September 13, 2006

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Address at the Congress On World Religions After 9/11 (Sep-11, 2006)

H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was a guest speaker on the opening night of the World Religions After September 11 Global Congress, organized by McGill University and held at Palais des Congres de Montréal on September 11th, 2006.


Here’s a transcript of Sri Sri’s speech:

To the dean of McGill University, members of the Steering Comity, and my brothers and sisters:

World Religions after September 11th is what we are speaking about today. But I would say, from centuries, religion has been a very deep subject. People have given their lives for religion, not for mathematics, physics, chemistry, or any other discipline. This is because religion becomes an identity factor. Now is it possible for us to lift this identity to another level? This is what we need to look into. Whenever someone identifies oneself with a country, religion, race, sex, they forget one basic thing: that we are all human beings. So I would say that our first and foremost identity should be that we are all part of one spirit, one God, one light. On the second place of our identity is that we are all human beings, third we are man or woman, fourth we can place religion, and then the nation. Then the world would be a safer place.

Fanaticism in any one religion finds its shadow in other religions. This is the problem today. Fanaticism in religion causes terrorism in politics. Today what we need is to secularize religion and spiritualize politics. Politicians should be more spiritual and honor the values of compassion and non-violence.

As you already heard today, [Sep-11, 1906] is also Mahatma Ghandi’s launching of non-violence agitation in South Africa and Swami Vivekananda's address to the World Parliament of Religions [Sep-11, 1893]. You know India has been an example for communal harmony for centuries. It is a country where nobody was ever prosecuted. But even in such a place, there are disturbances today. This is because we are losing spirituality. We are getting ourselves caught in regional, language, even sects within religions. There was only one Buddha and today there are 32 sects of Buddhism. There was only one Jesus and today there are nearly 70 different schools of thought. But can we live in harmony with diversity is a big question. I think the religions study institutes and gatherings like this one will have to discuss this and come up with a plan on how we can bring this to the world in the future.

Someone asked me on the way here just before coming to the hall: “Likeminded people will be coming to this gathering but what do you do with people who do not subscribe to these ideas? They are the one who need this most!” It’s a very correct question. How do we reach those people? This was in my mind for a long time but you know what, we went to the prisons where the hard core prisoners are and we started educating them. It’s the stress and narrow mindedness that has caused so much drift between people. And it takes the form of religion. Today if you see the domestic violence in any country is much more than the violence caused by religious fanaticism. If you compare the domestic violence, you will find it is on the rise. Same goes for suicidal tendencies and societal crime. These are all result of lack of spirituality, lack of understanding, lack of honor for life.

Have we done anything to bring up human values and teach our kids to honor life? This is a question we need to ask ourselves. We have globaized the economy, technology, food, music everything but wisdom. Today we need to globalize wisdom. If every child knows a little bit about all the other religions, he will not grow up to be a fanatic. He will not say: “Only I go to heaven and everybody is going to hell.” They create hell for everybody else. I feel sorry for those children who grow up thinking that only they are better. This holier than though attitude is merely because of ignorance; lack of globalizing wisdom. I would say every child should know a little bit about Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Shintoism…then a child has respect and honor for each other’s religions. Don’t you think so?

The globalizing wisdom is what we need most today. If those youth in Afghanistan had known a little bit about Buddha, they would not have gone and destroyed Bamiyan Buddha. It’s because they had no idea about Buddha’s teachings.

Technology, truth, trade, and traditions need to be revived and revised again and again. We need to reinterpret them according to time. In Sanskrit we say: “Considering time and space, revision of scriptures have to be done, understanding has to be modified”. Today we need to globalize wisdom. We accept music from every part of the world, we go and eat food in Chinese restaurants, we don’t need to be Danish to eat Danish cookies or we don’t need to be Canadian to have maple syrup. So when we accommodate food and technology, why don’t we allow our children to have globalized wisdom and learn a little bit from every other tradition? It’s not possible to learn too much but just a general knowledge. I would say that is spirituality. Spirituality is raising above. Often I say, religion is like the banana skin, spirituality is like the banana. And we need the banana today.

A little bit of humor too. Most of the problems in the world is that there is no humor. Religious communities or congregations should come up with beaming smiles, we often find people very serious. A small thing like a cartoon can create so much insult. But if we have more humor we will tackle humor with humor. It need not create violence in the society. Communications will become better.

Universities like McGill, the dean, and the learned professors here can take up this cause of bringing all the religions together and educating throughout the world. Even if a small part of the world is left without ecumenical education, the world will not be a safe place to live.

So each one of us when we go from here, let’s take this global idea of wisdom. Our ancient Hindu tradition has said: “Vasudeva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family.” We are all different, we follow different streams of thought, yet we are part of one world family. The ancient Hindu texts emphasize on this: harmony in diversity.

With these few words, I thank you all for giving me an opportunity to be with you.


Sri Sri with Didiji, leader of the Swadhyaya movement


Sri Sri with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi

Web Site of the World Religions After 911 Congress:
http://www.worldsreligionsafter911.com/