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Excerpts from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s opening address at the Parliament of World Religions 2009 at Melbourne, Australia on December 3, 2009
The purpose of religion is to bring enlightenment to the individual, and happiness in society, and to move from limited individual identity, to universality and communion with the Divine. When at a time these ideals are far from reality, congregations such as these where people of all faiths gather together, have great responsibility to ponder on the pressing issues. It is a necessity for survival of our planet. Faith and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) are a powerful tool of transformation in society. Though we have moved away from the blemish of medieval conflicts to a more tolerant and co-operative society, FBOs have the responsibility to make a happy society.
Even if part of the planet thinks they are going to heaven, and the others are going to go to hell, they will create a hell for everyone.
We need multicultural and multi-religious education to reach every nook and corner of the planet.
Violence is appalling today, whether it is domestic violence or societal violence – we see it in every newspaper column, and a sort of pride is being attached to violence. In school classrooms, violent children are considered heroes.
When we were growing up, we grew up with stories about Mahatma Gandhi, about ahimsa, non-violence. If someone lost their temper, people thought they needed to see a psychologist, that there was something wrong. Today, even with our heroes in movies, there is a culture of glorifying violence, which we need to turn around - and that responsibility is on us, the faith-based community.
There are two types of violence in the world today – religious violence, which we are all aware of, but also leftist violence. In India, Naxals control 212 of the country’s 604 districts.
Spirituality needs to reach these areas, but we all have to do this work. Even in Columbia, South America, they are also affected by violence. FBOs have to play a role.
As I listened to the symphony this evening, I looked at these beautiful singers and artists, all playing their own tune, but all looking at the conductor.
All religious leaders have to take on this role. We cannot lose sight of that one Divinity, which has created this beautiful diversity. Otherwise we won’t have a symphony, we will have a chaos.
The world has witnessed so much chaos, now let’s focus on one conductor – GOD – Generator, Operator and Destroyer. Focus on one aspect, but play your instrument. There is no threat to any tradition, to any culture, if we are all uplifted in human values, in communion of One, which is in the heart of each and every one of us.
I am reminded of the Kumbh Mela, which has been going on for thousands of years. When I was at the last Kumbh Mela, I saw something amazing. 30 million people congregate there, and yet there is no crime, no violence, no stealing. Imagine that people can have this faith.
Once at the Kumbh Mela, it was very cold in the night, it was January. We went out to distribute some blankets. We saw a young boy, who had just crossed his 20s – he was wearing some shorts, underclothes, and we offered him a blanket. He said, “I don’t need it, I can manage, but under the bridge there are many elderly women, they need it more than me. Please give it to them.”
That sense of belongingness with each other, helping each other - only FBOs can bring this feeling on this planet.
Once again, I congratulate all of you for venturing on this noble work of reforming society and uniting with the ever-present being within all of us.
We need to ponder on issues relating to the environment, children, agriculture. The word “Parliament” is really scary! Rather, I would call this a family reunion, because there is more conflict in parliament. A reunion of all faith-based organizations to deal with the problem of depression.
WHO has said that depression will soon be the second biggest killer in the world. Popping Prozac is not enough. It was so painful to hear from our sister from Afghanistan that a whole generation is suffering from depression. 92 percent of Palestine is depressed. 160 billion Euros is being spent on mental health care in the EU alone.
We need to get out of this vicious circle. Many have good cars, good jobs, but if depressed, it’s like dressing a corpse, putting make-up on a corpse.
We need to attend to the human values, and how we can elevate the spirit to move out of this deep depression and anxiety, and violence.
Let’s all brainstorm something concrete, to bring back to every nook and corner of this planet.