The Growth of Religious Tolerance

Despite the continued presence of religious fanaticism and bigotry in the word, the twentieth century has witnessed a significant growth in religious tolerance. The idea that different religions and spiritual traditions have a valid approach is more widespread than at any time. To a large extent up until the 19th Century a defining feature of religion was the idea of the one true religion, and through its adherence you were either saved or damned. There was little if any ecumenical tradition and views of other religions were often clouded in myth, superstition or even contempt.

However the ideal of religious harmony is however increasingly shared by many. A crucial event in shaping a more pluralistic, tolerant view of religions was the inaugural World Parliament of Religions in 1893.

As part of the Chicago exhibition it was decided to invite participants from all the main religions. Some suggest the Parliament was founded in the expectation of proving the superiority of Christianity over the other religions. This may or may not have been a partial motive, but the idea of inviting representative from different religions was a relative novel concept and an outreach towards greater tolerance.

The World Parliament of Religions could possibly have passed into relative anonymity had it not been for the participation of the young Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna a great saint from Bengal, India. Under his guidance Vivekananda had learnt, practised and embodied the ancient ideals of Vedanta. Foremost Sri Ramakrishna was a devotee of Mother Kali, but after realising the highest spiritual experience in his own sadhana (spiritual discipline) he was inspired to practise with great devotion, the religious and spiritual disciplines of other religions and sects. Thus Ramakrishna was able to proclaim with the inner certainty of direct experience that all religions led to the same goal. For Ramakrishna the unity of all religions was not just a philosophical idea it was something he had realised and experienced himself.

As the spiritual successor to Ramakrishna it was fitting that Vivekananda would be able to make such a positive impression on the Parliament of World Religions.

In Vivekananda the audience felt a sincere spirituality a religious feeling that was not confrontational but all-inclusive. At his inaugural address Vivekananda began his immortal address with the words

?sisters and brothers of America?? [1]

Spontaneously the 4,000 audience rose to their feet in appreciation for the sentiments and spirit of his lofty message. Vivekananda continued.

?It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us…?

Swami Vivekananda was chosen to represent Hinduism however he did not try to prove the superiority of his religion. Instead Vivekananda spoke with great sincerity about the harmony of world religions and the common spirituality of humanity. It was this universal message of oneness which captivated the audience.

?As different streams, having their sources in different places, all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.?

Vivekananda proved to be an eloquent exponent of Vedanta and the ideals of all religions. In addition people felt in this handsome and striking Monk a calm detachment, a luminous personality and genuine spirituality. Unexpectedly Vivekananda proved to be the star of the World Parliament of Religions

100 years later another World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago. The aim was to commemorate the historic Parliament 100 years ago and also to renew the commitment to interfaith dialogue. Since then there have also been Parliaments convened in Cape Town 1999 and Barcelona 2004. In Chicago and Barcelona the opening meditation [2] was led by Sri Chinmoy. Speaking of his meditations Sri Chinmoy said

?During my Opening Meditation I am praying for the oneness of all religions.?

Like Vivekananda, Sri Chinmoy comes from India and since his arrival in United States in 1964 he has sought to spread a message of unity and oneness between people of different faiths. Sri Chinmoy is also the founder of the World Harmony Run; a global relay run seeking to offer a dynamic way of bringing people together in harmony and oneness.

To Sri Chinmoy religious tolerance is of great importance but also suggests tolerance is not the highest ideal, we can go beyond tolerance to feel a oneness and sympathy with other religions in the knowledge all religions are a reflection of the Ultimate Truth

?? I fully agree that all religions lead to one truth, the Absolute truth. There is One truth. There is only one Goal, but there are various paths. Each religion is right in its own way.?

  • Sri Chinmoy
[1] Video of Vivekananda’s Speech at World Parliament of Religions
[2] Opening Meditation at World Parliament of Religions 2004 by Sri Chinmoy
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