URI SRMT Meeting near Pune, Laxmi Farms.
By the People for the People: Cooperation for PeaceBy Patrick Nickisch
A common agenda from people of diverse backgrounds is the hope and chance of our times. It becomes increasingly visible while presenting us with an opportunity to move towards a common strategy for practical implementation. In such multicultural and interreligious meetings consensus is needed in terms of a ‘spirit of dialogue’ as its ethical foundation. This facilitates to open up to the ‘other’ by acknowledging their integrity and authenticity. Its associated guide for developing applications is the ‘theoretics of dialogue’ that deals with larger systemic issues, on the level of organisation and governance as well as in theological dialogue or other forms of dialogue. Interreligious encounter also bears the potential for confrontation as a result of the differences which are nevertheless in need to be dealt with. Otherwise, toxic effects of past conflicts can continue to linger for centuries and issues as conversion, proselytizing and communal disharmony need our attention. Also, tension can arise in debates about the relation between the universal and the particular in our traditions which raises eschatological questions about ‘the right path’ that can initiate a passionate theologizing on truth with a capital ‘T’. Further, since postmodernism, the sense that nobody earns the monopoly on truth have become widely accepted and a healthy for of relativism developed which is paired with an humility in the face of the complexity that reality reveals to us.
Fortunately, we have arrived at a situation where practical cooperation is not only aimed for but increasingly practically realized. The United Religions Initiative (URI) with its Cooperation Circles (CC’s) and the Shri Ramanuja Mission Trust (SRMT) with its networking efforts throughout India are good and encouraging examples of such efforts. Still, these initiatives present a minority among the believers who are active in such a way. Those who actively embrace pluralism, while remaining committed to their own path or faith are representatives of a new age and their number are growing exponentially. To feel enriched and blessed by the presence of the other instead of threatened or persecuted is the mind set of such a new global consciousness. This is to be shared by the majority if a clash of civilizations is to remain a theory only.
However, this is not practically realizable for a large number of people who suffer from poverty, communal disharmony, malnutrition and environmental degradation. I propose that the URI as a grass roots movement and the SRMT, both networkers on the peacebuilding ground can jointly promote the self-organization principles that lay at the heart of a truly democratic and free society, to empower change wherever individuals and communities are standing up for their rights. This is an historic opportunity as networking was never so easy than today and with the mushroom growth of social activist movements, a fertile ground has already been prepared. Nevertheless, the question remains how to create a mainstream approach within a democratic liberal system.
India as the largest Democracy on earth has the unique role to show and to offer the developing world a model that embodies principles of pluralism, abundance and liberty. The URI is built on empowering organizational principles that are born out of western liberal thought. It is the product of a united effort to create a movement to bring everyone together who is willing to agree to world ethical principles to further cooperation and the formation of a new culture of peace, justice and healing. It can encompass any project that can foster such a culture in some way and encourages to bring leadership and commitment together with cooperation. In this way it is a basic democratic form of organizing initiatives that are truly by the people for the people. The ability to take initiative and to take responsibility for one’s life and one’s community are important elements of a democratic society. It has been used to say that India has survived because of its self governing varnashrama system that keeps people doing what is needed in order to get along. But there is a need for the ancient social systems of all religions to adapt to the new circumstances of the 21st century and the stabilizing effect of a strong URI with its grassroots support can have a stabilizing effect on the integrity and unity of a country.
Many are afraid nowadays in India of the rise of Hindu fascism. But more as being an reactionary movement of fundamentalism, it is a cry to the pressing challenges that too many people still have to face in India, namely: Malnutrition, analphabetism, divide between very poor and rich, environmental degradation, and an abhorrent treatment of woman and children that does not fit into the picture of the ‘largest democracy’ of the world. India chose to follow the English and American system of governance through a democratic Parliament as well as independent states like in the US. In doing so it gave an important sign for other developing countries who were similarly faced with such a choice with the dawn of colonialism. Some chose the democratic path as many countries in Africa did but they failed as there was not sufficient infrastructure for a democratic system. Many fall back to totalitarian measures to keep control and civil wars were and still are the tragic result. Others considered communism or so called capitalism as their options and became playballs between the two super powers, the US and UDSSR. Rather than getting money for building an infrastructure for a advanced civilisation based on ethical principles, they were flooded with weapons, forced into debt and caught in an raw material export dependency. The other model to follow was offered by Japan that combined some of the principles of modern economy but with more state directed control which hlater on have been adopted and became the model of countries like Taiwan, Korea and later China. China went through a cultural revolution that make it look in terms of poverty alleviation and analphabetic much better than India but with a high tradeoff of personal freedom and liberty.
India embraced a western model of liberalism but failed to deal sufficiently with issues of poverty, health and the environment. These serve as a basic ground for consensus and cooperation in a dialogue of life and action where ideologies are less important than the actual work done. How a civilisation can serve its citizens on practical terms and how they can provide everyone with equal opportunity to live a life of decency and dignity should be the sign of its advancement and not its industrial growth rates and military prowess alone. Religious communities have the special chance to further cooperation in interreligious dialogue and to first to set their own house in order. This being done in pair with interreligious dialogue becomes the potent form to realize any ambitions towards sustainable peace and prosperity. It requires personal commitment and an compassionate inner attitude that are crucial to many of our religions and that can now be applied to become pioneers for the peacebuilding movement – that is for the people and by the people with all those of good will and ethical standing.
 Different kinds of dialogue have been identified like the dialogue of life, of action, theological, transformative, spiritual etc with distinct applications and often integrated into a holistic whole or individualized according to particular circumstances.
 For further reference see Hans Kueng’s Global ethic foundation and his books on “The World Ethic”.