religion. The unity of hearts is what brings about religious unity. If our heart fails to unite, instead of coming together as a team, we will drift apart, and our efforts will be fragmented.


Religion points the way, like a road sign. The goal is the spiritual experience.


For example, pointing to a tree, a person says, “Look at that tree. Do you see the fruit hanging on that branch? If you eat it, you will attain immortality!” Then what we should do is climb the tree, pick the fruit and eat it. If instead, we hold on to the person's finger, we will never be able to enjoy the fruit. This is akin to climbing to the words of the scriptures, rather than grasping the spiritual principles to which they point.


Just as one sucks the juice from the sugarcane and spits out the stalk, the religious leaders should encourage their followers to imbibe the essence of religion – which is spirituality- and not give over importance to the external aspects. Unfortunately, today many are eating the stalk and spitting out the essence.  


The power of religion lies in spirituality. Spirituality is the cement that fortifies the edifice of society. Practicing religion and living life without assimilating spirituality is like constructing a tower by simply piling up the bricks without ever using any cement. It will easily crumble. Religious faith without spirituality becomes lifeless, like a part of the body cut off from the flow of circulation.


Atomic energy can be used either to create or to destroy. We can use it to generate electricity for the benefit of the world. We can also produce an atomic bomb that destroys everything. The choice is ours. Imbibing the spiritual aspect of religion is like generating electricity from the atom, whereas religion devoid of spiritual perspective will lead to grave danger.


Even in the olden times, the caste system and other socio-religious divisions existed in various cultures. Back then, such divisions were out in the open, for one and all to see. Today, on the other hand, we speak as if we are extremely aware of the importance of religious unity and equality, but within us hatred and the desire for revenge continue to rage. In olden times, the problems were predominantly on the gross level, but they are now on the subtle level, and for that very reason they are more powerful and pervasive .


Amm is reminded of a story. There was a notorious criminal in a city. Every day at 7 p.m. he would come and loiter at a particular street corner, where he would accost and insult the women and young girls who passed by. Out of fear, no woman would pass that way after sunset; they would hide behind the closed doors of their houses. Several years passed like this, and then one day, the criminal suddenly died.


However, even after the criminal died, the women of that area continued to remain indoors after sunset. Perplexed, some people asked why no one was venturing outside. The women responded, “ when he was alive, we could see him with our own eyes. We knew when and where he was standing. But now it's his ghost that is assaulting us. So, now he can attack us anywhere, at any time! Being subtle, he is more powerful and pervasive.” Similar is the case with today's socio- religious divisions.


In fact, religion is a constraint created by humans. At birth, we had no conditioning or limitations regarding religion or language. These have been taught to us, conditioning us over time. Just as a small plant needs a fence, this conditioning is necessary to a certain extent. Once the seedling grows into a tree, it transcends the fence. Similarly, we must be able to go beyond our religious conditioning and become “unconditional.”


There are three things that make a human humane 1. The intense desire to know the meaning of life through discriminative thinking;  2. The miraculous ability to give love;   3. The power to be joyful and to give joy to others. Religion should help people realize all three of these. Only then will religion and humans become complete.


Whereas great souls give importance to spiritual values, their followers give more importance to institutions and organizations. As a result, the very religion that were meant to spread peace and tranquility by threading people together on the garland of love have become the cause of war and conflict.


Due to our ignorance and limited perspective, we are confining the great souls within the tiny cages of religion. In their name, we have locked ourselves inside the prison of ego, and have proceeded to inflate our egos and fight with one another. If this continues, understanding and collaboration will forever remain a mirage.


Once, two men on a bicycle built for two were trying to ascend a steep hill. Though they struggled with all their might, they traveled only a short distance. Tired and weary, at one point they got off the bicycle to rest. Out of breath and covered in sweat, the man riding in front said, “What a hill! No matter how hard we pedal, we're not getting anywhere. I'm beat, and my back is killing me!” 


Hearing this, the man riding in back said, “Hey, buddy, you think you're tired! If I hadn't kept on the brake on the whole time, we would have slid all the way back down!”


Consciously or unconsciously, this is what we are doing today in the name of mutual understanding and collaboration.  We don't open our hearts due to the deep-rooted distrust we have for each other.


In reality, the principles of love, compassion and unity are at the heart of all religious teachings.


Christianity says, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.”Hinduism says, “We should pray that others may have what we want for ourselves.”  Islam says, “If your enemy's falls ill, you must take care of it.” Judaism says, “Hating one's neighbour is equal to hating one's self. “ Though expressed in different ways, the principle conveyed here is the same. The import of all these sayings is that: AS the same Soul, or Atman, abides in all things, we must see and serve all as One. It is people's distorted intellect that makes them interpret these principles in a limited way.


Amma remembers a story. Once, a renowned artist painted a picture of an enchanting young woman. Whoever saw the painting fell in love with her. Some of them asked the painter if the woman was his beloved. When he said no, each one of them adamantly insisted on marrying her and wouldn't allow anyone else to do so.


They demanded, “We want to know where to find this beautiful lady.”


The painter told them, “I'm sorry, but actually, I've never seen her. She has no nationality, religion or language. What you see in her is not the beauty of an individual, either. I simply gave eyes, a nose and a form to the beauty i behold within me.”


But none of them believed the painter's words. They angrily accused him saying, “You are lying to us. You just want to make her your own!”


The painter calmly told them, “No, please don't take this painting at the surface level. Even if you search all over the world, you won't find her- yet she is the quintessence of all beauty.” 


Nonetheless, ignoring the words of the painter, the people became infatuated with the paint and the painting. In their intense desire to possess the young woman, they quarrelled and fought with each other and finally perished.


We too are like this. Today, we are searching for a God who dwells only in pictures and scriptures. In that search, we have lost our way.


The scriptures say that each of us sees the world through tinted glasses. We see in the world that which we project. If we look with eyes of hatred and vengeance, the world will appear exactly that way to us. But if we look with eyes of love and compassion, we will see nothing but God's beauty everywhere.


Amma has heard of an experiment conducted to ascertain whether or not this world really is as we perceive it. The researchers gave a young man a pair of glasses that distorted his vision. They then instructed him to wear the glasses continuously for seven days. For the first three days , he was very restless, as his perception of everything was quite disturbing. But, after that, his eyes became fully adjusted to the glasses, and the pain and discomfort completely disappeared. What had at first made the world seem strange and distorted, later seemed normal to him.


In The same way, each of us is wearing a different type of glasses. It is through these glasses that we view the world and religion. We react accordingly. Because of this , we are often unable to even see people as human beings.


Amma remembers an experience a religious leader shared with Her many years ago. He went to attend a function at a hospital in Hyderabad, India. As he got out of the car and was walking towards the hospital, he saw that many women, were lined up on both sides of his path to receive him, in the traditional style – holding oil lamps and raw rice. As he walked in their midst, they soaked the rice in the oil and flung it in his face. He told Amma, “Far from being warm welcome, it was rather one of anger and opposition. I gestured to them to stop, covering my face with my hands, but they continued anyway.”


Later, he inquired whether the people lined up to receive him believed in God. The owner of the hospital told him that they were believers and were his staff. He replied, "I don't think so, because i could feel anger and vindictiveness in their behaviour.”


Suspecting something, the owner sent someone to investigate the incident. This is what he saw: the people who had welcomed the religious leader were assembled in a room, laughing. With contempt in her voice, one of them loudly boasted, “I really gave it to that devil!”


Actually, the staff belonged to a different religion. Since their boss had told them to do so, they had no choice but to receive the guest. But they did not have any understanding of true religion or spiritual culture. In fact , their mind –set was one wherein people of different faiths were actually not human beings, but devils.


There are two types of ego. One is the ego of power and money. But the second type is more destructive. That is the ego that feels, “My religion and viewpoint alone are correct. All others are wrong and unnecessary. I won't tolerate anything else.” This is like saying “My mother is good; yours is a prostitute!” This kind of thinking and conduct are the cause of all religious friction. Unless we eradicate these two types of ego, it will be difficult to bring about peace in the world.


The willingness to listen to others, the ability to understand  them and the broad-mindedness to accept even those who disagree with us- those are the signs of true spiritual culture. Unfortunately, these qualities are exactly what are missing from the world today.


Nevertheless, when natural calamities occur, people hearts open up, transcending thoughts of caste, religion, and politics. When the Tsunami struck South Asia, all barriers of religion and nationality disappeared, All hearts ached in compassion for the victims. All eyes shed tears along with them. And all hands reached out to dry those tears and to help the people.


Countless are the occasions when my heart and soul have been filled, seeing atheist and people belonging to different political parties and religions working day and night alongside residents of our Ashram in a spirit of self-sacrifice. Yet, the non-judgemental attitude and compassion people express during such situations come and go as quickly as a flash of lightning.  If, instead, we can manage to keep the flame of compassion ablaze within, it can dispel the darkness surrounding us. In this way, may the trickle of compassion within us grow into a torrential flow. Let us transform that spark of love into effulgence, blazing like the sun. This will create a heaven on earth. The capacity to do this dwells within all of us; it is our birthright and true nature.


Regardless of its color, if we fill a balloon with helium, it will soar up to the sky. Similarly, people of all religions can soar to great height if they fill their hearts with love.


Amma remembers a story. Once the colors of the world gathered together. Each one claimed, “I am the most important and beloved color.” The conversation culminated in a quarrel.


Green proudly declared “Indeed, i am the most important color. I am the sign of life. Trees, vines all of nature is my color. Need i say more?”


Blue interrupted, “Hey, stop your blabbering! You are only talking about the Earth. Don't you see the sky and the ocean?  They are all blue in color. And water is the substratum of life. Hail to me, the color of infinity and love.”


Hearing this, Red shouted, “Enough is enough! Everybody shut up! I am the ruler of you all – I am blood. I am the color of valour and courage. Without me there is no life.”


Amidst the shouting, White softly said, “You have all stated your cases. Now, I have just one thing to say: don't forget the truth- that I am the substratum of all colours. “ 


Nevertheless, many more colors came forward, all extolling their greatness and supremacy over the others. Gradually, what began as a mere exchange of words developed into a verbal battle. The colors were even poised to destroy each other.


Suddenly, the sky became dark. There was thunder and lightning, followed by a heavy downpour. The water level rose rapidly. Trees were uprooted, and all of nature was in turmoil.


Trembling with fear, the colors helplessly cried out,”Save us!” Just then they heard a voice from the heavens, “You colors! Where are your ego and false pride now? You who were foolishly fighting for supremacy, are now trembling with fear, unable to protect even your own lives. All you claim as yours can perish in an instant. You must understand one thing-though different, each of you is beyond compare. God has created each one of you with a different purpose. To save yourselves, you must stand hand-in-hand in unity.


If you stand in oneness, you can soar up and stretch across the sky. You can become the rainbow with all seven colors, harmoniously standing side-by-side- the symbol of peace and beauty, the sign of hope for tomorrow. From that height, all differences disappear and you see everything as one. May your unity and harmony become an inspiration for all.”


Whenever we behold an exquisite rainbow, may we feel inspired to work together as a team, with mutual understanding and appreciation.


Religions are the flowers arranged for worshipping God. How beautiful would it be if they stood together! They would then spread the fragrance of peace throughout the whole world.


Religious leaders should come forward to sing the peace song of universal unity and love. They should become like mirrors for the world. The mirror is cleaned not for its own sake, but so that those who look in it are able to better clean their own face. Religious emissaries must become role models. The example that religious leaders set will determine the purity of their followers' actions and thoughts. Only when noble-minded people practice religious ideals will their followers imbibe the same spirit and feel inspired to act nobly.


In a way, everyone should become a role model, because someone or other will always be taking us as an example. It is our duty to consider those who look up to us. In a world of role models, there will neither be war nor weapons. They will be reduced to nothing more than a bad dream we had long, long ago. Arms and ammunitions will be rendered artefacts to be kept in some museum symbols of our past, when humans erred from the path leading to their goal.


Our mistake is that we have become deluded by the superficial aspects of religion. Let us rectify this error. Together, let us realize the heart of religion-universal love, purity of heart, beholding oneness everywhere. We live in a age when the entire world is reducing into a global village. What we need is not mere religious tolerance, but deep mutual understanding. We should do away with misunderstanding and mistrust. Let us bid farewell to the dark age of rivalry and mark the beginning of a new era of creative, inter-religious co-operation. We have just stepped into the third millennium. May the future generation call this the millennium of religious friendship and co-operation.


Amma would like to propose a few suggestions to everyone's considerations:


1.   A one-word solution for almost all the problems the world is facing today is “compassion.” The essence of all religions is in being compassionate to others. Religious leaders should highlight the importance of compassion thorough the example of their own lives. Nothing is more secure in the world today than role models. Religious leaders should come forward to fill this vacuum. 


2.   Due to our exploitation of nature and general lack of awareness,  pollution is destroying the earth. Religious leaders should conduct campaigns to create awareness regarding the importance of environmental protection.

3.   We might not be able to avert natural calamities. And as human beings have no control over their ego, it might not be possible to totally prevent war and other conflicts either. But if we make a firm resolve, surely we can eradicate hunger and poverty. All religious leaders should try their best to achieve this goal.

4.   To foster inter-religious understanding, every religion should start centres wherein the teachings of their faiths are studied in depth. This should be done with an expansive vision, not with any ultimate motives.


5.   Just as the sum doesn't need the light of a candle, God doesn't need anything from us. Helping the poor and needy is true prayer. Without compassion, all our efforts will be in vain-like pouring milk into a dirty vessel. All religion should emphasize the importance of compassionately serving the poor and suffering.


Let us pray and work together to create a joyous tomorrow, free from conflict, where religions work together in happiness, peace and love.


May the tree of our life be firmly rooted in the soil of love.

Let good deeds be the leaves on the tree;

May words of kindness form its flowers;

May peace be its fruit.

Let us grow and unfold as one family,

United in Love -

So that we may rejoice and celebrate our oneness,

In a world where peace and contentment prevail.





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