I am very happy to be at this function for the presentation of the 5th Paulos Mar Gregorios Award. This prestigious Award was instituted by the Sophia Society in the memory of its founder, the Late Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios, who was the first Bishop of the Delhi Diocese of the Indian Orthodox Church, an extraordinary human being, a scholar and linguist, as also an activist for peace and justice. He spent his life in the service of the people. He had a deep desire for learning and was a life-long seeker of truth and knowledge. He believed that all religions worked for the common goal of the well being of humanity. He often said that the deeper we go into our respective religions, we find the basic love of God and love for all humanity, which should unite us all.
The Paulos Mar Gregorios Award recognizes the seminal contribution made by individuals in the promotion of inter-faith dialogue, as well as work in the fields of community self-renewal, education, public health, social justice, culture and peace. Dr. Karan Singh richly deserves this award for his outstanding contribution in the fields of public life, inter-faith dialogue and culture. I congratulate him warmly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Since the dawn of human civilization there has been a constant search for answers about existentialism and the purpose of life. This has led to a universal conclusion that peace and harmony are the very basis of progress and prosperity. But, despite this knowledge, human history has not been free of discord and conflict. Strife, however, has neither diluted the quest for peace nor resulted in diminishing the commitment of the proponents of peace. Indeed, our efforts for bringing harmony can never be given up and these must continuously be pursued. Many men and women have contributed to these efforts throughout human history, and continue to do so. Dr. Karan Singh is one of the foremost among them.
Dr. Karan Singh is a respected and distinguished statesman, an eminent administrator, a thinker, author and diplomat. He has seen and experienced life in its many hues. He has contributed enormously to the nation in various fields and shown exemplary dedication in working for the welfare of the people. His many interests range from education, literature, culture, spirituality to social work and the preservation of wildlife, just to name a few. One of his major interests is a deep study of religion. He has a mastery over Vedic literature, the Upanishads and other such texts. I attended the engagement ceremony of his son and the daughter of late Madhavrao Scindia. At that time Dr. Karan Singh chanted shlokas non-stop for a long time, so much so that the five pundits who had come for this purpose were amazed. His is a voice heard with deep respect on many matters and in many fora. He believes that each religion has made a special contribution to human knowledge. Dr. Karan Singh has always advocated that all on our planet have a shared destiny and, therefore, all must seek to live in peace with one another, through respect for each other’s faiths. He is of the view that inter-faith discourses should move from the periphery to the center of human consciousness. Speaking in January 2004, he posed the question,
What sort of global society are we going to have? Will it be based upon exploitation and fanaticism, or are we going to have a sane and harmonious global society based on inter-faith understanding and peaceful conflict resolution?”
In view of the happenings around us in the past few years and the world becoming a smaller place, this indeed is a very important question. We must try and find an answer.
Often it is divisions created by lack of understanding and misperceptions that have sparked the fires of conflict. We need to bridge these divides and necessarily through dialogue. In the contemporary world, globalization has accentuated and intensified inter-action amongst people of diverse backgrounds. No country or community lives in isolation. This imposes an even greater responsibility on all of us to understand the many cultures, faiths and the religions. However, it is most regrettable when religion is used to sow the seeds of suspicion and dissensions. Across the world, in recent years, extremism and terrorism have been issues of concern. Both are antithesis of all religions. There is no religion that promotes disharmony. All religions advocate welfare of humanity as the highest form of duty and devotion. Love and affection are the cardinal principles underlying all religions. Inter-faith dialogue can promote an understanding of the basic tenets on which different faiths are anchored.
Dialogue produces a confluence of the various streams of thought, opinions and aspirations. They bring together the inputs of different civilizations, cultures and religions, to produce a grand movement of human advancement. Today’s world is different from yesterdays. Tomorrow’s world too will be different from the one of today. Change is inevitable and the march of time a reality. We stand today at the start of a new decade of a new millennium. It offers an opportunity when science and technology combined with the values of harmony and tolerance of our civilizational heritage can create the conditions of peace and security, where individuals and societies can excel, and where compassion and respect for others prevail.
India is a land of many faiths and cultures. Inter-faith discourses have taken place in our country over the millennia. Besides all the faiths that originated here, India welcomed people belonging to other religions. Their customs and ideas were synthesized to create the unique composite identity of India. The principle of secularism, enshrined in our Constitution, is based on respect for all religions. I would like to stress this again, that not merely tolerance but respect for all religions is important. There is no place for fissiparous ideas of any sort – region, religion, language, caste, creed, hatred or any other ground. We have to work together with unity of purpose with patriotic feelings, keeping India together and strong with perfect communal harmony. All Indians of all faiths in different parts of the country have worked together collectively for India. This spirit must continue, as we build a more prosperous and harmonious nation.
I, once again, congratulate Dr. Karan Singh for receiving this prestigious award. Dr. Karan Singh is a rare person with a number of rare qualities of the head and the heart. I also compliment the Sophia Society for instituting this Award and their efforts to promote peace, justice and wisdom, the ideals for which Mar Gregorios worked for.