President Of India Address at the
TOWARDS A CULTURE OF HARMONY AND PEACE7 December 2003, New Delhi
The Joy of Human Life
I am delighted to participate in the international summit "Towards a culture of harmony and peace" organised by a Mini Parliament of influential thinkers in the field of religion. The Inter-faith Movement is indeed a joyful coming together of all religions to promote harmony and spearhead efforts of religious communities for peace and harmony in our social and personal lives. In the midst of this enlightened gathering, I was thinking what I could share with you and hence selected the topic: The Joy of Human Life.
While assuming the office of the President of India, during the swearing-in-ceremony, I made two assurances to the nation. One is to work with the nation for transforming India into a developed nation; the other is to endeavour to work for bringing about unity of minds among the divergent traditions of our country. In India, there are 260 million people below the poverty line and 300 million young citizens who are below 20 years of age. This is the hard core of India that is in need of social and economic development in an ambience of peace and harmony. India has a road map, our national dream, India Vision 2020. This encompasses five important areas relevant and vitally important to bring in sustainable prosperity, to this vulnerable section of our population: agriculture and food processing, education and healthcare, information and communications technology, infrastructure development including networking of rivers, and Providing Urban amenities in Rural Areas (PURA). These areas need to be taken simultaneously. When the villages prosper, the States prosper. When the States prosper, all India prospers.
As you are aware that Prime minister in his independent day speech on 15 August 2002, has already announced that India will become a Developed nation by the year 2020. Also the Government has initiated number of schemes such as Interlinking of Rivers, PURA (Providing urban amenities in Rural Areas) towards this vision. He also announced that the creation of 5000 PURAs in 5 years in different parts of the country. All the State governments, Non-Government organisations have all started working in this direction.
For the successful implementation of the missions of Vision 2020, there is should be an integrated action through a moral, ethical and spiritual foundation. It is here that national development and spiritual connectivity acquire paramount importance. The question arises as to how this partnership might be developed. We have to establish the powerful interconnectivities and trade offs that are possible between economic prosperity and religious enrichment, since our mission is to build prosperous world with value system derived from our civilizational heritage. This is possible only through unity of minds. How to bring unity of minds?
In my search for unity of minds, I have visited great many religious places and houses of worship, temple, mosque, church, Buddhist monasteries and Christian monasteries throughout the length and breadth of this great country and abroad.
Experiences in search of Unity of Minds
I want to share some experiences during my visit to these places in a quest for unity of minds.
Tawang Experience: Tawang, as you know, is a virtual Shangri-La tucked away at an altitude of 3,000 metres in a misty corner of Arunachal Pradesh. The people there seem truly happy and tranquil, living under the kindly umbrella of one the world's oldest Buddhist monasteries. During a visit, I asked the chief monk at the monastery about the secret of Tawang's tranquility that seemed to go beyond mere goodness. ``You're the President of India. You know everything,'' he replied, trying to avoid answering the question. When I persisted, however, he called out to all the 300 monks to come and sit around the imposing statue of the Buddha with us and delivered the following sermon:
"If you look at the 3,000 years history of India, you'll find that the country has always stood for peace. It worked for peace; it prayed for peace and it will live for peace. But these days, peace does seem to be in short supply". "So, how does one bring back peace?" the monk asked rhetorically. ``Paradoxically, the `I' in you wants peace. Nevertheless, to get peace you have to first get rid of the `I' and `me'. (This is what the Buddha realized after his enlightenment, when he grasped the principle of causation and the lack of self in all that is.)
"So, can you get rid of the self? Seems like a tough proposition. For in virtually every sentence, every thought we have `I' and `me'. But if you remove these entities, the ego will vanish," the monk said to me. "When the ego vanishes, hatred fades away. When hatred goes away then violence in mind and body will disappear. Therefore, peace comes when you forsake ego and the sense of self. (For as the Buddha says, "All this is not mine, I am not this, this is not myself.")
RILA Monastery: During my recent visit abroad, I visited a Christian Monastery in RILA located in the hills of Bulgaria. It is the biggest Bulgarian revival, spiritual and cultural centre with a 16,000 volume library including 134 manuscripts from 15th to 19th century. This holy site played an important role in the spiritual and social life of medieval Bulgaria. Destroyed by fire due to invasion at the beginning of the 19th century, the complex was rebuilt later and is now surrounded by a big fort. While being in that divine environment amidst the Reverent Fathers aged between 80 and 90, I felt like praying. I went to the altar and asked permission of the Reverent Bishop John to recite the part of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The prayer was repeated by all the people present in the Monastery.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred let me sow love;
The silent message in this prayer was felt by the Reverent Bishop, who blessed me by saying "You work for world peace". My friends, may this beautiful divine message of love, enlighten our life to work for universal peace.
My childhood: In my childhood (Age 10) one experience deeply entered into me. I would like to share with you. Everyday when I return from my school in the evening, my father would have gone to namaz (Prayer). And my mother will look angelic in the namaz. After Thakbhir position, she will recite two suras from holy Quran. One starts with Alhamdhu, and the other "Lakkum, Thenukum". One day I asked my father and mother what is the meaning of Lakkum Thenukum? My mother in a graceful voice recited the sura "Lakkum Thenukum Valiyatheen" that is the end of the sura Alkhafbeerun. My father interpreted, it means "everyone follows a path. He or she who decides the path is accountable for the actions". And also my father said, my son I being a Muslim meet my friends quite often as would have seen Pakshi Lakshmana Shastrigal. A great Hindu devotee of Rameshwaram Siva Temple with the priesthood and Reverent Father Bodal who built our Island's first church. In childhood I am indeed blessed to hear the discussion of the great three. At least once in a week the met and discussed on integration of thoughts from Holy Quran, Old Testament of Bible and Bhagavat Gita of Mahabaratha. From the essence of their saying, I learnt.
Whatever religion you are, the path you select will lead you to the bliss, based on your good action. Mankind is indeed is the salt of the earth. Your life should be just like a flower that gives fragrance and beauty in the morning and silently it falls to the ground in the evening where it was born. I have never come across in my life; I am 72 now, such a beautiful message on essence of life and how religions graduate into spiritual force.
What I learnt from religions
During the last 18 months, I have traveled almost all the parts of the country. The message I have received from my extensive travels in the country is that most Indians experienced and old, energetic and middle-aged, young and innocent, they all look to religion for solace and safety. The religions are like exquisite gardens, places full of surpassing beauty and tranquility, like sacred groves filled with beautiful birds and their melodious songs. I truly think that religions are beautiful gardens. But they are islands. They are enchanting islets, veritable oases for the soul and the spirit. But they are islands nevertheless. However, if we can connect all these islands with love and compassion, in a `garland project' for the new millennium, we will have a prosperous India in front of us, a billion people through India millennium mission and even for our planet.
Surat Declaration towards Unity of Minds
Towards this direction, I participated in the Surat Conclave on 15th October 2003. I met Swamijis, Maulavis, Rev Fathers, Spiritual leaders and devotees at Surat in Gujarat in the venerable presence Jain Muniji Acharya Mahaprajna. I had discussed with the religious leaders the vision of developed India. They explained the rich culture and civilisational heritage of thousands of years that our country is proud of; the traditional bonds in a well-knit family system, where love, affection, mutual help and service are the prevailing emotions particularly in the rural India of 700 million people.
There are two components religion has. One is theological component as put forth by saints and prophets. The second portion is the moral codes particularly good way of life. Almost all religions the good way of life generally reflected compassion and love. The signing of the Surat Declaration by fifteen religious leaders was a testimony of the existence of a single noble core of all religions. This declaration has come out of two days of deliberation and discussion in the higher plane. It is a good experience for me. I have gained new insights about the ascent of man from a body running on breath and driven by sensory inputs to a networked entity on the earth, in the solar system and around the cosmos.
The Surat conclave discussed the enrichment of religions and worked by ploughing the essence of the religion. They saw a bridge of love and compassion of connectivity as a garland for all religions. Finally, Surat Spiritual Declaration outlined five Garland Projects. These projects included celebration of inter-religious festivals; multi-religious community projects; education in and with the ambience of unity of religions; interfaith dialogue; and finally national level independent and autonomous organisation managed by religious and spiritual leaders as well as scholars and enlightened citizens. Hence the developmental mission has to have a focus on the spiritual way of life. The meeting led to the release of Surat Spiritual Declaration aimed at transforming India into a developed nation in partnership with the spiritual community.
God has created the human being with brain and thinking faculty. He has commanded His creation that the faculty must be used with reasoning to reach His image. This is the mission of the human life. Science is the best boon, God has bestowed upon mankind. Science with reasoning becomes the capital of the society. In whatever field we work, be it science, technology, medicine, politics, policing, theology, religion or judiciary, we have to remain in the service of the common man whose well being is central to all human knowledge and endeavour.
Every religion has a central component - spirituality that is driven by compassion and love. Rationality and logic are intrinsic to science and spirituality. A spiritual experience is the goal of a deeply religious person whereas a major discovery or an invention is the goal of a scientific mind. If both the aspects are unified, amalgamated in our own patterns, we can transcend to that level of thinking, in which unity is a cohesive aspect. For this environment the two major components- the Science and Spirituality, have to interact. A Peace prayer can be the foundation for both.
"Oh Almighty, create thoughts and actions
in the minds of the people of the nation
So that they live united.
Oh Almighty, bless the people
To take a path of life with righteousness
as righteousness gives the strength of character.
Help all religious leaders of the country to
give strength to the people to combat the divisive forces.
Guide the people to develop an attitude to appreciate different
ideologies and transform enmity among individuals,
organizations and nations, into friendliness and harmony.
Embed the thought 'Nation is bigger than the Individual'
in the minds of the leaders and people.
Oh God, bless the people to work with perseverance to
transform the country into a peaceful and prosperous nation and promote world peace."
I am sure that this International Summit towards Harmony and Peace will address some of these thoughts in its deliberations, and emerge with recommendations relevant to the whole world which shares the same burdens and joys of life and living.
I wish the International Summit all success in its endeavours.
Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.
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