Streams of Spirituality for Interfaith Thinking
Fr. Tom Kunnunkal, S.J.
Saint Francis Xavier Movement (Italy), Henry Martyn Institute (Hyderabad) and Interfaith Coalition for Peace (New Delhi) organized an international conference on the theme: Streams of Spirituality for Interfaith Thinking at Henry Martyn Institute, Hyderabad on 3-4 January, 2013. A number of scholars and students of Religious Studies presented papers on the theme from different religious perspectives.
The two day conference went well beyond being just an occasion to present well-written papers on various aspects dialogue, however useful and necessary this is. In fact, it provided a forum that opened our mental horizon to see the deeper dimensions of dialogue and see it as an essential constituent of our life and of every life. The focus shifted from religion to spirituality. Everyone has a spirituality to live one’s life, which is a paradigm or a map, which gives one guidance, direction and power and the norms for decision-making. Spirituality is one’s specific way of seeing the total reality, (God, self, others and the contexts and conditions of life) interpreting it, accepting it for oneself and then living it in one’s day-to-day life situations. On the other hand, religion, with its focus largely on the external, the ritual, the prescribed practices etc, can and indeed often does prove a distraction and has resulted in several confrontations and conflicts among persons, both within the same faith tradition and among inter-faith members. Owning and then living a spirituality is a lifelong process of internalization and then making it a paradigm for one’s life and living in the real. We all have borders and identities and will continue to have; but narrow borders, when over-stressed, make us less and less human. This has been fully demonstrated in our religious histories. Hence the way forward is through adopting the spirituality of dialogue, which is the spirituality of communion or a spirituality of love and forgiveness. In joyful discovery, we realized that there are so many items that are common between various faiths, which we saw as the point for stress and appreciation.
Like many other nations, India too has had such a long history of evolution. None of us would claim that the present status and accomplishments of India have come from any single religion or ethnic group or region. In fact, we would readily accept that it is the result of the numerous and significant contributions of a very large number of culture groups. It is the strength of India, as also of other large countries, that we are multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural. India is the home of several world religions.
Every religion, culture or region wants to preserve its identity. This is indeed its right. But in the current contexts, wide open spaces are emerging in the modern world of today, spaces created by reason and by scientific research no less than by the inner search and spiritual quest that many seriously engage in. As a result, we see that religion and science, at odds earlier, are beginning to engage in serious dialogue. Today, Science and Spirituality, Physics and Metaphysics, Religion and Reason are seen as bipolar realities of a dialectic that seeks a new synthesis. We need borders and identities, surely. But when we push borders and identities too hard and are not willing to cross some of these borders, we become less and less human. It was heartening to learn of the several movements initiated by different religious leaders who are currently searching for new answers for our times so that religion continues to hold meaning for today’s life and living, especially for today’s educated young, many of whom have professional training and updated competences and want to base their faith with some support from reason as well.
Therefore, in our modern world of today, to be religious is to be also inter-religious, to be cultural is to be also inter-cultural and to be human is to be inter-human. “In the name of God” so many horrendous atrocities have been committed in the past and still continue to be done in today’s world as well. That is why, modern man’s behavior continues to mirror the behavior patterns of the Animal Planet, with this difference that we use very sophisticated weapons that we have developed to destroy others. It is in that context that every religion needs to engage in a critical and scientific evaluation of its own practices and prescriptions and actions to see if these humanize or dehumanize persons and communities and take appropriate steps to bring about needed reform, where we find we are becoming less and less human or more and more exclusive. Similarly, each religious community needs to engage in the study of other religions, in order to understand its basic ethos and perspectives and appreciate these, as a necessary step to be a good citizen of today’s world. Such study will help remove several of the myths, prejudices and stereotypes we often nurture about persons of other faiths and traditions. In the present day work places, whether in business or industry or in many service institutions, like a school, college or hospital, we will often encounter work-mates, class-mates and staff-mates from different cultures and religions. Developing the ability to engage in warm and friendly interaction between the members of these groups and the ability to function well in that mixed group are important life skills for personal growth and for one’s own promotion as well as for the proper functioning of the institution or business.
Therefore, the obvious agenda for the human family and in fact, the only agenda, is to engage in Cross Border Community Building (CBCB), namely to build human communities across those borders that presently divide us and which make us less and less human. To become more human and humane we must find a place in our hearts for the “other”, for those who are from other religious or cultural traditions and so become truly sons and daughters of the one God and Lord, who holds all whom He has brought into life as persons precious to Him.