An excerpt from a recent address to the Parliament of World Religions
By Dr. Karan Singh
I turned 90 in march, 2020. Over the past 70 years I have personally witnessed the dramatic changes that have taken place on the planet. Science and technology have indeed made extraordinary progress. It is a cruel irony that despite this phenomenal progress our own planet is now itself in danger due to human greed and exploitation. We may well be in for a major climate change calamity by the end of the next decade. It is, therefore, fitting that the interfaith movement is working closely with the environmental movement.
However, we must remember that the primary purpose of the interfaith movement is to bring about a better understanding between different religious communities. We find that there are still many regions in the world which are plagued by inter-religious conflicts, and there are organizations active around the world, determined to create chaos. To counter these forces, it is essential for the interfaith movement to have a clear philosophical underpinning. It is in this context that I place before this audience a set of five sutras based on the Vedantic philosophy, which give us a map for addressing the problems humanity faces.
The first sutra, Ishavasyamidam sarvam yatkinchya jagatyam jagat, says that this entire cosmos, from the stately waltz of the galaxies to the frenetic rock and roll of sub-atomic particles, is inhabited by the same Divine Power. This represents the philosophic correlate of the Unified Field Theory, with which scientists are seeking to explain all the multiple phenomena in the cosmos. Almost all religions believe in an overarching Divinity pervading the universe, which in the Hindu tradition is known as Brahman.
The second sutra is Ishwara sarvabhutanam hriddeshe tishtati, which reveals that the pervasive Divine Power also resides in each one of us, known in Hinduism as the Atman. This is ultimately the golden thread that links the entire human race into what my third sutra, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, “The world is a family,” expresses. It is only in our lifetimes that science and technology have given us instant communications, the Internet, television and a vast array of technological instruments which have unified the world as never before. However, these instruments have often been used for aggression, terrorism and interreligious conflicts. We must realize Planet Earth is a single living entity, and that calamities such as the Covid pandemic and climate change can never be controlled unless all countries work together.
The fourth sutra, Ekam Sadvipraha Bahudha Vadanti, meaning “the Truth is One, the wise call it by many names,” is the very foundation of the interfaith movement. The Hindu acceptance of multiple paths to the Divine is, I would submit, a prerequisite for any meaningful interfaith dialogue. We can be totally committed to our particular religion, but unless we accept the fact that different religions offer differing paths to the Divine, we will never attain a peaceful global society. Thus, we must adopt an inclusive, not exclusive, approach.
The final sutra, Bahujana sukhaya, bahujana hitaya cha, speaks of the welfare of the many, the happiness of the many. This means that apart from working for our own salvation, all of us in the interfaith movement must commit ourselves to help the less fortunate members of society to attain a decent standard of living.
Friends, if together we accept the five sutras that I have placed before you, we will begin to fulfill our responsibility as members of the interfaith movement and to move towards a peaceful and caring global society.
Karan Singh, 91, is the son of the last Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, and a Hindu scholar, politician and diplomat who has served as a minister in India’s Central government, a member of the Rajya Sabha (India’s upper house of parliament), and ambassador to the United States.