How do we balance between respecting followers of all religions and acknowledging the violence that some of them do?
Transcription by- Keshav Gopal Das
Question- Some religions have been more violent and intolerant than others and because of that some people may label the whole religion itself as bad. We know that such conception is not true because there are devout followers in other religions also. How do we balance between respecting the followers of such a religion but at the same time acknowledging the reality of what followers have done?
Answer- We all have certain biases. These biases could be based on our birth, our upbringing, our experiences in life etc. Hence it is possible that if there are some people who have been victims of some religious riots, communal violence, terrorist attacks etc., they may feel that such a religion is bad.
One of the characteristics of prejudice (or bias) is that there is an unwarranted extrapolation from a real experience. For example, I experience some people are irrational or some people are fanatical and I say – everyone is fanatical among them. Such kind of extrapolation is unwarranted.
Bhagvad-gita teaches us to see things in terms of three modes – goodness, passion and ignorance (sattva-guna, rajo-guna, and tamo-guna). People all over the world are found in these three modes. In every country, every race, every religion, there will be some people in goodness, some in passion and some in ignorance. Therefore to call a particular religion to be ignorant, is to be ignorant of the reality that in every religion there will be people in goodness, passion and ignorance.
I am part of an online forum of different religions. One of my Muslim friends in that forum, he told me something striking. What he said – it is easier for me to communicate with moderates of other traditions, than extremists of my own tradition. There are people in goodness in every religion. Such people can sit and talk. But people in goodness in Islam (for example) cannot sit and talk with people in ignorance in the same religion.
Further, we also need to consider the historical context through which different religions originate. Traditionally, in Vedic culture, there has always been a separation of religious power and martial power. The Brahmanas had spiritual power and Kshatriyas had martial power. In Christianity also, Jesus was a spiritual teacher and later on one of his disciples Paul, who did lot of preaching and expanded Christianity. Even in Buddism, Buddha was a spiritual teacher, and Ashoka was a Kshatriya who spread Buddhism.
In Islam, on the other hand, the spiritual power and martial power were invested in one person. And subsequent generation of Muslim leaders has focused more on Mohammed’s political actions or his martial activities rather than his spiritual activities. At an individual level, there are many Muslims who practice Islam diligently as spiritual search for the truth or God, but at a social level, because many of its leaders had focused more on martial aspect or political aspect of Mohammed, at a social level Islam often act as less of spiritual search for truth but more a political search for power. That may happen by hook or crook, and even through religious rationalization.
However, this may not to be seen as an inherent fault. There are people who have raised their consciousness even by practicing Islam. In fact, Srila Prabhupada appreciated Islam actually. When he was in Iran, there were some devotees who were send there to share Krishna Bhakti, and Prabhupada was talking with them and suddenly in the background there was namaz being chanted. A loud chant was going on. Prabhupada just folded his hands and closed his eyes. Throughout the namaz Srila Prabhupada kept his eyes closed and was fully absorbed. After some time when the namaz got over, Prabhupada opened his eyes and mentioned to the devotees – wasn’t that beautiful? Hearing this, devotees were taken aback! One of the devotees said – Prabhupada wouldn’t it be better if they chanted ‘Hare Krsna’? Hearing this Prabhupada looked hurt. He said, why are you making me sectarian? They are worshiping God in their way and we are doing it in our way.
We should focus on the principle whether people are approaching God sincerely or not. There are religious traditions in the world where people are approaching God sincerely. We acknowledge that philosophically and practically we also need to acknowledge that there may be abuse of religion for power and political purposes. We can’t be blind to that reality. We may have to take necessary measures to protect ourselves. Those who are taking those measures we cannot stop them, but we shouldn’t let prejudice rule our perception.