The need for spiritual transformation

MORE and more, inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues are being organised to bring together leaders of the world's major religions to address ways of promoting peace and unity among mankind. While a major part of the discourse centres around identifying commonalities across the religions and focusing on the universal values and ideals, there also arises the need to pinpoint the uniqueness of each faith and belief system. Often the outcome is an impasse as spiritual leaders and adherents speak about the exclusiveness and autonomy of their own religion.

What deserves a more definitive approach is an explication of the underlying oneness that all religions teach ie its core spirituality. Religion relates an individual with his or her specific community; but its core spirituality relates us all.

Core spirituality is the basis of shared human values and must form the basis of a shared value system. Without being anchored in spirituality – as opposed to religion – the teaching of human values lacks meaning and depth.

An important aspect of the inter-faith and inter-religious heritage that has been overlooked despite its great significance, is the spiritual heritage of mankind. Humans are inherently imbued with a spirituality that leads them to search for greater meaning in life than just the physical and tangible. People across the world have this common goal and must come together in its pursuit. It is a significant gap that has to be bridged in the interest of promoting peace and harmony on earth.

The question is this: Why has such an important aspect of human civilisation and advancement been ignored? Religion after all transcends material culture, resonating with man's deepest needs, providing guidance and hope and relating to meaning systems that lie at the very core of his existence.

The reason for such an omission could well be that religion has largely been perceived to be the private concern of the individual, especially in the West. A particular religion and its teachings have for too long been seen as the exclusive concern of individuals or groups professing and claiming "ownership" of their respective religions.

There is a need for a more concerted effort to articulate the essence of man's oneness, to reach out, educate and influence people to use their religiosity/spirituality for the collective advancement of human civilisation. It is a choice that people have and it is important to guide the choice, as religion is a double edged sword that can be used either to advance or destroy our civilisation. It can be used either to ennoble the human spirit, or fill it with hatred and violence.

As we know, the result of religious divisiveness is turmoil and warfare. The world is said to be on the brink of annihilation at a time when the scientific and technological means for world peace and unity hold unprecedented promise for a glorious future. The widespread sectarian animosity, violence, persecution and killings in the name of religion have assumed catastrophic proportions lending weight and credence to the fear that today, religion which has science and technology at its disposal for achieving good, poses the greatest threat to world peace and human civilisation.

Since this is a choice that will determine the fate of mankind, it cannot be a choice that is simply thrown to the people or their religious and political leaders in the name of democracy. The choice must be initiated, guided and monitored by a movement that will take the discourse several notches higher in order to establish a fuller, deeper understanding of the notion of "spiritual heritage of mankind". By exploring the universal values of spirituality underlying Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and the other religions, a consensus can be reached as to what constitutes the core spiritual values that effectively foster peace and unity among mankind.

To the sceptics grown weary of too much talk which has not been translated into action, I say there's hope yet if there are enough of us who care to sit down at ground level to share our common experiences. To the critics wary of the growing divisiveness across and within religious communities, I say do not perpetuate the "slam and damn" culture by adding to fear and suspicion.

The cure for society's ills lies in its spiritual transformation where the traditional ethics and moral codes of our religions amalgamate and form the basis of our national ethos. A vital part of our quest for peace and unity lies in spiritual values such as love, kindness and compassion which all religions teach must be revitalised into contemporary forms which people can translate into their everyday life. The spiritual transformation of society starts with the individual who lives out these values which then permeates his family, community and the outer society.

The writer keenly follows developments in politics, culture and education. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com