Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
I would say religion has three aspects:
2. Symbols and
3. Rituals and practices
The values seem to be the same amongst all religions, like brotherhood, oneness of God, love and compassion, serving the poor and needy. This is the spiritual aspect of religion.
Second, is symbol. Every religion has symbols, holy places and books. Third is rituals and practices. There can be many different rituals.
What people usually do is, they leave the values and hold on to the rituals and symbols. This is where conflict arises. That is why I say, ‘Spirituality unites people, but religions can divide people'.
If you see the major religions of the world, you will see that the Abrahamic religions come from the same source. It is like three brothers from the same family. But, there has been a lot of conflict.
Other religions like Shintoism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, there has never been any conflict. The six religions of the Far East have always coexisted, and their rituals are completely different. Within Hinduism there are hundreds of sects, but there have never been any clashes. The basic rule is to respect and honor each other. It was the same with Islam. In Islam there are five different sects, or even more. There have been periods in history where they all coexisted peacefully. Even in Iraq, Shias and Sunnis coexisted.
When conflicts arise, it latches on to religion much more than any other identity and then the whole problem starts. We should focus more on the spiritual values which can unite people of all religions.
I would like to tell you a happening in Japan. Once, President Nixon went to Japan and he wanted to meet all the religious leaders. On one side of him was seated a Buddhist monk and on the other side was a Shinto priest.
President Nixon asked the Shinto priest, ‘What is the percentage of Shinto followers in Japan?’
He said, ’80%.’
He then turned to the Buddhist monk and asked him, ‘What is the percentage of Buddhist followers in Japan?’
He said, ’80%.’
The President couldn't understand how that was possible, but it is possible.
Similarly, if you come to India, the Jain and Hindus have completely different sets of beliefs and rituals, but they live together with such harmony. Similarly, the Sikhs and the Hindus participate in each other's festivals and honor each other but never has there been any conflict. They never said, ‘Only I will go to heaven.’
This is what the Middle East can learn from the Far East. Whether they are Yazidis, Christians, Muslims, Shias or Sunnis, Ahmedia or Sufi, they can all coexist. What is important is to honor the diversity.