Acharya Shri Shrivatsa Goswami

Acharya Shri Shrivatsa Goswami.UN Photo Paulo Filgueiras />

Hinduism, Interfaith Dialogue, and Cooperation

I bow down to the divine in all of you present. I feel privileged to greet you all on behalf of India, home to over a billion Hindus, along with all major religious traditions of the world, and the only home to some. I stand here with a humble awareness that Hindus have never attempted to expand their borders militarily in the name of religion. Hindus are not perfect: social and economic inequality is no stranger to our common life. Yet mutual respect has been a hallmark of Hindu politics.

Our guiding principle, uttered already in the Vedas, has been “Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions.” Hinduism’s pride is that it celebrates diversity, and that has often made it possible for dialogue to win out over conflict in Indian history.

The dialogical strength of the Hindu tradition comes from its comprehensive worldview. It values and respects four realms of life: Artha, the economic forces; Kama, the aesthetic ones; Dharma, the spirituality of righteousness; and Moksha, the hope of total freedom from our various sufferings. Standing on these four pillars, Hinduism sponsors a multi-layered dialogue that embraces both the material and spiritual realms.

Hindus proclaim that human welfare is the highest truth. Such a deep concern I also hear in the views of H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the honorable President of the 66th General Assembly of the United Nations. His four pillars of concern regarding conflict mediation, disaster prevention and response, sustainable development, and strengthening of the United Nations need to be addressed as utmost priorities. These concerns are the raison d’être of the United Nations. The UN and its various institutions have worked overtime to alleviate human suffering on these scores. Yet the results tell us that much more needs to be done. What is missing?

As Mahatma Gandhi reminded us, “there is no department of life which can be divorced from religion.” Until recently the UN tended to keep religious institutions away from the realm of human service. There have been legitimate worries that religious bodies might try to subvert these efforts for their own ends. But one can go too far with such cautions. It’s like trying to keep electricity away from appliances. Hindus believe in what Shri Krishna said: “Let spiritual wisdom be in harmony with mundane sciences.” Jnanam parm guhyam me yad vijnana samanvitam. Any act of good intention is assured to be wasted if it is not based on a value system.

At the core of Hindu religiosity is a value system called dharma. Dharma champions truth, non-violence, peace, compassion, penance, contentment, sharing, and respect for others. Hindu dharma and the Purpose and Principles of the UN Charter resonate closely. Their common end is human welfare. Yet it has been hard to actualize this vision in the real world. Why?

Part of the reason is that civil society is missing its religious partner, which is a major facet of human experience and expression. Interfaith bodies like the Universal Peace Federation have been calling for institutionalizing this partnership. I agree. I am sure that if an interfaith council were established at the UN, Hindus would welcome it. It is a long-standing need.

I bring you greetings from Vrindavan, Krishna’s paradise on earth. But it was only in 1598 that this holiest of Hindu places was fully actualized as a this-worldly reality. This happened as a result of a dialogue between religion and politics that involved my ancestor goswamis on the one hand and the great Mughal emperor Akbar on the other. This partnership between Hindus and Muslims and between religion and politics thrived.

Such partnerships are not the dream of the past alone. Recently, for example, the Alliance of Religion and Conservation and the consequent World Faith Development Dialogue has achieved fine tangible results under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the President of the World Bank.

I hope that the four-pillared dream of General Assembly President Al-Nasser can also be fulfilled. In that cause I would offer a four-pillared prayer. It was first uttered by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, under whose leadership the goswamis talked to the Emperor Akbar. Here is Caitanya’s four-part prayer:

“Be more humble than a blade of grass,
Have forbearance like a tree,
Have no conceit,
Always respect others.”

One can then have the dialogical alliance between religion and politics, spirituality and economics.

These are simple words, but they go to the heart of what an alliance between religion and politics, and between spirituality and economics, must mean. I offer them to you with hope on this day of the full moon.

Shri Shrivatsa Goswami is a member of an eminent family of spiritual leaders and scholars at Sri Radharamana Mandir, Vrindavan. His writings on Vaisnavism, Krishna, Radha, and the Hare Krishna movement have been published by the university presses of Princeton, Berkeley, and others. He is the editor of the forthcoming volume on Chaitanya for the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy published by the American Institute of Indian Studies. Shri Goswami is Director of Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthana, an institute of Vaisnava culture and studies at Vrindavan, whose Vraja Research Project is sponsored by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Government of India. His recent book Celebrating Krishna was received with much acclaim. Pope Benedict XVI invited him to represent Hindu tradition at the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer at Assisi in October 2011. He is connected with several important international movements including World Council of Churches and Religions for Peace.

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