Let Us Define: Freedom of Religion

Reproduced below are the Opening Remarks of Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati at the World Religious Congress
Honourable Prime Minister, His Holiness Dalai Lamaji, Sri Venkataraman and friends.

It has been my desire for a long time that there should be an attempt – an effort – to preserve the various religious traditions in the world and to see that they are not destroyed. For, you never felt these days what you deserve; you always get what you negotiate for.

We have been witnessing in the world attempts to preserve and to save the endangered species in the flora and fauna. Endangered animals are being saved by a program of helping them grow in number.

We have in India a Project Tiger in order to save the Indian tigers. Like this, there are many animals that are now multiplying in number because of programs of helping them to grow. There was a bird in Mauritius and it became extinct. The Dodo bird became extinct not by any natural disaster. The human beings ate them up. Now they are ‘dead like Dodo’! They are extinct.

We have live cultures, which are highly rooted in their religious traditions and they are endangered. In fact, this is a conference of endangered species. The Dodos could not confer like we do. They are dead like Dodos. We can confer, and there fore, we have come together to find out ways and means to see that the diverse cultures and religious traditions are saved and that those which are almost dead or dying are not allowed to die.

And perhaps, like some attempts being made in Europe, we can bring back the old cultures alive. The Romas in Europe and the various groups that are there in Lithuania want to go back to their original traditions. They were just dubbed as Pagans and totally destroyed. They were called ethnic traditions.

Here in India, we have the Vedika Dharma. This dharma has to be preserved. And its preservation Implies actual living of the dharma by the people. Nobody can protect dharma in bottles. It has to be protected only by protecting the dharmi, the person who lives that dharma.

This is a momentous conference. It is not taking place a day earlier. People have been thinking along these lines and wondering about what they can do. The religious leaders should look into the theologies and find out ways and means to see that there is no religious sanction for any type of violence.

There are different types of violence. Physical violence is one thing. The violence caused to the religious person is something very deep and real. If a person is converted to another religion by a program of proselytization, that person is uprooted from his tradition. The whole family is hurt and the people who witness the whole thing are also hurt. This hurt, according to me, is himsa; it is violence.

Therefore, the religious leaders, who are inspired by their theology that all the people should be brought to the same flock and that nobody should be outside the flock, need to really look into their own scriptures and see whether all of us can live a life in harmony, mutually respecting each other. We generally say ‘mutually respecting’. Our Chairman, in his talk said, “equally respecting”, which I like better. We should be equally respecting each other.

As a religious person, I do not want to be completely rubbed off by you, and I also don’t want to rub you off. I want you to live in harmony with me. I want you to have the freedom to think the way you think, to believe what you believe and to practice according to your belief. But that freedom to believe and practice should no destroy me.

In India, anybody who talks about Hindu religion and the danger that it is facing is dubbed as a fundamentalist. That means that if I don’t give you the freedom to destroy me, I am ‘a fundamentalist’.

I, therefore, want the delegates to this Conference to look into this concept of freedom of religion once and for all. Let all the secular press here come to know about it. Let us declare to them: “Hey, this is freedom of religion. You are free to practice your religion, I am free to practice your religion, I am free to practice my religion. Don’t stand on my toes. If you stand on my toes, I will ask you, “ please get off.”