Once two youths came to Acharya Tulsi and besought him to tell them something about religion. The Acharya asked them to let him know which religion they would like him to speak about-the religion of sects or the religion of life.
They said, “We are not inclined towards sectarian religion. We want you to tell us as to the essence of life.”
The Acharya said, “Then I shall just direct you to the door to religion. If you enter it, you will, undoubtedly, attain the essence of religion. There are four doors to religion. They are as follows:
1. Forgiveness Give due recognition to the existence of other people.
2. Emancipation-Practise the virtue of non- hoarding and do no kill the spirit of freedom.
3. Uprightness-Let your deeds be pure.
4. Sweetness in words-Be courteous towards all.
“Are these precepts not connected with any sect?” they asked.
“To my mind, they belong to all religious sects and to none in particular. How can a sect be called a religious sect if it is devoid of religion?” asked the Acharya.
“If these are the common principles of all religious sects, why is there so much dissension among themselves?” they inquired.
“When the interests and attitudes of two men are not alike how can we avoid differences? the Acharya replied.
“If truth is one, why should there be any differences?” they asked.
“It’s a fact that truth is one but the difficulty is that all the people do not know it alike. The differences that we notice are not based on truth but they exist on the basis of man’s ability to approach it” the Acharya explained.
“Whatsoever may be the case, we shall have to admit that these dissension among the various sects have added to our difficulties,” they commented.
“As a matter of fact, differences among the various sects have not added to our difficulties but they (difficulties) are the result of our having mistaken the sect for religion” the Acharya tried to correct their viewpoint.
“How can you differentiate the religion from a sect? Shall we not be disappointed in our hope to get the fruit if we consider its skin and flesh as two different objects?” they asked.
“We must admit that a skin is after all a skin. It cannot be a substitute for flesh. I do not deny the fact that it is of great use as regards the safety of the fruit. I also agree that the skin loses its utility when the fruit is eaten. Similarly a sect is useful so far as it helps people to get at religion but as soon as a man has accomplished his goal of religion, the place of religion becomes higher than that of a sect.”
“Can all the sects not be merged together?”
“We should not think of unifying independent ideologies mechanically!”
“Should we think that all the doors leading to the solution of the problem of communalism are closed?”
“No, it’s not so. In order to solve this problem the path of mutual harmony and goodwill was evolved long ago in the sphere of Indian Philosophy.”
“What do you mean by mutual harmony?”
“It means to give prominence to the areas of concord and ignore those of discord between two ideologies; to repose faith in the co-existence of two views opposed to each other, to be tolerant of the opinions or beliefs different from one’s own.”
“How long has the idea of mutual harmony been in practice?”
“The idea of religious harmony is very old. In this context one of the edicts of Asoka deserves special attention. It reads as follows:
‘Devanani Priyadarshi Rajah holds the followers of all religious sects, sanyasis and householders in reverence by offering them gifts and alms by various forms of honour. But Devanani Priyen Rajah considers the spiritual upliftment of all religious sects more important than any form of charity or worship. There are many forms of spiritual upliftment but its quintessence is the restraint of speech, because it prevents unprovoked praise of one’s own sect and condemnation of other sects. This can be done only on a particular occasion but on such an occasion we should instead show our respect to the views held by other sects. By doing so a man exalts his own sect and helps other sects as well. If a man behaves contrary to it, he does harm to his own sect as well as to other sects. If a man shows reverence for his own sect out of his devotion towards it and speaks disparagingly of other sects in order to popularize his sect, he, in fact, does great injury to his own sect. Hence it is in the interest of all to live in amity and friendship with one another because it gives an opportunity to the followers of one sect to listen to the principles of another sect. Thus Davanani Priyen Rajah wishes that the followers of all sects should be aware of one another’s principles and be good towards all. The followers of every sect should be told that Devanani Priyen Rajah does not consider any form of charity or worship equal to the spiritual development of all sects.
To realise this very end, he has appointed many officials viz. Dharm mahamatra (officials entrusted with the responsibility of preaching religion), Stri Adhyaksha Mahamatra (officials who will look after the welfare of women) Brijbhumik (officials-in-charge of grazing land) and many other officials. Its aim is to exalt individual sects and promote religion. What do you think about religious harmony?” ln reply to this question, Acharya Shree said, Promotion of harmonious relationship among all the sects is my favourite subject. I feel distressed to see clashes among the followers of various sects. Religion is based on friendship, non-violence and compassion. Do these forces ever collide? Like the sky, religion is infinite and limitless. It is divided when it becomes mine and yours.”
The sky is for me but it is not for me exclusively as it is great and endless. My own hut may be for me alone because it is small and limited.
The sea is meant for me but it is not for me exclusively because it is great and limitless. My own pitcher may be only for me because it is small and limited.
When I begin to think of my hut as the sky, my heart is filled with a sense of strong attachment for it. When I begin to consider my pitcher as the sea, I am overpowered by a feeling of strong attachment for it The growth of a feeling of strong attachment in my heart results in my religion’s being confined, divorced from truth and split up. It is this category of religions that find themselves pitted against one another. This collision will come to an end only when we absorb religion in our life and keep its broad-based entity in tact. Our understanding of religion is intellectual and ideological. We find that human beings do not possess intellect and ideas alike, so our religious practices also differ. The truth is that religion is one and cannot be divided. You try to prove that your religion is true and I try to prove that my religion is true. This gives rise to conflicts among us When I view the whole situation from the standpoint of religious harmony, I realise that there should be a change in this attitude. It is reasonable if I consider my religion to be true but why should I do so by trying to prove that all other religious sects are false. I should consider my religion to be true only because I have perceived it and I should not consider other religious sects to be false because I have not been able to understand them so far. We should keep the doors of thinking open. We should not be led by preconceived notions. We may dissent from what we believe to be false but we must not resort to conflict to assert our viewpoint. A few years ago I had put forward a five-point code of conduct to be adhered to by the followers of all sects for the sake of religious harmony and still I believe that it is useful. The five principles embodied in the aforesaid code are as follows:
1. A policy of positive attitude should be adopted. Instead of indulging in written or oral accusations against other sects, we should concentrate our attention on disseminating our own viewpoint.
2. We should show a sense of tolerance towards the opinions of other people.
3. we should refrain from launching a compaign of hatred and ill-will against other sects and their followers.
4. If some sects take recourse to changes in the existing practices, they should not be subjected to such undesirable ways as social boycott or ostracism.
5. A joint endeavour should be made to encourage the maximum number of people to practise such fundamental principles of religion as non-violence, truth, non-stealing, and celebacy in their lives.