Niye, New Age Islam
of the Book: The Science of Interreligious Dialogue
TD Singh (Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami)
Bhaktivedanta Institute, Kolkata
T.D Singh (d. 2006) was a man of many talents. He was a scientist (with a Ph.D.
in Chemistry from the University of California), at the same time as he was a
deeply spiritual person. For several years, he headed the Kolkata-based
Bhaktivedanta Institute, which seeks to promote dialogue between
religion/spirituality and science. A
passionate peace activist, he was also a prolific writer.
timely book, Singh makes an impassioned plea for interfaith dialogue, calling
on people of different faith traditions to work together to face the many
challenges that the world today confronts, including terrorism and the threat
of nuclear war that could put the very survival of life on the planet at stake.
the basis of the interfaith dialogue, peace and harmony is recognition of the
One Supreme Being or God. Singh quotes Srila Prabhupada, founder of the
Bhaktivedanta Institute, as describing the glorification of God as the basis of
the unity of religions and the way to lasting peace and prosperity in the
great Acharyas, like Ramanuja, Madhva, Caitanya, Sarasvati Thakura or even, in
other countries, Mohammed, Christ and others, have all extensively glorified
the Lord […] Because the Lord is all-pervading, it is essential to glorify Him
always and everywhere […] The Lord is the master of all time and all space, and
therefore the Lord’s holy name must be heard, glorified and remembered
everywhere in the world. That will bring about the desired peace and prosperity
so eagerly awaited by the people of the world.”
God is the
supreme goal of life, and, as is stressed in various spiritual traditions, true
religion is rendering loving service unto Him, Singh says. If our hearts and
minds are tuned to these traditions, he writes, we can appreciate and support
for one another, despite our religious and other differences. Studying the
wisdom of the world’s religions can, he says, help us develop compassion for
each other and discover that the message of love and mercy is common to all our
faiths. “The hope for a global peace is within the grasp of those visionaries
that can work to utilize this universal wisdom” he tells us.
is only one God and all of us, no matter what religion or ideology we claim to
follow, are His creatures, we are all brothers and sisters to each other,
members of one vast family. Recognition of our common connection with God, a
core teaching that unites different religions, leads to mutual respect. It is,
for Singh, the basis of ‘global ethics’ for harmonious interfaith coexistence,
through which people can cultivate unity while allowing for diversity.
the spiritual basis of this approach to interfaith dialogue, Singh writes that
all human beings, irrespective of religion, are “eternal spiritual beings in
temporary material bodies” and that “the ultimate goal of human life is to
achieve love of the Supreme Lord”.
“Through spiritual education”, he says, “we should all come up to the
consciousness that we are all pure spirit souls. In that consciousness, we can
see the brotherhood and sisterhood of all people and that we are all spiritual
children of God”. In this way, people of different faiths can begin to respect
and care for each other. Far from this being a departure from religious
teachings, Singh says, all genuine religious traditions teach us to love God in
brotherhood. “If this was truly practised by every religious person in each
tradition, he or she would never fight with anyone in the name of God”, he
religionists claim that the particular set of dogmas and rituals they believe
in represents the sole truth. Such an attitude can easily lead to supremacism,
conflict and violence. Singh, however, reminds us that true religion is “beyond
any sectarian concept.” “A true religious principle”, he says, “is a gift of
the Supreme Being, God, to humanity revealed through saintly persons” to help us
revive our original spiritual identity.
The essence and ultimate significance of religion, Singh says, is not
religion in an ethical, ritualistic or esoteric sense, but what he terms “the
spiritual and universal function of life”. The natural and inherent function of
a living being, he says, is to recognize that he or she is “an eternal servant
of the Supreme Being”. This, Singh says, is dharma or eternal religion.
universalistic understanding of religion can serve to bring people from
different faith traditions closer together, leading them to realize that, in
the words of Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whom Singh quotes,
“God’s love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict or to any
one religion”. It can also help us
discern the essential oneness of the spirit of the different spiritual
traditions that lies under the variety of their forms.
approach to interfaith dialogue as a spiritual quest and task, the issue of the
purpose of human life is of special significance. According to the spiritual
perspective, God is the foundation of reality. God, Singh says, has created
humans for the purpose of spiritual evolution, for them to rise from lower to
higher levels of consciousness. In contrast to this understanding of the
meaning of life, Singh says, materialists claim that the purpose of life is
simply to ‘enjoy’ or accumulate as much money as possible. They seek to fill
the vacuum created by their denial of God and spirituality through false,
materialistic ideologies, Singh says, but, he adds, “a false meaning of life
will never be able to bring lasting peace in the world.”
for lasting peace between people of different religious traditions must
necessarily be a spiritual one, Singh indicates. It is a solution that is
taught by the spiritual traditions of the world, if they are understood
properly. These traditions, Singh says, teach us to discover God’s plan behind
the creation and also teach us how to act in accordance with this plan. This,
he says, would require us to realize the unity of all living entities as being
children of God, which would help us connect with each other at a deep,
spiritual level and appreciate each other despite our religious and cultural
differences. It would promote what Singh calls “a culture of partnership among
different religious communities”.
points out that the only way for our collective survival today is to promote
understanding, peace and harmony between individuals, communities and nations,
and this should be based on a spiritual foundation. The root cause of
challenges such inter-community conflict, terrorism and the threat of deadly
wars that can put the very survival of humanity at stake, is, Singh says, lack
of spirituality and knowledge of God.
is a real gem, a precious contribution to contemporary discussions about
inter-religious relations that today have assumed immense salience, including
at the global level.