Talk I gave at the 19th OM day event held by London Sevashram Sangha on 8 July 2018 at London Buddhist Vihara, Chiswick, London
A common thread running in the Dharmic faiths namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism is the idea that there are many paths to God. The Jain faith calls this concept ‘ Anekantvad ‘. It means that there are many ways by which one can arrive at the truth. This concept was explained was by Lord Buddha when he asked four blindfolded people to touch an elephant and describe what it was like. All of them described differently depending on what part of the animal they touched. They were all correct in their own way. This idea of pluralism is deeply embedded in how the Dharmic faiths perceive the world. It is due to this reason that democracy is thriving in India. It is this idea of understanding and respecting other ideas and faiths that has prevented conflict and bloodshed in the name of religion in the history of Dharmic faiths. It is due to this reason that persecuted groups like Jewish people, Zoroastrians and Baha’i have found a safe home in India. One can appreciate this great principle of acknowledging the immense diversity of our existence when we compare that with the horrors that were inflicted upon the people of South American countries by the Spanish conquerors. Seen as heathens the Spanish colonialists saw it as their duty to Christianise the natives at any cost.
Lord Buddha and Lord Mahaveera, the last Jain teacher in this era, were both princes. They came from the same part of India and preached at the same time. There is no record of them meeting. They were advocating the same values of Ahimsa and compassion. Buddhism spread far beyond India all over Asia but Jainism remained in India. One of the reasons is that Jain Monks are forbidden from using any form of transport. This was to minimise any harm to other living beings and to the environment. Almost 2,600 year ago the saints and sages of India taught the masses to live in harmony with nature and to respect mother Earth. We are now seeing the catastrophe that awaits us because of the way we have plundered the oceans, rivers, mountains, animals and forests. Meat consumption is one of the biggest causes of global warming. Almost 80 billion are raised for meat every year. They have to be fed and watered. Our planet is just not big enough to sustain these numbers. Almost 40% of grains that can feed human beings are fed to animals, a huge amount of world’s fresh water resources is used up in raising animals and forests are being cleared away to start cattle ranches. The future generations will inherit a planet which will be plagued by hunger, water shortages , droughts as well as cyclones, hurricanes and other natural calamities. There will be mass migrations and wars for water and other resources.
The Dharmic faiths have a crucial role to promote non-violence, vegetarian and vegan life style as well as life enhancing practices such as meditation and yoga. The faiths that originated in India have a lot to give and the world is eager to receive. All of us have to understand that circumstances are creating conditions whereby the world is beginning to appreciate our Dharmic heritage and we have a role to play!
Nitin Mehta MBE