Global Co-operation of the Religions

(Note from the translator: This is a translation from German, not the original language of Mar Gregorios.)

[Inter-religious dialogue should orient itself toward the future, said the Metropolitan of the Syrian orthodox church of Delhi, Paulos Mar Gregorios, in a lecture in Rome. Mar Gregorios was one of the presidents of the World Council of the churches. He is also a president since August 1991 of the Inter-religious Federation for World Peace. Bishop Gregorios delivered this lecture at a preparation meeting of the Inter-religious Federation of World Peace in April 1991.]



  • Dialogue as mission method?

  • Distrust toward Christians

  • Inter-religious harmony in pre-Christian times

  • Our goal:

    • Global Community of all groups

    • Peace, justice, life-promoting environment

    • The stress on transcendental dimension

      • Our institutions must be transformed

    • To know the mental tradition of others


My dear friends!
I am very grateful for this opportunity to share with you my dream for a global co-operation of the religions. It is not only about the dialogue between religions, but also about the need for us to move together towards certain goals for mankind. What I would like to convey today is not the official stand of the Inter-religious Federation for World Peace (IRFWF), but my personal opinion.

I am connected with the World Council of the Churches, and its work of the dialogue with people of other faiths since 1954. But on the part of the European Christianity in particular, I still find a certain fearfulness to engage in a full dialogue with other religions. They fear that holding conversations with other religions means a compromise concerning their own convictions. I can guarantee you that in the World Council of the Churches this has been a very restraining factor. We could have already gone much farther in the dialogue if the European Christianity had not so strongly braked. I consider the IRFWF a very useful forum for two reasons. First of all: the IRFWF is not reserved. It is ready to face the consequences, and always it looks courageously at the arena of the world religions without fear. Secondly: I noticed that Christians usually exercise strict control in the dialogue meetings they organize. They decide which persons are invited, they select the topics and the discussions follow very exactly. Non-Christians feel very much restrained because the Christians dominate these meetings according to their categories and their agenda. The flexibility of the IRFWF is an aspect which I have from the outset valued. The IRFWF lets the leaders of other religions take the initiative instead of requiring to adapt to a model determined by Christians.

From these two reasons, I have become an inspired proponent of the recently created Inter-religious Federation for the World Peace. I am a proponent, but I do not express yet the official aspect of this organization, which is not yet exactly formulated. I hope that we agree on the fundamental structure and orientation of the IRFWF only after extensive discussions with representatives of other religions.

Secondly, I would like to stress how misleading the word dialogue can be. I asked some of my friends, very educated people, what they understand by the word "dialogue". To my surprise some answered that dialogue means that two humans converse with each other. I think that dialogue does not have to do anything with two. The "dia" in dialogue does not have anything to do with duo, which means two. It means "dialeghe", i.e. speaks, maintains, and argues themselves, as all the aspects of a problem are regarded, whereby one corrects oneself and mutually and continues together. The ecumenical dialogue was introduced with the second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI attached great importance to dialogue both with the Orthodox Church and with other Christians.

The actual meaning of dialogue is finding a common way by solving the problems which we confront and those which we ourselves make. Dialogue means to meet, move forward together, and not just to talk with one another. It also means to recognize our ultimate goals, and to move together toward it. That is what I would like to see in connection with inter-religious relations.

Dialogue as mission method?

Thirdly there is also a theological problem for Christians regarding the relationship between mission and dialogue. In the World Council of the Churches we have used much ink and still more words because of this antagonism between mission and dialogue. The problem is often solved as the dialogue is subordinated to mission, which creates large problems for the non-Christians. I remember a dialogue with Hindus in the Himalayas a long time ago in 1955. I was still rather young, and everything was quite new for me. During a coffee break (where the real dialogue takes place), a Hindu professor said to me: "You seem to be an honest man, can I ask you a question? Now you Christians talk about dialogue. Is this because your evangelization failed in the past and you want to try a new tactics?" I think that his comment applies to the dialogue of the Christians with other religions. Because we were not successful in our mission, we try now to create communication by dialogue. Many official explanations of Christians suggest this.

During this dialogue I had another unforgettable experience. A second Hindu professor said during another coffee break: "You seem to be strong enough to hear what I have got to say. So let me tell you something which I cannot say in the meeting. If you Christians speak about Christian love, we Hindus think automatically of a spider, from whose body oozes a sticky substance called the Christian love, with which it spins a net, in which she would catch me, a harmless fly. That is how we understand the word Christian love. We know that you really do not care for us, but that your concern is only to catch us and to make us members of your churches. "

Distrust toward Christians

That is the kind of communication gap which exists between the religions. I assure you that the other religions recognize the abilities of the Christians to organize good conferences but they do not trust their good intentions. Other religions are very distrustful concerning the Christian position in the inter-religious dialogue. That is a reason why we must make clear from the outset what our intentions and motives are for engaging in the inter-religious dialogue.

I am sure that we gained new experiences in the last 25 years. In 1965 the secretariat for not-Christian religions was established in Rome although it is called the Pontificate for inter-religious dialogue now. In 1971 the World Council of the Churches established a committee for the inter-religious dialogue. During the past 20-25 years, the Christian churches engaged themselves in a formal way in the dialogue, and we gained very many experiences in these two decades. These experiences form the basis to reflect what happened so far and where we want to go in the future.

Inter-religious harmony in pre-Christian time

The inter-religious dialogue did not begin before 25 years. For someone like me, who comes from India, where the Christians are approximately 2.6% of the population and where eight different religions live together, inter-religious dialogue is an old thing. Yes, it is even older than Christianity. We have an edict of Emperor Asoka in rock. Asoka was an emperor in India in the 3rd Century before Christ. This edict is extremely fascinating because it already specifies some principles of the inter-religious dialogue in the third century before Christ. The edict has the following contents:

"The emperor honors both ascetics and the householders of all religions, and he honors them with gifts and honors of various kinds. But he does not value gifts and honors as much as he values this -- that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one's own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honor other religions for this reason. By so doing, one's own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms one's own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought "Let me glorify my own religion," only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. The emperor desires that all should be well-learned in the good doctrines of other religions."

Already in the third century before Christ, Emperor Ashoka meant to set up this rock edict in different parts of the country. This tells us that he wanted different religions to respect each other, and not to condemn each other. This principle has not always been considered in my country, but it is a part of our inheritance. Asoka carried out something that we cannot do today. Asoka supported not only his own religion, the Buddhism, but also Hinduism, the Jainism, the Shamanism and different other religions, which existed at the time in India. It more or less supported it in the same way. It did not prefer its religion. Inspired of Asoka's example, I would like to give a few orienting points for a global co-operation of the religions. In the past we did the dialogue in order to understand each other and to communicate with one another. I think we must continue it. We must set ourselves a clear goal which I would like to summarize into four points.

1) Global community of all groups

Modern technology has made communication with all parts of the world possible, but this technological progress has not caused the unity of mankind yet. So long as destruction, war and profit remain the principal purposes of science and technology, the world will not be united. I have the suspicion that a secular-liberal, humanism cannot unite this world. Some intellectual ones may approve the vision of a secular-liberal, humanistic organization, the UN for example. But most people do not support this idea. We often forget that out of the world population of 5 billion, only about a billion are without some form of religion. The remaining four billion belong to a religion. There are approximately 1.3 billion Christians, perhaps 900 million Muslims, 700 million Hindus, 350 million Buddhists, perhaps 300 million Confusianists (that is difficult to estimate), approximately 70 million Shintoists, 20 million Sikhs, and the same number of Jews. All these religions are afraid of a secualr-liberal humanism. They fear that if secular structures dominate, the religions will be pushed to a marginal position. Therefore they hesitate to endorse this kind of structure. I believe, however, that the only way to unite the mankind is that secular and religious aspects are combined. There are different ways to exceed national borders. The multinational restaurant companies, to point out one, overcome national borders and be a global unit to manufacture. But many people, above all poor, are afraid of a united world, in which multinational companies dominate.

Another possibility is a liberal, purely humanistic institution similar to the United Nations, which seeks to unite the world. This does not seem to function however. I remember the 60's, when the Burmese U Thant was the UN Secretary-General. In a discussion he said once to me: What we need in addition to the United Nations is a "United Religions". What he had in mind was something like a second chamber of the United Nations, in which all world religions are represented and can think over solutions for the problems of this world. Because governments often have a quite close and limited view of problems and solutions, he thought that for religions a better chance would exist to find moral and fair solutions. Therefore he supported an additional forum to the United Nations, a forum of the religions. But nobody accepted this idea although he was Secretary-General. But I believe that we need such a thing. We need a global meeting of the religions. However we should not expect the patronage of the UN. But once it is furnished and organized, its value may be recognized widely, and people will begin to give their support. It is my dream that the religions constantly stand with one another in the exchange. They are not only to stand in the dialogue, but also to direct their attention toward how peace can be retained in this world and how the religions can be another basis for overcoming national barriers than multinational companies. When the IRFWF begins its concrete work, those are the questions we have to discuss. And as different religions recognize the meaning of these points, we will move towards a global co-operation of the religions.

2) Peace, justice, life-promoting environment

Regarding the world community, I would emphasize three aspects, which should mark the future global society: Justice, peace and a life-promoting environment. Justice in a society and between the societies, peace on regional as well as on world-wide level, and a healthy environment within the local as well as in the global range. These three main points should be always present, even if the IRFWF has only the word peace in their name. I understand peace in the sense of the Old Testament Hebrew, Shalom, which includes justice exactly the same way plants include flowers. All these must be part of our concept of peace, which is the basis for this global community. A legislative body will also be necessary, as well as an executive and a kind of parliament or decision-making institution. But the most important is the stress of true peace with true justice and real health of the environment. I believe that these three things are indivisible and that the concept of Shalom includes all three. If we cannot aim at justice, we cannot have peace either, and we will not be able to create peace without justice and without healthy environment. These three things are connected. The local, regional, and world-wide level must also be connected. If we work only on the global level, nothing much happens. If we work only on the regional level, it will not function either. The local level is the root. The work must at done at the local level at the same time it is done at the regional and at the international level, whereby we concentrate on justice, on peace and on the integrity of the creation.

3)The stress on Transcendental Dimension

The third point, which I would like to see stressed, is difficult to explain. I hope that the IRFWF gives special attention to the transcendental dimension of the human existence. I would not like to use the term "God", because my Buddhist friends prefer to speak of "the transcendental dimension of our existence ". The secular culture believes that only what is opened to our physical senses is the world that exists. I believe that they err much. The world, which I experience today, is only one dimension of the universe. The universe has still many other dimensions and we are for the moment not in the situation to experience it although many have tried to give scientific descriptions of these other dimensions. We, who rely on a religious inheritance and who are always conscious of this other dimension, must now move away from our traditional positions in order to give this Transcendence to the world. Transcendence does not mean to exceed space and time. There are people who believe that real reality exists only outside of the time. This extreme and the belief that only this world is "material" are both wrong. Transcendence is something that penetrates occasionally into our world, and its range is the culture. With culture I mean religion as well as science and technology. Culture is what humans make with nature by means of science, technology, art, literature, music, dance, drama, Liturgy and ritual. All this is culture, and in these cultural forms the Transcendence breaks through to us. The transcendental cannot be seized intellectually. It must be seized by symbols and rituals.

Our institutions must be transformed

I would like to see this dimension of the transcendental one and its relationship with the world that opens to our senses as an emphasis of the IRFWF in the future. That means, for example, we must examine the institutions which we have created. Let us have a look at our system of education. This educating system, which we developed in Europe, is very destructive. It does not promote all abilities, which lie in a person except science, technology, production, and manipulation of the environment. There must still be different aspects in the education system in order to stimulate the transcendental in the culture. The educating system must be changed, so that culture can be creative. The national institutions, which are secular today, must be transformed likewise radically in order to permit cultural creativity. Our entire academic mechanisms and universities are prisoners of the secular, and have become places where the search for the reality takes place in ways that are not even endorsed by the modern science any more. Another example is healing. Our western medicine causes very much damage to people. It saves people, but it also adds much damage. The welfare methods of the world must be reexamined, so that in the long run the transcendental can manifest itself also by healing. I would like to experience that many of these transformations within the range of the culture and in the social, educational, national, political, economic institutions to take place, so that the transcendental can manifest itself. It cannot manifest itself by lectures, but only by a transformation of the institutions and by culture. Science and technology can serve as an important tool with this process to facilitate but only as a tool, which humans are to use and not as dominating masters.

4) To know the mental tradition of others

The fourth important range, on which one concentrated in the last 20 years, is the range of the "mental education" or "mental training". In each religion the doctrines and dogmas are less important than the mental education. We often concentrate on the intellectual content of a religion and not enough on the mental education, which is to help us to get along in the life. This is the more important part of a religion than what the writings state or which theologians of the different religions represent. We should not only discuss this education, but also experience this mental education other people. Only if someone participates in a mental training, like Yoga Meditation, Zen Meditation, the Namaz of the Islam we understand other religions. By participating, we experience another dimension. Many of the people, which face the inter-religious dialogue very sceptically, were deeply impressed by such an experience. One of the most valuable aspects at the first meeting of the world religions in the year 1985 was that each group practiced their own mental training in their own way. This left a stronger impact than all the official responding together. Sometimes we must live two, three days or even a whole week in a community, in order to learn to know their Spirituality. Only if we "immerse" totally into the inter-religious life of a community, the meeting becomes fruitful. Then we begin to develop mutual confidence and see the possibilities for a better future of mankind.

I would like to submit these four points, which I regard as a possible orientation for the future work of the IRFWF to them. There is a large necessity for the IRFWF and its vision, because the secular civilization on the basis of the liberal Humanism and of science and technology is moving to a dead end. It cannot develop any longer. Particularly for people in the west it is very hard to break out of this situation. It is very difficult to free ourselves from this entanglement we are in by the western education. But we must come out of there by mental training, by new mental practices, by Meditation, by prayer. The world will be transformed in that way; not by us as activists, who try to cause changes with physical strength and by science and technology. We need this openness for the transcendental, which we reach by mental training.