“Multi-Religious Cooperation: Myth, Reality, or Possibility for Indonesia?” By Anand Krishna

Posted on March 26th, 2010 | Filed under Faith and Politics, InterViews


There is a beautiful Sufi saying that, earlier “Sufi” did not exist as a term, but there were practicing Sufis everywhere. Now, the term “Sufi” exists, but there is hardly any true practitioner.

The same can be said about “multi-religious co-operation” and “interfaith dialogue”. Such terms were not popular earlier, but we had a genuine co-operation among people of different faiths, and there was harmony in society.

Now, the terms are popular, multi-religious and interfaith organizations are abounding, but true co-operation and harmony are missing.

What is Wrong?

I googled “love”, and found 1,400,000,000 entries, against 178,000,000 entries for “hate”.

Similarly, “peace” had 215,000,000 entries, against 89,100,000 entries for “conflict”, and merely 3,520,000 entries for “discord” (all results as on Jan 18th, around 09.25 Jakarta time).

What do these figures tell us? Based on these figures, can we safely conclude that love and peace are more popular than conflict and discord?

As “words” yes, as “terms” yes, as “ideas” yes, as “concepts” yes – love and peace are certainly more popular than hate, conflict, and discord. The hardcore realities of life however, tell us another story.

Love as an idea is great, but greater still is love in practice, through sharing and caring. The Indonesian idea of love in practice is:

Gotong-Royong

Many would translate this as “co-operation”. The literal meaning, however, is “sharing the burden”.

This is the Indonesian, indigenous concept of co-operation. Until a couple of decades ago, it would have been inconceivable to add “multi-religious” before co-operation.

In the languages of the archipelago, the term “Multi-Religious Gotong-Royong”, indeed, would sound absurd. Co-operation is co-operation. Gotong-royong is gotong-royong. Why add “multi-religious” to it? What is the need?

Jesus and Muhammad did not tell us to first check our neighbors’ religion before reaching out to them.

“Unconditional” Love

This is the spirit of gotong-royong. Gotong-royong is the coming together of all people, working hand in hand for a common cause.

No rules, no regulations, and definitely no organizations were necessary to implement gotong-royong in society. The notion of sharing our burden had been part of our culture, and our civilization.

No religious injunctions were necessary to implement it. We did it, for we knew it was good to help, to share the burden of those weaker than us.

Until not too long ago - for a lay Indonesian, a commoner - being good was being godly. To practice goodness was to practice godliness.

This, goodness, godliness, was the:

Foundation for Gotong-Royong

Upon this, very platform of goodness, and godliness, we stood together.

With more than 16,000 islands, and a population of over 70 million; hundreds of ethnicity and spoken languages - it was a gigantic task for the founding fathers of the modern Indonesian state to unite us all before proclaiming Indonesia’s independence.  But, they did it. And, they did it without resorting to any religious belief, sanction, a promise of heaven, or a threat of eternal hellfire.

They knew that it was not possible to unite such diverse peoples with a set of certain religious doctrines, or dogmas. A national platform built upon such would have been very fragile, frail, and not strong enough to hold the weight of a large nation.

Therefore, they built the national co-operation upon the foundation of nation’s own cultural heritage, values, history, and indigenous wisdom.

Bhinneka Tunggal Ika

First and foremost was the recognition of nation’s diversity in all fields and on all levels:

  • Largest Archipelago: 17,508 Islands (6,000 inhabited)
  • Largest Economy in Southeast Asia
  • Largest Muslim Population, and a House for the Followers of Almost All Major World Religions, and Several Indigenous Beliefs
  • World’s Most Populous Island: Java
  • 2nd Highest Level of Biodiversity
  • 4th Most Populous Country: 237 million people
  • 16th Largest Country (Land Area): 1,919,440 sq km
  • 300 Distinct Native Ethnicities 742 Languages/Dialects

Next was the finding of an indigenous formula to unite the diverse populace. And, this was Bhinneka Tunggal Ika – usually translated, or rather, mistranslated as “Unity in Diversity”, the phrase actually means:

“Appearing as Many, Essentially One”

“Unity in Diversity” does celebrate Diversity, but remains an ideology, or a mere concept, when it comes to uniting people. Why should they unite?

“Appearing as Many, Essentially One”, on the other hand, focuses on the underlying and the essential unity. We all are one. The differences among us are superficial. They are apparent, not latent.

We all come from one and same source, both spiritually and physically. The mapping of human DNA has proven this fact beyond any doubt. Our founding fathers, however, did not stop at that. They further formulated the way to implement this.

Pancasila

Enshrined in these “Five Principles” is the essence of all human values:

  • Religiosity or Godliness
  • Humanity
  • Nationality
  • Democracy, Guided by Inner Wisdom
  • Social Justice for All

The first principle did not speak of God, but of Godliness. It was not about any particular religion, but about the essence of all religions, the religiosity. This way they could embrace one and all, including those who followed a totally different belief systems from the mainstream religious groups.

Indonesia Then

Visiting India, about 60 years ago, one of our founding fathers, also the first president, Sukarno, scoffed at Indian shopkeepers who took pride in displaying their religion on their signboards, “Hindu Tea Stall”, “Muslim Restaurant”, and so on and so forth.

Around the same time, then president Radhakrishnan of India was amazed at how we on the archipelago had preserved our culture and traditions, deeply rooted in the ancient Indus Valley civilization, irrespective of our religious affiliations.

Indonesia Now

Unfortunately, the situation today is changed. What happened in India then, is happening in Indonesia now, today.

Culture had united us, then. Religion is dividing us, now. We had no multi-religious, and interfaith organizations then, but had interfaith harmony. We have many multi-religious, and interfaith organizations now, but no interfaith harmony.

Religious Fanaticism

It is clearly on the rise. And, in fact it has been so for last two decades. Unfortunately, our authorities were, either unable to read the writings on the wall, or had their own vested interests, and therefore deliberately allowed it to happen.

Several years ago when I discussed the issue with one of the ministers and requested him to learn from the Pakistani experience - as acknowledged by former President Musharraf in his autobiography In the Line of Fire – he took it very lightly, “But, I see nothing wrong if someone is fanatic about his religion.

“Terrorism and violence have nothing to do with religion.” – Cliché, a worn-out line indeed, but still being used and misused by many, including the so-called moderate clerics.

I reminded him of what Mahatma Gandhi had to say on this, “A fanaticism that refuses to discriminate is the of all ideals.”

He stuck to his line, and I realized that it was no use talking to the wall.

Fanaticism, Extremism, Radicalism, and Terrorism

These are inseparable. Fanaticism is the womb that gives birth to terrorism. Extremism and radicalism are the stages before such birth.

I recall the statements made by former Vice President Hamzah Haz, not long before the Bali bombing in 2002. He refused that we had terrorist cells and training camps in the country. He was wrong.

Bali bombing was only the beginning.

We have, ever since, been bombed several times. Most of the executors have been our own people, Indonesians. And, yet, speaking in international forums, the leaders of our religious institutions are reluctant to admit that growing fanaticism and radicalism have divided our society.

Like it or not, religion has been used, or rather misused, to justify acts of terror. Religion has been presented in such a way, and by its own followers, that it has lost both its meaning and its utility as a uniting force.

Redefining the Role of Religion

This is the greatest challenge faced by all religions, and religious groups. There can be no multi-religious co-operation, if the very meaning and definition of religion, and its role remain unclear.

All of our religious texts contain both, universal truths relevant for all times, and contextual truths addressing to the burning issues of a particular time period. The followers of all religions must be wise enough to differentiate between the two.

When the contextual is presented as universal – religion ceases to be a binding force. Until and unless this point is clearly understood and resolved, there can be no lasting co-operation among the different religious groups.

For example the various issues in the Middle East are actually politically and economically motivated. They are not religious issues. By bringing in religion into those issues, they have no only complicated them, but endangered the entire world.

Indonesia’s Homegrown Terrorists

Indonesia has nothing to do with the conflicts in the Middle East. Yet, our homegrown terrorists, and their supporters, justify their acts of violence and terror by citing the conflicts there as the cause.

Why?

This is because of the very nature of religion, which is expansive, and all embracing. Religions and religious teachings go beyond our national boundaries and geographical locations.

As such, religious “force” can be both used, and misused. We can use religion to bind us together as one world family. We can also use religion to create sub-families within the family, sub-tribes within the one human tribe.

Unfortunately, many of us have been, and are using religion to divide, and not to unite. We have been creating divisions on all levels, with the end-result that today even one and same religion is divided in so many sects.

Sectarianism

Addressing the first Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893), Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) from India had said:

Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.

“But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”

Alas, his hope remains a hope to this day. This unfulfilled hope, and unrealized dream challenge us to fulfill it, to realize it.

Until and unless religious fanaticism is brought to an end, no multi-religious co-operation is possible.

Laying the Foundation for Multi-Religious Co-Operation

First of all, we must deal with fanatic notions like, “my religion is the best,” “mine is the oldest”, “mine the latest”, “mine the most perfect”, and the like.

We must prepare a solid ground, a strong platform where all religions, and all religious practitioners can stand and work together. Without such platform to work on, how can we do anything?

The platform I refer to is the platform of “Appreciation”.

Mere Tolerance is Not Enough

The word “tolerance” has “holier than thou” concept hid between its 9 letters. It implies, “I am better than you, nevertheless I tolerate you.”

We have tolerated each other for more than a millennium. What is the end result? We have not gone any far from where we started.

If we are serious about ending religious and religion based conflicts, then first of all, we must shun the word “tolerance”.

Let us change this to “appreciation”. Let us appreciate, and not merely tolerate the differences among us.

Appreciations Means:

1. Understanding, I do not merely accept the differences among us, but I understand them. I understand why Muhammad did what he did, and why he did not do as Jesus did. I understand why Krishna is so colorful, and why Buddha is at the other extreme in his robes. I understand why Mahavira is so close to Siddhartha, and yet far.

2. Meeting of Minds and Hearts, which are the natural products of understanding. And, which are the pre-requisite for any kind of co-operation, that is, a genuine co-operation.

3. No Conversion, for “my religion is not better than yours.” I have been challenging the heads of our religious institutions to pronounce these words, to repeat this line. Nay, none of them would publicly say so. The kind of pluralism they believe in does not free them from their mental complexes. “Mine is the best”, is still very much part of their individual belief system. What kind of co-operation do we expect from such minds.

Having laid the foundation (appreciation) for genuine co-operation, let us now raise the pillars to build the structure of a genuine co-operation, not only multi-religious, but multi-gender, multi-national, multi on all levels.

These are pillars of:

Interfaith Harmony

The four main pillars of Interfaith Harmony are:

1. Truthfulness, we have to be truthful about our condition. If we are sick, we are sick. We cannot cure ourselves by merely thinking positive without taking the prescribed medicines, or going through some other prescribed therapy, conventional or non-conventional.

Most of our leaders are not being truthful when they say, “Oh, we have taken care of our ethnic and religious conflicts. We are okay.” No, we are not.

The radicals have infiltrated most of our moderate religious groups. At the grassroots they are no longer as solid, and as moderate as they used to be. It is unfortunate that the elites of these groups choose to remain silent, in fear of losing support from them.

The radicals have infiltrated into our house of representatives, and our cabinet. They are everywhere. The minister who finds it more elegant and important to visit a jailed radical than the victims of his atrocities, get reappointed as a minister in the present cabinet.

The leaders of Indonesia are not being truthful to themselves, and not truthful to their fellow countrymen and women.

2. Loyalty, towards nation, towards profession, towards fellow citizens, and towards the entire world family.

We, Indonesians, are fighting the viruses of corruption at all levels, in every department, and every walk of life.

Why and how do we become corrupt? What makes us rob our own motherland? Greed. This is the most deadly of all viruses. This is the most fatal of all viruses. Greed can make us stoop down to any level. Greed makes us forget our humanity, and humanness.

It is greed that makes us disloyal towards our motherland. And, if we are disloyal towards our motherland, how can we be loyal towards the world family?

Nation is the testing ground for our integrity and sense of loyalty. If we fail here, then we shall fail there too. If we cannot take care of our nation, then we cannot take care of the world. It is as simple as that.

3. Skillfulness, being skillful is being a wholly integrated being, with his/her intellectual, emotional, and all other faculties fully developed.

A skillful person is a holistic person. We can never contribute toward global co-operation without being skillful.

4. Hardworking, this is equally important. Truthfulness, loyalty, and skillfulness may come to nothing without hard work. Furthermore, “Harmony”, to me, is part of the holy trinity, co-existing with Peace and Love.

Peace, Love, and Harmony

Peace is the quality that we have to develop within. If I am not peaceful, if I am not at peace with myself, I can never be at peace with you, or with somebody else.

It is only when I am at peace with myself, and with you – that I can possibly share love. Without peace, love does not happen.

Lastly, harmony… It is the combination, the sum total of peace and love. Indeed, harmony needs no special effort to create. It is the direct outcome of peaceful and loving people, peaceful and loving communities, peaceful and loving world.

Stages of Multi-Religious Co-Operation

These are based upon our own experiments and experiences, which in my opinion are empiric in nature. We are not “chosen” people, or unique in any other sense. What works with us, can work with you, and with anyone else, living anywhere on the planet.

The stages, as discussed earlier are:

1. Laying the Foundation: Appreciation, and Celebration of Differences; Recognition of the Essential, and Latent Unity behind all Apparent Differences.

2. Raising the Pillars of (i) Truthfulness, (ii) Loyalty, (iii) Skillfulness, and (iv) Hard work. In these four main values are incorporated such sub values as integrity, professionalism, efficiency, creativity, productivity, and so on, and so forth.

3. Filling the Home with Peace, Love, and Harmony

4. Embarking upon a Genuine Global Co-Operation (not only Multi-Religious, but also Multi-Ethnicity, Multi-National, and all other levels.)

A Model of Co-Operation

First and foremost is our model-housing complex in the suburbs of Jakarta (Ciawi, Bogor, West Java). More than 26 families belonging to different faiths, religious affiliations, and ethnicities live here in peace, love, and harmony.

The complex is appropriately named: “One Earth One Sky One Humankind”. Here, in this complex, the Muslims prepare Christmas cake for the Christians and celebrate the eve with them. And, the Christians prepare the Indonesian rice cakes for the Muslim Id Celebration. Similarly, Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, and believers in the Indigenous faiths – all co-exist celebrating their differences.

This year, 2010, we celebrate the 10th year of the complex.

Former Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono acclaimed the venture and appreciated it as part of Government’s program to build bridges and “cultural non-military defense”.

The community has also started a school, the first ever interfaith school in Bali, where children from different religious backgrounds are taught to not only know, and appreciate the differences, but also celebrate. This is the second year of the school.

The co-operative societies in Jakarta, Bali, Yogyakarta and other cities bear witness to the success of this, empiric experiment.

This, then is the vision of the world to come: One Earth, One Sky, One Humankind. And, the way to realize this is to build a society upon the principle of Appreciation, and the values such as Peace, Love, and Harmony.

Interfaith Activist and author of more than 130 books, Anand Krishna has been acclaimed as very provocative for his writings. He is the founder of Anand Ashram (1991), a humanitarian interfaith organization now affiliated with UNDPI, and has inspired several other organizations, including the first interfaith school in Indonesia, on the isle of Bali.

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