By Roshan Shah, New Age Islam
02 January 2019
Applied Spirituality: A Spiritual Vision for the Dialogue of Religions
Author: Swami Agnivesh
Harper Element, Noida
Price: Rs 350
This timely book by noted writer, spiritual teacher and social activist Swami Agnivesh articulates an understanding of spirituality that addresses many issues of contemporary relevance. Noting how religion has often been misused as a tool to seek to justify oppression and conflict, it urges the need for rethinking on a number of theological issues even as it articulates a relevant, universal and socially-engaged understanding of spirituality that transcends religious boundaries.
Swami Agnivesh distinguishes between religion, on the one hand, and spirituality, on the other, noting that they are quite often contrary to each other. He critiques the tendency in institutionalised religiosity to be concerned mainly about personal salvation while ignoring issues of social justice. The spirituality that he articulates takes seriously the pressing social issues of this world. In contrast to institutionalised religion, which is often exclusivist and supremacist, the practical spirituality that Swami Agnivesh advocates is also inclusive and universal, being concerned with the welfare of all, rather than just one community.
A major focus of the book is the issue of relations between the various religions and their adherents—something of immense concern today. Indicating that religion, properly understood, is essentially about one’s relationship with the Divine and that religions also enable us to relate to the rest of creation, the book asserts that hostility between religions ‘implies a contradiction of the very idea of religion’. Religions, Swami Agnivesh says, should be ‘nurseries of the culture of hospitality’, rather than ‘fortresses of hostility’.
Indicating that people of different faith traditions must work together, considering each other as allies, Swami Agnivesh opines that the various religions should ‘help each other in fulfilling their historic destiny as instruments for peace and human welfare’. The foremost spiritual task in the global village is to foster ‘a sense of universal kinship among the peoples of the world’, he rightly remarks. Stressing the urgent existential need for interfaith and inter-community harmony and solidarity today, he tells us that, ‘Unless the global village is inhabited by a global family, the chances of exploitation, coercion and conflicts can only increase. The nearness of religious cohorts will aggravate their mutual hostility, unless their closeness is tempered by a deepened sense of spiritual kinship.’ ‘Today’, he rightly says, the interfaith movement ‘is not a theological luxury; it is a practical and historic necessity.’
In the light of this, Swami Agnivesh’s observation that the ‘interfaith movement needs to be erected on the foundation of spirituality, not of institutionalized religion’ is very pertinent. Swami Agnivesh rightly notes that interfaith dialogue made little progress over the decades ‘largely because it did not look at the horizon beyond religion that is common to all human beings and, therefore, to all religions: the horizon of shared spirituality’. Rather than seeking liberation through sharing, they ended up, more often than not, he says, ‘showcasing their religious wares or explaining away the aberrations that their religious community harbours.’
Swami Agnivesh offers some very useful suggestions that could help make interfaith dialogue more than just polite theological exchange. He calls us to appreciate what is good and beautiful in other religions. He urges the need to overcome the competitive model of relationships between religions and to move towards sharing a common mission. He regards working together in harmony and solidarity for addressing many serious issues that the world is faced with today as a basic foundation for the relationship between the world’s religions and those who claim to be their adherents.
In our ‘globalised’ world today, the need for a global consciousness, based on concern for the entire planet and all its beings, is increasingly obvious. In this regard, Swami Agnivesh’s reminder that ‘true spirituality is not the exclusive preserve of any particular religious tradition, but the common heritage of the human species,’ is very pertinent, as is his advocacy of a spirituality that is ‘a call to practise justice and to liberate the oppressed’. This would be in line with the very spirit of true religion. For, as the book rightly reminds us, ‘In its spiritual core, every religion exhorts us to be kind and generous to the needy, compassionate to those who suffer and to stand by the oppressed; for we all belong together and are equally the children of God. We comprise a cosmic family...”
This beautiful book contains many precious gems of wisdom and has a very relevant message for our times.
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