Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma)
The world before us today is trembling with violence, anger and discord. Everywhere we look, we see fear, tension, and anxiety. This group is suspicious of that group; that group is suspicious of this group. There is a constant feeling of apprehension and rivalry.
At the heart of this problem lies our constant perception of “otherness.” This defect in our vision has increased to such an extent that it has penetrated national borders, corrupting our view of even our fellow citizens — at times, of even our own family members.
It is pointless to deny the diversity of the world — this is its very nature. Each nation, religion and social group will have its own culture, viewpoint and focuses. While at times this diversity may seem to create obstacles to peace and harmony, if we go deeper and embrace the noblest human values in our lives, we will see that the very beauty of the world lies in this diversity. It is what brings richness and beauty to life. Isn’t a bouquet made from a variety of flowers more beautiful than a bouquet comprised of just one kind?
I have been traveling across the world for 30 years now, meeting people of all religions, nationalities and walks of life. Sometimes people tell me that their husband, wife or child has been killed in a religious clash. At such times I am deeply pained. Conflicts like these arise because people are not going to the true heart of their religion.
The spiritual masters upon whose lives and teachings the various religions were founded practiced the noblest ideals. Sadly, often their followers are failing to live up to them. The essence of all religions is love, compassion, and recognizing the underlying divinity — by whatever name one wants to call it — that serves as a substratum to this world and human existence. Tragically, today, people have become overly focused on the external traditions, which vary from religion to religion. They are forgetting the essence. This is why these religions, which were originally meant to foster peace and a sense of unity, have become instruments of war and conflict.
If everyone were to adhere to the essential principles of their religion, without being overly concerned about its external aspects, then religion could become a pathway to world peace. This is not to discard the importance of religious disciplines and traditions. Indeed, they have their own significance; they are necessary for our spiritual development. They are the different types of flowers that bring splendor and beauty to the bouquet. But we must remember that these different customs are but means to religion’s goal, not the goal itself.
If someone points to a fruit on a tree, we look to the tip of his finger and then beyond. Unless you look beyond the fingertip, you will never get the fruit. Today, people of all religions are failing to see and get the fruit of religion. They have become overly attached to — even obsessed with — the fingertips.
All religious leaders should stress the inner essence of their religion and urge people to practice the ideals found there. This will help to resolve conflicts. We should remember that religion is meant for humanity — not humanity for religion. Moreover, some aspects of religion were meant to cater to the needs of the times in which they came into being. When necessary, we should be prepared to re-examine those practices and make changes in accordance with the current times. No saint upon whom a religion has been founded ever said that love and tolerance should only be shown to people of one’s same faith. That would be like saying, “Only breathe when you are with your family and friends; not in front of your enemies.”
This is not to say one cannot retain a special love for his or her religion, nation or family — just that, we should never forget the inherent unity at the heart of all diversity. For it is when we lose sight of that unity that problems arise. When we start saying, “Our religion is right; yours is wrong,” discord is bound to erupt because this is like saying, “Our mother is a saint; yours is a whore.”
We should try to understand that the creation and the Creator are not two. Just as gold exists in and through all gold jewelry, so too, the Creator pervades the entirety of this creation. If we can cultivate such an understanding, we will never lose sight of our inherent unity. Just as we know our hands, legs, eyes, nose, etc., to be different parts of our one body, so too we can come to recognize all nations, religions and cultures as different manifestations of one all-pervasive divinity.
The intellect is like a pair of scissors; its job is to sever and divide. The heart, on the other hand, is like a needle; it joins everything together, makes seemingly diverse things one. Just as we cut a cloth into shapes and stitch them together to make a dress, both the intellect and heart are needed. Even so, in the atmosphere of our current times, we need to put extra focus on finding that thread of universal love upon with which the entire universe is woven.
The measure of a noble culture is its tolerance and broadmindedness in accommodating differing groups. It is in this light that we should approach today’s problems. Let us let go of the failures of the past. We need to start an era of unity, based on love, understanding and reverence for each other’s religious faiths. All religious groups should be ready to respond to this — the most urgent need of our times.
Sri Mata Almritanandamayi Devi (Amma) is a world-renowned humanitarian and spiritual leader. Amma is the head of Embracing the World, a multi-national collective of not-for-profit organizations dedicated to providing food, clothing and shelter for the poor and needy. Every day thousands of people come to seek Amma’s solace, spiritual wisdom and blessings, which she gives in the form of motherly hug.