A translation of Swamishri's speech delivered in Gujarati at the Peace Summit.
29 August 2000, United Nations, New York
Most revered Saints and Religious leaders gathered from all over the world, UN Secretary General H.E. Kofi Annan, respected President of the Conference, Mr. Ted Turner, Mr. Bawa Jain and the organizers. Today, the sight of so many religious leaders together at one place is in itself a moment of great joy and divinity. This is the first such religious summit guided by the UN and we wholeheartedly welcome this bold step, which recognizes the crucial role of religion in bringing about world peace.
Dialogue With Religious Leaders
Inter-religious Dialogue and harmony is our immediate need. Religious leaders should often meet and talk to other religious leaders. We must freely communicate with each other.
When we met the Pope in 1984, many reporters asked, "What purpose will the meeting of two religious heads serve?" We answered, 'Apart from creating understanding and friendship, when religious heads meet each other it lessens bitterness between the followers of the two Faiths and helps generate harmony.' A single meeting, a simple dialogue can positively influence the minds of millions. Just as the Archbishop of Canterbury positively visited our Swaminarayan Hindu Mandir in London, we personally visited Bethlehem, the wailing wall in Jerusalem and met both the chief Rabbis of Judaism. It creates understanding, and generates genuine respect. That is why we often say, 'Religion is that which spreads love for one another.'
In this age of growing environmental awareness, we have realized the value of life and bio-diversity and are persisting to preserve all forms of life. Then what about religious-diversity ? Let every religion exist and flourish. No big religion should usurp and efface small religions. Allow them to serve the world in their own small ways. At this hour in human history, we religious leaders should not dream of only One religion in the world, but dream of a world where all religions are One - United. Unity in Diversity is the lesson of life. Flourishing together is the secret of peace.
Just as the unity of our followers makes our Faith strong and stable, unity of Faiths will make our future strong and stable. We must remind ourselves that every civilization, culture and religion born on this earth is like a goldmine, rich with values, wisdom and vision. Let us share this legacy and construct a common platform of values for the rest of mankind to stand on.
From Rigvedic times, the Hindus have professed this global broadmindedness of a Beautiful Borderless World with this prayer - Ano Bhadraha Kratavo Yantu Vishvataha - Let noble thoughts come to us from every side.
Our spiritual master Yogiji Maharaj often said : Maaru e Saaru Nahi pana Saaru e Maaru. - Rather than mine is the best, the best should be mine.
The Upanishads say, Isha vasayam idam sarvam, yat kincha jagatyam jagat - In everyone and in everything there is the divine presence of God. This spiritual unity connects us with the entire creation.
The Vedas say, Amrutasya putra vayam - We all are the children of God.
Lord Swaminarayan says, 'We are all atmans - pure spiritual entities unattached to and unbound by caste, country, race and religion.'
And the Mahabharat says, Atmavat Sarve Bhuteshu - Behold all living beings as oneself.
Dialogue With Followers
Dialogue among religious leaders is not enough, a dialogue with our own followers is more important. A religious leader alone can change the minds of his followers. If every religion concentrated on improving the quality of spirituality of their own followers then there would be more faith and less fanaticism.
Let us teach our followers that religion does not grow by quantity of numbers, but by quality of spirituality. Vertical depth is much more important than horizontal spread. A Hindu should become a better Hindu, a Jew should become a better Jew, a Christian should become a better Christian, a Muslim should become a better Muslim. If the follower of every religion becomes a better and true follower then our world will be a much better world. Therefore, we should steer our followers away from fanaticism and focus on faith and pure living. Lord Swaminarayan transformed the lives of dacoits like Joban Pagi and the lawless and violent tribes of Kathis into peace-loving people with His spiritual influence. In this way, through a weaponless revolution, with the medium of love and devotion, He transformed the lives of people. It works. But, if we work individually our impact is limited. If we all work together we will be able to bring large-scale transformation.
Dialogue With Oneself
Lastly, there is nothing more important than dialogue with oneself. We must ask ourselves how close we are to the teachings of our founders. Let us live their philosophies and teachings of love, truth, compassion, non-violence, harmony, faith, devotion.
Lord Swaminarayan has given a universal, all-encompassing definition of religion, Dharmo gneyaha sadacharaha - Righteousness is Religion. Let us not allow righteousness to weaken. That is why today's religion should be both social and spiritual, and should benefit not only its followers but all people, and not just people but all forms of life. Hence, the Hindus, from the dawn of civilization have continually prayed,
O Lord ! May the skies be peaceful, the space be peaceful,
May the earth, the waters, the herbs and plants be peaceful,
May peace, peace and only peace prevail.
When we are at peace with ourselves and at peace with people and things around us, only then can we attain real peace.
Let us guide ourselves and our followers not just to tolerate but to respect other religions, not just to exist but to co-exist, not just to hail but to help others. We must not progress at the cost of others, but sacrifice a part of ourselves for the good of others. Because:
In the good of others lies our own
In the progress of others rests our own
In the joy of others abides our own.
Once again I thank you all and pray that the organizers, the UN, and all the people of our planet are blessed with peace, piety and pro-gress by God and all the saints and sages who have walked on our earth.