Terrorism, Fear and Spirituality

20 Jun 2012

Every day in the newspapers we find reports of bomb blasts and people being killed. We see so much intolerance - whether it is Norway, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan or African Countries is obvious. In the recent past, the common man in the sub continent has not been spared.

This incident has brought forth a serious issue facing humanity – that of prejudice, fanaticism and fear psychosis. The mindset responsible for such an act is most dangerous. Whatever religious colour a terrorist may wear, or reason one might hold to justify such behavior, the basic issue is a failure to realise the importance of diversity and the underlying spiritual unity of humankind. Lack of interaction between cultures, and prejudice against other cultures, can take individuals and entire societies into such disastrous situations.

Multi-cultural and multi-religious activities are necessary to remove prejudices and phobias from young minds. It is absolutely essential that all nations embrace multi-cultural and multi-religious educations and celebrate diversity. When a child grows up thinking that other religions or cultures are not good, then he or she becomes ready to take other lives or give up one’s own due to the prejudiced mindset. Understanding a little about other cultures, religions and customs will help a child develop a sense of connectedness and a sense of belonging with everybody. When a sense of connectedness is present, one cannot harbor hatred for others.

All religions emphasise the principles of nonviolence, peaceful co-existence and values of friendliness, compassion and service to society. These common principles need to be highlighted and introduced early on in a child’s education. Even a small section of people with prejudices and misconceptions can prove dangerous to society. Unfortunately, in every religion today, there are people who are narrow-minded and thrive on creating phobia, prejudice and erroneous perceptions about other cultures and religions. Closed mindsets, limited interactions, and a sense of disconnectedness with other cultures and communities can lead to situations that can spark such violent acts.

Spiritual education is crucial to help individuals deal with anger and hatred. Without a means to control them, anger and hatred can lead to a situation where one loses sight of reason. When the ability to reason is lost, human values of tolerance and compassion are lost. Respect for life, which is the basis for all human values, is also lost as a result.

Terrorists have no respect for life. In reality, terrorists have no religion, no nationality and no philosophy, for they are blind to reason. Lack of spiritual education gives rise to domestic and societal violence on one hand, and suicidal tendencies on the other. When a person is frustrated, angry or hateful, you cannot expect brotherhood and non-violence to prevail. The sense of connectedness in society depends on how people are oriented to the principle of Ahimsa or nonviolence. If the values of nonviolence, love, friendliness and compassion are strongly ingrained in an individual, frustration or disappointments can be handled better.

We accept food, art and music from around the world. In the same way, we need to learn to accept knowledge and wisdom from every part of the world as well. We live in an age of globalisation – we need to globalise wisdom also. Even if one part of the world lacks these human values of friendliness, tolerance and compassion, the world will not be a safe place, because that part can breed terrorism.

We need to address the root cause of these incidents of violence before it is too late. Often, peace-loving people are not proactive in promoting peace in society, and those who are proactive lack peace within. A combination of peace and dynamism is needed in society today. Though this may seem idealistic, it is not impossible. It is possible through right education and orientation. Each one of us can play a role in educating people on the human values of friendliness, compassion and non-aggression.

Human values are social and ethical norms common to all cultures and societies, as well as religions. They represent a melding of social progress and spiritual growth. Religious and community leaders should rethink how they can reduce extremist tendencies in their communities.

When attention is given to the spiritual aspect of one’s life, it brings up responsibility, a sense of connectedness, compassion and caring for the whole of humanity. Spirituality upholds and sustains life. It breaks down the narrow boundaries of caste, creed, religion and nationality. Spirituality gives an individual awareness of the life present everywhere. It is only through this awareness and the uplifting of human consciousness that violence in the name of religion can be eliminated.

The writer is a spiritual leader and the founder of the Art of Living Foundation - Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The above article appears in Huffinton Post - Religion on 02 August 2011 and in The Independant News, Pakistan on 18 June 2012. Click the links to view the article online.